The Australian's War on Science 51: The Chris Mitchell effect

Crikey reports:

A former senior News Limited journalist has described trying to write about human-induced climate change at The Australian newspaper as "torture" and has blamed the editor-in-chief for limiting coverage on the topic because he has "taken a political view".

Asa Wahlquist mounted an off-the-cuff defence of environmental reporting on a panel at yesterday's journalism educators conference in Sydney, explaining the difficulties of having stories published about climate change because of the attitude of and pressure from senior editors at the paper.

Chris Mitchell apparently felt that these remarks needed more publicity, so the Australian reports:

The Australian's editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, said he will sue journalism academic and prolific twitter user Julie Posetti for defamation.

This follows Posetti's tweet yesterday from a journalism conference at the University of Technology Sydney in which Posetti quoted The Australian's former rural reporter Asa Walhquist as allegedly saying "in the lead up to the election the Ed in Chief was increasingly telling me what to write".

Mitchell rejects the allegation and Walhquist has also denied it, saying she has never spoken to Mitchell about climate change.

You can see the tweet here

Note that you don't have to speak to someone in person to tell them something.

Posetti tweets

for the record, I have not been contacted by The Australian for comment via email, phone or Twitter

The story in The Australian continues

Mitchell adds he is proud of the paper's environmental coverage.


Walhquist responded to Mitchell she had been quoted inaccurately and taken out of context and adding that "I do not think twitters from unnamed third parties should be regarded as an accurate news source. As a journalist I would never rely on information from such a source."

Indeed. The Australian considers the most accurate news source on the science of sea level change to be a random person they find on the beach.

Hat tip: James Haughton.

Update: Posetti blogs:

All I am personally permitted to say on the issue at this stage is the following: "My University has not received any communication from Mr Mitchell and I have been asked not to comment further on the detail of what transpired until we know what allegations are being made against me and the University and have had an opportunity to take legal advice."

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You missed out the best bits Tim. Mitchell also said "The Australian's editorials on climate change "would make it clear that for several years the paper has accepted man-made climate change as fact".

"It has supported market mechanisms to reduce carbon output for the best part of a decade. What people do not like is that I publish people such as Bjorn Lomborg. I will continue to do so, but would suggest my environment writer, Graham Lloyd, who is a passionate environmentalist, gets a very good run in the paper."

Makes you wonder if there is some other newspaper called "The Australian".

On twitter jdub quotes:

"Australia's ludicrous defamation laws, which act to suppress free speech and enrich lawyers..." -- Chris Mitchell, 2004
By dexitroboper (not verified) on 25 Nov 2010 #permalink

@2 dexitroboper

Oh the irony, it burns! :)

Lmao! nice find by jdub!

How dare you say that I suppress speech! You can't say that, I'll sue you!

By Harald Korneliussen (not verified) on 25 Nov 2010 #permalink

Wait a minute. So former journalist Wahlquist is quoted by both

1. Crikey reporter Dodd and
2. journalism academic Posetti

as saying that she (Wahlquist) had been pressured to censor stories on climate change.

Therefore, the logical thing for the Australian's Editor in Chief (Mitchell) to do is to ...

... sue Posetti? Wha--? lolwut? wtf? bbq?

What's the claim that Mitchell is making?

If the claim is that (1) Mitchell never pressured Wahlquist to censor anything, then why isn't Mitchell suing Wahlquist instead?

If the claim is that (2) Wahlquist never complained to Posetti about being censored, then ... how did Mitchell know?

I sense smoke and mirrors.

It's low-tar smoke and mirrors, mind you.

We now accept the dangers of smoking tobacco.

I'm sensing payback after Posetti loudly backed Greg Jericho during the Grogs Gamut fiasco. For those overseas who don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry, it's just The Australian continuing their war on the internet.

It's more like The Australian's continuing war on reality.

By Jimmy Nightingale (not verified) on 26 Nov 2010 #permalink

I would happily donate to Possetti's defence. Lets flush this out into the public arena.

Of course if this gets anywhere near a court the question would have to arise: "What is Chris Mitchell's reputation?" in order to work out how much it may have been damaged!

Tim might have to give Possetti a peppercorn!

As to questions of character, who can say; all I can say is neatly encapsulated in this frontpage story in that national iconic chip-wrapper, spread far and wide as a Reuters news item, to wit:

The White House has rejected accounts of a private phone call last month between Rudd and Bush, carried in The Australian newspaper.

Rudd has also denied Bush made the comments but the row could damage his center-left government's relations with Washington, Australia's closest and most important ally.

In the newspaper article, Bush is said to have asked Rudd: "What's the G20?," ...

[My boldface and ellipsis.]
And then, in the same article a couple of paragraphs later:

Rudd faced two days of questioning in parliament and refused repeatedly to deny that he or his staff had leaked the content of the telephone conversation, which reportedly occurred on a night when Rudd was having dinner with The Australian's editor.

[My boldface.]

WTF? A little digging into the ol' memory hole shakes out the name of that particular editor who was at dinner at the time of the call - one Chris Mitchell. And of course, that editor (in chief) ran it as a middle of frontpage story several days later, IIRC.

Now, as they say, correlation is not causation, but you must wonder who is most served by running this story - Rudd gains nothing and loses kudos big-time with Bush's Administration - at the beginning of the first term of a new Labor Prime Minister. A cynical jumping to conclusion - which is not to say, necessarily an incorrect one - may result in one thinking that the presence of Chris Mitchell at the time and place of the phonecall, and the subsequent appearance of a bad-for-Labor story claiming without confirmation the content of the phonecall meeting, points to said editor as the source. But, one should not jump to hasty conclusions, just correct ones, so be warned...

By Donald Oats (not verified) on 26 Nov 2010 #permalink

Is there going to be a little celebration when The Australian inevitably reaches 100 battles in the war on science?

Mike, I wouldn't think it would be cause for celebration. An Australian with an editorial policy that puts good information ahead of an agenda to dumb down and mislead it's readers on important issues would be a matter of celebration.

By Ken Fabos (not verified) on 27 Nov 2010 #permalink

Donald's references go back to Mitchell's earlier times at the Brisbane Courier-Mail.

It was during that time that the C-M ran articles claiming one of Australia's leading historians, Manning Clark, was a Soviet spy and used to like to wear his Lenin Medal at private gatherings. Both allegations were shown to be nonsense.

Mitchell could dodge defamation because Clark was deceased. As far as I know he did not respond to Clark family requests for an apology.

It's surprising then that he should be so touchy about being defamed.

By Don Wigan (not verified) on 28 Nov 2010 #permalink