Norman O’Bryan SC (pic) returned to the subject of Peter Blunden’s efforts to have Bruce Guthrie’s removed as editor of the Herald Sun.
There was the issue of Guthrie buying a house and putting down roots in Melbourne. An email from Blunden to Guthrie surfaced:
O’Bryan: ‘Great news about the house.’ That’s a reference to them [the Guthries] having just bought their house in Melbourne, is that right?
Blunden: It would be, yes.
O’Bryan: You were well aware, weren’t you, that they were proposing to buy a family home in Melbourne at about this time?
Blunden: Well, he – that’s when he would have informed me. I didn’t keep a running tally but yes, I was aware, yes.
O’Bryan: You certainly knew, didn’t you, in September 2008 that they were looking for a home in Melbourne, they were selling their home in Sydney at that time, didn’t you?
O’Bryan: Did you think it might have been a fair thing to do to warn Mr Guthrie that you had for now many, many months been criticising him to Mr Hartigan in an endeavour to convince Mr Hartigan to terminate his employment in Melbourne with The Herald Sun?
Blunden: I didn’t consider that, no.
O’Bryan: You were working assiduously, right throughout 2008 to ensure that that came to pass, weren’t you?
Blunden: Yes, I formed the view and it didn’t really change that Bruce was the wrong man for the job. I was consistent with John that Bruce was the wrong man for the job.
O’Bryan: Is your evidence to His Honour that it didn’t even occur to you that it would have been the decent thing to do to warn Mr Guthrie or Mrs Guthrie who you have spoken to on this occasion, as you tell Mr Guthrie, look it might not be a good idea to buy a permanent family home in Melbourne because I need to let you know that I am working as hard as I can to ensure that your employment will be terminated as soon as I am able to bring it about. Did that not occur to you?
Blunden: No, a separate issue.
There was also the claim by Hartigan and Blunden that a story about Collingwood football club on the front page shifts an extra 30,000 copies of the paper The complaint was that Guthrie didn’t run enough front page stories about Collingwood:
O’Bryan :There is no evidence to suggest that when you put Alan Didak or Tarkyn Lockyer or Travis Cloke or the team on the front page of this newspaper it makes a jot of difference.
O’Bryan: Not a jot. Not any day. Indeed, on many occasions when Collingwood is mentioned on the newspaper, there’s a relative decline compared to the (indistinct). It’s just ridiculous evidence. It really is ridiculous evidence to suggest in the City of Melbourne you stick Collingwood on the front cover, you’ll sell 30,000 more copies. It’s an absurd proposition. Anyway, that doesn’t cause Mr Hartigan to hesitate to give it to you on oath.
Justice Kaye took a similar view, describing Hartigan as “an unreliable witness” and having this to say about Blunden:
“It became evident that Mr Blunden’s memory and recounting of the events, which occurred during and immediately after Mr Guthrie’s editorship of the Herald Sun, was affected by the dispute which had arisen between the plaintiff and the defendant, and in particular by the central role which Mr Blunden had played in the decision to terminate Guthrie’s appointment…
Mr Blunden, in his evidence, endeavoured to portray his own conduct in the affair in a favourable light and, in particular, he endeavoured to downplay the significant role which he had had in the termination of Mr Guthrie’s appointment as editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun.
His conduct in doing so is consistent with his behaviour in failing to reveal to Mr Guthrie, both while he was editor and shortly after his termination, the true fact that Mr Blunden had been working, for some time, to achieve his dismissal.
I also consider that the explanations given by Mr Blunden in evidence, for not revealing to Mr Guthrie, at the time, that he was advocating his removal as editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun, do not survive scrutiny.
In my view, Mr Blunden’s consciousness that it was he who was critical in Hartigan’s decision to terminate Guthrie’s appointment, and his consciousness that he had not been candid with Guthrie about that role, led him to exaggerate flaws, which he perceived Guthrie to have as an editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun.
While I accept Mr Blunden’s evidence that, from a reasonably early stage after Guthrie’s appointment, he became convinced that Mr Guthrie was not the right man for the job, nevertheless I detected, in his evidence, a tendency to exaggerate the flaws, which he had found in Guthrie’s conduct, and his recollection and recounting of a number of the central incidents, which were the subject of his evidence.”
The whole affair affords a less than endearing peek inside the brutal Murdoch machine, with no surprises about what is found there.
The last word goes to Peter Blunden, spoken to Bruce Guthrie:
“You are not hungry to sell newspapers. I said it twice.”