Three weeks on, Pell supporters retain their blinkers

“It is a capital mistake to theorise without data.” Sherlock Holmes, the creation of the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and still the most famous detective of fiction.

It is not surprising that nearly 20 days after after the verdict on Cardinal George Pell was announced, the Australian lobbyist Gerard Henderson keeps trying to cast doubt on the verdict. Henderson is a staunch defender of the Catholic Church and one who thinks he knows all about journalism – even though he is just a lobbyist who rallies to causes on the right of politics.

Henderson runs an organisation known as The Sydney Institute which he characterises as “a privately funded not-for-profit current affairs forum encouraging debate and discussion”. Two of the companies that supply those funds are the airline Qantas and the telco Telstra. There are other organisations that fund Henderson’s war against the left too.

A former staff member of prime minister John Howard, Henderson’s gripes are documented every week in a trite blog he calls Media Watch Dog. He repeats himself often, gripes about things that only someone who has nothing to do would notice, and generally makes a fool of himself. Strangely, The Australian, one of the few papers in the country that still publishes as a broadsheet, runs this guff every week. Henderson also writes a weekly column for the same paper.

In many respects Henderson reminds one of the famous novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In public, he puts on a different persona from the vicious one that he appears to adopt when penning his Media Watch Dog column. One of his major gripes is that the ABC, a government-funded broadcaster, has no conservative voice. This appears to be a cry for Henderson himself to be given a slot, but he will never admit it openly.

In the case of Pell, Henderson has been pushing a few themes: journalists have little legal knowledge, jury verdicts are often questioned, and the arguments mounted by Frank Brennan, a lawyer and a priest who attended some part of the trial and claims that it went the wrong way, are correct.

Henderson twists arguments to suit his own purpose. For example, he cites the fact that the broadcaster Ray Hadley criticised Howard for giving Pell a character reference. Then he says that while journalists from the ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald never take Hadley seriously, this time they did.

In this, Henderson shows his ignorance of journalism and what constitutes news. When dog bites man, it is not news as it is the natural order of things. When man bites dog, it is news. Hadley’s criticism of Howard falls into the latter category as he is normally prone to praise anything and everything to do with politicians from the right. That’s why it was worthy of coverage by the ABC and the SMH.

Melissa Davey of The Guardian Australia is one reporter who attended the entire trial and heard all the evidence that was possible to hear. Henderson’s ignorance of what she has written underlines his lack of digital literacy and also shows his lack of integrity.

She writes: “Brennan was barely in the trial. He did not sit through most of the evidence. When he was in, he was clearly aligned with Pell from the start, talking to him and shaking his hand.

“And as for his comments about journos lacking law experience; some of my colleagues in the trial have covered courts for years. Their knowledge is incredible. We all have high-level legal contacts to ensure we get it right.”

But Henderson appears not to have known of Davey’s tweets. It underlines his ignorance of things digital — his blog does not even contain links — and underlines his lack of knowledge of news. Davey’s Twitter thread is the best expression by a journalist of what the trial was all about. But he appears to have been unaware of it.

Pell will be sentenced on Wednesday [March 13] and the sentencing will be broadcast nationally. No doubt, that will give Henderson another topic to gripe about when he writes his tripe for the weekend.

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