Friday, May 1, 2009

Caroline Overington, The Monthly, Robert Manne tousled blondes, Sally Warhaft and sundry teacup storms

(Above: part of a sculpture at Collector, a village of some 150 souls between Goulburn and Canberra, off the federal highway. The bike is a post modernist addition, reflection and commentary on the original work).

After enduring the turmoil of Canberra for way too long, it was pleasant to stop by Collector to see my favorite piece of southern highlands art, though I'm not sure it tops the electronic sheep at the Goulburn Soldiers' Club for sheer artistry.

And in much the same way, it's always a pleasant Friday afternoon diversion to drop in on Caroline Overington's blog, in which she's always keen to prove that you don't have to twitter to encounter the twittering of tweets.

Of late it seems Ms. Overington has been much agitated by events at The Monthly, and the departure of its editor Dr. Sally Warhaft at the behest of its owner Morry Schwartz.

Today Overington was forced in to an update, wherein she admitted she'd got it wrong that Dr. Warhaft had commissioned PM Kevin Rudd's infamous essay:

That was a mistake. The mistake was mine. The essay was offered to The Monthly. I don’t know why I thought Dr Warhaft had commissioned it. Certainly, she never told me that. It must have been an impression I formed. Now it’s being used against her. I won’t let that stand. I apologise for the error.

So what to do? Well how about berating Monthly board member Robert Mann for using the words surprised and gratified that PM Rudd had lobbed the essay their way for publication, and wondering whether this should be shown as his personal view or taken to be the view of the magazine. Well I guess the form of words is tremendously important, and suspect Overington must spend hours on wording her invitations to dinner parties. 

Then she sheds a crocodile tear about Manne's cancer becoming a part of the gossip, before going on to note that Warhaft's deputy editor and "at least one writer" have quit in support of her.

Would that happen to be Gideon Haigh, who just happens to be Warhaft's former partner? If so, surely that should form part of the gossip.

But what I most love is Overington's indignation that a leftist magazine would stoop to publishing ... left wing writers. You know like the notorious Eric Hobsbawn, a - gasp - unrepentant communist. And then there's Dean Baker, a Washington economist, and Chicago-based economist David Hale. And only one of these is strongly critical of Rudd!!

And the bastards apparently spiked an attempt to publish an essay by fundie Christian loving Peter Costello, on the surely specious grounds that Costello has behaved appallingly since the election, and is a dull, sanctimonious writer. No, never, well hardly ever. (I'm sure Quadrant would only be too happy, but Costello obviously prefers the easy, glib notoriety of dashing off eight hundred words or so for the Fairfax rags).

But perhaps the tastiest bits are Overington's descriptions of Dr. Sally Warhaft as a "whip-smart willowy beauty, which makes her a great front for a lively mag" and as "the tousled blonde smiling and laughing on Tony Jones' right" in a Q&A appearance.

Still in a world where Greg Barns can claim The IPA Review and the Australian edition of The Spectator as models of good, even handed intellectual debate, it's hard to criticize Overington for thinking editing a leftie magazine is a bit like turning out for Vogue.

What does it all mean? Well I guess loon pond in Australia is still very small, and mostly the loons are up themselves, and if not, then certainly up each other. Robert Manne did himself no great favors by leaping into print to defend his role in the great editorial bust up (Robert Manne: the true history of The Monthly bust up), giving it an "I said-then she said" hue, but Warhaft has done herself no favors by letting the likes of Overington run with her side of the story.

With friends like Overington, all she's doing is promoting herself as a difficult and vexatious figure to any future employer, albeit willowy and tousled.

Overington managed to get one thing right. Morry Schwartz owns the magazine, and he can do what he damn well likes with it, including hiring and firing the editor as he decides (and that's easy or hard, depending on outrageous, impossible, terms and conditions of employment imposed by the socialistic Rudd government on small businesses. Gerard Henderson feels your pain Morry Schwartz).

Sacking editors happens all the time in the world of magazines - in much the same way as Kerry Packer went through executives at the Nine network like a regular dose of salts - with perhaps the most recent matching storm in a teacup being the Quadrant do featuring Robert Manne wearing a different hat. 

Quadrant's contribution to the current teacup storm is to link to a YouTube clip from the American TV show Are you smarter than a fifth grader? featuring a truly dumb blonde, which is the kind of Alexander Pope sharp-edged wit you'd expected from Australia's leading general intellectual journal of ideas. Perhaps they think any willowy, tousled blonde will do for left wing magazines.

Anyhoo, if you want to drop in on Caroline Overington, you can always find her at her blog here, with all her thought balloons on the dire situation at The Monthly somewhere near the top at the moment. Time will of course send them down the list, but it occurs to me that the real tragedy is that in this digital age, there's no decent way to recycle the electrons deployed by Overington in the ether.

Once upon a time, you could have put her page to good use, either under the cat's feed tray, or the kitty litter, or used it as fish and chip wrappings, or even mulched it up for a papier-mâché puppet head you could take along to school for that classic comedy "The Big Endians versus The Little Endians" (or perhaps for dress ups at a Tasmanian school).

(Below: Caroline Overington. Warning: anyone commenting on her blonde hair, her winsome look, or her leather jacket will be strictly moderated. I know, I know, that comment should be moderated, as it implies an impression has been formed, and I will speak sharply to the moderator of the moderators ).

(Below: tousled blonde Sally Warcraft).

Say what strange Motive, Goddess! cou'd compel
A well-bred Lord t'assault a gentle Belle?
Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor'd,
Cou'd make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
In tasks so bold, can little Men engage,
And in soft Bosoms, dwell such mighty Rage?
Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock.

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