Media Criticised In Wake of Cardinal Pell Acquittal

At Sky News Australia, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt reads a list compiled by Gerard Henderson of media figures the two men argue were among those prominent in a “pile-on” against Cardinal George Pell ahead of the recent quashing of his child abuse conviction:

Philip Adams of the ABC; Richard Ackland of the Sunday Paper; Paul Bongiorno of the Sunday Paper (disgraceful); Barrie Cassidy (I’ve just mentioned); Sarah Ferguson (you [i.e. Henderson] just mentioned); Peter FitzSimons of Nine Newspapers (Peter, hang your head in shame, mate); Ray Hadley of 2GB who called me “creepy” for defending George Pell (Ray, I expect an apology tomorrow); Derryn Hinch (disgusting); Fran Kelly of the ABC; David Marr; Louise Milligan; Tim Minchin (Tim, not everything’s a song for you, mate. Not everything’s a highlight. Your song slamming Pell was a disgrace); Lucie Morris-Marr, formerly of the Herald Sun, (I’m glad that she’s no longer there); Leigh Sales of the ABC; Tim Soutphommasane, former National Discrimination Commissioner; and Jack Waterford for the Canberra Times.

Bolt was one of a number of commentators who pointed out various implausibilities and difficulties in the case against Pell; counter-arguments ranged from the complacent suggestion that we can never know as much as a jury, through to the malicious assertion that anyone who thinks that Pell might be innocent is in fact approving of the sex crime of which he was accused. The general consensus among liberal-minded people who might in other contexts be critical of the police and willing in principle to entertain the possibility of a miscarriage of justice (e.g. a member of a minority accused of terrorism) is that Pell is certainly guilty despite the High Court outcome and that those who are doubtful or sceptical are wicked.

Thus we have the odd situation that it has been largely left to conservatives to critique the conduct of Victoria Police. Here’s what Bolt wrote a year ago:

The suspicion must be that the jury, like many Australians, had its opinion of Pell poisoned by decades of venomous media attacks, including false claims that he abused other children, offered hush money to a victim of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, and sheltered other paedophiles.

Sadly, Victoria Police helped to destroy his reputation. Graham Ashton, now chief commissioner, falsely told a parliamentary inquiry that the Melbourne Catholic diocese under Pell had not referred any victims of paedophile priests to the police, and falsely claimed that victims compensated under a scheme set up by Pell had to sign confidentiality causes.

Then, with Pell vilified, police set up an inquiry into sexual abuse by him without having had a single complaint. It instead advertised for accusers, and after years of publicity about the compensation the church was paying.

In the same column, Bolt also noted that Lucie Morris-Marr had reported on details of a private phone call between Pell and Monsignor Charles Portelli; Bolt infers (while noting Morris-Marr’s denial) that Pell’s phone may habe been bugged by police and the details leaked to the media. Why should this be of interest and concern only to conservatives? (1)

Meanwhile, the media figures criticised by Bolt and Henderson appear to have chosen to double-down rather than reflect. David Marr wrote a piece for the UK Guardian in which he warned of a “storm of rage from the cardinal’s supporters”, which seems more like a projection of the “rage” long-directed against sceptics, while Lucie Morris-Marr has announced on Twitter that she has “filed a complaint against Gerard Henderson to the Australian Press Council”, apparently for alleged “bullying”. This echoes Morris-Marr’s previous strategy against Bolt, which I discussed in 2016 here. (2)


Commentary on the Pell case is extensive. However, I would like to draw particular attention to a piece that appeared in the UK Catholic Herald last year, by my friend Catherine Lafferty. Catherine’s piece is particularly useful as it places what happened into a broader international context:

…In 2016 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship 60 Minutes programme aired a documentary about the cardinal. It featured British anti-abuse activist Peter Saunders, then a member of the Vatican’s advisory commission on sexual abuse, saying that Pell was a sociopath. What viewers weren’t told was that Saunders heads an organisation that holds eccentric beliefs about Satanic Ritual Abuse and so-called recovered memory.

The Australian programme has a track record of hysterical claims. The year before it aired a breathless documentary, entitled “Spies, lords and predators”, into the so-called Westminster VIP paedophile scandal which was then convulsing the news. It promised to expose what it called “the biggest political scandal Britain has ever faced”, which it said involved “a secret network of the highest office holders in the land, past and current members of parliament, cabinet ministers, judges, diplomats, even one of the country’s top spies”…

The secretive network was then being investigated by the Metropolitan Police under “Operation Midland”, a title which like the Guilford Four, has become synonymous with scandal. Just as with Pell, the claims being investigated in Operation Midland were historic, lacked any supporting forensic evidence and should have been treated with caution not credulousness.

Catherine discussed these points further in discussion with Damian Thompson, as I noted here; this was shortly before Saunders was disgraced after it came to light that he had had an opportunistic drunken sexual encounter with a vulnerable adult in a restaurant toilet during a work-related meeting. Meanwhile, “Spies, Lords and Predators” has not fared well under scrutiny, as I discussed here.


1. Also worth noting is Rod Dreher’s speculation that Pell may have been framed by the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia. While based in Rome, Pell was put in charge of reforming the Vatican bank, and Dreher notes a 2013 report stating the view of Calabrian Mafia investigator Nicola Gratteri that such banking reform “could prove a problem for the ’Ndrangheta, Italy’s most powerful Mafia”. Dreher says that this same mafia “control organized crime on Australia’s East Coast” and “are said to have infiltrated every part of the Australian establishment.”

2. Morris-Marr’s account of her dispute with Bolt was also carried uncritically by the UK Guardian, despite an older report in the same paper that raises questions about her journalistic ethics. The story concerned a journalist named Mark Covell who had been beaten up by police in Italy during the 2001 G8 protests; Morris-Marr, who at the time was just Lucie Morris of the Daily Mail, visited Covell in hospital the next day without disclosing that she was a journalist (he had assumed she was from the British Embassy) and later wrote up a piece falsely accusing him of “helping to mastermind” anarchist riots during the protest. As explained by Roy Greenslade in 2005:

[Covell’s lawyers] pointed to a possible breach of his privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights and a similar article of the Italian constitution, not to mention a contravention of data protection laws. Morris appeared to have breached three clauses of the editors’ code of practice, having invaded Covell’s privacy, intruded into his grief and shock, and entered a hospital bedroom, where he surely had a reasonable expectation of privacy, without permission.

Costs, damages, and a rare letter of apology followed.