Our loudest, richest victim of a conspiracy of silence
When you walk into the Commonwealth Bank you don’t see advertisements on the walls attacking banks for paying obscene salaries to their executives. McDonalds would refuse to place banners outside its stores stating that Big Macs are rubbish and the Whopper is a superior burger. In a similar vein, News Limited, the publisher of this website, has taken the unremarkable commercial decision not to use its products as a vehicle to trash its reputation.
The person in question is Dick Smith and the material is a 28-page magazine he has written called Dick Smith’s Magazine of Forbidden Ideas That You Won’t Read About in the Mainstream Media.
As a businessman, Smith has harnessed the concept of martyrdom – be it real or imagined – as his preferred marketing technique. He has made millions presenting himself as a nuggetty Aussie battler taking on the big guys, despite being bigger than most in Australian business.
Indeed some of his wealth has come from pinching market share from local businesses, such as the family-owned preserves producer Beerenberg, whose boss said last month that it was struggling to sell its products because of Smith’s posturing as one of the only patriots in the field of jam production.
In a way, the last thing Smith would have wanted was to have his magazine inserted in News Limited publications, as it would undermine his claim of persecution as the basis for making profits. The magazine is so totally out there that it seems he deliberately went overboard to ensure it wouldn’t be carried as an advertisement, as it is filled with conspiracy theories involving Rupert Murdoch’s American citizenship, this company’s (non-existent) refusal to run pieces calling for a smaller Australian population, our alleged bias against climate science, our supposed determination to attack Smith for using patriotism to make money.
Even the independent website Crikey, hardly a friend of News Limited, ran a piece by former Media Watch producer David Salter saying it was “not surprising” that News refused to run the insert, and attacking its content as the work of an “egomaniac” falsely claiming a conspiracy.
I would not be so disrespectful as to call Mr Smith an egomaniac, even though, as Crikey points out, there are 29 photos of him in his 28-page insert. He is certainly a conspiracy theorist and his theories do not pass muster.
Smith’s obsession with News Limited is so acute that he misrepresents both our general conduct and our specific treatment of him. A few years ago I heard him on ABC Radio after the Victorian bushfires saying News Limited had never given a cent to charity. I rang the station and asked (fruitlessly) to go on air to point out that in the previous week News donated $1 million to Victoria. I could fill the rest of this column with similar examples, be it families who made the news for tragic reasons, cultural bequests for the arts, money for our State Library, the Pride of Australia awards for unsung community heroes.
For someone who has been silenced Smith spends a lot of time getting neutral or positive coverage in the news pages or a generous run in the opinion section. The apparently venal Australian newspaper has run two of his columns this year about over-population. Last year he partnered with the Murdoch-owned Manly Daily to find locals to staff one of his stores. He appeared recently on Foxtel’s business show and when he left archly warned an executive to brace himself for a call from Rupert Murdoch chastising him. (The call never came.) On two occasions, my very polite colleagues Tory Maguire and Tory Shepherd rang Dick Smith offering him an opinion piece. He called them lazy journalists who couldn’t be bothered to write a story, showing both ingratitude and a limited grasp of how opinion pieces actually work. His spray against Maguire was so over the top that he felt compelled to send her a written apology soon after, which was a decent thing of him to do.
Mr Smith is enjoying an uncritical run on Adelaide’s ABC, which has shelved its charter of not promoting commercial enterprises to let Smith spruik his. On radio this week Smith made the specious claim that politicians had told him they couldn’t air his type of views for fear of vengeance from the Murdoch press. That doesn’t explain the yards of copy written on someone like Nick Xenophon, a dogged critic of what he like Smith calls the Coles-Woolworths duopoly, or figures such as Bob Katter, Barnaby Joyce or most members of the National Party. Nor does it explain why, if our politicians are so cowed, the Labor Government is considering draconian limits on press freedom.
The bullying Smith claims to be a victim is in reality the marketing he craves to keep making millions of dollars. The fact that he is promoting his insert - readily available online - with a zany $10,000 cash giveaway only confirms that underneath his costume this caped nationalistic crusader is simply pretty good at turning a quid.
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