Friday, March 10, 2006

Remember Cheryl Kernot?

Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans with Kernot portrait I don't know if you'd care to cast your mind back to July 2002 when the revelations about Cheryl Kernot's affair with Gareth Evans surfaced.

For you people too young/apolitical/naïve to have remembered or cared (as was the case for me), Kernot was the leader of Australian Democrats, defected to the ALP in 1997, and quit politics after losing her seat (Dickson, Queensland) in 2001.

And Evans was the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Keating era. He helped orchestrate Kernot's defection, but quit politics in September 1999. In 2002 I had an opportunity to talk with someone in DCITA who knew someone who used to work for him when was in charge of the Foreign Ministry (yes, a convoluted relationship as it must be for non-Canberrians like me). All I recall of the conversation is that Gareth would sometimes get nasty and throw staplers – yes staplers – at his underlings when he became frustrated.

Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans Anyway, if you remember the July 2002 fiasco, people became angrily divided on whether it was appropriate for the media to have revealed the affair and thus given it attention. In particular the question was over whether Laurie Oakes' role in bringing about the exposé was acceptable, ethical, professional, etcetera.

Was it?

"No" says Greg Barns, former Howard staffer, now a member of the democrats* – also the guy who stupidly defended Andrew Bartlett's manhandling of Jeannie Ferris at some pollie Christmas Party in 2003 (but that is another story).
The feeding frenzy on Kernot and Evans simply shows one thing: the media cannot resist a yarn about sex and power. Just as they couldn't in Britain in 1963, or or in America in 1998.
And, for various reasons, others agree. In a letter to the SMH, Libby Werthein, wrote:
What about Bob Hawke and the journalist and the many other woman [sic] he had affairs with? What about all the other male politicians who have had affairs? ... Bob Hawke would have been constantly in the media for his affairs ... This is another form of sexism and I am sorry you are buying into it ... The issue of the affair should never have been raised in parliment [sic] and good on Gareth for denying it.
Shouldn't have denied it? Even though it was true, and it was with another member of parliament? And then there are others who said "do we really care?" Well, they are fooling themselves. Of course we care! Just because the scandal involves sex, suddenly we are meant to treat it with kid gloves?!

Frankly, I think the media should have asked Kernot and Evans to tell the truth as soon as he denied it in parliament. That would have been the preferred modus operandi. I'm surprised we had to wait until Kernot published her book omitting mention of the affair for Oakes to get up and insist that a vital fact had been kept secret!

Although I kind of feel sorry for Kernot, and I had some respect for both her and Gareth as politicians, if you are a public person – like a politician – and sleep with another public person in the same public sphere – like a politician, then the public deserves to know. Certainly if you write an autobiography and haven't yet been exposed then this is your opportunity to tell the story sensitively in your own words – not to mention dramatically increase publicity for your book! Cheryl made a critical mistake. Maybe she was actually crazy enough to think she'd get away with it!

Given the benefit of a few years of hindsight what do you blog readers out there think now? First, did Laurie Oakes make a mistake? Second, did Kernot?

The lesson I take from this anyway is that if you are in the public eye – or even if you're not – and have an affair, be prepared that you may one day have to reveal it to the world before someone else does it for you!

Update: Greg Barns is no longer a member of the Democrats, according to Andrew Bartlett, who pointed this out in a comment on this post.
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Blogger Anthony said...

I like both Kernot & Evans. I have liked their ideas and they seem like two pretty switched-on people.

I can't say I necessarily agree that the public deserves to know about these sorts of things. Politicians, actors, pop stars and others in the public eye should continue to have the right to a private life. It's wrong, I believe, to deny anyone of some privacy. It is not important that the public be aware of a politician's sex life. It doesn't, at least not directly, affect the public.

I was surprised how quicky the whole Kernot-Evans news came and went.

March 10, 2006 8:32 pm  
Anonymous mick said...

Personally, I don't give a damn who they sleep with. It's their public statements and attitudes that matter to me, not what happens after they knock off for the day.

Sure, it might affect their opinions etc, but many things do. Do we need to know what they ate for lunch, who their school friends were, what music they listen too, how many boy/girlfriends they had, blah, blah to know how they formed their opinions?

March 10, 2006 9:17 pm  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

You've asked whether Laurie Oakes or Cheryl Kernot made a mistake, but there's lots more than two questions in that.

Cheryl Kernot made a political mistake defecting to the Labor Party, but that's easy to say in hindsight. A few tweaks of history the other way (remembering Labor actualy came close to winning 1998 with a majority of the two party preferred vote) and it may have been seen as a masterstroke.

As to whether she made a personal mistake getting involved with Gareth Evans, it's impossible for anyone else but her to answer that (and inappropriate for anyone else to speculate).

Was she wrong in not revealing the details of that relationship? Well, she (probably) wouldn't have copped as much crap if she had revealed it herself, but why should she? Until it becomes an expectation that every person in the public sphere (which is as broad as the media feels like making it on any given day) has to reveal every aspect of their personal and sex life, then I'm for encouraging silence on this - as much because I sure as hell don't want to see 'political' reporting even more debased than it already is.

Did Laurie Oakes make a mistake? From the point of view of media credibility (if that's not an oxymoron) he certainly didn't. The fact that he's identified with this story on your blog 4 years later proves that.

A different question is whether he should have publicised this. I publicly said he made a wrong call at the time, and I believe that even more now (not that me agreeing with myself is of much weight). I wouldn't have done it if I was in his position, but I'm not a journalist, so that doesn't mean much.

Also, it's a fair bet that if he hadn't revealed this, it would have ended up being revealed in (an even more) tabloid trash way, so he may well have done Cheryl a favour of sorts in the long run.

Of course, as you indicate earlier in your post in regard to Greg Barns (who is no longer a member of the Democrats these days by the way), anyone who defends a politician who is being attacked by the media has to be stupid. The normal (and understandable, self-preservation driven) response is to keep your head down, let the poor bastard cop it, and hope the selective morality of the media (and general public) doesn't get trained on you one day.

March 11, 2006 1:26 am  
Blogger cam said...

The media is seduced by sex scandals. Sex sells otherwise I wouldnt be seeing Angelina, Brad and Jennifer plastered all across the checkout at the grocery.

I dont think it is the public's business. It didnt hamper Kernot's or Evans capacity as politicians and servants of the public will.

The media sells papers. So if politicians must tread carefully in public life, it is more often than not because the media is looking for new ways to increase its circulation that they can brag about to advertisers.

I don't think it has anything to do with the public's need to know, just economic demands of the media.

March 11, 2006 4:42 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Lisa, how is it that the Senator is familiar with your site? I had to check that it was the real Andrew apparently seem to be so.

March 14, 2006 10:34 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

It seems pretty unanimous that readers of this post think that private life should stay private, even for two public people involving each other in their private life. Given. You all convinced me, and that is the overwhelming message in your responses.

About the questions though...
1. Did Cheryl make a mistake by not informing the public in her book?
2. Did Laurie make a mistake by highlighting the fact when she didn't?

For #1, yes she did make a mistake because she should have forseen that someone knew and that they'd be upset it would be omitted in the book.

For #2, no he didn't. He made a deliberate choice that reaped him rewards as a journalist.

March 15, 2006 1:05 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

But Andrew's response showed a lot of holes in my post. I guess we need more senators reading our blog posts and critiquing them.

Regardless of the 'Bartlett drunken incident', to which I referred in my post, kudos to you Andrew for being the most active federal politician in the Aussie blogosphere (and possibly the most in-touch as a result).

March 15, 2006 1:08 pm  
Anonymous mick said...

As a frequent commenter here it makes me happy to see that Senator Bartlett is reading this blog :-). It might make me a bit more careful about what I write though!!!

March 16, 2006 11:16 pm  
Blogger Sarah said...

I think it was relevant to the public because political events occurred as they did based on the fact that the affair took place. Fair game, I reckon.

March 21, 2006 8:09 pm  
Blogger geoff said...

Wow, I'm impressed too Lisa (green, actually). The real Andrew Bartlett, senator! Never heard of him before incidentally, but have now. And impressed because he strings some good sentences together and makes sense. If you're reading this Senator, take a squiz at my Radwaste blog and send me a cheerio! (and I'll go easy on the Democrat's uranium policy, in return)

Pity about the majority view, though. If it prevailed, we would miss out on the entertainment of Bonking Boris over in the Mother Country, and reading about his escapades in lustrous mag's like News of The World (wonderful pic of "worn out Boris", btw).

And it doesn't seem to have done his popularity much harm at all. Strange lot, our British comrades.

April 13, 2006 4:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The media are more concerned with being right than being honest.They target individuals, and once they have done that there is no escape!

If the affair with Kernot was wrong then why weren't any of his other dalliances with high profile women?

May 18, 2006 6:23 am  
Blogger Lisa said...

Anon, whether their dalliances were morally wrong is not something I'm trying to deal with here. I wouldn't dream of passing such moral judgement without knowing each of their intimate circumstances. This one was special because Cheryl was defecting to the Labor Party at Gareth's behest. This one deserved to be exposed because there was a conflict of interest between both of them and their political parties. But at that time it wasn't - so be it.

Then Cheryl published a story about her life to the public without revealing the dalliance again. This meant she not only mislead her party but the public in this instance. That was the real mistake - leaving it out of her book (or writing such a book in the first place).

May 18, 2006 11:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheryl was lucky that the "official story" covering up a of a sex scandal relating to her teaching days at St Leos was largely accepted by the public. As a student of hers at the time I am amazed that the Christian Brothers protected her from the consequences of her actions like she was one of their own.
Cheryl displayed an uncanny ability to target and manipulate the influential and powerful to satisfy her own needs regardless of who it harmed.
The Oxford Street DJ who was interviewed by the Fairfax media about his memories of Cheryl has a lot more to tell.

September 17, 2006 1:52 pm  

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