Friday, February 25, 2005

Abbott's feel-good spin

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has been in the headlines all week, but not because of his portfolio responsibilities. Instead, the minister has been talking about the responsibilities he shirked as a young man when he allowed his then pregnant girlfriend (actually, she'd dumped him by this stage) to give up their child for adoption. Twenty seven years later the child turns up as an ABC sound recordist who works in Canberra's Parliament House. Wonderful coincidence.

This is the way The Age broke the story last Monday:
"The day after Christmas a nervous Tony Abbott made a call into his past, and was rewarded with four words that took his breath away: "Thanks for having me."

It marked a reconciliation and reunion with the son, Daniel, he gave up for adoption 27 years ago."
It ran all week. There was the inevitable reaction the same day; the minister's plea on day two for his new-found son not to be used as a 'political football' in the abortion debate (thus ensuring that he was); pained reaction from Daniel's adoptive family; speculation on the effect this story would have on other adopting families; and so on ...

All of this was kickstarted by an almighty stoush between Bulletin editor Gary Linell and the editors of News Ltd papers, particularly The Telegraph. You see the Bulletin had the story first but agreed to hold on to it until Abbott had had time to talk to his family. Big mistake. Anne Summers picks up the story in today's Age:
The whole story is recounted in considerable depth and with a great deal of sensitivity to all parties in this week's Bulletin magazine. Journalist Julie-Anne Davies got a tip some weeks ago about the Health Minister being reunited with his son. She approached Abbott, who confirmed it but asked her to hold off publishing the story to give him time to talk to relevant people. The magazine could have run the story last week but agreed to the minister's request. He then betrayed them.

Last Sunday afternoon, just after Davies had filed her story, Tony Abbott rang his good friend Piers Akerman, rabid columnist for The Daily Telegraph and alerted him to the fact that The Bulletin was running with the story on Wednesday. Late that afternoon Kathy Donnelly rang Davies, extremely upset, to say she had had a call from Akerman. Abbott has told The Bulletin that he had no idea that Akerman would run with the story the next day; he was reminded by The Bulletin of the deal they had and claims to have rung Akerman a second time and also to have spoken to his editor and asked them not to publish.

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