Perusing the newsagents this afternoon I noticed the October edition of The Monthly has a column reviewing Jacqueline Kent’s new biography of Julia Gillard (which I review here). The review says pretty much the same things I do, but what is noteworthy is that under the very weak defence of “biography wars”, the review was written by Chris Wallace the author of a soon to be released unauthorised biography on Gillard. Crikey has picked up the story, quoting Penguin’s editor Ben Ball who describes it as a “complete disgrace…shocking. ….This is the most sinister hook The Monthly have ever used to lure its readers”.
Crikey also note that on Wallace’s own site (an excellent collection of links to the days big stories) Breakfast Politics, the top story is her own review, something I had missed in my mid morning pre-coffee stupor. While there is a clear conflict of interest at work here, I think Penguin’s anger is more concocted than anything else. Book reviews should be done by other knowledgeable authors, so Wallace could offer something fresh as a reviewer. Kent’s book is solid but ultimately unsatisfying for a political audience (which The Monthly serves), so similar criticisms were likely to appear anyway. Their real fear is the loss of sales from that fact being known. Making a book review the cover story speaks more of the current interest in Gillard and paucity of material in this months edition of The Monthly, than evidence of a sinister desire to fool readers (Indeed Wallace notes it in the beginning of her review).
Rather, the real fault of Wallace’s is that having claimed the virtue of independence that outsider status grants (Kent got 3 interviews with the big G, Wallace none), she fails to deliver any worthy new tibits or hard hitting pieces of analysis. Surely these are being saved up for the book, but given that Gillard is such a careful and frankly bland character, it rather suggests she doesn’t have anything bold and new. If you want to be anti-establishment you have to show some teeth. Otherwise why bother. I doubt that this minor minor controversy will get The Monthly higher sales (I ended up dropping it back into the newsagent stands), but the new editor Ben Naparstek is showing he is willing to play for ratings. Given the great challenge of maintaining a political/literary magazine in Australia when literally thousands are giving their opinion and comment away for free (like me – but I’m willing to sell out!), it certainly can’t hurt and probably recommends the choice of one so young and inexperienced to run the magazine.
Either way, for an ethically fair review of the new biography of Kent simply click this link. Given the attention (and that my gillard review has been one of the most viewed posts here recently) I’ll be sure to purchase and review Wallace’s book when it comes out. Maybe then I’ll get a bit of a hold on our next PM, something Kent stumbles before the alter of admiration in doing.