Grouchy Mark

The last time it ended at a writers’ festival. That is part of the contradiction of Mark Latham, the apparent voice of western Sydney, who left politics for acreage and the breeding of racehorses.

“I felt, as someone who I worked with, very upset for him,” his publisher, Louise Adler, said afterwards. “He was absolutely enraged. He was obsessive. He was paranoid. He was teary. It was really watching a man sort of fall apart before you. I think he is, you know, some of his remarks – his sexual politics are non-existent. I don’t understand where that comes from.”

The implosion followed the loss of Latham’s column at The Australian Financial Review, related to his abuse of Rosie Batty and Cate McGregor. At the festival, Latham ranted for an hour. He told the audience to “fuck off”. He singled out enemies in the crowd. The Daily Telegraph responded by giving him a column. Channel Nine and Triple M found space for him on air. Later, he joined Sky News.

But the invective was not new. There is a sad predictability to the outrages of Mark Latham – sad because they play out in public and they hurt other people.

There had been the taxi driver whose arm he broke. There had been the defamation actions, the attacks on mothers, on female writers, the disdain for mental illness.

There was the episode at Hungry Jack’s, which ended with him smashing a photographer’s camera and saw him placed on a two-year good behaviour bond for malicious damage.

After the attack, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on a rubber-faced effigy of the Ayatollah Khomeini Latham had apparently strung to his front gate.

“Mark’s problem has always been that he thinks he’s invulnerable, so when he does take a knock he goes down all over the place,” a Labor source told the paper. “No one sued him over his diaries, so he thinks he’s invulnerable.”

This week, he was sacked by Sky News after he mocked a teenager as “gay” for supporting feminism. The episode followed attacks on Wendy Harmer and Kristina Keneally.

On Thursday night, Sky News made two on-air apologies.

To Harmer: “Sky News acknowledges that it broadcast certain statements by Mark Latham about Wendy Harmer. Sky News acknowledges that these statements falsely imputed Ms Harmer’s media career over the past four decades has been a failure and that she has only been able to secure her current employment as a broadcaster at the ABC because she is a female with a disability.”

And Keneally: “Sky News acknowledges that it broadcast certain statements by Mark Latham about Kristina Keneally. Sky News acknowledges that these statements falsely imputed that Ms Keneally acted corruptly in her former role as premier of NSW. Sky News rejects these comments in their entirety and apologises unreservedly to Ms Keneally.”

These apologies sound hollow because they are. There was nothing unexpected about Latham, except his targets. That it was a schoolboy or a former premier or the wife of an on-air colleague doesn’t matter. What matters is that sections of the media do not care: their only interest is the sound and light, not the cruelty or the damage done.

Latham was once an insightful commentator. He is no longer that. He is a desperate man, jumping out of his skin at the imagined demons of identity politics. He is a person to whom the world no longer makes sense. His living is made broadcasting his confusion.

It is a pitiful performance. Mark would be better off if we were not watching. We would be better off, too.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 1, 2017 as "Grouchy Mark".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.