I recently vented my anger at peeps getting stuck into Caroline Wilson (particularly when they get personal). While it was directed at all her abusive critics, I did cite a particular thread on the BigFooty forums as an example. This prompted a backlash of comments from unsympathetic NMFC supporters! It seems I inadvertently stumbled across a monumental conspiracy theory, and in so doing, brought to the surface a deep wound that refuses to heal. Here’s my take on it:
Essentially, Caroline Wilson (and to a lesser extend, a few other journos) stand accused of acting as the AFL’s mouthpiece on the Gold Coast relocation issue. According to GoldCoastTruth.org, Wilson did this in return for an ‘ongoing supply of inside information’ from the AFL, providing her with exclusives to scoop her media competitors.
GoldCoastTruth.org’s evidence is an extensive (and painstakingly impressive) archive of articles written by Caroline Wilson on the GC issue. Potentially incriminating excerpts are not deconstructed individually. Rather, the website suggests the reader keep an eye out for a few things, such as how Wilson becomes more “desperate and dramatic” the closer the relocation deadline approaches.
As far as I can tell, this is the extent of the evidence.
Among the articles cited, there are two clear instances that support an argument for misleading journalism:
“Demetriou yesterday reminded all that the competition was ploughing $9.6 million annually into the Kangaroos and that the AFL and the 15 other clubs had every right to question their future direction if their shareholders were not prepared to personally invest in it.” (‘Gold Coast warms to Kangaroos’, The Sunday Age, 22/4/2007)
As was pointed out soon after this rash statement was published, all clubs receive $7 million p.a. from the AFL. North received an extra $1.2 million through selling 3 home games to the Gold Coast, and another $1.4 million in Additional Special Distribution (ASD) funding. ASD funding is not designed to prop up unsustainable clubs, it’s a redistribution of funding to clubs that are shafted by crap stadium deals (Richmond, Melbourne and the Dogs have all received ASD funding).
“The Gemba report found that the club could not survive in Melbourne without that (GC and ASD) funding.” (‘Roos a Gold Coast priority – Draft picks part of relocation lure’, The Age, 11/10/2007)
This is like putting two and two together and getting seven. The Gemba report, from what I understand, suggested that North could make a small $0.3 million profit from 2010 without selling home games or receiving ASD funding. However, this was under a best-case scenario model which Gemba noted as “a stretched goal (which) will be difficult to achieve”. While I’m sure there are shades of grey in how you can interpret the Gemba report (I haven’t seen the full version), it can be reasonably argued that Wilson’s statement is deceptive. She did not do this once, but twice:
“The independently funded Gemba report into the club’s future said the Kangaroos could not survive in Melbourne with their current Telstra Dome agreement and without extra AFL support.” (‘Roos draft allowances a no-go zone, say Pies’, The Age, 23/10/2007)
A subjective point presented as a definitive fact. This is pretty damning.
Beyond the examples cited above, all remaining evidence to support the conspiracy theory is subjective. Bold statements such as …
“But never have the Kangaroos had more to gain, never have they looked more vulnerable and never has an AFL second chance looked more attractive.” (‘Roos must accept the inevitable’, The Age, 2/12/2007)
… while potentially viewed as clear-cut evidence for the case, in truth it’s just her opinion, albeit sternly put.
Along these lines, GoldCoastTruth.org puts forward a few subjective arguments (cited as ‘persuasive tactics’) …
- ‘Argumentum ad nausem‘ (whereby she repeats the same story over and over and over again to the point where it is generally accepted by people who know no better) and
- ‘Appeals to fear’ (whereby she continually suggests that if North Melbourne don’t relocate, they will face financial disaster in Melbourne, and will lose ‘funding’ from the AFL and perish altogether)”
… both of which are pretty weak.
(1) The Gold Coast issue was easily the biggest story in the AFL since the tumultuous 1996 season (with the possible exception of the Wayne Carey-Kelli Stevens affair). To suggest Wilson was “argumentum ad nausem” for the benefit of the AFL is ridiculous – she was doing her job and covering a story of significant public interest.
(2) To suggest she was appealing to fear purely to peddle the AFL’s agenda is, again, ridiculous. North had real reason to fear passing up on the GC offer – there was (and still is) a genuine possibility that North would not remain financially viable as a Melbourne-based club. And there’s no guarantee the AFL will bail them out. This opinion was shared by many commentators, as well as the NMFC CEO at the time and members of North’s own Board. Hardly appealing to fear if it’s just reflecting the truth.
But weakest of all is the premise that Wilson risked her reputation and career in order to gain easy access to AFL scoops. I simply can’t see this working for her. We all saw how players ostericised Dylan Howard when he went a step too far, ultimately costing him his job. If Wilson was in cahoots with the AFL she was risking a similar fate. Was it just a case of not getting caught? I doubt it.
At the end of the day Caro’s pro-relocation position can be put down to PR. On one hand, you had the AFL with all its resourcing and arrogance pursuing its own agenda using traditional PR tactics of spin, leaks and more spin. The only organisation with the information to counter it was North.
But North didn’t have a PR strategy. With few resources and a divided Board, it couldn’t. In fact, the Board was so busy fighting among themselves that it would have been near impossible to devise any real PR strategy anyway. This left the administration looking reactionary and incompetent.
Caroline Wilson’s articles reflected this. North were portrayed as dithering battlers and the GC option looked tempting – not an unreasonable judgement to make at the time. In the PR battle, North was getting flogged. It wasn’t until James Brayshaw stepped up, unified the stay-in-Melbourne camp and began to utilise his media power that the pendulum started swinging the other way. For the first time, North’s PR was equal to the AFL’s, and the emotion of footy followers across the country did the rest. History shows JB ultimately won the war.
But there’s no question Wilson stuffed up. The misleading comments I cite earlier expose her swallowing the AFL’s bait. While they are small oversights they had huge ramifications; too big to ignore.
So ultimately, there’s no big conspiracy. Caro covered the GC story extensively, had a couple of Barrys along the way and pissed off some passionate fans in the process. Personally, I reckon everyone should get over it.