Saturday, May 13, 2006

Time runs out for Aussie 60 Minutes reporter

The following obit comes from our own wizard of Oz, Nigel Starck, offshore program director of the School of Communication at University of South Australia.

Richard Carleton
60 Minutes reporter, Australia
(born New South Wales 24 February 1943; died Tasmania 7 May 2006)

Richard Carleton fired off his typically hostile question, shuffled away from the media scrum at a Tasmanian mine where two men were trapped underground, collapsed, and died of heart failure. That heart had twice endured by-pass surgery; each operation was the subject of a 60 Minutes report fronted, naturally, by the patient.

Carleton, 63, brought individuality, eccentricity, and a touch of arrogance to the process of news gathering, blurring the line between journalism and entertainment, on the principle that a story is not a story if nobody sees it. In the earlier stages of his 40-year television career, he was slender and darkly sideburned, challenging Australia’s political leaders with an incisive line of questioning. He soon won a reputation as the press corps man who had the nerve to raise the offensive, the embarrassing and the infuriating probes that nobody else dared to ask.

Perhaps his most famous moment came in a 1983 encounter with the labor leader Bob Hawke, who was running for prime minister. Hawke had just beaten a decent, diligent but dull political colleague for the nomination – and then he faced Carleton, live on national television. Carleton’s first question rattled the loquacious, nail-hard Hawke. “Could I ask you,” he spat, “whether you feel a little embarrassed tonight at the blood that's on your hands?”

For 60 Minutes, he reported from all the hot spots: Kabul, Bosnia, Jerusalem, Chernobyl, Baghdad, and East Timor. The East Timor report, on an independence referendum, led to an episode – 16 years after the Hawke clash – that might have caused Carleton himself some embarrassment. He was deported by the authorities, for pestering voters at a polling station. After this forced departure, the local police found that Carleton’s hotel room was stocked with gourmet cheeses, caviar, smoked mussels, aparagus spears and quince jams. Rival reporters gleefully filed colour stories on the discovery, for Carleton was not universally loved. Indeed, he had been known to scream abuse at his own camera crews and line producers.

In later life, he became jowly in appearance and pontificating in manner. He would ask long questions in a fruity adversarial quizzing, peering over reading glasses at his interviewees. This interrogation would be spiced too by great slabs of silence, as Carleton waited for the ultimate confession. One television critic found that Carleton “looked at interviewees as if they were pieces of diseased tissue floating in formaldehyde”.

Away from television, he loved fly-fishing in the mountains. He was also an accomplished magician, travelling as far as Florida to learn new sleight-of-hand artistry at an illusionists’ convention. Richard Carleton had a son and a daughter from his first marriage, and a son from his second. He won three ‘Reporter of the Year’ awards.

Even in death, this veteran of Australian television made it to air-time as scheduled. His report, on the Tasmanian mine cave-in, was cobbled together by the production unit and broadcast on the evening of the day that he died. The 60 Minutes watch had stopped on the reporter with the piranha smile.

- Nigel Starck
(with file material from The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald)

AsiaMedia obit for Richard Carleton

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