It was the scandal that rocked Australian sport.
In March, 2002, one of the country’s best footballers, Wayne Carey, quit the North Melbourne Kangaroos in disgrace after admitting to an affair with the wife of his then-best-friend and vice-captain, Anthony Stevens.
Local journalist and TV personality Craig Hutchison broke the story to a shocked nation on a 3pm Channel 7 news report. Hutchison would later win a Quill Award for his efforts.
Ten years later, Hutchison spoke to Insider Journalism Secrets about how he stumbled across the story and worked frantically to break it first.
By CRAIG HUTCHISON
It was March 24, 2002 and I was in the Channel 7 office at Docklands in Melbourne. I phoned a contact to ask a question about something that had nothing to do with Wayne Carey.
He said, ‘I have too much on my plate today. I’m dealing with something you couldn’t believe.’
He gave me a hint of what the story was and that it involved Wayne and the North Melbourne Kangaroos football club.
I didn’t exactly know what the story was but it was described to me as something ‘morally indefensible’.
I got off the phone and from that point, I tried to glue it all together. It was like a jigsaw trying to put the pieces together.
I started to speak with people who I thought may have been in the loop, many of whom assumed I knew a lot more than I did.
My theory in chasing a story is you basically have to call everyone involved: the person, colleagues, friends, the board, coaches, administration, subjects. I drew a circle on a piece of paper and put in it everyone’s name who I thought might know something about whatever this ‘morally indefensible’ thing by Wayne was.
I won’t mention the specific names of the people I phoned. But what phoning everyone did was establish a pattern of behavior.
If you were used to phoning someone three times a week and then all of a sudden, they’re not contactable for three hours, it increases your suspicion levels.
If someone is always cordial to you on the phone and then all of a sudden they’re a bit curt….or if someone sounds in a hurry…then you know something is up.
And what I’ve always found with journalism, and what was particularly interesting that day, is that people will be far more helpful if they feel they’re not the one telling you the whole story.
Sources have guiit associated with being the leak.
So if they feel you actually have the story or are in possession of the facts, they will speak far more freely. They will help you color it in a bit more. But they don’t want to be the ones to tell you the story in the first place.
So on that day, convincing the person I was on the phone with that I knew a lot more than I actually did, was the way I collected information.
I think that is almost the greatest skill of journalism.
“I put on a facade”
And so the facade that I put on in a series of phone calls made my contacts feel more content in their mind that they weren’t the ones telling me what had happened.
Someone assumed I knew the story and talked about it more freely. And then I took that bit of information, and went back around the circle again.
So I was literally taking one item of information out of everyone, and by the time I had taken one item of information from everyone in the circle, I was pretty much in possession of the entire story.
At about 1.50pm, I was pretty confident I was nearly there with it.
I phoned someone and said, “This is what I am going to say on air. Say nothing if I’m wrong.”
I then booked the Channel 7 link van that would enable us to go live from outside the North Melbourne Football Club in Arden St.
I left the office and drove to Arden St and got there about 2.15pm. And I could sense there was an uneasiness around the place.
At about 2.35pm, the Kangaroos media manager saw me, walked up to me and said, “What are you doing here?”
I said, “I’m about to do a story that’s going to change your life.”
He said, “What is it?”
I said, “I can’t tell you.”
He seemed not to know. Now whether he knew or not, I never asked him afterwards.
But I suspect he probably didn’t because I think the loop of people inside who did know at that point was relatively small. I think maybe it was like a dozen players, coaches, friends of Wayne’s externally – maybe 25 people all up.
I found out much later on that one of my competitors at a rival TV station had been told the story the day before.
He had gone to the footy club and said he’d heard what happened. The club looked him in the eye and said it wasn’t true. And my competitor accepted the lie. That’s one thing I never do.
“Everybody is capable of lying”
Because I think everyone is capable of lying in life. Everyone. Everyone.
Wives and husbands lie. It makes sense people would lie to protect themselves in business.
You hear a lot of journalists say, “He wouldn’t lie to me. He looked me in the eye and told me it wasn’t true.” I don’t accept that.
So the link van is outside the club, I’m there, and at this point, the only two people who know we’re going to do this story are me and Tim Cleary, who was Channel 7’s deputy head of news and sports producer.
He and I were the only two.
We didn’t tell the link van operator or the cameraman or even the news director what the story was about.
But we got permission to break into programming, which is unheard of back in those days.
I think [the TV soap series] Bold and the Beautiful was on or whatever it was and we were going to break into that show to break the story.
And Tim and I literally told no-one.
You can never tell anyone. Because you can’t trust anyone, you can’t.
It is a small world and Melbourne is a small town.
And we made sure not to write the story down on our own Channel 7 rundown in case a colleague in another state saw it and inadvertently told someone else. The amount of times I’ve gone to do stories and the competing news channels have found out about it is unbelievable.
I just tell no one.
The cameraman didn’t know until the words came out of my mouth.
“If I’m wrong here, I’m finished”
So 3pm came. I remember looking into the camera thinking, ‘If I’m wrong here, I’m finished.’
I went live and said something like, ”Craig Hutchison live here from Arden St. with a bombshell story that will rock the sporting world. Wayne Carey is set to retire tonight after an off-field dispute with a teammate that will have ramifications throughout the industry.”
It was a 45 second cross and I had to get in and out in exactly that time.
I went off air. Ten seconds later, the phone rang. I took that call for about a minute.
By the time I got off that call, I had nine voice messages on my phone.
Within 30 minutes, there were 50 media at North Melbourne. The place just filled.
I reckon I had 430 incoming calls in that afternoon, either on message bank or missed calls. I had calls from people I went to high school with who I hadn’t seen in ten years.
Then I got word that Wayne was in a meeting at his manager Ricky Nixon’s office in Albert St, Sth Melbourne.
So I got in my car and left north Melbourne. Everyone was so shocked I was leaving that they started to leave assuming there was no reason to stay but not really knowing where I’d gone.
I turned the radio on. Every radio station in Australia rang me and I did about seven or eight interviews before I realized it was a waste of my time to be doing it.
I was getting calls from stations you couldn’t have known existed.
“The biggest story in Australia”
It was the biggest story in Australia, they couldn’t get to Wayne and nobody else was answering the phone except for the guy who was.
People got offended when I stopped being availabe for their radio shows but I just couldn’t do it.
I did another story on the 6pm news at the top of the show, and then again in sport.
But still at 6pm people and media weren’t specifically naming Anthony Stevens and his wife as the parties involved in the scandal.
It was legally dicey if you could mention their name. Back in those days, it was a bit inappropriate to talk about sports stars and their marital affairs in the media.
These days there’s a general acceptance that you do. But back then, it was a bit taboo.
Finally at about 7.15pm Wayne fronted the camera in a white t shirt. It wasn’t until he came out and basically coughed up what he’d done that people started to report freely that he’d had the affair with Anthony Stevens’ wife.
Afterwards, I went back to the Channel 7 office where I stayed until about 1am.
Tim Cleary said, ‘How are we going to attack this tomorrow?’
This was going to be the biggest story for two weeks.
We owned day one of it.
But what happened today becomes irrelevant the second you’re published or go to air.
So tomorrow started now.
Where were you when you first heard the news of the Wayne Carey scandal?
What do you think of the way journalist Craig Hutchison broke the story?
Do you want to know how to become a journalist?
Please write your thoughts in the comment section below.
To listen to Hutchison’s full audio interview about his life as a journalist, CLICK HERE