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Inside Lisa Wilkinson and Peter FitzSimons’ year from hell

There’s no doubt 2021 was an annus horribilis for Australian media royalty Lisa Wilkinson and Peter FitzSimons.

The couple – who have achieved lofty status among Sydney‘s social elite thanks to their influential TV and newspaper roles, not to mention their best-selling books – faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny this year.

From being satirised as ‘woke North Shore lefties’ by an ABC presenter to facing backlash for ill-advised tweets and having a memoir pulled apart by fact-checkers, there are plenty of reasons why the pair are happy to see the end of 2021.’

Year from hell: Australian media darlings Lisa Wilkinson and Peter FitzSimons faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny this year. Pictured on August 3, 2016, in Sydney

Feud with Stan Grant

In February, FitzSimons clashed with fellow media personality Stan Grant over an Australia Day barbecue the popular historian hosted with his TV star wife.

Grant, 58, set his chapter in The Australian’s serialised murder mystery ‘Oh Matilda: Who Bloody Killed Her?’ at Wilkinson and FitzSimons’ annual harbourside party.

The yearly party is a real event, considered by some media figures a prized invitation on Sydney’s social calendar, and ABC host Grant found it rich pickings for satire.

‘What a woke leftie love-in that was: journos, actors, writers, couple of ex-Wallabies (well it was the North Shore), a few washed up politicians,’ he wrote.

‘Even a couple of Liberals (small l of course) and a former managing director of the ABC for good measure.

‘Everyone there voted yes for same-sex marriage – the year ­before last, they’d all tearily ­applauded their first gay married couple guests – they hated the Catholic Church and had cried when Kevin Rudd said sorry.’

Feud: In February, FitzSimons clashed with ABC presenter Stan Grant (pictured in August 2019) over an Australia Day barbecue the popular historian hosted with his TV star wife

Feud: In February, FitzSimons clashed with ABC presenter Stan Grant (pictured in August 2019) over an Australia Day barbecue the popular historian hosted with his TV star wife

In the chapter, fictional character Matilda Meadows jokes with a friend that the the party reminded them of a scene from Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror movie Get Out, in which the black protagonist finds a terrifying reality after meeting his apparently supportive white in-laws.

Grant wrote that the hosts ‘adored Indigenous culture’.

‘There were dot paintings on the wall, a photo with their arms around Cathy Freeman at Sydney Olympic Stadium, and a framed copy of Paul Keating’s Redfern Statement signed by the last great Australian prime minister himself.’

‘Things did get a bit weird though when Fitzy excitedly gave her a copy of his latest book, a biography of Captain Cook.

‘Apparently Cookie was actually not a bad bloke once you got past his order to open fire on the blacks at Botany Bay. Nobody’s perfect.’

Satire: Grant set his chapter in The Australian's serialised murder mystery 'Oh Matilda: Who Bloody Killed Her?' at Wilkinson and FitzSimons' annual harbourside party. The yearly party is a real event, considered by some media figures a prized invitation on Sydney's social calendar, and Grant found it rich pickings for satire. (Pictured on February 13, 2007, in Sydney)

Satire: Grant set his chapter in The Australian’s serialised murder mystery ‘Oh Matilda: Who Bloody Killed Her?’ at Wilkinson and FitzSimons’ annual harbourside party. The yearly party is a real event, considered by some media figures a prized invitation on Sydney’s social calendar, and Grant found it rich pickings for satire. (Pictured on February 13, 2007, in Sydney)

The FitzSimons-Grant feud started when the pair fell out in April 2020 over the ex-Wallaby’s biography James Cook: The Story Behind the Man who Mapped the World.

At the time, Grant called FitzSimons’ depiction of Cook’s character ‘ludicrous’ and FitzSimons defended his biography, pointing out it was exhaustively researched.

In the aftermath of Grant’s satirical portrayal of FitzSimons and Wilkinson’s annual party, the two men reportedly clashed over text message and stopped speaking.

It is believed their testy relationship completely collapsed.

FitzSimons, 60, complained he was hurt by an ‘unfair and unprovoked attack’ while party guests said it was understood such social events shouldn’t be written about.

A source said: ‘It’s like one of those “end of year cartoons” you see in the newspapers: every time you turn around, you bump into somebody more famous than the last person’.

Grant defended himself to The Sydney Morning Herald, saying: ‘I mock myself as much as anyone else in it’.

‘There are more important things to worry about in the world’ than FitzSimons’ reaction, he added.

‘People who can’t laugh at themselves aren’t one of them.’

Literary dispute: The FitzSimons-Grant feud started when the pair fell out in April 2020 over the ex-Wallaby's biography James Cook: The Story Behind the Man who Mapped the World (pictured). At the time, Grant called FitzSimons' depiction of Cook's character 'ludicrous' and FitzSimons defended his biography, pointing out it was exhaustively researched

Literary dispute: The FitzSimons-Grant feud started when the pair fell out in April 2020 over the ex-Wallaby’s biography James Cook: The Story Behind the Man who Mapped the World (pictured). At the time, Grant called FitzSimons’ depiction of Cook’s character ‘ludicrous’ and FitzSimons defended his biography, pointing out it was exhaustively researched

FitzSimons later fired off his rebuttal in a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, calling Grant’s commentary ‘rather odd’.

‘Stan has been a semi-regular attendee [of the couple’s parties], only to write a mocking piece about it in The Australian a fortnight ago,’ he wrote.

‘For the record, and contrary to what Stan wrote, I don’t have a framed Redfern speech on my wall, nor a photo of me hugging Cathy Freeman, nor Indigenous paintings,’ he added.

‘We don’t even have the party on Australia Day any more, having moved it to an Independence Day gathering the day before, for obvious reasons.’

FitzSimons, who has been married to Wilkinson for 30 years, said his friendships have ‘never been confined by political allegiances’ in response to Grant’s ‘lefty love-in’ remark.

He finished his piece by saying anyone wondering why they weren’t asked to attend the most recent party should ‘fear not’ because ‘a couple of vacancies have just opened up’ – a reference to Grant no longer being invited.

Backlash to Tasmania tragedy tweets

FitzSimons was recently criticised for suggesting Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny’s visit to the Tasmanian jumping castle tragedy site was a political move.

The former Wallaby fired up his Twitter account to weigh in on photos of the prime minister and his wife laying flowers outside Hillcrest Primary School, in Devonport, on December 18.

Mr Morrison was pictured comforting Jenny as she broke down while paying tribute to the children killed when a freak gust of wind blew a jumping castle 10 metres into the air.

‘To me this seems to be more a matter for the Governor-General to arrive expressing the nation’s grief and shock, rather than the PM?’ FitzSimons tweeted.

Hot take: FitzSimons (pictured in 2015) was recently criticised for suggesting Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny's visit to the Tasmanian jumping castle tragedy site was a political move

Hot take: FitzSimons (pictured in 2015) was recently criticised for suggesting Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny’s visit to the Tasmanian jumping castle tragedy site was a political move

FitzSimons was one of several commentators who questioned the PM’s motives, with some left-wingers accusing Mr Morrison of turning the event into a ‘media circus’.

But his comment quickly backfired – with Australians jumping on the journalist and insisting he was the one politicising the memorial visit.

‘Peter FitzSimons you really are a grubby left piece of garbage to politicize this tragedy. Just STFU you clown and have some respect,’ one person tweeted.

‘You and your followers are disgusting! F**k you all! Five children are dead in my state! We are grieving and all you can bloody do is tweet about politics,’ another said.

‘Your a dead set low life piece of s***. How could you even dare to make a political play as you have on something so heartbreaking for all down here in Tasmania if not all decent Australians. Your comment is the reflection of your sadistic self entitlement,’ someone else posted.

Tribute: The ex-Wallaby fired up his Twitter account to weigh in on photos of the prime minister and his wife laying flowers outside Hillcrest Primary School, in Devonport, on December 18

Tribute: The ex-Wallaby fired up his Twitter account to weigh in on photos of the prime minister and his wife laying flowers outside Hillcrest Primary School, in Devonport, on December 18 

Divisive tweet: 'To me this seems to be more a matter for the Governor-General to arrive expressing the nation's grief and shock, rather than the PM?' FitzSimons tweeted

Divisive tweet: ‘To me this seems to be more a matter for the Governor-General to arrive expressing the nation’s grief and shock, rather than the PM?’ FitzSimons tweeted 

Others claimed FitzSimons’ reaction would have been the complete opposite had the prime minister been from the opposition, with some citing his previous praise of New Zealand Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to tragedies.

‘This sounds even pettier knowing FitzSimons would be gushing over any Labor Prime Minister doing the exact same thing,’ one person wrote.

‘How is this different to Ardern, who you rightfully praised [after she visited the families of the Christchurch massacre victims]?’ another added.

‘Oh p*** off. If it was a Labor PM, you’d be penning a whole page article about how caring he was,’ someone else chimed.

However, others agreed with FitzSimons viewpoint, describing the visit as a ‘photo opportunity’.

Wilkinson’s memoir ‘fact-checked’

Wilkinson’s autobiography, It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This, hit store shelves in November, but even before its release, her sensational account of her sacking from Channel Nine in 2017 was widely disputed.

Readers had glimpses of the book in extracts published by News Corp papers, and several claims she made were challenged by industry insiders, who accused her of omitting key facts and embellishing the truth.

Wilkinson’s claim that her former Today show co-host Karl Stefanovic intentionally ‘snubbed’ her vow renewals with husband FitzSimons was disputed by guests who attended the event.

Fact-checked: Wilkinson's autobiography, It Wasn't Meant to Be Like This, hit store shelves in November, but even before its release, her sensational account of her sacking from Channel Nine in 2017 was widely disputed

Fact-checked: Wilkinson’s autobiography, It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This, hit store shelves in November, but even before its release, her sensational account of her sacking from Channel Nine in 2017 was widely disputed 

The Sunday Project host said Stefanovic’s no-show at the October 2017 event was the final straw for their troubled relationship – even going so far as to imply he refused the invitation because he knew she was about to get sacked from Nine. 

But this narrative was questioned by guests who attended the ceremony, many of whom said they didn’t know it was a wedding until they arrived.

If this was the case and Stefanovic hadn’t been told ahead of time the event was to celebrate Wilkinson and FitzSimons renewing their vows, then his decision to pull out at the last minute arguably wasn’t the snub Wilkinson made it out to be.

It’s unclear if Stefanovic was made aware his co-anchor and her husband of 25 years were planning to renew their vows, or if he was simply told it was a party.

Claims: Readers had glimpses of the book (pictured) in extracts published by News Corp papers, and several claims she made were challenged by industry insiders, who accused her of omitting key facts and embellishing the truth

Claims: Readers had glimpses of the book (pictured) in extracts published by News Corp papers, and several claims she made were challenged by industry insiders, who accused her of omitting key facts and embellishing the truth

Regardless of what he knew, Wilkinson took Stefanovic’s last-minute cancellation to heart, and it effectively marked the end of their personal and professional relationship.

Wilkinson’s book also included a chapter dedicated to her sacking from Channel Nine and falling out with Stefanovic over a pay dispute.

She alleged Stefanovic proposed in August 2015 they join forces to renegotiate their Nine contracts – not unlike how the cast of American sitcom Friends famously worked together to broker better deals with NBC.

But she claimed he ended up ditching this idea and instead played rival networks Nine and Seven off against each other in order to secure a better deal for himself.

‘Weeks later… the media became awash with stories that Stefanovic was restless at Today and looking for greener pastures – and more civilised working hours – at Channel Seven,’ she wrote.

Snub? Wilkinson's claim that her former Today show co-host Karl Stefanovic intentionally 'snubbed' her vow renewals with husband FitzSimons was disputed by guests who attended the event. Pictured at the TV Week Logie Awards in Melbourne on Sunday, May 3, 2015

Snub? Wilkinson’s claim that her former Today show co-host Karl Stefanovic intentionally ‘snubbed’ her vow renewals with husband FitzSimons was disputed by guests who attended the event. Pictured at the TV Week Logie Awards in Melbourne on Sunday, May 3, 2015

Stefanovic was soon at the centre of a bidding war between Nine and Seven that resulted in him re-signing a five-year deal with Nine worth at least $2million per year.

Wilkinson’s deal was worth significantly less, about $780,000 a year, and was only for two years.

‘There was no doubt about it: Karl certainly knew the art of the deal,’ she wrote, adding that the resulting pay disparity between them ‘was so off the charts that no-one would have believed it’.

However, this allegedly didn’t tell the full story.

News.com.au reported Wilkinson had in fact earned more than Stefanovic for years when they first joined forces on Today, and it was only at the end of their partnership that the roles reversed.

Money matters: Wilkinson's book also included a chapter dedicated to her sacking from Channel Nine and falling out with Stefanovic over a gender pay gap dispute. However, it was later reported Wilkinson had in fact earned more than Stefanovic for years when they first joined forces on Today, and it was only at the end of their partnership that the roles reversed

Money matters: Wilkinson’s book also included a chapter dedicated to her sacking from Channel Nine and falling out with Stefanovic over a gender pay gap dispute. However, it was later reported Wilkinson had in fact earned more than Stefanovic for years when they first joined forces on Today, and it was only at the end of their partnership that the roles reversed 

This article – which challenged Wilkinson’s most significant claim about her exit from the Today show – reportedly sent the book’s publisher into a major spin.

Harper Collins Australia demanded a preview copy of the memoir be returned by the news website following publication of the story, sources told Daily Mail Australia.

The publisher later denied this.

In the piece, written by respected political journalist Samantha Maiden, sources at Nine disputed Wilkinson’s claims Stefanovic was ‘paid double’ what she earned.

In fact, they claimed it was Wilkinson who was paid much more than Stefanovic for ‘many years’ after the pair first teamed up on Nine’s breakfast flagship in 2006.

‘News.com.au understands that when she first signed with Nine in 2006 she was earning more than $700,000. The fresh-faced Stefanovic, who had just returned from a reporting stint in Los Angeles, earned less than half that amount for years as the TV couple co-hosted Nine’s breakfast TV program,’ the article stated.

It was only several years later that Stefanovic would negotiate his way into a now-infamous pay rise that saw his salary explode to $2million a year.

Another dispute: Also in her book, Wilkinson claimed 'nearly every interview' on her last day on the Today show 'was being done by Karl alone'. However, internal documents showed 'an almost equal split' between Wilkinson and Stefanovic's roles 'in the key segments and interviews' during her last day on air

Another dispute: Also in her book, Wilkinson claimed ‘nearly every interview’ on her last day on the Today show ‘was being done by Karl alone’. However, internal documents showed ‘an almost equal split’ between Wilkinson and Stefanovic’s roles ‘in the key segments and interviews’ during her last day on air 

Also in her book, Wilkinson claimed ‘nearly every interview’ on her last day on the Today show ‘was being done by Karl alone’.

‘For two hours, I sat there feeling completely useless. The Today Show was now The Karl Show. What was the point of me even being there?’ she wrote.

However, The Australian has disputed this claim.

The publication obtained internal documents showing ‘an almost equal split’ between Wilkinson and Stefanovic’s roles ‘in the key segments and interviews’ during her last day on air.

Respected entertainment reporter Peter Ford echoed The Australian’s report during his segment on 6PR Breakfast.

‘I’ve got the rundown [from Wilkinson’s last day on Today] in front of me, and she didn’t get the lead story that day… but the rest of the show is a very even spread between Karl and Lisa.’

‘What she’s saying doesn’t stack up, and there’s actual evidence,’ he added.

Overshadowed: At about this time, leading TV commentator Rob McKnight (pictured) said Wilkinson's book had 'backfired' after several of its claims were challenged

Overshadowed: At about this time, leading TV commentator Rob McKnight (pictured) said Wilkinson’s book had ‘backfired’ after several of its claims were challenged 

At about this time, leading TV commentator Rob McKnight said Wilkinson’s book had ‘backfired’ after several of its claims were challenged.

McKnight, a former Nine executive, told Daily Mail Australia: ‘To be honest, I reckon we’ve heard the juiciest stuff [in extracts].

‘The fact is she used that to sell it and it’s so backfired. She’s lost control of the narrative. She was really trying to use gender inequality and it’s really backfired.’


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