Investigative journalist and author of the best-selling Jonestown, Chris Masters, looked relieved to be in friendly company. Dressed in a bright red shirt and crème pants, he spoke casually last night to the 800-strong, sold-out audience at Sydney’s Seymour Centre. In conversation with HG Nelson, Masters was virtually treated like a rock-star by the adoring crowd. How many other reporters in Australia would receive the same adulation (especially after writing a scathing attack on a highly popular broadcaster)?
The release of Jonestown has been greeted with a mixture of controversy – with Masters being unfairly accused of homophobia by sections of the commentariat – and massive book sales – already a best-seller and well into a 2nd print run.
HG Nelson thanked the many “friends of the feathered” for attending – he was, after all, the man who coined the term “parrot” to describe Jones – and asked Masters why he had written the book. He said that after filing a Four Corners story on the broadcaster in 2002, there was far too much information left out that deserved an airing. He had in fact talked to both friends and foes – despite some critics recently arguing that he had only spoken to enemies – but virtually nobody wanted to go on the record. “There is no up-side to opposing Alan”, Masters said. “You’re wiped [if you do.]”
Masters said that the few times he had met with Jones, he barely got a word in. “You don’t do much talking with Alan. Our meetings reminded me of the Godfather. Jones was always dressed immaculately, someone brought a mineral water and then he just talked at you.”
The book published by Allen & Unwin was virtually identical to the version submitted to ABC (but eventually rejected by a “cowardly” board.) Masters even cut around 200 pages from the final product. During the lengthy legal wranglings with ABC Books, there were times when a handful of lawyers actually moved into Master’s house, “going through line-by-line.”
Masters responded forcefully to the allegations that he targeted Jones due to his sexuality. He revealed that when his publisher shopped around extracts for publication, the major papers were in fact “disappointed” that there wasn’t more sex. “There is a big difference between a homosexual man and a paedophile”, Masters said. “I’ve never thought Jones was a paedophile.”
Although HG couldn’t resist the occasional jibe at Jones’ homosexuality, Masters said allegations of homophobia had “started to sting me.” He said he hoped that within 10 years Jonestown would have had an effect on public debate and convinced politicians “to stop toadying up to him.”
After a question from the floor, Masters acknowledged that, “our culture needs people like Alan. We live in a misinformation age” where opinions are increasingly bought. “Of course, it’s hard to buy Kerry O’Brien.” The journalist said that he always saw the Kennett years in Victoria “as an attempt to replicate the Jones mantra down south”.
By the end of the evening, Masters was seen preparing to sign many copies of his book from enthusiasts in a queue as far as the eye could see.