THERE was little surprise when news of Barnaby Joyce’s relationship surfaced on Wednesday.
It had been an unconfirmed rumour from Tamworth to Canberra for months. But until Wednesday, that's all it was - an unconfirmed rumour.
It took a paparazzi picture of his pregnant “girlfriend”, his ex-media spokesperson Vikki Campion, on the front of a national paper for that rumour to gain credence. But it wasn't beyond doubt until Mr Joyce's estranged wife Natalie released a statement confirming the family was “devastated” at the news.
The Leader, like many other news organisations, was aware of the claims and social media had been awash with comments since the by-election was called. Like many news outlets The Leader investigated the claims.
The Leader sat down with Mr Joyce’s campaign team early in the by-election and offered him the chance to get on the front foot with his local paper. They politely, but firmly, declined.
Questions about his “personal life” were asked in live press conferences. They were always batted away with the response “my personal life is my personal life”; a theme which has continued in the aftermath.
Then came the hat-flicking incident in a small-town pub north of Inverell. The Leader learnt, from multiple sources, that the comment that had set Mr Joyce off was “say hi to your mistress for me”.
The Leader sent Mr Joyce's campaign team a series of questions on the eve of the December 2 poll, asking whether his marriage had broken down and if he had a “mistress”. We were stonewalled by his media adviser who refused to answer the questions and queried their relevance.
In the last week of the by-election we were inundated with social media accusations that The Leader was “protecting” the Joyce campaign by hiding comments posted about an “affair”.
However, the court of public opinion is not the court we have to stand before in a defamation case.
They require very different standards of “proof”. And we had plenty of reason to be cautious.
For the handful of rumours which have proven to be true there were dozens swirling which were not.
One such rumour that persists was that was one of Mr Joyce's daughters was driving down Peel St in a car with “Barnaby Joyce” branding, yelling at people not to vote for him through a megaphone.
The Leader has asked Mr Joyce’s daughters about the allegation, who confirmed it did not happen.
Less than a week after the poll Mr Joyce, in his speech to parliament on the same-sex marriage debate, declared that he had separated from his wife of 24 years. It was the first confirmation that his marriage had broken down.
On Wednesday the latest episode unfolded and that night he maintained that his private life “was private”.
Let’s not forget in all of this that Mr Joyce’s family are the ones these revelations hurt the most. It is a very personal drama being played out all-too publicly. It is also something they didn’t ask for.
Remember that the next time you post something on social media.
Jamieson Murphy: Fairfax Media.