News Limited columnist
Born in: Adelaide, South Australia
Friends: Gary Gray | John Roskam
Foes: Larissa Behrendt | Jelena Popovic | Bob Brown
Home Town: Melbourne
Love him or loathe him, there's no denying that Andrew Bolt is an exceptional writer. His sentences are short and sharp; his words fizz with fury. He grabs the reader's attention from the first line and refuses, like a dog with a bone, to let it go until he's done.
No wonder he's the nation's best-read columnist. Over four million Australians pick up a paper featuring his column each week and more than a million actually read it, Roy Morgan sectional readership data suggests.
But his column is only the start of his influence. The Bolt orchestra plays all through the week, making his tunes impossible to ignore.
There's his Sunday chat show, The Bolt Report, with an audience of 233,000, and he's regularly called in to pontificate on Ten News. Then there are his daily rants on Melbourne radio station MTR where he shares a 40-minute slot with Steve Price.
But most importantly, there is his blog.
Bolt blogs like a man possessed. It's not unusual for him to start posting entries before 6am and continue until midnight. No other Australian commentator uses the medium as effectively to ram home a point, whip up outrage, tear down opponents and mobilise supporters. His site, which has been running since 2005, attracts almost 275,000 unique browsers a month, making it the most-read political blog in the land.
Despite this enormous reach, there's no shortage of ideological foes ready to dismiss Bolt as a blowhard beloved only by wingnuts on the far-right. To Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton, he's "Melbourne's village idiot"; to author John Birmingham he's a "worthless blood clot".
But Paul Howes has a warning for his comrades: underestimate Bolt at your peril. The union boss rates Bolt as a "devastating advocate" for conservative causes – as does Mark Latham.
The former Labor leader, who once called Bolt a "fraudster" in federal parliament, is now certain his one-time bête noire wields more power than shock jocks such as Alan Jones or Ray Hadley. "He's more intelligent than these other characters," Latham tells The Power Index. "He's more articulate, better informed and, on the issues, he's a more effective campaigner."
On the other side of politics, Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger is also a Bolt booster: "It's extraordinary how powerful he is."
Kroger says Bolt doesn't just preach to the converted: "He converts the doubters, he makes arguments for people – that's why he's influential."
So influential that in 2006 Kroger tried to enlist him as a replacement for left-leaning MP Petro Georgiou in the blue-ribbon seat of Kooyong.
"Bolt would have won any preselection," says Kroger, "he is a revered figure among Liberal voters."
Hard as it is to believe, this is the same man who spent the first 30 years of his life as an unsuccessful drifter.
The son of Dutch immigrants, Bolt was born in Adelaide in 1959. An intensely shy boy, he found making friends even harder because his teacher father was always on the move — to Darwin, the Nullarbor, the Eyre Peninsula and Murray River to name a few.
Bolt's nomadic life continued after finishing high school. After a year packing flowers and working in a paint factory in Holland, he started an arts degree at Adelaide University, then dropped out to take up a cadetship at The Age. But he didn't belong there either.
"I was surrounded by other cadets who'd gone to university and got a degree, or were the daughter of an ex-editor of the paper, people that lived in South Yarra, that sort of thing, and they were all familiar with all the code words that I didn't have," he told the IPA's Tony Barry earlier this year.
So back to Holland he went, then to Darwin to be with his belly dancer girlfriend and take a job as a staffer for a federal Labor – yes, Labor – MP. He would later go on to work for the aNiMaLS, Bob Hawke's much-feared National Media Liaison Service, followed by an unsuccessful stint as publicity director of the South Australia State Opera.
In 1989 he begged The Herald's Melbourne editor Eric Beecher for a job, and the wanderlust found his home. He has worked for News Limited in Melbourne ever since.
But it took more than a decade for him to make a real mark.
In 2001 Lowitja O'Donoghue admitted to him that she had been "removed" from her family as a child rather than "stolen". The story was splashed across the front pages of several News Limited papers and buttressed John Howard's controversial decision not to apologise to the Stolen Generations.
Since then, Bolt hasn't looked back.
No other commentator has been as successful at undermining public trust in the science of man-made climate change and whipping up opposition to a carbon tax. Bolt knows the power of repetition: his favourite question – "By how much will the carbon tax lower the world's temperature?" – is now parroted relentlessly by carbon tax opponents.
His success as a columnist has given him real sway within News Limited.
"He is seen as having a direct line to Rupert Murdoch,' says former Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie, Bolt's boss for two years. "I wouldn't have wanted to get in a 'him or me' battle. The editor would have lost out."
According to Guthrie, Bolt is no loudmouth in person. He goes to work at News Limited's Melbourne HQ everyday, but rarely leaves his private office to mingle with other staff members.
"He is a very well-mannered man and he's clearly intelligent. You don't fear him for his temper; you fear him for his intellect."
Kroger agrees: "He's very polite, quite shy and reserved. He's got no tickets on himself; he's not arrogant."
But don't let that fool you: Bolt bites. Indeed, his willingness to bully, bait and ridicule is crucial to understanding his power.
Nine indigenous Australians are currently suing Bolt under the Discrimination Act over a September 2009 column in which he described them as "professional Aborigines" who had played up being black for career advancement. The article unleashed furious debate not only about what it means to be Aboriginal, but also the limits to freedom of speech in a democratic society.
In the article in question, he attacked Left-wing academic Larissa Behrendt for looking as German as her father (she is the daughter of an indigenous oral historian). And, as Chris Graham noted, he claimed Anita Heiss had benefited from her Aboriginality by winning a "plum job" at Koori Radio when the position was unpaid.
In 2002 he accused Melbourne magistrate Jelena Popovic of hugging two drug traffickers she had let walk free. Popovic had, in fact, shaken hands with them to congratulate them on completing a drug rehabilitation program. She walked away with over $200,000 in damages.
"He's sharp, he's nasty and he plays very personal," concludes a veteran journalist who has known Bolt for many years. "He goes at you like a dog. Bolt is an absolutely perfect example of what gives News Limited its power."
Correction, October 12: An earlier version of this profile over-estimated Andrew Bolt's readership. The story has been amended.