Columnist at The Daily Telegraph
Born in: New York, USA
Friends: Caroline Overington, Sandra Lee
Home Town: Sydney
The Devine Miss M is a provocateur par excellence. She stirs emotions, sets tongues wagging and pisses off people. Even Mark Latham – the man she bagged mercilessly as Labor leader – rates her as a must-read columnist.
"I scribble a few lines for the Fin Review, so naturally I keep an eye on the competition," Latham wrote in Spectator Australia in 2010. "The test is when I find myself muttering: 'I wish I had written that.' I say this more about Miranda than any other writer in Australia."
During nine years as a columnist at The Sydney Morning Herald, Devine attracted more reader feedback than all the paper's other opinion writers combined. Then in August 2010 she jumped ship to News Limited.
It's a move that should have seen her skyrocket up The Power Index. Her pay packet undoubtedly got a boost and so did her readership. Around 1 million people a week read her column, published in Sydney's Daily Telegraph and Melbourne's Herald Sun, according to Roy Morgan sectional readership data.
But there is a sting in the tail. Many Miranda watchers believe she's lost an edge.
"Miranda had more influence at the Herald than she does at the Tele," says a senior Fairfax reporter. "She was the contrarian here; over at the Tele she's just one of the chorus line. Her influence has waned".
Another former colleague agrees: "She's lost among the similar voices at the Tele."
But we're not ready to write her off just yet.
Devine – who looks like Nigella Lawson on a low-fat diet – knows all the ingredients necessary to cook up a cracking column. In an increasingly complex world, her pieces are oases of straightforward good and evil, right and wrong, battlers and elitists.
"You are contesting ideas and you have to do it in a polarising way," she told The Australian in 2007. "When you write a column, you can't sit on the fence."
She tackles topics that otherwise gung-ho male members of the conservateriat are too timid to touch. She defends stay-at-home mums, decries the death of the alpha male and attacks "toxic aggro feminism". When former David Jones employee Kristy Fraser-Kirk launched a $37 million s-xual harassment suit in 2010, Devine lambasted her as a "litigious, gold-digging, high umbrage woman egged on by lawyers using feminism to advance a personal cause".
In a controversial August 2011 piece she sparked outrage by linking Finance Minister Penny Wong's decision to have a child with her lesbian partner to the London riots. Gay rights advocate Kerryn Phelps, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, tells The Power Index the article was "offensive on so many levels".
Defending the innocence of childhood is another favourite obsession. The 2008 senate inquiry into the s-xualisation of children was established in no small part because of her tireless campaigning on the issue. And it was Devine's Sydney Morning Herald column on Bill Henson's photographs that kick-started a national debate on where to draw the line between art and p-rnography.
The NSW government's "War on the car" is also on high rotation at Miranda FM. Devine has carved out a niche as the motorist's best friend by railing against speed cameras, parking fines, bike lanes and the state's "draconian" demerit points system. Earlier this year the NSW government caved in and announced major reforms to the state's demerit points system, including the scrapping or softening of 22 offences.
Green-bashing is also a cause celebre. In July this year she compared Bob Brown's calls for a media inquiry to an information blackout during Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward that led to widespread famine and 23 million deaths. The ABC's Media Watch lashed her for "hate-mongering" when she blamed greenies for the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Former NSW Roads Minister Carl Scully never shook the "vegan cyclist" tag with which she lumbered him.
Devine has taken to Twitter with gusto as a way to promote her columns, engage with her fans and debate those with whom she disagrees. But she was left red-faced in May last year when she accused one of her Twitter followers -- a gay student -- of "rogering gerbils". Only days before she had slammed left-wing comedian Catherine Deveny for "vile" and inappropriate tweets during the Logie Awards.
Those expecting to Devine to be similarly feisty in the flesh inevitably come away disappointed – or relieved – when they meet her.
"Miranda comes from privilege," says a journalist who knows her well. "In her family life she had a very genteel, well-mannered, upper middle-class Catholic upbringing. She reflects that. She's an extremely well-mannered person."
Polite, pleasant and self-deprecating are words frequently used to describe the regular church goer and mother of two.
These qualities have won her many friends, but they count against her when she fronts up for programs such as Q&A. Devine is no cross-over star: her soft, lispy voice lacks cut-through; her body language suggests a lack of confidence. There's none of the sheer bloody-mindedness of a Bolt, Jones or Hadley.
Loyal is another good word for her. Devine has no qualms with using her soapbox to help out mates when they're in trouble. When her friend Greg McLeay, a Neutral Bay accountant, was arrested for jaywalking during APEC, the law-and-order campaigner suddenly turned civil libertarian. "Greg is just a nice, normal father of three," she wrote in a piece splashed on the front page of The Sun-Herald. "He has worked in the city for 20 years and has every right to walk through it unmolested." And when Media Watch scrutinised Caroline Overington's coverage of the 2007 federal election, Devine leapt to her friend's defence, slamming the program for running "spurious vendettas against female columnists whose politics they don't like".
Although she is the daughter of former Australian editor and columnist Frank Devine, journalism wasn't her first career choice. Born in New York, and educated in Tokyo, the cosmopolitan conservative studied mathematics at Macquarie University before working in the CSIRO's textile division. "Some people have a misspent youth doing drugs," she quips. "I did Fourier transformations."
It quickly became clear that words, not numbers, were her strong suit and she enrolled at the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago. A stint at The Boston Globe followed, before returning to Sydney to work as a police reporter for The Daily Telegraph. She was promoted to the opinion page in the early '90s by then-editor Col Allan, who wanted to add a strong female voice to the section. "I was impressed with her intellect and her attitude," Allan told The Bulletin in 2004. "She had some tremendous commonsense positions on a number of issues. I felt that she could connect."
And connect she has.
"Miranda can build up an argument; her prose is neat and at times really quite elegant," says the Herald's David Marr, a man who shares few of her conservative views. "She's a professional controversialist but she's being controversial about stuff that she believes in. She does it with a lot of grace."