GREG BAUM May 1, 2010 IN A column in the Herald Sun this week, Sydney sports journalist Rebecca Wilson damned The Age for its coverage of the Melbourne Storm salary cap humiliation. Ordinarily, no one here would make mention of it; least of any newspaper department should the sports section whinge about a bit of argy-bargy between rival publications. But early in her piece, Ms Wilson discloses that she is the partner of John Hartigan, chief executive of News Ltd, owner of the Herald Sun, owner of Melbourne Storm, part-owner of the National Rugby League, part-owner also of Fox Sports, the NRL's broadcaster. You might think that any self-respecting editor would have recognised the impossible conflict and spiked the piece then and there. You might also think that the editor of the Herald Sun had no say in it. Ms Wilson, having primped up the pillows in the Hartigan home, complains because Age reporters Andrew Rule and Tom Reilly found and interviewed Brian Waldron, the elusive former chief executive of Melbourne Storm, repeatedly branded by Hartigan as the ''architect in chief'' of the salary cap rort. ''Waldron should not have been given the oxygen to say a word by anyone in the media,'' fulminated Ms Wilson. In 2008, Hartigan won a Walkley award for journalistic leadership because of his advocacy of good journalism and the public's right to know. In the Melbourne storm, Waldron's was the one, crucial voice that had not previously been heard. The Age neither endorsed nor indicted Waldron. It reported his views, setting them against those of Hartigan and NRL chief executive David Gallop. It was good journalism; it honoured the public's right to know. It can only be concluded that Ms Wilson was aggrieved because Waldron's much-dwelled upon account appeared in the The Age, not News Ltd's papers. Ms Wilson understands better than most how much News dislikes to be second with the news. Besides, when it comes to providing oxygen to the famous and infamous alike, News Ltd has its own hyperbaric chamber. It makes the Herald Sun a formidable rival - ventilating all viewpoints is the foundation of journalism - but it also means it ought not to moralise about who The Age speaks to. Yesterday, for instance, the Herald Sun oxygenated Roberta Williams. Whatever wrong Waldron committed, no one died in the process. Waldron's most serious and startling allegation is that salary cap cheating is endemic in rugby league. Ms Wilson demands he present his evidence to separate inquiries by the NRL, the police and News Ltd. The NRL can be expected to be thorough. The sanctions it imposed on Storm show that it means business, and the scandal has become too big for it to try to sweep anything under the carpet now. Gallop impresses with his zeal. But as of yesterday, no complaint had been made to police to prompt an investigation. And News Ltd already has made up its mind, to judge from the words of the partner of the chief executive. ''[Waldron] might well drag a few others with him on his path of shame, but the fact remains that this disgraced administrator is the so-called 'chief rat' [a form of words agreed over breakfast, perhaps?] and he will be brought to account for his actions as a result of current investigations,'' she writes. But it is improbable that Waldron is the only culpable figure at Melbourne Storm, improbable that he is the only ''chief rat'' in rugby league. With each passing day, it becomes clearer that there is much more still to come. It begs the question posed between the lines of Ms Wilson's column: why is News Ltd so desperate to scapegoat Waldron and leave it at that? The answer, I'm afraid, is apparent. However much Storm is diminished by this wretched business, so is News Ltd. However much rugby league is diminished, so is News. Ms Wilson says Fairfax media has ''gone feral'' to uncover links between Storm and the ''highest echelons'' of News Ltd. Not really: the links could not be any more plainly established than they are. News owns Storm, which is why at every fresh turn in this story there appears on television a man from the very uppermost echelon of News who Ms Wilson presumably recognises even when he is wearing something more business-like than pyjamas. What Ms Wilson's column highlights, what the Melbourne Storm story highlights, is what uncomfortable bedfellows media companies and sporting organisations make, and how hopelessly compromised each or both sometimes become under their shared sheets. It highlights the certainty that when the hand that feeds belongs to the same beast as the mouth that bites, how can anyone feel comfortable? Ms Wilson's partner illustrates this: in that extraordinary media conference to announce Storm's punishment in Sydney last week, and in other appearances since, it was never clear who he was speaking for: News, or the NRL, or Storm? It still isn't. But it is clear who Ms Wilson is speaking for. News knows this: for some time, it has been manoeuvring to extract itself from its shareholding in the NRL. It was also said to be looking to sell out of Melbourne Storm, until the salary cap scandal trashed Storm's worth and obliged News to make a commitment to its future: anything else would have looked like the abandonment of a stricken rugby league club by the code's chief promoter and financier. Nothing will change. Nothing can. For better or worse, media companies fund big-time sport now, lavishly. It makes a lot of people rich, and a lot of people squirm, and sometimes they are the same people. This week, it led to the extraordinary pass in which a sporting organisation found itself embroiled in a massive scandal, and the partner of the boss of its media patron assailed a rival media company for its coverage, as if she was somehow independent, and we ended upon the sharp end. Oh well, we're big enough to take it. In the meantime, we look forward to more of Ms Wilson's pillow talk next week. Not.