Honeymoon over for Lisa Wilkinson’s pay gripe with Karl Stefanovic

By: James Madden and Sophie Elsworth

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

Former Today host Lisa Wilkinson, who has positioned herself as the poster girl for pay parity, now faces a tough battle to control her tightly scripted public narrative amid claims that she commanded double the salary of her on-air breakfast show co-host Karl Stefanovic from at least 2006 to 2011.

That revelation, published by news.com.au’s political editor Samantha Maiden on Tuesday, appears to have taken the wind out of one of the central themes of Wilkinson’s autobiography — that is, that the TV host felt cheated and humiliated when she discovered in late 2015 that the tables had turned, and Stefanovic was by then earning more than twice what she was pocketing.

And in a bizarre postscript to the publication of the article, the news.com.au journalist found herself under attack on social media by Brittany Higgins, the woman whose terrible plight was first brought to national attention by Maiden herself.

Ms Higgins, who is extremely close to Wilkinson (indeed, a whole chapter of her autobiography is devoted to the former political staffer), was clearly annoyed by Maiden’s slight on her friend, dismissing the merits of the ­article with a sarcastic post on Twitter, which was endorsed by Australian of the Year Grace Tame.

Earlier this year, Ms Higgins described Maiden – who broke the original story about her alleged sexual assault in a minister’s office in Parliament House – as an “exceptional journalist and my personal hero”.

It’s understood Wilkinson and Maiden are both vying for a Walkley Award this year for stories about Ms Higgins.

But for Wilkinson, the bad news doesn’t stop with Maiden’s claims. It appears the celebrity’s memories of key on-air interactions with Stefanovic are detached from reality, and there is video to prove it.

In her book, titled It Wasn’t meant To Be Like This, Wilkinson is particularly damning of Stefanovic’s behaviour towards her on the morning of October 16, 2017, just hours before she learned that Nine bosses no longer wanted her at the network.

However, Wilkinson’s allegations that Stefanovic treated her with “uncaring disregard” on that date – which was also her first day back after a two-week break during which she renewed her wedding vows to husband Peter FitzSimons – are at odds with leaked video of the pair’s on-air interactions that morning.

Wilkinson claims in the book that Stefanovic failed to mention her wedding celebrations – at which she also suggests he was a last-minute no-show – and her honeymoon in their 5.15am live news cross, before the Today show started at 5.30am.

But video obtained by The Australian showed her recollection of events was very different to what actually went to air.

Wilkinson recalled sitting at the Today show desk for the 5.15am live cross to the early news, which she said was read by reporter Airlie Walsh. But it was not Walsh presenting on that occasion, it was reporter Kate Creedon – and Stefanovic did in fact ask Wilkinson about her wedding and honeymoon.

In the leaked clip, which shows the hosts sitting side-by-side, Stefanovic was asked by Creedon what’s “coming up” on Today, to which he replied: “We’ve got plenty, Kate, it’s a big welcome back to Lisa, nice to see you again. How was your honeymoon?”

Smiling, Wilkinson replied: “It was great, thoroughly recommend it.” Stefanovic laughed and went on to say: “We are going to hear all the details about it coming up in the show.”

But in her book, Wilkinson writes: “As I was seated on set ­before our regular 5.15am live cross to the early news, Karl arrived at the desk only just in time. And he was instantly off and running, ‘Morning, Airlie, we’ve got a great show for you this morning.’ Not a mention. Not a ‘how was the holiday?’ And certainly no ‘sorry about that no-show at the wedding’. Not … anything.”

The Australian asked Wilkinson if she re-watched the show before recounting the events in her book, but she did not respond.

Wilkinson also chides Stefanovic in her book for his last-minute cancellation to the nuptials, but it is not clear if Stefanovic knew that she and FitzSimons were planning to renew their vows at the ceremony. Many who attended have told The Australian that they only learned of the wedding upon arrival.

In her book, Wilkinson goes on to explain her frustration with being virtually left out of the proceedings during her final show on October 16, 2017, with Stefanovic dominating the interviews and segments during the program.

But internal documents pertaining to the October 16 episode of Today, seen by The Australian, indicate an almost equal split between the pair’s role in the key segments and interviews.

Nine declined to comment.

Wilkinson did not respond to text messages and phone calls, nor did Maiden. Stefanovic also did not reply to messages.

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