Smith’s disgust at Channel 9 laid bare
Cameron Smith has lifted the lid on his toxic feud with Channel 9, claiming he was thrown under the bus by a 60 Minutes episode on Alex McKinnon and accusing the network of going back on its promise by butchering a public apology.
McKinnon was left a quadriplegic after a tackle gone wrong against Melbourne in 2014 and bad blood was quickly directed to Storm captain Smith, who argued with the referee while the former Knights star was being taken off the ground by medical staff after a long break in play.
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Smith, not realising how serious McKinnon's injuries were, complained the tackle should not have resulted in a penalty - and attracted plenty of backlash for it.
In his newly released autobiography The Storm Within, Smith defends his behaviour, saying nothing about Jordan McLean's tackle was illegal and neither he nor any of his teammates knew McKinnon may have suffered serious spinal injuries until the day after the game.
Smith maintains he and the club tried to make contact with McKinnon in the aftermath to check on his welfare but were repeatedly rebuffed and told they weren't welcome, given his on-field response.
"I don't know if Alex was ever made aware of those approaches but I was on the front foot every day," Smith writes. "'How is he? Can we go up there? Can we talk to him'.
"There were claims we didn't care. That we had no regard for the injury he'd suffered. And that simply wasn't true."
60 MINUTES MAKES WAVES
In 2015, Nine's flagship current affairs program 60 Minutes filmed a feature on McKinnon and Smith found himself playing the villain.
In the piece, McKinnon sees for the first time Smith arguing with referee Gerard Sutton. "Is he still debating? Is he f***ing serious?" McKinnon told reporter Liz Hayes. "Wouldn't you just shut up?"
McKinnon said while McLean had reached out to him personally, Smith hadn't. McKinnon's emotional father told the program he could never forgive Smith for the way he acted that night.
Addressing the incident in his book, Smith says he has never watched the episode in full but based on what he's heard and the snippets he's seen, believes the vision shown to McKinnon was "a complete misrepresentation of how those eight minutes played out".
The program aired just days before the 2015 State of Origin decider, which Queensland would win 52-6, and Smith suspects the scheduling decision was designed to boost ratings for the blockbuster clash or put the Maroons off their game.
As far as the champion hooker was concerned, his relationship with Channel 9 was over.
"The Queensland Rugby League let Nine know how I felt: there was no way I was talking to them before, during or after the match," Smith writes.
The 37-year-old reveals he spoke on the phone with McKinnon a few weeks after 60 Minutes aired, for the first time since his injury. Smith says McKinnon told him Nine played the footage of him talking to the whistleblower "on a loop" and kept asking him about Smith's actions "until they got the angry reaction out of him that they wanted".
Smith was furious and accused Nine of taking the focus away from McKinnon overcoming adversity alongside partner Teigan "by putting me in there and sensationalising things".
Smith was incensed Nine didn't reach out for comment before 60 Minutes aired, furious it only contacted him afterwards - an act he believes was done with the hope of getting another program out of his response.
The footy star wouldn't be talking to the network again until he received an apology and in May 2016 Smith, wife Barb and Nine executives - including then-head of sport Tom Malone, who was executive producer of 60 Minutes at the time of the McKinnon program - sat down in a room with former NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
"We asked why I hadn't been asked for comment before the program had aired, and they said they didn't feel like I needed to be in it," Smith writes in his book.
"That made no sense. Why wouldn't they give me a chance to share my opinion?"
Smith and Barb laid down the law in that room at Melbourne's Crown Casino, questioning whether Nine understood the impact a story like that had not just on him, but on their family, accusing the broadcaster of showing no responsibility for the affected parties' welfare.
"Barb and I got it all off our chests, and I think they were quite taken aback by the emotion from both of us," Smith says. "I didn't get teary, but I did choke up talking about it because of the effect it had on my family.
"All we wanted out of that meeting was for them to realise what they had done, and the effect it had on us as a family."
Smith demanded an apology. The Melbourne captain says an agreement was reached where he and Malone would appear on an upcoming episode of The Footy Show, and Malone would say sorry publicly before giving Smith a chance to speak too.
But when the night arrived and Smith was waiting in the green room minutes before going on air, he says the tables turned. He was told Malone wasn't going on TV and instead Footy Show host Paul Vautin would be apologising on Nine's behalf.
Smith was "stunned" and called the change in plans "bulls***", accusing Malone of backing out of the deal and threatening to pull the pin on his own appearance.
In the end, Smith just got it over with and Vautin apologised.
Although the former Queensland and Kangaroos skipper's boycott of Nine ended, he's still bitter about how things went down.
"I walked away that night p***ed off about how it had all gone down," Smith writes. "After everything that happened, they couldn't even get the apology right."
Originally published as Smith's disgust at Channel 9 laid bare