Yesterday, former defence minister Peter Reith told us that the ABC had "got off very lightly, so far, for the claims they aired about the navy torturing asylum seekers".
His language was a good deal less extreme than the current defence minister's, who told us last Friday the ABC had "maliciously maligned" the navy, and that ''if ever there was an event that justified ... (an) investigation of the ABC, this is it''.
That same morning Fairfax Media had published text and video from its Jakarta correspondent, Michael Bachelard: a detailed, forensic interview with a man who claims to have seen with his own eyes three asylum-seekers having their hands held on a hot exhaust pipe, both as a punishment and as an example to others.
When asked to respond to that account, Defence Minister David Johnston scoffed: ''When you give me something to act upon that is more than just hearsay, innuendo and rumour, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Apparently, eye-witness accounts are just rumour and innuendo. After all, Johnston told The Weekend Australian, "he's not even Australian".
Yet neither Johnston nor anyone else has attacked Fairfax Media for hating the navy, or for not backing the home team, and no one has demandedFairfax Media apologise for publishing this dastardly allegation.
Of course, the ABC was already in the coalition's sights in a way that Fairfax is not. The "burnt hands" story blew the lid off a pressure-cooker in which Coalition resentment of the ABC has been bubbling for years. It was already near to bursting, thanks to the ABC's role in breaking the story about Australia monitoring Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's telephone calls.
But if the ABC's stories on January 22 had been backed by an interview as compelling as Bachelard's, I suspect there would have been far less sound and fury.
They weren't. The ABC had some video of men with burnt hands, but no first-hand account of how they got the burns.
The ABC claimed that the Indonesian police "backed" the asylum-seekers claims about navy ill-treatment – but then had to tone down the claim when West Timor's police chief Sam Kawengian would not say on camera what he'd said the day before on the phone.
The man Bachelard interviewed, Yousif Ibrahim Fasher, had been interviewed by the ABC's Peter Lloyd back on January 8: but he made no mention then of deliberate hand burning, nor was he asked about it. (Odd, because he had already made the allegation to Indonesia Kompas's website and to Agence France Presse.
Since then, the ABC hasn't managed to interview either Yousif or any of the three men who he claims had their hands deliberately burnt. Bachelard reports that all three are refusing to talk to the media, for fear doing so will get them in trouble with the Indonesians, the International Organisation for Migration, or the Australian government.
ABC News has confirmed to me that it, too, has tried, and failed, to interview the three men.
On Thursday January 30, ABC Jakarta correspondent George Roberts did travel to Kupang and interview some of the asylum-seekers himself. One, Boby Nooris, said he had been burnt when he was blinded by capsicum spray and grabbed hold of a hot engine exhaust pipe.
But in airing that crucial story on January 31 the ABC simply did not address its earlier allegations. Was Nooris one of those who had claimed to have been deliberately burned? What was now the status of those claims? We were simply left wondering.
Small wonder that the following Monday, Media Watch came down hard on ABC News. "It now seems the burns occurred in a scuffle with the navy, and were not deliberately inflicted by navy personnel," said Paul Barry. "We believe ABC News got it wrong."
Well, in the light of Bachelard's interview with Yousif , published four days later, that conclusion now seems a tad premature. We still simply don't know.
But the view I expressed two weeks ago that Roberts' original reports were for the most part "sober and factual" doesn't hold up either. The ABC simply didn't have the ammunition to air such contentious allegations.
And because it didn't, the government and the navy have been able to refuse to give us any information at all.
But not to worry. Sydney Morning Herald columnist and navy tragic Mike Carlton's secret sources have told him what really happened.
"Somewhere north of Christmas Island," he wrote on Saturday, "a party of sailors from the frigate HMAS Parramatta boarded an Indonesian fishing boat."
Mike, one thing that everyone agrees on is that whatever occurred, it happened nowhere near Christmas Island. The boat in question was being towed from somewhere north of Darwin to Rote Island, a couple of hundred kilometres west.
Ah well. Just a detail. I'm sure the rest of the account fed to Carlton is spot on. A scuffle in the engine room resulted in two people (three people? four?) sustaining almost identical burns.
And what about those incursions by navy ships into Indonesian territorial waters? Yousif has maintained the navy ship escorting his boat towed it to within a few kilometres of the coast of Rote, at dead of night, with navigation lights turned off.
Carlton's sources tell him that the incursions were "a disaster, almost incomprehensible in the era of pinpoint satellite navigation... As one admiral told me this week through gritted teeth: 'They f---ed up.'"
Part of the secret program to ensure the boats go back to where they came from? Or a just a mighty, incomprehensible f—k up?
I know which I think sounds more likely. But that mystery, too, will remain unresolved. The messenger has been shot, and the message buried at sea.
Jonathan Holmes is a columnist and a former presenter of the ABC's Media Watch program.
An earlier version of this article said incorrectly Rote Island was a couple of thousand kilometres west of Darwin.