It was arguably one of the most tense and emotional moments in Australian sporting history.
Steve Smith, who just days earlier had been the esteemed captain of Australia’s cricket team, arrived in Sydney airport to face questions about illegal ball tampering that had occurred on the third day of his team’s Test against South Africa.
While he hadn’t been the one to covertly rough up the cricket ball with sandpaper, only to be caught on camera and by the on-field umpires, as captain, Smith took full responsibility.
During that first press conference in Sydney airport, the 28-year-old was visibly shattered.
“To all of my teammates, fans of cricket all over the world and to all Australians who are disappointed and angry … I’m sorry,” he said.
“I’ll do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it has caused.”
Smith then took questions from the press, and struggled to contain his emotions as he answered them, knowing what a defining moment this entire spectacle would be in his career, and by extension, his life.
But for one media representative present on that Thursday night in March, the weight of Smith’s distress, and the seriousness of the situation, was entirely misread.
Watch the tense moment Steve Smith had his cricket scandal compared to Married at First Sight. Post continues after video.
“I want to let you know from the non-sport community in Australia, to see you upset tonight is very sad,” he started.
“We asked our listeners, and, as I said, we’re not a sports show, we asked our listeners what we thought about this, and, we have, uh, we opened up to them and mate I gotta tell you… what’s actually been worse is what Davina and Dean did on Married at First Sight.”
At this point, Intern Pete was interrupted and wrapped up with a ‘thank you, thank you’. Steve Smith reacted with utter confusion, and many felt Intern Pete’s comment was a bizarre and insensitive way to approach a person who was so visibly vulnerable.
The backlash on social media was swift and harsh.
The moment a shattered Steve Smith had his cheating scandal compared to that of Davina and Dean on Married at First Sight. Yes, really pic.twitter.com/r3oma3e7IG
— Oliver Brown (@oliverbrown_tel) March 29, 2018
What a disgrace. Whoever asked this needs to be instantly sacked.
— Aaron (@AaronRigato) March 29, 2018
That was emotional stuff from Steve Smith. Well done. He’ll be back. As for Intern Pete from @kyleandjackieo show that was embarrassing. Pull your head in you moron.
— Cameron Phelps (@phelpsy6) March 29, 2018
But last night, on Disgrace!, one of Network Ten’s potential new shows airing as part of pilot week, Peter Deppeler spoke for the first time about the nationwide abuse he received as a result of that one, silly remark.
When host Sam Dastyari aired the footage, Deppeler admitted, “I’ve never been able to bring myself to go back and watch it.”
“To be honest, and I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, but it was the worst experience I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
“And you know what, I asked the question, I went on the press conference but I didn’t want to be told I should get murdered or want to hang myself before, get HIV and die tomorrow.”
The KIIS FM producer recalled that in the dark room, he hadn’t necessarily gauged the reactions of the people around him. It was only when he checked his phone, and saw “almost 300 text messages from friends and family,” that he started to realise what had happened.
Fellow panellist, comedian Becky Lucas, said when she first watched the press conference, she “didn’t like” Deppeler. “I just remember thinking, ‘why would you say anything in this moment’, it’s already so tense and awful,” she said.
But seeing first hand the toll the experience had taken on Deppeler, the panel’s views started to soften.
“I don’t think what you said was disrespectful,” commented former Olympian Stephanie Rice. “It was more just the timing of saying it in that situation.”
“It was s**t, it was really s**t, but we’ve got to push through,” Deppeler said.
In the days following the controversial press conference, Kyle Sandilands publicly criticised the backlash against Intern Pete on his radio show, with Jackie O mentioned that Deppeler’s mother had flown to be with her son.
“Who cares? It’s a cricket game at the end of the day … he got death threats, people threatened Intern Pete with death, these are loons,” Sandilands said.
“They (cricket fans) want his mother dead. What sort of people are these people? It’s a f**king game,” he said.
“This kid could have killed himself over the weekend because of all the hell he’s been put through.
“Imagine if he’d taken his own life because some flog somewhere who’s so obsessed with cricket wanted him dead?”
Disgrace! aims to dissect “what makes the outrage machine tick,” by analysing public scandals with those who have been at the centre, and those who have to manage them. Sunday night’s episode featured Stephanie Rice, who was once shamed for posting a homophobic tweet, former politician Sam Dastyari, who resigned from the Senate earlier this year after a Chinese-related donations scandal, and communications strategist Greg Baxter – an expert in crisis management.