Simon Benson is not denying reports that he will become editor of The Daily Telegraph as early as this month.
News Ltd sources behind the push for the wannabe editor to take the job that was cruelly snatched away from him and given to some luckless ponce from The Australian not good enough to be pinched by Fairfax have confirmed he was now being advised by his closest confidants not to wait until next year but to launch a challenge as early as the second last week of November.
Senior sources within Holt Street claim the leakage of support away from Mr Whittaker, who flew out last night for some sort of Murdoch hajj, was snowballing.
"There are three things that are certain: there is a editorship challenge under way, Benson doesn't have a majority yet but has enough numbers to be a contender, and they are strategising about how to get it done," said a senior News Ltd source.
But there was mixed support for the idea of an early move, with some Murdoch minions claiming they would "deliver the editorship" to Mr Benson in February - if he waited.
In a sign Mr Whittaker is now taking seriously the threat of a challenge, an internal counter-offensive has been launched to shore up his editorship.
Mr Whittaker is reported over the past week to have lobbied key Holt Street figures with influence over executive members as to how Mr Hartigan takes his coffee and what his recreational pursuits are. Steve Lewis is also believed to have privately warned several NSW News colleagues that he would resign if they supported a move to impose Mr Benson as editor, having had his reputation shackled to Mr Benson over one of the silliest examples of journalism in Australian history.
Politically Homeless has spent the last two weeks sitting on reports that News Ltd executives were softening in their support for Mr Whittaker following the bungled anti-terrorism raid and their deepening concerns that News Ltd can't just make stuff up and sell it as though it were real.
Should Whittaker be replaced with Benson? Tell us below
"It sent Whittaker's office into a panic. Lewis has told people that he would quit if we went to Benson but I doubt he was serious. He wouldn't want to be remembered as the bloke that brought down a News Ltd masthead," a senior member of the News Ltd executive said.
"That's our job."
"I mean, can you imagine if Fairfax or the ABC spiked an anti-terrorism investigation? We'd be all over them like ants at a picnic. Now, all the Ala Akba or whatever they're called have to do is gissa call, and we'll bugger up the AFP investigation for them."
"We're handy like that."
Mr Lewis would not comment last night.
News Ltd has only one working week left after this week, after which employees will run over to Pyrmont and beg to be hired by Fairfax, or at the Fish Markets, or by anyone really, to avoid the next visit from the Great Helmsman with pink slips in both of his scaly, spotted fists.
Sources close to Mr Whittaker said he was well advanced on a policy pitch to address News Ltd's desperate credibility problems over issues including public transport in Sydney, the carbon tax and problem gambling.
One senior News Ltd, a Benson supporter, claimed advertisers were starting to "get edgy" over the government's unresolved editorship crisis.
"Advertisers know it's a question of when and want it sorted," they said.
Despite Mr Benson's self-professed popularity, a boost in support for the Tele if Mr Whittaker was rolled was not assured. Secret Politically Homeless research conducted recently in secret (in contrast to, say, a Federal Police raid on a terrorist cell) concluded voters believed the paper was drifting.
Other editorial candidates such as Miranda Devine and Annette Sharp refused to return calls by deadline. Even Joe Hildebrand, the Chris Pyne of journalism, refused to rule out a tilt at the top job "down the track".
Why buy the paper in the morning when you can check it for free on your phone, and then get a copy handed to you titled as "MX" in the afternoon?
Voters believe News Ltd's policies are out of synch with mainstream values, targeting key policy areas including the carbon tax and asylum seeker policy. They also expressed concern at the influence of the so-called Murdoch Family (diddly-dum, click click ... read the lyrics and change the family name).
Then again they're only punters, so fuck 'em.
* The reason why this is Exclusive to Politically Homeless is because I've made this up.
Update 5 Nov: Not content with a shot at the editorship "down the track"*, Joe Hildebrand lunges for martyrdom. Each of those amounts look pretty hefty until you realise that his employer charges that for each ad about the size of a coffee cup that appears in a newspaper. If he can get one or two of those weepy ads that Andrew Bolt's pals put together he needn't worry.