The Dim-Post

June 27, 2014

The difference

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 7:31 am

The Herald editorial is in defensive mode insisting ‘Cries of bias will not stop reporting.’

It is common in election years for political parties under pressure to attempt to shoot the messenger. In 2005, the Herald was stridently criticised and accused of bias by National supporters for our reportage of Dr Don Brash and the Exclusive Brethren. In 2008 it was the turn of Winston Peters and his New Zealand First people to call for resignations of the editor and political editor for the inconvenient revelation of funding from millionaire Owen Glenn, despite his “No” sign. Last election it was National partisans again, livid at the Herald on Sunday and Herald for John Key and John Banks talking openly before a microphone accidentally left on their “cup of tea” table in a cafe.

This year it is the turn of Labour and its leader, David Cunliffe, incensed at reporting on the donations to the party and its MPs by the controversial Chinese migrant Donghua Liu — and that party’s connections to him.

Mr Cunliffe is considering unspecified legal options against the Herald. Party supporters have weighed in with accusations of political bias and complicated right-wing conspiracies.

The Herald is a large and complicated institution. Editorially its a right-wing newspaper that favors National and the ACT Party, and when you talk to journalists who work there they’ll happily admit that, although some of them say things like ‘We are a pro-business newspaper that you might consider right-wing.’ Whatever. Editorially its a right-wing paper.

But its journalism is usually pretty balanced. Just like it says in the editorial, their reporter Jared Savage broke the story about Donghua Liu’s links with Maurice Williamson. They covered the teapot tapes story, and Don Brash’s links with the Exclusive Brethren. When the story about Liu’s donations to Labour broke I thought most of Labour’s senior party figures were going to have to resign, because I took Savage’s journalism seriously.

But the difference, I think, between the stories about Maurice Williamson and Don Brash and the tea-pot tapes is that those stories turned out to be true. There really was a tea-pot tape. Maurice Williamson did phone the police. Don Brash did collaborate with the Exclusive Brethren. But the Herald’s story that Donghua Liu gave Labour $150,000 and that Labour didn’t declare that donation has turned out to be false. Weirdly its the Herald’s own reporting that proved that, but they tried to fudge it and didn’t issue any kind of apology or correction, and they’re still demanding to know what happened to the other $15,000, or $38,000 or however much they still reckon Liu gave Labour, although they have yet to provide a shred of proof that any donation took place.

And maybe I’m a big, wide-eyed conspiracy theorist, but since we know that person who took the false statement from Liu – a major donor to the National Party – passed the information in it onto the Prime Minister several weeks before they gave that statement to the Herald, I’m pretty confident in saying it came from National. If the Herald wants to rule that out – they have NO obligation to protect a source who fed them false information – then they can do so.

But failing that, the sum total of the Liu story is that we have a newspaper with right-wing editorial sympathies who published a false smear story about a left-wing political party fed to them by the government in the immediate run-up to the election. And it’s still ongoing. Yesterday they published a story about a former Labour Party fundraiser called Steven Ching, linking him with Liu and Labour. Ching issued a statement disputing all of the allegations and adding that the Herald never even bothered to contact him to check their story. At this point in the train-wreck you’d think they’d be a little more cautious.

June 18, 2014


Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 5:03 pm

A couple of people asked me on twitter why I thought the David Cunliffe/Lui letter story came from the Nats instead of just being good hard reporting by the Herald journalist. I have a couple of reasons, but one of them is this comment on my blog from yesterday from a guy who helps Cameron Slater co-write WhaleOil:

Within 24 hours the poll are going to be the least of David Cunliffes problems.
Keep an eye on the herald website, we are about to see pledge card theft relegated to second place as the biggest labour funding scandal.

So sure: maybe the Herald shares its exclusive scoops with Slater et al. Or maybe a bunch of Labour MPs decided to backstab their own leader and tip off Slater, who kept quiet about it because he’s such a circumspect guy. But I’m gonna use Occam’s razor here. Slater is part of National’s comms; his web-site is also co-written by a guy in the PM’s office and the simplest explanation is that the PM’s office was behind this and that’s how the guys at WhaleOil knew about it.

I think Occam’s razor is also useful here in solving the mystery of whether Cunliffe deliberately lied about knowing Liu or whether he just forgot about the letter he sent ELEVEN YEARS AGO. He forgot – which is totally reasonable – but Liu has been a major political story for months now, and there have been questions ‘swirling’ around his association with Labour for almost a week. They needed to know about this. To be honest it’s not that unreasonable for Cunliffe’s staff to fail to turn up an electorate letter written when he was a backbencher eleven years ago. But the reality is that National did turn it up and that comes down to deeper issues of strategic acumen and superior organisation coupled with superior media management, which are valid reasons for the Nats to win the election and Labour to lose.

May 12, 2014

A quick thought on media bias

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 6:15 am

One of the unending preoccupations of the political blogosphere is media bias. Does the right-wing corporate/left-wing liberal media favor certain parties or ideologies? The assumption is that media bias is hugely important, but this year I’ve been interested in the New Zealand Herald’s glowing coverage of the ACT Party: our largest newspaper gives ACT – a party that often fails to get the endorsement of 1 voter in a thousand in the polls and wouldn’t exist without the electorate seat rort – more coverage than all the rest of the minor parties combined, virtually all of it lovingly positive and yet ACT is still bouncing around between 0 and 0.5%. All that overt support from a major media outlet seems like it’s worthless.

Anyway, today they detail ACT’s ‘alternative’ budget, which was released on Saturday to withering scorn from at least one economist. Naturally there’s no criticism or balancing quote in Audrey Young’s story. (As a special media-bias bonus, try and find a news story by Young in the Herald’s archive which (a) covers a National government policy and contains a balancing quote from the opposition or (b) covers a Labour/Greens policy and does not lead with a quote from the National government.)


February 12, 2014

Labour planning dodgy electoral deal with immortal giant

Filed under: media,satire — danylmc @ 10:53 am

TV3’s political editor has broken another story about a political party rorting the MMP system:

It’s dirty. It’s dodgy. And it’s happening. Yes, the Labour Party who have stuck the knife in and twisted the boot attacking National’s electorate deals have done a dirty dodgy dirty deal themselves.

Yes. You heard right. And it gets dodgier and dirty. The deal is with Ymir, King of the Frost Giants. A being of pure malevolence formed from the frozen rivers of poison that run through hell. Ymir has a real grudge against John Key. And the bad blood flies both ways. It’s a grudge match. Also a perfect storm of grudge.

Behind the scenes Labour is stiching up a dirty deal with Ymir for the electorate of Ginnungagap, a formless void of ice and rime located on Auckland’s North Shore.

Details of this deal are kept tightly under wraps. The Electoral Commission won’t even admit that the Ginnungagap electorate exists. Journalists who vault their reception desk and smash open computers looking for proof of Ginnungagap are led away by security. That shows you just how sensitive these deals are. A week is a long time in politics.

Labour’s spin-doctors say there is no deal and that Ymir doesn’t actually exist. They say I’m locked in a psychotic delusion. Well I’ve heard that before. Hundreds of times. It means they’re scared. They know that hard-working families don’t trust immortal frost giants. And with good reason. Remember, when Odin wounded Ymir in the runup to the 2002 election Ymir’s blood flooded the whole world. Yes, that won’t go down well with hard-working voters.

At the end of the day this last ditch effort might just see Labour in government and a giant made of snake’s venom on the Treasury benches. Only time will tell.

December 31, 2013

In defense of Guyon Espiner

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 1:33 pm

Former TVNZ Political Editor Guyon Espiner has been named as one of the new co-hosts for RNZ’s morning report program, which is a big deal in political circles – Morning Report often sets the news agenda for the entire day. Bomber Bradbury is upset; one of the commentators at The Standard is also critical.

I’ve made fun of Espiner’s somewhat other-worldly political-insider comments in the past. But realistically, writing about politics on the internet is one thing; confronting senior politicians about their own portfolios live on air (after they’ve been briefed and prepped by their very smart, very experienced advisers) is another. The list of people who have the depth of knowledge and quick wit to conduct those kind of interviews and generate news stories out of them is incredibly short, and Espiner is at the top of it.

November 10, 2013

Advertising boycotts and freedom of speech

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 4:41 pm

Karl du Fresne weighs in on the debate around Roastbusters and RadioLive’s Willie and JT show. Loads to take issue with here. He writes:

But the outrage over the Roast Busters has triggered a potentially valuable national conversation about how such attitudes could exist in a supposedly enlightened, civilised society, and everything should be on the table. If we genuinely want to understand what’s been going on in West Auckland, a few awkward questions need to be asked. One of those questions is whether the behaviour of the victims may have been a contributory factor, consciously or otherwise. Asking that question doesn’t excuse the contemptible behaviour of the perpetrators. Neither does it mean blaming the victim.

If we don’t ask those uncomfortable questions, an opportunity will have been lost. And the enemies of free speech and open debate will have triumphed again.

Do these advertising boycotts attack freedom of speech? I don’t think so. No one is saying that Willie and JT should go to prison for what they’ve said. That’s really what ‘free speech’ is. ‘Free speech’ doesn’t entitle anyone to their own radio show where they can say whatever they want and the advertisers who fund the show have to keep paying for it no matter how offensive it is and how strongly they disagree with it That’s, like, not a thing. If companies want to remove their advertising because they don’t think association with a show is advantageous to them, then that’s just good ‘ol capitalism working as designed.

But isn’t this ‘the left’ manipulating the system to police what everyone can say? Maybe, a little bit. But left-wing activists can only use this tactic when they can get marketing managers of commercial businesses to agree that a statement is deeply offensive. The barrier for that is pretty high. You have to offend pretty-much everyone in the country – except the cohort of irritable old men that dominate our punditocracy, who are only offended by gender quotas – to get something like this to work.


October 26, 2013

Two dumb things

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 2:41 pm

The Herald interviews David Lewis, ex-press secretary to Helen Clark and current press sec for Len Brown and wonders if he is as amazing at his job as Malcolm Tucker, the terrifying spin doctor from The Thick of It. Which is something you hear a bit around political circles: ‘He’s a real Malcolm Tucker’, said of various powerful staffers, and its always annoyed me because one of the running gags of The Thick of It is that Malcolm Tucker is terrible at his job. The plot of almost every episode involves Tucker bullying and screaming at Ministers and their staff, which causes them to do something  stupid which turns into a public relations catastrophe for the government. It’s a bit weird that people in politics might watch that show, see Tucker screaming and swearing himself into disaster after disaster and think he’s someone to be emulated. Most successful press secretaries seem to work by building relationships. Lewis does seem to have done a fine job advising Brown through his sex-scandal, although outwitting John Palino, Luigi Wewege and the Slaters doesn’t seem like a very high bar to clear.

Anyway, also related to the Len Brown scandal is this article on Stuff:

Employment relations experts have weighed in on the Len Brown case, with some saying if he was employed as a chief executive on one of New Zealand’s major listed companies he would be fired.

Susan Hornsby-Geluk, partner at Dundas Street Employment Law said there would be a “strong likelihood” that Brown would be asked to stand down by the board of directors if the same behaviour occurred in a private company, more so if he led a public department.

It’s unlikely Brown would be fired if he was a CEO, relationships between executives and staff being a routine feature of corporate life. But certainly in the case of some equivalent-sized scandal his board would have offered him a huge sum of money to step down, and he’d probably have taken it. Likewise, if Brown was a Minister he’d have offered his resignation as a Minister and he’d be spending a year or so on the back bench before being reinstated. If the scandal was a little bit worse he might even resign as an MP for the good of his party. The point being that in any of those scenarios the person stepping down gets something: either some money or their old job back, or even just the goodwill of the party for doing the right thing. If Brown steps down from the mayoralty he gets nothing. Instead he just hands a huge political victory to his enemies. And the other huge difference between CEOs, Ministers and Mayors is that you can simply replace a CEO or a Minister. The new Mayor only happens through another election, and the public really don’t seem to want to go there.

October 14, 2013

Compare and contrast

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 9:32 pm

My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet’s the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.

Dorothy Parker. Sanctuary

A couple months ago John Key went on Campbell Live to defend his GCSB legislation. The issue was getting huge traction, John Campbell was fronting it, and Key gave such a comprehensive performance that the issue all but died as a topic of debate in the mainstream media.

And today one of the up-and-coming superstars of the National Party, Energy Minister Simon Bridges tried to do the same thing, and failed about as badly as I’ve ever seen a Minister fail on national TV. So I went back and watched Key’s interview again to try and spot the difference.

Both Key and Bridges were well prepped with lines and talking points. But Key’s success and Bridges’ failure are, I think, due to them addressing different audiences. Key didn’t go on Campbell Live to talk to John Campbell. Key didn’t care about John Campbell. Key was talking past him, to Campbell’s audience. Bridges, on-the-other-hand, is pissed. He’s there to talk to John Fucking Campbell and put him in his fucking place.

So all the lines are completely different. Key’s comms team has sat down, watched previous episodes of Campbell Live and said, ‘Here’s what John Campbell will say. How do we neutralise that?’ And then they work out responses and then go through the lines with their boss. Bridges has, I suspect, watched the episodes in his office with his comms adviser, stalking around in a rage and shouting at the screen, ‘What about your fucking car John? That flash Mazda at the start of your show? How are you going to drive THAT without oil mined from the Pegasus basin? Make a note of that – I’m gonna ask him that. And now he’s on about Anadarko owning shares in BP. How many shares does John Fucking Campbell own in various companies? What’s his answer to that? Put that down too.’

The result is a Minister who looks like he’s close to tears and about to start throwing punches because someone is talking trash about a Texas-based oil company that was involved in an environmental catastrophe in the US and is about to start drilling down here. Which is hilarious, but not great for the government. I bet political advisers will use these two interviews as comparison studies for years.

September 6, 2013

Labour leadership punditry, 2011 edition

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 7:34 am

For the last few years Bryce Edwards has been aggregating media and blog writing about New Zealand politics into his NZ Politics Daily column. Turns out a lot of these are online at his blog, and if you get out of bed early enough you can read through the entries relevant to the 2011 Labour leadership race and see who predicted what.

Firstly, the conventional wisdom of the left-wing blogosphere has it that Shearer was the right’s candidate. But a lot of left-wing people supported Shearer. Here’s Matt McCarten, here’s Chris Trotter:

In David Shearer Labour has already found its Kevin Costner. If the caucus will only let him build Kiwi voters a new “field of dreams” – they will come.

Bahahahahaha. Here’s Keith Ng, who, to be fair, seemed more anti-Cunliffe than pro-Shearer. Here’s Lew. And I wrote:

I think both of the contenders in the Labour leadership will (probably) be strong leaders, so while I’m tepidly pro-Shearer, I’m not staunchly anti-Cunliffe. (I do think his choice of Deputy is daft – although obviously it makes tactical sense within the hermetically sealed world of the Labour caucus.)

Anyway, one of the criticisms leveled against Shearer is that he isn’t – or won’t be – ‘strong in the House’, meaning Question Time in Parliament. That may be true, but it ain’t a drawback. The Prime Minister is reliably awful in the House and he’s our most popular politician ever. The House doesn’t matter. Lack of experience or presence in it is not a deal-breaker.


It’s also entered into left-wing, online mythology that Shearer was endorsed by Matthew Hooton, Cathy Odgers and David Farrar. But Odgers actually endorsed Cunliffe. David Farrar vigorously promoted Shearer, and wrote in his December Herald column:

I think a David Shearer led Labour Party will pose more of a threat to National, than any alternative leader.

Wow, that sounds really familiar! I can’t find Hooton’s endorsement – I’m pretty sure there was one – but in a bonus ‘Matthew Hooton is wrong about everything’ link, here he is predicting that the Greens would be a ‘crucial’ component of the post 2011 National government, and that Key would entice Russel Norman with ‘policy sweeteners’ to sideline the ACT Party.

The worst prediction of all goes to Patrick Gower, who endorsed Shearer as the savior of the Labour party – he described Shearer as a fighter who had the common touch which, again, sounds really familiar – but confidently predicted Labour would never make him leader because he’d shake up the party too much.  Second best prediction goes to Dr Brian Edwards who (famously) wrote:

Shearer has had nearly three years to demonstrate his skill as a debater and about a fortnight to provide some evidence of competence in handling the media. He has done neither. His television appearances have bordered on the embarrassing. He lacks fluency and fails to project confidence or authority. Watching him makes you feel nervous and uncomfortable – a fatal flaw.

My instinct is that the Labour Party is about to make a huge mistake. Their logic, I suspect, is that they must replace an unpopular leader with a popular leader. But it is shallow thinking. What the next Leader of the Opposition must be able to do is best and bring down John Key. That really isn’t a job for ‘a nice guy’.

Best prediction/commentary goes to someone called Jadis, who was writing stuff on DPF’s blog while he was on holiday in Africa:

My learned Labour contacts suggested to me before the vote even took place that it didn’t really matter all that much who was elected Leader of Labour.  Their view was that the victor would never be the next Labour Prime Minister.  We are seeing Labour lurch from Phil ‘fill-in’ Goff to another fill-in guy.  Shearer’s going to find it tough.  He’s backed more by Labour’s old guard but without the real depth of relationships (or indeed institutional knowledge of the Party) while needing to reach out to the more progressive members of the Party.  Shearer has a timeline worse than English ever had.  Shearer may not even see an election.

Let’s hear more from her.

August 16, 2013

All glory to the hypnotoad

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 11:00 am

Russell Brown attributes John Key’s triumph debating the GCSB bill on Campbell Live as ‘a study in media training’. The sentiment seems to be widespread among the left, including with John Campbell.

I thought the PM addressed Campbell’s questions very directly. His success wasn’t about any kind of media training Jedi mind trick, so much as it was about the PM enjoying a huge strategic advantage over John Campbell. Campbell Live had done clips on the GCSB bill all week. Key’s team knew exactly what their objections to it were. All they had to do was have a couple of people from their comms team watch each episode, break down each issue and craft a rebuttal.

Unfortunately (for the PM) they don’t seem to have run their rebuttal past anyone with legal knowledge of the bill, which means that while the PM was wiping the floor with Campbell he was also incorrect/lying on a pivotal point. Via the Herald:

In the course of the interview [Key] said incorrectly that under the bill, the GCSB would not be allowed to look at the content of communications when conducting their cyber-security functions.

In fact, there is nothing that prevents it from doing so. But what Mr Key is now saying is that in exercising his power to impose any conditions he wants on a warrant, he will use his discretion to set the default position not looking at content in the cyber-security function.

Which is just stupid. The PM can’t grant himself the power to secretly spy on people and simply promise not to use it, if only because he isn’t going to be Prime Minister in perpetuity. Key keeps warning us that Labour and the Greens are ‘the devil-beast’. Well if Winston Peters walks in front of a bus the devil-beast will probably in government in about fourteen months, and able to intercept the emails of New Zealanders with impunity.

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