The Dim-Post

September 25, 2014

Making things slightly better

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 8:41 am

Keith Ng has a post up about what he feels was poor media coverage of the Dirty Politics saga. I thought the reporting of Hager’s book was mostly pretty great. National didn’t get re-elected because ‘the media failed’. It got re-elected because the wider public didn’t think that the revelations in Dirty Politics were important enough to get rid of a Prime Minister that they feel is performing well and replace him with a bunch of maniacs.

What isn’t great is that the book exposed problems with the media and how adept the right is at manipulating it which don’t seem like they’re being addressed or even being acknowledged. So here are a couple of quick, off-the-top-of-my-head proposals into how I think political media can redeem themselves in the aftermath of Dirty Politics: 

  • If political commentators have a commercial relationship with a political party then they should be described as a ‘National Party Operative’, or a ‘Labour Party Operative’. David Farrar isn’t a ‘blogger’, or ‘political commentator’, or even ‘right-wing blogger’ or ‘right-wing commentator’ who can then turn around and grin and say ‘Shucks! I don’t make any secret of the fact that I support National!’ when someone challenges him about his links with the party. He’s a National Party Operative, and so are the rest of National’s eager little helpers who do ‘media training’ or ‘communications consultancy’ for National and then run around the radio stations and political shows advocating for the National Party. Same goes for Labour, obviously, and the Greens and every other party out there. And if someone can’t comment on their political clients because their work is ‘commercial in confidence’ then they shouldn’t be a public commentator
  • Anonymous sources for stories should be described as accurately as possible without compromising the anonymity of the source. No more ‘insiders’ or ‘party sources’. Tell us if something came from an MP or the leader’s office. That gets to the heart of the ‘two tier’ technique described in Dirty Politics. If the National Party wants to smear Labour or some other enemy then by all means, let em – but the story needs to be attributed. If the New Zealand Herald’s story on Donghua Liu came from the Prime Minister’s Office then the New Zealand public should know that. No more completely anonymous sources attacking their political enemies without attribution. And if an anonymous source lies to the media then that source’s identity should be revealed. Journalists should protect the identity of their sources but they don’t owe anything to a source that deliberately tricks them into publishing a false story smearing their enemies. Again, looking at you New Zealand Herald and Donghua Liu reporters.
  • Journalists will balk at that. ‘If they don’t let parties smear each other anonymously then they’ll lose the story to another media outlet who will!’ The problem with that is that it means that the ethics of the entire industry are held to the standard of the least ethical people in it. I think political parties will still leak to you under these conditions – especially if there’s a consensus on this issue – it’ll just mean that our politics is a little bit less scummy and awful than it was during Slater’s reign.

September 12, 2014

Dirty tricks and anonymity

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 12:24 pm

This story is in the Dom-Post today:

Labour candidate Anna Lorck has apologised profusely for parking her branded vehicle in a mobility car park in Hastings.

Lorck’s SUV was seen parked in the designated car park outside the Ellwood Function Centre, where she was attending a meeting of farmers.

Lorck is the Labour candidate for Tukituki, which takes in Hastings, Havelock North and Flaxmere.

She was “genuinely very sorry” and had “absolutely no intention to park there”.

“I had no idea. It was dark and I didn’t notice the signage. I was late and I arrived just before it started. The car park was full and I saw the car park and just parked,” she said.

If someone had let her know she was in a mobility park, she would have moved.

“If I had noticed someone else parked there I’d have let them know.”

Her actions came to light this week, after The Dominion Post was shown a photograph of the incident, which happened on June 19.

I think that a candidate parking in a disabled car-park speaks to character and its okay for journalists to write a story about it. But I’m interested in that last sentence. The incident happened three months ago and now in the last eight days of the election campaign someone has shown the Dom-Post a picture of it. Who? We don’t know, and given what this campaign has been about that seems like – potentially – a way bigger deal than the original story.

Because it seems really, really, really likely that this story came from the National Party, doesn’t it? If so, why has the Dom-Post decided to grant their source anonymity? Why do political parties get to be anonymous when they’re smearing their political opponents? I mean, given that we’ve just had this HUGE scandal about political parties hiding behind source anonymity to manipulate the media and smear their enemies, it would be nice to see, like, a faint flicker of soul-searching from the media instead of more anonymously sourced smears.

September 1, 2014

New shit has come to light

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 8:43 am

Via Stuff (sorry about quoting so much of your story, guys): 

Judith Collins’ office processed an Official Information Act request in just two days to release an email embarrassing then Serious Fraud Office head Adam Feeley in 2011.

The revelation comes as ripples from the Dirty Politics saga widened during the weekend after a series of bombshells including:

■ Collins stepped down as Justice Minister after an email handed to the prime minister’s office raised questions about her involvement in what leaked emails appear to suggest was a campaign by Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater and others to undermine Feeley while he was SFO boss.

■ Prime Minister John Key confirmed there would be an inquiry into Collins’s actions in relation to Feeley, with details of the inquiry to be announced today.

In October 2011, Feeley was embarrassed after emails leaked by his former prosecutor showed he had toasted the prosecution of Bridgecorp managing director Rod Petricevic with Champagne obtained from the offices of the failed finance company.

Emails obtained by Fairfax Media, alongside one released by the PM’s office, appeared to show controversy over the incident was in part stoked by Slater and fellow blogger Cathy Odgers who had talked of being being paid – it appeared from the emails – by Hanover Finance’s Mark Hotchin to attack the SFO.

The allegation that some insiders – most prominently Matthew Hooton – are putting around is that as-yet-unreleased documents show Collins passing on information about the prosecution to Slater, who then passed it onto Hotchin’s defense team. If that’s true then it will be the biggest corruption scandal in New Zealand politics for many generations (feel free to nominate contenders in the comments). It is hard to imagine that any Justice Minister would be crazy and horrible and dumb enough to do that. On the other hand, Judith Collins tenure as a Minister has mostly been about crazy, horrible dumb things. So we’ll see. 

Putting Collins aside for a moment, the revelation in the email released by John Key reveals some other pretty horrible stuff happening in our political-media culture. Mark Hotchin was under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office so he allegedly hired Graham, Slater and Odgers to smear the head of the office, and several senior journalists in the mainstream media are implicated in that smear campaign. 

Russell Brown has an overview of what happened. Herald journalists Fran O’Sullivan and Jared Savage have published comments on the material in Slater’s leaked email, and O’Sullivan is especially indignant at the suggestion she was collaborating with Slater. I guess it’s just a huge coincidence that Slater wrote in a private email: 

Cathy can outline her contact with Fran O’Sullivan separately. Basically though the Herald and other media are now picking up our lines that this situation is like “Caesar’s Wife” where the SFO must be beyond reproach. If he nicked a bottle of wine what else has he nicked or hidden from receivers and liquidators? …  

And that O’Sullivan then wrote her column entitled ‘More than a storm in a champagne flute‘ vigorously attacking Feeley in exactly the way outlined in the email. Savage wrote six stories about the same subject. There was also a column by Deborah Hill-Cone – who bestowed Slater with his Canon award: 

What does it say to his staff that it is OK to take a bottle of wine from one of the companies you are investigating? If that is OK – hey, it’s only a bottle of wine – what next? 

It would be nice to know what was actually going on here. Did the Herald’s staff know they were collaborating in a PR smear campaign? Jared Savage wrote that it was ‘naive’ of him not to know that he was being manipulated by Slater and Graham. It’s a shame that one of the top investigative journalists in the country is such a trusting, innocent naif.  I think we’re going to hear a lot of this over the next few months. ‘Gee, in retrospect I was wrong to trust Cameron Slater!’ But Slater hasn’t exactly hidden his utter, utter loathsomeness over the years. Pretty much the only nice thing you can say about him is that he’s been totally upfront about how incredibly unethical, sleazy, corrupt and hateful he is. 

Journalists need to hold people like the head of the Serious Fraud Office to account. They need to source their stories, and they source those stories off people with an agenda of their own, and sometimes those sources aren’t nice people, and journalists also need to keep their sources confidential – but it seems really, really wrong for people like Graham, Slater and Odgers to exploit those prerequisites of a free press to make a living conducting vendettas against public servants on behalf of the people they’re investigating. And there seems to be something going on at the New Zealand Herald that makes it very easy for them to be used in these smear campaigns. I hope they try and fix it. 

Update: Fran O’Sullivan wrote: My column was written b4 Slater’s email which quotes my column & NZH editorial.

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.

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