I just arrived back from a week long scientific conference in far-north Queensland (with a satisfactory amount of snorkelling and sun-bathing in between presentations). The papers in the Koru lounge were all abuzz about John Key’s ‘gaffe’ about New Zealand history. The whole pointless story is an interesting exercise in how communications staff interact with the media. It started like this:
1. Labour (this seems to have originated from Cullen’s office) releases a press statement attacking John Key on the basis that he made the following statement on NewsTalk ZB
We’re not a country that’s come about as a result of civil war or where there’s been a lot of fighting internally, we’re, we’re a country which peacefully came together.
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of New Zealand history knows that this is not the case, and if a party leader did make such a statement it would raise serious questions about their suitability to become Prime Minister.
2. The media decide this is obviously a story and call Pita Sharples, Parekura Horomia, Helen Clark and various left-wing academics for comment. All of them pile onto Key and attack him mercilessly. TVNZ have a fine example of this stage of the story here.
3. National responds with a press release claiming that Cullen has ‘scored an own goal’ and made identical statements to those Key is alleged to have made. Claire Trevett at the New Zealand Herald kindly rewrites the National Party statement into the Heralds in-house style for them.
4. Inconveniently for National Cullen’s speech is publically available and its instantly clear that the Nats have quoted him wildly out of context, so everybody except the Herald ignores this rather desparate ploy. The Nats then look back at Key’s transcript and figure out that he did in fact mention the New Zealand Wars and land confiscation. Key, it appears, was quoted wildly out of context too. The Nats release the transcript.
5. At this point it is apparent that the political media have now spent an entire day chasing a story with no news value whatsoever. This is entirely an exercise in political spin on Labour’s part and incompetent media management on the Nats. There is NOTHING to see here. But . . . they did spend all day on it, so off to the front pages it goes.
Ah . . . the life of kings.
*UPDATE – NZPA political reporter Ian Llewllyn presents his own version of events in the comments. Since Ian is in the gallery observing things first hand and I am sitting at home in my underwear making shit up his perspective is slightly different from mine. I stand by my methods.