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.