Hager’s basic hypothesis is that John Key’s National government uses a ‘two tier’ communications strategy; positive communications, which are focused around John Key, who is presented as ‘relaxed’ and decent, and negative/attack communications, which are conducted covertly by senior staffers in Key’s office and fed to the media mostly – but not exclusively – through Cameron Slater’s WhaleOil blog.
His evidence for all of this consists of a huge quantity of Slater’s Facebook messages many of which are to and from Jason Ede, the longest-serving press officer in the Prime Minister’s office. The primary allegations regarding Ede are:
- He was involved in accessing the Labour Party’s computers in the lead-up to the 2011 election
- He tips Slater off when an OIA is about to be released to an opposition party or media outlet, telling Slater to request the OIA, which he is then provided with before the original requestor. Slater then publishes the information on his blog with a pro-National spin
- He is implicated in advising Slater to request classified SIS documents, which were then declassified and quickly released to Slater to embarrass Labour leader Phil Goff
- Ede advised Slater on the wording of OIA requests to conduct a smear campaign against MFAT staff protesting Murray McCully’s restructuring of their department.
The book also documents the close friendship between Slater and Justice Minister Judith Collins, alleging:
- Collins is the source of much of the material for Slater’s ‘tipline’, attacking Labour MPs and her enemies within the National Party.
- When she was Minister of Corrections Collins appears to have had a prisoner transferred at Slater’s request, because a friend of Slater’s didn’t want her daughter visiting her imprisoned ex-partner and Slater arranged to have the man transferred to a more remote prison. The prisoner later attempted suicide. [Update: Hager has said – and the book does, actually say, that Slater accomplished this through a prison officer, not Collins.]
- Collins discusses the illegal leaking of police evidence with Slater and publication of the evidence on Slater’s blog (at the time she was Minister of Police)
One of Slater’s primary collaborators is the political strategist Simon Lusk. Allegations:
- Lusk and Slater charge aspiring National politicians to help them win candidate selection in National safe-seats by running attack campaigns against their opponents. The book documents an extensive smear campaign in the Rodney electorate in 2011, in which Lusk and Slater successfully elected their client Mark Mitchell, who is now the MP for Rodney.
- Lusk and Slater, and Jordan Williams routinely game the iPredict site, spending small amounts of money to move the prices around and then blogging about the movements.
- Lusk was hired by Brash to help replace Rodney Hide as leader of the ACT Party. Lusk – evidently without Brash’s knowledge – found out from Jordan Williams that Rodney Hide had been sending ‘dodgy texts’ to a young woman. Slater published hints about this on his blog and Lusk proposed that they approach Hide quietly and ‘tell Hide that someone had the texts and will release them if he doesn’t resign by Friday’. Hide resigned.
Much of the material published by Slater under his name is actually written by Carrick Graham, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Allegations:
- Graham also comments extensively on WhaleOil, using pseudonyms, often under his own posts. His pseudo-anonymous comments are incredibly racist and misogynistic.
- Graham pays Slater about $6500 a month for publishing pro tobacco, pro alcohol PR, written by Graham but published under Slater’s byline.
- Many of the posts are vicious attacks against academics that publish scientific research that upsets Graham’s clients.
Other noteworthy allegations:
- Slater has a friend who is a former-prostitute, who asks around brothels to find out if his political enemies have been to them. Len Brown, John Boscowan, Labour MPs, the Herald’s editors and Duncan Garner are all named as people Slater has attempted to ‘dig dirt’ on in this manner to ‘apply pressure’.
- Jordan Williams edits the Wikipedia pages of Labour MPs and writes smears about their sex lives
- Content on David Farrar’s Kiwiblog is written by National’s communications staffers
That’s not even close to an exhaustive list. Just the things that jumped out at me.
I think the primary focus here should be on Jason Ede. Cameron Slater, Jordan Williams and David Farrar are National Party activists, but Ede is paid a (large) salary by the taxpayer to help John Key run the country but his actual job seems to consist of activity that is highly unethical and – occasionally – almost certainly illegal.
Key has already dismissed Hager’s book (‘left-wing conspiracy theory’) so it looks like he might try to bluff this out. I really, really, really doubt that will work.