Let me get this straight. Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil site is hacked in retaliation for a post that upset a lot of people and as a result, a great swag of incriminating emails ends up in the hands of Nicky Hager. Meanwhile, Labour’s enemies discover there are weaknesses in the Labour Party’s website that enable them to go poking around there for sensitive information, some of which ends up with Slater.
I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that if either of these acts was illegal, it’s more likely to have been the hacking of Whale Oil. So why, on Q+A and The Nation this morning, did the interviewers apply the blowtorch to Slater and go soft on Hager?Taking advantage of a website’s slack security may, at worst, be ethically dodgy, but publishing the contents of private emails obtained by hacking is surely a lot more serious. Yet both Susan Wood (Q+A) and Lisa Owen (The Nation) let Hager off the hook while aggressively going after Slater. (Owen, for example, seemed to be demanding that Slater reveal sources, something no journalist would dream of doing.)
Hager can’t have believed his luck. But then, perhaps he’s come to expect this sort of friendly treatment. You can’t help but suspect that in the eyes of many in the media, Hager has a halo and Slater has horns and a forked tail.I’m no cheerleader for Slater. His blog has earned its place in the media landscape but it’s sometimes gratuitously offensive, as when he wrote that a “feral” who crashed his car on the West Coast while trying to evade police deserved to die – the comment that supposedly triggered the attack on his website. He was making a legitimate point but overcooked it, presumably for the purpose of provoking a reaction, which he got - in spades.
The comments posted on Whale Oil, too, are often rabid, and I was pleased to hear him say this morning that he intends to exercise tighter moderation. Not before time.I don’t like cosy collusion between journalists (or in this case bloggers) and cabinet ministers or government spin doctors either. They smell. But Slater is hardly the first media person to be favoured with sneaky leaks and tipoffs. As has been pointed out over the past few days, Helen Clark had her favourites in the press gallery too.
And anyway, what about Hager’s motives? He likes to call himself an investigative journalist, but he’s nothing of the sort. In truth he’s a polemicist who happens to use some journalistic skills, such as writing and ferreting out information (which, to be fair, he does pretty well, if selectively).Hager dislikes being called an activist, but it’s a more honest description of his role than “journalist”. The giveaway is that he seems very choosy about the subjects he writes about, and in the way he covers them.
Invariably he pushes issues dear to the left, and does it in a way that presents the right – whether it’s the business sector, the National Party or the Exclusive Brethren – in the worst possible light. To put it another way, he’s agenda-driven. That isn’t journalism.As proof of his supposed neutrality, he cites the fact that he embarrassed Clark’s Labour government in 2002 with his book Seeds of Distrust (published, like Dirty Politics, immediately before an election, so as to achieve maximum political impact), in which he exposed the accidental release of genetically modified corn.
But this doesn’t prove a thing – least of all that he had no political motive, as he would clearly like us to think. The truth, I suspect, is that Hager is well to the left of Labour and would have been hoping that the timely publication of Seeds of Distrust would benefit the Greens, a party which I believe he’s more attuned with.Hager’s book was given the title Dirty Politics for a good reason – to create the impression of moral rot on the part of the government and its cheerleaders. The irony is that Hager is as much a part of the dirty politics he writes about as John Key, Slater, Judith Collins and Jason Ede. And I suspect the reaction of most neutral voters will be, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “A plague on all their houses”.
Karl du Fresne blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.