Saturday, August 30, 2014

Karl du Fresne: If National loses, it knows where the blame lies

Everything about the Dirty Politics affair is reprehensible. Let’s start with Cameron Slater. I fully understood the angry reaction to his headline “Feral dies in Greymouth, did world a favour” after a West Coast man was killed in a car that was allegedly trying to escape the police.

Slater wasn’t to know that the dead man’s family had already lost three other sons in accidents, including one in the Pike River explosion. But anyone with a modicum of sensitivity would have realised a family would be grieving. A cruel and gratuitous taunt wasn’t going to help.
Someone was supposedly so offended that they hacked into Slater’s emails. At least that’s the explanation put forward for the leaked material on which author Nicky Hager based his book Dirty Politics. So you could say it was poetic justice that the “feral” post has caused such discomfort for the government. (Less so for Slater himself, I suspect; I think part of him relishes the notoriety.)

Only thing is, I’m not sure I buy the explanation about how Hager came into possession of the emails, any more than I bought his claim years ago that several National Party sources independently and simultaneously supplied him with a wodge of emails relating to Don Brash’s meetings with the Exclusive Brethren. 

National Party people, leaking to a known left-wing crusader at the expense of their own party? It seemed highly improbable then and it still seems improbable now.

What makes me suspicious is that whoever hacked Slater’s emails subsequently began drip-feeding them on Twitter in a carefully phased operation obviously calculated to cause maximum political damage. As TV3 political editor Patrick Gower pointed out, that required a high degree of political and media savvy. 

Suspicion has fallen on Kim Dotcom (hardly surprising, given that he boasted at the weekend about hacking the German chancellor’s credit rating), but both Dotcom and Hager strenuously deny his involvement.

Whoever’s responsible, it began to look less like the work of someone who had spontaneously attacked Slater’s email account out of anger at the “feral” headline, and more like an example of the political “black ops” that Hager supposedly despises. 
Hager’s role in the affair has largely escaped critical scrutiny. He has been a trenchant critic of clandestine surveillance of private communications in the past – indeed, wrote a book about it. Yet here he is, using stolen emails to write a book whose publication is timed to derail a party he obviously opposes.

He apparently made no effort to corroborate his information, as a responsible journalist would do, yet he insists on calling himself a journalist because it conveys the erroneous impression that he’s even-handed and has no political agenda. 

In my opinion Hager’s double standard – one rule for intelligence agencies, another for him – is contemptible. Yet the media have largely allowed him to claim the moral high ground.

Ah yes, the media. To be fair, the press could hardly ignore Hager’s book. Reporters would have been remiss if they hadn’t asked hard questions of John Key, as Radio New Zealand’s Guyon Espiner did on Morning Report. Key has rarely, if ever, sounded less comfortable.

But sometimes the media get so excited that the chase itself becomes the story. Even Fairfax political reporter Andrea Vance wondered on television at the weekend whether, in their frenzied pursuit of the Dirty Politics story, journalists had done the public a disservice by largely ignoring other important election issues.

What we don’t know (or didn’t at the time of writing) is whether the media firestorm has swung support away from the government or had any impact on the undecided voter. Many people quickly lose interest in what they regard as Beltway issues and tune out.

Finally, what about the government’s performance? That brings me back to the D-word.

As irritating as Hager’s sanctimony is, we are left with the disgusting reality that he has exposed government involvement in sleazy smear campaigns and machinations of a type that Richard Nixon would have approved. The political process, which has historically been remarkably clean in New Zealand, has been tainted.

Almost as objectionable was the prime minister’s dissembling and evasiveness as he tried unconvincingly, day after day, to defend his indefensible justice minister, whom he should have sacked at the outset, and his bland pretence that despite the billowing clouds of smoke, there was no fire.

Key is partly right when he says the election has been stolen from us, but he needs only to look over his shoulder to see the people responsible. 

The irony is that two weeks ago, he had this election virtually in the bag. If National loses, it will have only its own hubris to blame. 

Karl du Fresne blogs at published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard.


The Realist said...

Slater's comment about the "feral" was quite correct. The family history suggessts it's genetic. Wake up people and smell the roses.

Warren said...

It is a matter of great regret that National did not distance itself from the scurrilous Cameron Slater a long time ago. It doesn't take much to realise that it couldn't ever be a beneficial association for the Party.

Unknown said...

Well what does the electorate expect Karl. Key comes from a career in a very sleezy industry, if you can call it an industry, as it creates nothing but misery for countries and the theft of their populations labour and input to their economies. He is presiding over a 85 BILLION dollar government debt and still borrowing 75 million a week just to pay the interest so I am led to believe. The total nation debt leaves all New Zealanders with an over 100,000 dollar personal debt.
If this guy is not a new world order plant I will eat my shorts.

Dianna said...

I agree with the realist ... it is time we got some honesty into the media. If some mongrel is causing mayhem, then by all means address him/her/it as a feral or a mongrel or whatever they actually are. It serves no purpose to continually address said mongrel by some politically correct euphemism.
As for Hagar, he is a bottom feeder of the worst kind and it is an indictment on the media in general that nobody has gone after the sleazy little weasel. He is disgusting.

Geoff Bourke said...

Of course, if people didn't read comments by people like Slater, their comments would not be published, and people like Hager would have to go elsewhere to get material for their books.
As it is, Hager will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Unknown said...

Hager is without peer in NZ when it comes to investigative journalism and he is lauded internationally by some of the very best. If the rest of the two bit hacks in this country did a half decent job of something that even resembles journalism perhaps we wouldn't need Hager to step in and make up for five years worth of an entire industry's sub par and obviously slanted reporting. Thankfully someone has been keeping an eye on these bad, bad people. Nicky Hager owned Cameron Slater and these smalltime, wannabe, Machiavellian twits so hard and it is hardly surprising. That's what you get when you mess with the best. Those bad, bad people will probably hang on by the skin of their teeth but the only thing that tells us is that there are a huge amount of people in NZ that want to be lied to.

Glenn G said...

How naive the NZ public are by buying into all the the self righteous media & politicians out there.
There would not be anyone in politics, business & society in general that has not taken advantage of information or scratched someones back or had theirs scratched in order to get ahead in some way. The whole sorry saga is a storm in a thimble ( a teacup would be far too big )about nothing that happens all the time around the whole world on a daily basis. Get over it losers

Robert Mann said...

Hager's prime cause has been exposing the PR trade. His first book, with Australian Bob Burton, exposed some sordid PR capers in misallocation of S. Is. forests. The PR trade has been retaliating ever since, notably in their brilliant 'Corngate' caper planting on Hager a suspiciously complete file on an extremely murky few analyses of possible GM-contamination in maize. Hager found himself loathed & attacked by H Clark, P Hodgson etc, and the media stunts planned with John Campbell were persistently incomprehensible, annoying the public enough that the 'green' party, polling 10%, halved in the real poll. I doubt Hager intended to rile the Labor heavies or to cruel the 'green' vote.
Anyhow, don't forget that Hager's chief interest has always been his war with the PR trade.
I wish he not be accorded the status 'journalist'.