Sunday, December 3, 2017

Karl du Fresne: Freedom of speech, Rachel Stewart-style

New Zealand Herald columnist Rachel Stewart is a true champion of free speech. Except, that is, when someone wants to say something she doesn’t like.

In her column this week she savaged an occasional Otago Daily Times columnist named Dave Witherow. Witherow is guilty of the unpardonable sin of being (like me) an ageing, conservative male. In the eyes of the left-leaning bigots who have acquired almost total control of the public conversation in New Zealand, this automatically disqualifies him from having a valid opinion on anything.

What specifically pushed Stewart’s buttons is that Witherow wrote a column criticising Maori Language Week – or as he put it, “media apologists the length and breadth of the land prostrating themselves before the holy altar of te reo”.

He was especially critical of Radio New Zealand. “For the last couple of years,” Witherow wrote, “RNZ has been ahead of the pack in obsequiousness. Everything indigenous is sacrosanct, and even formerly redoubtable interviewers now shrink from the slightest demur when boring bigots drone on about the mana of all things native.”

Witherow used provocative language, as he’s entitled to do, and duly copped a barrage of self-righteous condemnation.

One of the more frenzied responses came from someone named Glenn McConnell, who was described as a Stuff reporter. That word “reporter” used to mean someone who reported, but that was before journalism training was politicised and new entrants to the profession were inculcated with the view that their mission was to correct the world’s iniquities. Many of them struggle to string three coherent words together, but they can spot sexism and racism a mile off and never hesitate to pass judgment. So McConnell had no compunction in labelling Witherow as a racist and accusing him of “casual bigotry”.

Hmmm. I wonder who the real bigots are here, but we’ll come back to that.

McConnell condescendingly allowed that most racists don’t know they’re racist. Ah, but he knows a racist when he sees one. Such are the superior moral insights conferred by modern journalism training.

Meanwhile, on the news website The Spinoff, Madeleine Chapman (no, I hadn’t heard of her, either) indulged in her own casual bigotry. She apologised for having to condemn yet another “bad column” (sigh – it’s just so tiresome having to constantly correct all these knuckle-dragging reactionaries) but justified it by saying she hoped it would be “the last goodbye to a generation of old men standing on their media platforms, yelling at clouds”.

You almost have to admire the conceit underlying that statement. Chapman seems to think the irresistible force of her argument will shock people like Witherow into silence. Good luck with that, as they say.

Another Spinoff contributor, Danyl Mclauchlan, categorised Witherow as representative of a “mostly older, mostly Pakeha subset of the population” whom he said were routinely provoked into outrage by Maori Language Week. Mclauchlan sneeringly referred to “drunken uncles at summer barbecues, bores holding forth in work tea-rooms and columnists and cartoonists on provincial papers”, all perpetuating their own ignorant versions of New Zealand history.  

(If I can slightly digress here, you can’t help but note a striking consistency in both Spinoff pieces. In an era when the Left is vigilant to the point of obsession in condemning stereotypes and prejudice, the one form of discrimination that’s not just tolerated but encouraged is the disparaging of older white males. The epithet “male, pale and stale” now serves as a coded synonym for someone who is misogynistic, racist, homophobic and stubbornly resistant to everything that’s progressive and enlightened. It’s a caricature, used to dismiss the legitimacy of anything that older white men might say or any opinions they might hold. So much for the Left’s supposed embrace of diversity.)

Witherow’s column also attracted the inevitable admonishment from Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy, who unfortunately has emulated her immediate predecessor, Joris De Bres, by morphing into a tedious, finger-wagging prig.  But the most poisonous attack, and I use the word deliberately, came from Stewart.

Stewart has the gall to say she believes in free speech – “absolutely” – before going on to say she “struggles with what basically amounts to gratuitous hate speech”. But she can’t have it both ways.

What she really wants is to deny Witherow a right that she claims for herself – that of free speech. She goes a step further by attacking the Otago Daily Times for publishing his column and therefore, in her eyes, being complicit in hate speech.

That’s why I describe her attack as poisonous. In a breathtaking display of moral and intellectual conceit, Stewart wants us to accept that her opinion is legitimate and noble while that of Witherow is hateful and contemptible. But she can’t exercise her own right of free speech while simultaneously seeking to deny it to others. A democratic society is built on the contestability of ideas. The moment any set of ideas is outlawed, democracy is diminished. Enlightened leftists (that is, those who can genuinely lay claim to the honourable term “liberal”) realise that. Stewart either can’t, or doesn’t want to.

In any case, who defines “hate speech”? Stewart doesn’t explain, so I’ll attempt it for her. Hate speech, in the eyes of some on the Left (not everyone, by any means), can essentially be defined as any opinion that runs counter to identity politics. This is the ideology that seeks to polarise society by breaking it down into supposedly oppressed minority groups, all pursuing their own divisive agendas, and which assesses everything in Western civilisation – art, literature, history, politics, the media – in terms of class, race and gender.

Playing the “hate speech” card is one of a range of tactics now routinely employed to marginalise any opinion the Left doesn’t like. Others include dismissing any expression of conservative opinion as a “rant”, thus implying it’s the product of a deranged mind, or caricaturing even moderately right-of-centre opinion as extreme, as New Zealand writer Ben Mack did in a hysterical, pants-wetting Washington Post column describing New Zealand First as a “far right” party and its involvement in the coalition government as “terrifying”. (The headline read: How the far right is poisoning New Zealand. Notwithstanding my own detestation of Winston Peters and his role in the shonky formation of the new government, I didn’t recognise the country portrayed in that headline and I don’t know any New Zealander who would.)

“Denier” and “denialist” (which are used in the context of the climate change debate to imply that global warming sceptics are on a par with Jew-hating Holocaust deniers) are part of this repertoire of attack too, along with the terms “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobe” and “misogynist” – all of which are used to portray the person so labelled as either stupid, evil or both, and thus to shame or intimidate them into silence. The ultimate objective of this strategy is to redefine the boundaries of public discourse so as to exclude anything that doesn’t conform to the neo-Marxist agenda.

But here’s the thing. Stewart’s entitled to fume all she likes about hate speech, just as long as she doesn’t attempt to shut other people down. I’m not in the habit of attacking other columnists and wouldn’t be criticising her here if she hadn’t stepped over that line. (Incidentally, I don’t know of any conservative group that argues people like her should be silenced. It’s always those on the Left who seek to stifle opinions that upset them.)

Now, back to McConnell, the Stuff columnist who accuses Witherow of bigotry. But who are the real bigots in this debate? My Oxford dictionary defines a bigot as an obstinate and intolerant believer in a religion or political theory. If that accusation is going to be hurled at Witherow, then it should be thrown right back at some of those attacking him. People should never make the mistake of equating bigotry with conservatism. Some of the most resolutely closed minds I’ve encountered have belonged to diehard lefties.

Fortunately there are left-leaning commentators who see the danger of the route people like Stewart would take us down. They are prepared to defend Witherow’s right to an opinion, and the ODT’s right to publish it, even if they don’t agree with what he says. On Pundit, for example, Tim Watkin described Witherow’s column as insulting and narrow-minded (fair enough), but drew the line “when criticism becomes an attack on civil debate and free speech”. And in the Herald, veteran writer Gordon McLachlan chided Stewart for thinking her own opinion sacrosanct. She should accept, he wrote, that she was not in command of ultimate truths.

Amen to that, but I suspect Stewart is so wrapped up in her own conceit, and so lacking in critical self-awareness, that reasoned criticism will fly straight over her head.

This debate still has some way to run. It’s likely to be revived tomorrow when Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill interviews Don Brash, who endorsed Witherow’s column and posted a statement on Facebook saying he was “utterly sick” of hearing Te Reo Maori on RNZ. Brash identified Guyon Espiner of Morning Report as the worst offender and accused him of “virtue signalling”. (Good on Espiner for learning Maori, but he does give the impression that he enjoys showing off his fluency. And it’s hard to see the point of the increasingly frequent usage of Maori on Morning Report, unless it’s to make listeners feel that they’re not being good New Zealanders unless they learn it too. RNZ needs to understand that it’s not the function of the state broadcaster to inspire us to good works – we can go to church for that – or sign up to some idealistic vision of biculturalism.)

I can’t decide whether Brash is being foolhardy or courageous entering the lion’s den with Hill, since he has about as much chance of fair treatment as I have of being crowned Miss Universe. In my experience, the only time Hill interviews conservatives, it’s with the intention of trying to demolish them or make them look stupid. But good luck to him.

Karl du Fresne blogs at


MiddleAgedKiwiBloke said...

This from uk writer Joanna Williams,
"In the eyes of 2017’s social-media chorus, it’s better to be dead than to express an opinion that falls beyond what the righteous have declared acceptable. If these outrage-mongers ditched the euphemism and came out from behind their screens they’d be sharpening pitchforks and chanting ‘Kill the witch!’."

Gregg Sanderson said...

"God-like" is how the likes of Rachel Stewart, "Dizzie" Marvelly and the rest of the gang who talk about free speech view themselves, as if they are the only ones entitled to write a column in a paper or comment online.
I have written to the Herald and Daily post on numerous occasions asking why the likes of these 2 can write whatever they like with no write of reply, you never see anything written in a paper by Stewart or Marvelly where you can comment on it or debate.
One must really wonder at what the agenda is of the actual papers pushing this, facts obviously don't matter when dealing with anything maori, especially Te Reo, maori make up 14% of the population and I have just read only 3% of NZ speaks Te Reo, maori have thier own tv and radio stations if everyone thinks Te Reo is so wonderful why do we hear the word "compulsory" I am not interested in listening to maori when I turn on the news, and I don't care to be told how to think by snow flake would be lefty facists masqerading as journalists.

Brian said...

Freedom of Speech.
Excellent coverage Karl, at last in this country we are seeing someone in the Press standing up against this left wing arrogance, bias from a Left Brigade convinced in its own self righteousness.
Radio and T.V. N. Z is pushing Te Reo Maori, backed by a Parliament; (I was going to write “a Government’ but all our politicians are imbued with the present bowing and scraping on the altar of Maoridom. They know by instinct to conform to the United Nations Indigenous Rights Policy; for it gives them a cosy non racial halo, and never of being criticised as right wing bigots.
Would that we had had a similar nightly programme on TV 1 as Andrew Bolt has on Sky News. (Dream on!) Such a situation would only engender a racket of abuse from the Greens, Labour, and Maori that would drown out such a programme in radical New Zealand.
With Bolt, investigative journalism is devoid of being a conduit for TV interviewers to express their opinions merely to gain plaudits; as he adroitly couples both sides of the political spectrum enabling both to express their viewpoint. Sure Andrew Bolt leans heavily to the right, but certainly not to the same extent that the Government controlled Australian B.C. does, or its counterpart in N.Z. T.V.1. The failure to respect and allow what the other side says bodes ill for the Freedom of Speech, and the impartiality of the press worldwide.
Both Radio NZ and TV 1 follow a leftish pathway in presenting what they consider is actual newsworthy, and suitable for our consumption. We view internal social events, together with one sided commentary on racial divisions. These are sanctified and condoned by our Government that ignores and neglects to enforce equality for both sides.
This present situation was well summed up by H. L. Mencken
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Brian


jh said...

Kim HILL STARTED OUT WITH "it is in the RNZ charter. That is an appeal to authority. The charter says "reflect" Maori culture; that doesn't give them a free hand to do whatever they want. They work for us, after all.

Guyon Espniner "admits he enjoys winding those sorts up". Dale carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) advised us "If you want to gather honey, you don't kick over the beehive". It appears they have a problem at RNZ with culture.

I suspect RNZ is creating a smoke screen because it has just been announced that Maori have been over taken by Asians - RNZ has been applauding demographic change [listen to Smart Talk at The Auckland Museum - Auckland is an Island and A Slice of Heaven - Noelle McCarthy].

Anonymous said...

Karl- do you know if it is possible to get transcripts for those shows (RNZ)?

Steve said...

Once again, you have hit the nail fair on the head Karl. I actually read Rachel Stewart's column when first published and my immediate reaction was the same as yours ie. freedom of speech is great so long as it conforms to her agenda ... anything else is only an insulting rant from either racists, homophobes, islamaphobes or misogynists etc. It is a national disgrace and an insult to our collective intelligence that our MSM constantly bombard us with this putrid propaganda from the extreme left. As mentioned in a previous post by Brian, it's easy to spot the socialist propaganda because publishers never provide an opportunity to comment ... however I do enjoy printing it out and using it for toilet paper ... that serves as some sort of justice and ensures that it reaches a deserving destination.

Sam Esler said...

Talk about media bias from the two TV channels, ever see a quote from Fox, just asking.

Unknown said...

It boils down to the general population growing some balls and saying to these deniers of free speech they will not be cowed into silence by a bunch of cowards who are letting their culture dictate to them what they can think and say. That is the road to totalitarianism. As far as Maori language goes it is up to Maori to retain their culture not any other race , just like all the other immigrant groups living in this increasingly over regulated repressive land.. As Maori were also immigrants to this land they need to understand that. When they get the majority of their own population using then language they might be able to open their pie holes. At the moment only 20% of Maori speak it. It appears even their own people are not interested in this nonsense.