Political editor Tova O’Brien, aka “Toxic Tova” (I normally avoid using nicknames, but this one is 100 per cent apposite) seized on the findings of the New Zealand Herald’s latest Mood of the Boardroom survey to aim another kick at the head of a politician who’s already reeling and on the ropes.
This isn’t journalism; it’s blood sport – and a particularly savage form of blood sport at that.
O’Brien could have extracted a number of angles from the Herald’s survey of 150 chief executives. The finding highlighted by the Herald itself was that “Jacinda Ardern’s Covid honeymoon has soured,” in the words of Mood of the Boardroom editor Fran O’Sullivan. Ardern’s rating was down from last year’s 3.91 out of 5 to a far less complimentary 3.03.
That’s significant news, indicating that the business community, which generates New Zealand’s wealth, is losing confidence in the country’s leadership. But what O’Brien considered most newsworthy from the Herald survey was a peripheral and inconsequential finding that business people (the traditional backers of the National Party, as newsreader Mike McRoberts’ gratuitously reminded us) had issued a “brutal report card” on Collins and were calling for her to go.
"This is bad, real bad," said a delighted O'Brien, before proceeding to recite a string of uncomplimentary comments about the National leader.
Not a word was said about the unflattering result for Ardern, which can only reinforce the impression that much of the media – and Newshub especially – functions as the unofficial propaganda arm of the government.
You don’t need to like Collins, or even to be National supporter (I’m certainly not) to regard O’Brien’s constant attacks on her as grotesque, vicious and weirdly obsessive. What journalistic purpose is served by mauling a lame and politically impotent Opposition leader while the politician wielding real power gets away scot-free – in fact avoids situations where she might be asked awkward questions about the government’s multiple failings? (I note that this week Ardern was out in the boondocks smiling for the cameras – anything to avoid having to explain the government’s about-face on its Covid-19 elimination strategy.)
This is the prime minister we’re talking about – the person making decisions that will affect New Zealand for a long time into the future. Aren’t journalists supposed to “speak truth to power”, to quote a pompous phrase much favoured by leftist media academics? Well, let's see some of it. If O’Brien is as tough and merciless as she doubtless wants us to think she is, let's see her apply the blow-torch to the prime minister. I'm not holding my breath.
Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.