Friday, December 3, 2021

Karl du Fresne: The hit jobs on Luxon came even sooner than I expected

I’m not in the habit of saying I told you so, but … I told you so.

In an article I wrote for the BFD last week and republished on this blog, I predicted the media would be out to destabilise Chris Luxon from day one, which turned out to be literally true. But even I’ve been taken aback by the intensity of the character assassination he’s been subjected to.

The media appear obsessed with the fact that Luxon is a Christian. At the press conference that followed his elevation to the National leadership, the first question he faced (from TVNZ’s Jessica Mutch McKay) related to his religious beliefs.

In the eyes of many political journalists, being a Christian automatically categorises him as a weirdo and possibly a fundamentalist right-winger. But in the 2018 census, 37 per cent of New Zealanders identified as Christian, and my guess is (in fact, logic dictates) that they span the political spectrum, supporting Labour and even the Greens as well as conservative parties. “Christian” is not a synonym for loony, wild-eyed extremist or tragic Gloriavale cultist.

It got far worse on Newshub News last night, when Luxon was subjected to an undisguised hatchet job that focused on his wealth. In the eyes of many in the media, being rich is almost as bad as being Christian (unless, that is, you're a rock star). It goes without saying that being both rich and Christian makes Luxon an irresistible target for journalists like Newshub’s smiling assassin Jenna Lynch, who snidely claimed he was so wealthy he didn’t even know how much capital gain he had made on his property investments (but don’t worry, Newshub had calculated it for him).

Lynch linked Luxon’s ownership of seven properties to the housing crisis, as if he were personally responsible for the continuing surge in house prices and had cynically exploited them for his own gain. “If you’re going to attack me for being successful, I can’t defend that,” Luxon protested. But appealing to Lynch’s sense of fairness is about as futile as asking a pitbull to desist from lunging at your throat.

Stuff followed up with a similar hit job headlined “Christopher Luxon’s property gains soar as National promises to tackle housing crisis”. Stuff calculated that he was earning $90,000 a week in capital gains and commented: “While the Opposition has hounded the government for allowing the housing crisis to worsen, National’s new leader is benefiting more than most from soaring house prices”. In other words, we’re encouraged to assume that Luxon is a hypocrite as well as a callous profiteer, getting richer by the day at the expense of the homeless and destitute.

But Luxon is no more responsible for the housing crisis than the hundreds of thousands of other New Zealanders who have similarly benefited from economic circumstances which they have no control over or responsibility for. What, I wonder, does Stuff think he should do? Bury his money in the garden? Give it all away?

In response to Luxon’s statement that his property ownership hadn’t caused the housing crisis, the Stuff reporters commented: “But it’s hard to separate the property portfolios of Luxon and [Nicola] Willis from their position on housing”. Really? That implies a degree of culpability, but what’s the connection? Stuff didn’t explain. It’s easier to make facile judgments.

Now here’s a very intriguing thing. In three separate interviews, I heard Luxon being asked exactly the same question. Lisa Owen on RNZ’s Checkpoint, Ryan Bridge on Newshub’s AM Show and the smiling assassin on Newshub News all demanded to know whether he regarded abortion as murder.

It seems beyond coincidental that all three asked the same question, the more so because it came out of the blue. Abortion happens to be an important issue to me, but it isn’t something you hear people talking about in the pub and the supermarket. In a world beset by Covid-19, runaway house prices, rampant crime, inflation, inequality and other pressing issues, it was nonsense to suggest (as Owen did on her programme, in an attempt to justify the question) that abortion was a pressing issue for her listeners.

The truth is that abortion is an ideological shibboleth – a test of Luxon’s acceptability to the left-wing media elite. The question was clearly linked to their apparent obsession with his Christianity. If you were of a conspiratorial mindset, you couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a co-ordinated set-up. It certainly looked that way.

And what was the point of the question, given that abortion isn’t currently on the political agenda? Could it be that tens of thousands of New Zealand women have had abortions, and that trapping Luxon into suggesting they’re all murderers would ensure National would never get their votes?

Trapping politicians, baiting them, trying to catch them out and make them look silly, hypocritical or indecisive … that’s what now passes for political journalism. And of course the journalists always come out on top, because they can set themselves up as judge and jury, are responsible to no one, pay no penalty when they get things wrong (as they frequently do) and always have the last word.

What’s more, they’re highly selective about whose feet they hold to the fire. Luxon wields no real power at this stage of his political career, yet he’s subjected to far tougher treatment than the sainted prime minister, who clearly enjoys immunity from difficult questions. But most New Zealanders still believe in giving people (even conservative politicians) a fair go, and the media are probably doing far more damage to themselves than to Luxon.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Janine said...

As a journalist Karl, can you please answer the question" why are our politicians more interested in pandering to these so called journalists and not to their constituents?". I don't even know who half these media people are and only remember Jessica Much from my tv1 watching days. She was pretty hopeless at getting information out of interviewees even then.

I will be pretty disappointed if Luxon goes down the Muller track and starts apologising for everything. If he is a religious person he should proudly state it. That's always been a well- known fact hasn't it? Its always more credible to remain unapologetic. A bit like Muller and the MAGA hat....who cares.Why apologise? Also, surely it's better to be successful than a complete failure in life.

Geoff. said...

The ferocity of the attacks on Chris Luxon prove two things. The Media are the bought and paid for agents of our dear leader, New Zealand's equivalent of Izvstiya, just in case proof was needed. Our dear leader is worried that Chris is a real threat to the prospects of her getting a third term. Let's hope that her worries prove to be well founded.

Unknown said...

I have written to the DomPost regarding the hit jobs done on Chris Luxon by all three media formats regarding his stance on life issues. I will be interested if my letter is published. Too close to the truth possibly. Watch that space . . .

Anonymous said...

what happened to the great debates from when brian edwards was on tv? now days you either have to be a believer or you are a heretic. we seem to have receded back to the dark ages.

Alan McWilliam said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Karl, the quality of political journalism is utterly disgraceful. I'm told that Jessica Much is the partner of one of the PM's bodyguards.

Anonymous said...

You cannot fool all of the people all of the time. With the growth of the internet and the likes of you tube, most informed people have come to realise how corrupt and biased the mainstream media is. The advent of Trump as president revealed the depth of incompetence and corruption in the professional politicians, the media, the 'swamp'. That is why they hate him so much. Yet his policies of de-regulation and reduced govt. spending did so much to improve the lives of all Americans. The same thing will apply in NZ. By de- regulating and reducing Govt. spending, GDP will increase for the benefit of everybody. But the media won't focus on policy they will focus on personal attacks -- dirty scum, they should be ashamed of themselves. This includes the Washington Post & Bob Woodward. .We get our news from WION, Sky news Australia. We boycott the NZ Herald and TV1 & TV3

Anonymous said...

Yes, National sure blundered by selecting a successful white male. The Media would have gushed enthusiastically if he had been a poor, Māori ex civil servant woman..Silly National

Sid said...

I personally have reservations about Luxons religion (actually,all religion),but the attacks by media is another example of comrade arderns Media control fund.Don't say anything contrary about labour,maori,erosion of democracy,extreme socialism,(communism). Instead of asking Luxon about National's policies,attack him personally.