Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Karl du Fresne: Let me be very clear about this

There’s one immutable rule in politics: never trust a politician who prefaces a statement with the word “frankly”.

Actually, make that two rules. You should also never trust a politician who says, “Let me be very clear”.

Anyone who begins a statement with the word “frankly” is signalling that whatever he or she is about to say (it’s usually a he) is fearless or radical.

Alas, it never is. The speaker might desperately want people to think he/she is being fearless, radical or even simply outspoken, but no one is fooled.

Moreover, “frankly” is superfluous, since we’re entitled to assume that the person always speaks frankly – or in other words, honestly.

To put it another way, use of the word could be regarded as implying that everything else he/she says should be regarded as insincere. Which may be true.

“Let me be very clear” falls into a similar category. It too denotes boldness and decisiveness.

Someone who says “Let me be very clear” is not to be trifled with. Nothing will shift them from their principled position.

Again, alas, they are likely to have forgotten within days, if not hours, what it was that they were making themselves very clear about.

What prompted this reflection was a commentary by Tova O’Brien in which she referred to an interview she did last week on TodayFM (yes, it’s still on the air, though its audience is now possibly numbered in the hundreds) with Christopher Luxon.

The subject was Posie Parker. We won’t bother with O’Brien’s opinion of the British women's rights activist, other than to say it demonstrates that we shouldn’t assume someone who made her name as an aggressive political journalist is necessarily a sharp or original thinker.

The exchange with Luxon was, however, revealing. National's leader has provided a masterclass in equivocation on the rather important question of free speech and he wasn’t going to allow O’Brien to pin him down.

"Would you allow your MPs to attend Posie Parker’s rally?" O’Brien asked.

"I haven't had that conversation with them, I couldn't imagine there will be many that would be very interested in it," Luxon responded.

O’Brien persisted. "But are you going to be blocking your MPs from attending her speech?"

Luxon: "That's a decision they can make individually, frankly, but I can't see that there will be anyone that would be that interested.”

There it is – that “frankly” word. But what does it mean? Nothing. In fact worse than nothing. It implies he’s saying something meaningful when the exact reverse is true.

I don’t know whether Luxon has ever said “Let me be very clear”, but I’d put money on it.

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


Unknown said...

Dear Mr du Fresne. On the basis of your Report, which is "frank & open on the subject at hand", would be fair to assume that we should move to, abolish the following -
- Frankly
- let me be very clear
- in my opinion
- I never said that
- You misconstrue my words/statement
>> that way the Politicians will have to resort to other "words" to convey, nuance, meaning, context etc. etc.
I mention this, as the Gay Community can denounce the word "Women" and anything associated with them, I thought why not the Pollies?
It would be interesting to know how you (and or Tova) would report anything.
Thank you for the "heads up on current Pollie Speak", will now be more involved in what they "are not trying to say, convey, or providing context".
Yippee - roll on Election day.

Richard C said...

Frankly, Karl, I prefer "frankly" to "honestly" as I'd rather be thought "insincere" rather than "dishonest" We then should consider those who say "Ï believe" or worse "Ï honestly believe" which is really just an opinion, since whoever said "Belief is the death of intelligence" had it spot on. Anyway keep up your usually very good work.

mudbayripper said...

As one who greatly admirers you commentary, personally this piece is a bit of a stretch.
Expressive use of certain words or phrases are common to most of us.
Often employed without any particular intent.
Another of whom I have great admiration for is Don Brash.
Most of his commentary is littered with the word Frankly.
I believe in his case, Frankly, its justified.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I don't give a damn.
Akshuly that's not true quite honestly.

BTW I didn't realise Tova FM was still a go. Absolutely not really.

Anonymous said...

Did any one ask Mr Luxon why no one would be interested in attending? More mob mentality on his part.

Anonymous said...

Running out of things to write about, Karl?