Too many errors – why ‘Dirty Politics’ won’t convince swing voters

Rodney Hide has very publicly rubbished Nicky Hager’s claims that Hide was blackmailed into resigning as ACT Party leader. Here’s an extract from his Herald on Sunday column this morning:

It seems a character called Jordan Williams told another character, Simon Lusk, that I had sent inappropriate texts. Lusk and blogger Cameron Slater then apparently message each other about threatening me with the release of the texts unless I resign.

And then I resign.

Oh, and Don Brash in replacing me was – according to Hager – Lusk’s client. Ta da!

What hasn’t been reported is Hager writing: “The documents do not contain the texts and we do not know they exist. There is also no evidence that a direct threat was made to Hide.”

So he quietly admits his “explosive claim” could be a fizzer. Even with the admission our so-called investigative journalist never bothered confirming his story. Hager never rang to ask: “Hey, I have just come across the damnedest stuff and just have to ask, were you ever blackmailed?”

To which I would reply: “No, definitely not. I would never give in to blackmail. I would go straight to the police. It’s a crime. I have no doubt the police and the courts would take a dim view of any attempt to blackmail a political leader and Government minister. It never happened.”

But then if Hager had fact-checked, “one of the most explosive claims in the book” would evaporate. Far better to publish, run the story, make everyone scramble.

That’s the thing – the blackmail allegation seems a case of Hager playing join the dots with too few dots. A few political operatives emailing each other and saying, “We should blackmail Hide!” doesn’t mean that Hide was actually blackmailed.

The blackmail allegation was one of the big allegations that featured prominently in the media’s initial coverage of Dirty Politics, along with the allegation that Judith Collins had arranged for a prisoner to be moved at Cameron Slater’s behest. The media are now backtracking on the Collins allegation, with Nicky Hager clarifying yesterday that he’s in fact alleging that a prison officer arranged for the prisoner transfer, not Collins. It’s a misreading of the book by journalists, rather than a mistake by Hager, but it substantially reduces the culpability of Team Key.

The more allegations that are either proven to be false, or can be credibly argued to be an exaggeration, the less likely it is that the public (who haven’t read the book and are relying on media coverage for their information) will believe the credible allegations.

Just look at last night’s One News Colmar Brunton’s snap poll. Question two of the poll asks:

[Nicky Hager’s] book suggests smear campaigns and leaks were organised at the highest levels of the National Party, including the Prime Minister’s office. Do you believe these suggestions?

The results? Just 28% of respondents said yes, they believe these suggestions. 43% said no, while 29% didn’t know.

And question three?

Have these allegations positively or negatively influenced your view of the National Party, or have they not made much difference?

5% didn’t know, while 82% said “Not made much difference”. Just 9% said they’d been negatively influenced. (And I don’t even want to know what’s going on in the minds of the 4% who said their view of the National Party had been positively influenced by the allegations…)

Now one could argue that if those 9% of voters who have been negatively influenced were leaning National and were now leaning left, that that’s a huge impact. A 9% shift in the polls would likely hand the election to Labour and the Greens. However, we don’t where those 9% of voters sat, in terms of allegiance. It’s entirely possible that a good chunk of them are left-wingers who didn’t like National, and now like National even less. Or that some are National voters who may like National less, but not enough to vote for a different party.

It’s a pity that Colmar Brunton didn’t dig deeper with their questions, but I guess we’ll see impact of Dirty Politics with the upcoming polling cycle. But I’ll be surprised if the impact is substantial.

UPDATE:

For those interested in a complete summation of the Rodney Hide blackmail dots that can be connected, Danyl Mclauchlan at The Dim-Post has a useful timeline.

Also worth noting is Andrew Geddis’s comment on Danyl’s post:

The question isn’t so much “did Hide actually step down because he was frightened into it by threats of stuff being released?” It’s, “did these people conspire to bring about this result?” Because you can plot to do something and be criminally liable for doing so without actually bringing the plan to full fruition.

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