Mike Hosking

Accidentally like a martyr

John Key has his share of supporters over his repeated pulling of a waitress’s hair – Mike Hosking (surprise!) and the Minister for Women, to name but two examples. As Louise Upston, the Minister for Women, stated:

“As the Prime Minister has said his actions were intended to be light-hearted. It was never his intention to make her feel uncomfortable. He said that in hindsight it wasn’t appropriate, and that is why he apologised.”

Well, to my mind it’s harassment, pure and simple, and an abuse of a position of power. And to those staunch defenders of the PM, who speak of light-hearted tomfoolery and the like, I refer them to the following TEDx talk by Laura Bates, founder of the EverydaySexismProject.

John Key’s behaviour crossed a line, and he deserved to be called out for it. After all, attitudes and behaviours don’t change unless we call people out for transgressions. And when the story first broke, I doubt there were many people who didn’t cringe to themselves and think, “That’s more than a little weird. And slightly creepy.”

However, once the disbelief and laughter dies down – and much laughter was certainly had at Key’s expense – there’s the question of over-reaction. If the response from Key’s enemies is seen as over-the-top, Key becomes the victim.

When serial litigant Graham McCready (which is precisely how he was described on 3News last night) pops his head up to file a complaint, John Key gains a little sympathy.

When Winston Peters starts asking why police haven’t already charged Key with assault, people think things might be going a little too far.

When Herald and Stuff comment threads start labelling the Prime Minister a sexual deviant, people begin to tune out.

Now I’m not trying to minimise John Key’s behaviour. As I’ve said, I consider it harassment and an abuse of power. He’s become a laughing stock, which may well prove his political undoing in time – the first big crack in the armour.

Most importantly, the issue of harassment and sexism is being openly discussed across the country. Key has got it in the neck from The National Council of Women and the Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue, both of whom have had well-worded, reasoned contributions to the discussion.

Nonetheless, when the commentary goes beyond the reasoned, martyrs can be accidentally created.

Dirty Politics – sunlight is the best disinfectant

Well, there’s only one political story today – Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment. And it’ll likely be the only political story for a wee while yet, as journalists digest the full range of allegations and try and pin John Key down on what he knew about what his office was up to.

I haven’t yet read Dirty Politics (although it’s definitely on my reading list, once I obtain a copy). I only know what’s been reported and debated online. (For a useful synopsis, check out Danyl Mclauchlan’s post at The Dim-Post.

There are a few allegations that seem to have captured the attention of the commentariat:

  • That Cameron Slater and Jason Ede accessed the Labour Party’s computers in 2011, in the lead-up to the election.
  • That the Prime Minister’s office, through Jason Ede, used classified SIS documents to damage a political enemy, Phil Goff, by de-classifying them and telling Cameron Slater to OIA them.
  • That Cameron Slater and political strategist Simon Lusk blackmailed Rodney Hide into resigning as leader of the ACT party.
  • That Judith Collins, when she was Minister of Corrections, arranged to have a prisoner transferred at Cameron Slater’s request.
  • That Cameron Slater is paid around $6,500 per month from a tobacco lobbyist, Carrick Graham, to publish pro-tobacco, pro-alcohol attack posts. Those posts are written by Mr Graham, and are published under Slater’s by-line without attribution.

Yes, everyone knows that politics is a dirty business. Political parties dig for dirt on their opponents (remember Mike Williams’ flight to Australia to find non-existent dirt on John Key?). Nonetheless, if the allegations are correct, there’s some seriously disturbing stuff taking place on the ninth floor of the Beehive. It’s taking negative campaigning to a new level. It’s a systemic abuse of power.

How much of Hager’s claims are based on incontrovertible documentary evidence, and how much on tenuously joined dots remains to be seen. Matthew Hooton has come out this morning and labelled as flat-out wrong and a lie an allegation that he arranged for a liquor company to sponsor David Farrar and Slater.

It’s worth noting that Slater has responded to some of the allegations against him, in his post “The three biggest lies of Hager’s book“. Firstly, he disputes that Labour’s computer system was hacked (which I’ll discuss in a separate post), and secondly:

The second big lie is that PM and/or the PM’s office told me about Phil Goff’s briefing from the SIS. They did not.  

I wrote my own OIA and boy did I get pressure to pull my OIA. Pressure came from very senior people to actually withdraw my OIA, very serious pressure…mostly by phone. I was told it wouldn’t do the Nats any favours.

I resisted that and basically told them to piss off, I was entitled to ask an OIA and I did, proving that Phil Goff lied about his briefing.

I’ll be interested to read Hager’s evidence to the contrary.

Certainly, I’m amused that thus far there’s no denial from Slater that he takes money from a tobacco lobbyist to run PR attack lines. As Mr Slater is fond of saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Indeed…

But will the current furore result in any change in the polls? It’s hard to say. If John Key can distance himself from everything, there may not be much of an impact. Broadcasters such as Sean Plunket and Mike Hosking are busily running the line that there’s nothing to see here that no one didn’t already know. 

“Nicky Hager taking the moral high ground is nauseating.”

That’s a text message I received this morning from a swing voter. They’re not going to read Dirty Politics, and they undoubtedly assume that whatever National is alleged to have done, Labour will also have done. They just don’t care, and that’s a depressing thought…

Mike Hosking is not a Thing That Matters

TVNZ plans to have Mike Hosking as its moderator for the network’s televised leaders’ debates. To my mind, it’s a stupid choice, but then I’m someone who can’t stand Mr Hosking’s brand of ageing hipster, Paul Henry-esque, elitist minority bashing “broadcasting”. Nonetheless, to my never-ceasing bemusement, many people seem to think he’s TVNZs shining beacon of light. The same people generally also think Paul Henry is amusing, which always adds to my sense of befuddlement.

Labour has spat the dummy. Andrea Vance reports that Labour has compiled a dossier of examples of Mr Hosking being too close to National, and are trying to get Hosking shunted in favour of someone else, anyone else.

Certainly, Mike Hosking has created the impression of bias, having been MC at John Key’s State of the Nation speech in January last year. As MC, he gave National his endorsement, stating:

“We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them in Government.”

Calling David Cunliffe a moron also won’t have helped Hosking’s sudden pretence of impartiality.

It’s an ongoing debate – should journalists and broadcasters be fastidiously impartial, keeping their personal views hermetically sealed from the public, or should they let their political colours be known, in order that we as viewers may judge their work in the light of that knowledge?

We know John Campbell is sympathetic to the left. We know Mike Hosking is sympathetic to the right. Both broadcasters wear their hearts on their sleeves. Therein lies the problem for Labour – it’s a little hypocritical to object to Hosking, when Campbell will be running TV3’s debates.

National has taken the moral high ground, with Stephen Joyce saying:

“We’ve all got to trust the professionalism of the interviewers There are people who think John Campbell is to the Left but the prime minister is more than happy to front on both TV channels.”

Which is what Labour should have said, from the opposite perspective of course. At the end of the day, if Hosking presents bias in his role of moderator, the public will pick up on it and factor it into their views on who won or lost.

Making Labour’s spat with Hosking public may ensure that Hosking goes out of his way to be impartial, but the party comes across as a pack of whingers, just as it did with its carping about John Key’s time with the Royals, and its whining about National playing politics on Key’s Pacific Mission.

David Cunliffe, at his last apology session on Monday, was clear that Labour needed to focus on its policies and not get sidetracked. This is very much a side track. Mike Hosking is not a Thing That Matters.