Nicky Hager

Rachel Glucina and journalistic ethics (or the lack thereof)

As everyone knows, John Key yesterday became an international laughing stock thanks to his penchant for stroking or yanking women’s ponytails. The blog that yesterday outed the issue kept the waitress’s name secret – her account of John Key’s actions at the cafe where she worked was anonymous. Turns out it didn’t take long for her name to hit the headlines, thanks to the actions of NZ Herald gossip columnist / wannabe-real-journalist Rachel Glucina. You might remember Ms Glucina from Dirty Politics

An excerpt from Nicky Hagar's book Dirty Politics.

An excerpt from Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.

The waitress has detailed her account of Ms Glucina’s overtures here, and, if true, Glucina’s actions (and, indeed, the actions of her editor, Shayne Currie) reflect appallingly on the Herald. Here’s the long and short of it:

  • The Parnell cafe, Rosie, in which this all went down, is owned by Hip Group.
  • Rachel Glucina’s twin brother, Henry, is employed by Hip Group.
  • Ms Glucina, through her brother, therefore personally knows the owners of Hip Group, Jackie Grant and Scott Brown.
  • During a speakerphone conversation with Glucina, the Hip Group owners introduce Glucina to the waitress as a PR expert. (Glucina is in fact in PR. According to her LinkedIn page, she is a director of ‘Pink PR’, specialising in ‘Media strategy, product planning, brand development, public relations’.) During the speakerphone conversation, Glucina’s last name is not mentioned. The waitress agrees to make a joint statement in order to protect her employers’ reputation. She also agrees to a photo being taken of her with her employers, to show they all still had a good relationship.
  • While everyone waits for Glucina to send through the draft statement, the waitress discovers Glucina’s last name. Alarm bells begin to ring. In fact, the waitress googles Glucina, and discovers the headline “Who is Rachel Glucina and why is John Key always phoning her up?”.
  • The waitress’s employers admit that Glucina works for the NZ Herald, but state that Glucina was not acting in her capacity as a journalist.
  • Upon contacting Glucina again, Glucina abruptly claimed that was acting in her capacity as a journalist. Despite the waitress then revoking permission to use the photo or her comments,  the story ends up in the Herald.

Given the ethical questions regarding Ms Glucina’s conduct, Shayne Currie has released a statement (then removed the statement from the Herald website, then re-released it…):

Rachel Glucina approached the Hip Group yesterday, after The Daily Blog broke the story. She knows the Hip Group owners personally. Glucina wanted to follow-up The Daily Blog post and urged the couple to front-foot the issue. She spoke to the couple and the waitress over the telephone. Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement. They also agreed to pose for a photograph and a Herald photographer was dispatched. They were told by the photographer that the photo would be appearing in the Herald. Herald editor Shayne Currie also spoke to the owners of the Hip Group yesterday afternoon following a call from a PR firm that had already been helping them. “When I spoke to the owners, they told me they had initially thought Rachel was working on a statement to go to all media, along with the photograph. “Given the situation, I wanted to absolutely ensure they knew this interview and photograph were for the Herald. To further ease any concerns, we took the very rare step of agreeing Rachel should run the quotes past the parties before publication. “By then, no one was in any doubt that the article, quotes and photograph would be appearing in the Herald.”

Note the phrase, “Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement”. And “When I spoke to the owners, they told me they had initially thought Rachel was working on a statement to go to all media, along with the photograph”. Is it just me, or does that corroborate the waitress’s story regarding Glucina’s actions? Why would the owners think a Herald “journalist” would be working on a statement that would go to all media outlets? Herald journalists write for the Herald. They don’t send their stories off as statements to Fairfax et al. “Initial confusion”? For instance, Glucina had told them she was acting as a PR expert? Glucina’s actions smell distinctly rotten, and given her previous Dirty Politics involvement, some on the left have posited that Key and his office must have contracted Glucina for a hit job on the waitress. It’s a conspiracy theory that doesn’t ring true. Key has apologised (albeit with a healthy dose of victim-blaming) and will simply want the story to disappear as soon as possible. He’s been humiliated on an international level, and will want nothing more than for the fuss to die down. Attacking the waitress guarantees that the story will have legs. This is all about Glucina trying to get a scoop, and, at this stage, she appears to have made it very clear that she’s not concerned about letting niceties like journalistic ethics get in her way.

Blomfield v Slater : the judgment

So Cameron Slater is now officially a journalist, for the purposes of the Evidence Act 2006. Here’s a copy of the High Court’s judgment, thanks to Peter Aranyi at The Paepae (whose post ‘High Court serves a mixed bag for PR attack blogger Cameron Slater‘ is worth reading).

With the unfolding of the Dirty Politics saga after the High Court appeal hearing had occurred, commentators had wondered whether the Judge would reopen the hearing. Mr Blomfield attempted to produce additional evidence that had flowed from the Dirty Politics book, but was quickly rebuffed. In the judgment, Asher J merely notes that leave was declined to introduce further evidence “on the basis that it is hearsay or privileged”.

This gives rise to elements of (possibly) unintentional humour, such as where the Judge states at para 66, “While he [Slater] will often refer to other materials, there was no evidence presented to suggest that he was only regurgitating the writings of others”. Given the evidence presented in Dirty Politics, that Slater was regularly receiving posts written by Carrick Graham and others, and posting them word for word under his own byline, one wonders whether Asher J winced as he wrote that.

Nonetheless, the Court confirms that Slater is a journalist and that the Whaleoil blog is a news medium, as defined in s 68(5) of the Evidence Act. Essentially, Whaleoil was considered big enough, and Slater considered a regular enough breaker of stories and provider of news content, to meet the requisite definitions.

There are some interesting observations in the judgment about whether bloggers could generally be considered to be journalists, and blogs generally considered to be news mediums. For example:

[54] I have no doubt that many bloggers are not journalists because they are not obtaining and disseminating news to the public or a section of the public on a regular basis. Some may not deal with news in the sense of providing new or recent information, and some may not deal sufficiently with the public or a section of the public. Nevertheless, I conclude that a blogger who regularly disseminates news to a significant body of the public can be a journalist. Given that the medium must be “for the dissemination to the public of news …” a blog that publishes a single news item would not qualify. The blog must have a purpose of disseminating news. Some regular commitment to the publishing of news must exist before a blog is a news medium.

and:

[61] I accept that a news medium that was shown to be using news as a basis for comment only might not be a news medium. I also accept that a news medium that published articles of such a low standard that they could not objectively be regarded as “news” might not qualify. Although the definitions in s 68(1) do not include a quality requirement, quality would be relevant to the extent that a writer who was shown consistently to invent stories or be inaccurate on a regular basis might not qualify. An article that is false is not news. I deal with what is a “journalist’s work” in the next section.

That means that very few blogs might actually be considered to be news mediums, and that very few bloggers might be considered to be journalists, but I’ll examine that issue in a separate post.

Suffice it to say that Cameron Slater achieved a victory in part one of the judgment – as a journalist, he (quoting from para 92) “is in general entitled not to disclose the identity or identities of his informant(s)”.

But that of course was merely the beginning. Justice Asher then had to address the issue of whether, pursuant to s 68(2) of the Evidence Act, the public interest in the disclosure of the source’s identity outweighed firstly, any likely adverse effect of the disclosure on the source or any other person, and secondly, “the public interest in the communication of facts and opinion to the public by the news media and, accordingly also, in the ability of the news media to access sources of facts”.

Section 68(2) poses a tough threshold. The ability to maintain confidentiality of sources can be fundamentally important to the ability of journalists to do their job effectively. Without the ability to promise to a source that their identity will not be revealed, journalists would effectively be neutered in their ability to hold the powerful to account.

Justice Asher adopted the five step process originally set out in Police v Campbell [2010] 1 NZLR 483 by Randerson J:

(a)  The issues to be determined in the proceeding;

(b)  The public interest in the disclosure of the identity of the source in the light of the issues to be determined, if any;

(c)  The likely adverse effects of disclosure on the informant or any other person, if any;

(d)  The public interest in the protection of communication of facts and opinion to the public by the news media and the ability of the news media to assess sources of facts, if any; and

(e)  Whether factor (b), if it exists, outweighs factors (c) and (d).

In the course of working through the five step process, Asher J is often scathing of Slater (as scathing as a Judge can be when they’re only ruling on an interlocutory application, with the substantive application still to be heard). Justice Asher notes at para 114:

As a general proposition, when a journalist such as Mr Slater has presented to the public extreme and vitriolic statements about a person such as Mr Blomfield alleging, as he has, serious crimes by him, there is a public interest in the fair airing of those statements and the circumstances of their making when the issues are traversed in defamation proceedings. The vitriolic remarks indicate that Mr Blomfield is a danger to society. The remarks being deliberately put in the public domain by Mr Slater show there is a public interest in all the circumstances relevant to Mr Blomfield’s challenge.

Likewise, at para 118, Asher J states:

The pleaded expressions of opinion of Mr Slater are extreme. He accuses Mr Blomfield amongst other things of the exploitation of trust involving children, and of being involved in wrongly changing the amounts shown as donations. It is said that he ripped off a charity, that he is a psychopath and that he loves extortion, that he is a pathological liar, that he launders money, and that he is part of a network of crooks. Some of the exchanges between the alleged informants and Mr Slater show a gleeful attitude towards his shaming Mr Blomfield. In one blog post Mr Slater referred to the portable hard-drive as “just over 1 Tb of juicy dirt”. In the context of such extremely perjorative assertions, whether the pleaded honest opinion was genuine is likely to be very much an issue.

Essentially, the Court found that Slater’s Whaleoil campaign against Blomfield was in the nature of a personal vendetta and/or a personal or commercial attack. Or at least, that it’s likely enough that it was, that Blomfield needs disclosure of the source to be able to properly prosecute his case. With the only adverse effects of disclosure to the source being the possible joinder as a party to defamation proceedings, the Court deemed that there was no public interest in Slater’s protection of the source.

In the end, it’s rather a Pyrrhic victory for Slater. Despite being found to have been a journalist, he still has to disclose his source, and the Court’s unflattering description of his and his source’s prima facie motives would suggest that a rather large rabbit will need to pulled from a hat for Slater to avoid a significant loss in the substantive defamation proceedings. Certainly, the revelations (or, for some, confirmations) in Dirty Politics that Slater performs corporate and personal character assassinations for money will hardly have helped his case.

Cameron Slater – journalist? Yes.

Back in May, I wrote a post entitled ‘Cameron Slater – journalist?‘. Well, now, apparently, the question mark is no longer required. Justice Asher, in the High Court, has over-turned the District Court’s decision that Slater was not a journalist.

The decision doesn’t surprise me. In my original post I argued that for all the Whaleoil blog’s faults (and there are many, publicised at length in and since the release of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics), Whaleoil was a news medium and Slater was a journalist under the very broad definition provided in s 68(5) of the Evidence Act.

The full decision has yet to be made publicly available. At the time of posting, Cameron Slater has merely released a picture of the first sentence of para 145 of the judgment, which states:

“Therefore, Mr Slater was a journalist and Whale Oil a news medium, and he could invoke the protection in s 68(1).”

What Cameron Slater doesn’t say is that he is still required by the Court to disclose his source, as there is no public interest in the source’s identity being protected. As AAP reports:

Although Whale Oil was considered journalism Slater still has to disclose his sources because the case wasn’t in the public interest, the sources weren’t whistleblowers, and the case had the mark of a “private feud”, Justice Asher said.

“Any public interest in protecting sources must be further diminished when there is evidence that a personal vendetta appears to be driving the disclosures,” he said.

I’ll post more fully once the judgment is made public.

A tale of two campaign launches

After a week and a half of being relentlessly hammered, day in, day out, by their political opponents and the media over the Dirty Politics allegations, National was relying on yesterday’s campaign opening to change the media narrative.

National’s line was made clear, with John Key refusing to answer Dirty Politics questions, batting them away with two brush-off sentences – “We’re moving on from that. That’s last week’s story”. Key is betting that the public have now well and truly zoned out. Questions over who spoke to whom and when before releasing some SIS briefing notes? That’s for those who write or read political blogs. At the end of the day, Middle New Zealand wants policy.

Complicating matters is the hacker, Whaledump. National have no idea what else might be released via Twitter, ready to be pored over by the media and excitedly rehashed on the six o’clock news. Nonetheless, Key can be relatively comfortable that any future releases will be embarrassing for underlings, rather than Key himself. If there was a firm link between Key, Cameron Slater and the underhand activities described in Dirty Politics, it would have already ended up in Nicky Hager’s book. The source emails now being drip fed to the Twitterati are embarrassing for the people who wrote them, portraying them in a very different light to their public personae, but Key is banking on there being little more to come in the way of solid accusations.

For National, yesterday’s campaign launch was about hitting the reset button. The All Blacks are back to being victorious, there’s policy to sell (I’ll discuss National’s housing policy in a separate post), it’s Situation Normal. The media (and Whaledump) may have other ideas though…

Speaking of campaign launches, the lead item on 3News last night (and presumably One News too) was Pam Corkery’s quite astonishing meltdown at reporters outside the Internet Mana Party’s launch. Calling a reporter a “puffed up little shit” and then having Kim Dotcom flee from reporters probably wasn’t, in retrospect, a great way to get the media discussing party policy.

Admittedly, some of the 3News reporting was a little dishonest. The fact that Dotcom had, almost twenty years ago, hacked into a database and reduced the German Chancellor’s credit rating to zero was not something that Dotcom had suddenly revealed. It’s been a widely told story, utilised over and over again by Dotcom since he was first trying to woo Hone Harawira and the Mana Party into bed.

Nonetheless, if Dotcom didn’t want to answer questions about hacking, it probably wasn’t wise to include the comments in his campaign launch speech, especially given that his reference to John Key as “another Prime Minister I don’t like” provided the media with a great platform to once again ask whether Dotcom had had any involvement with the theft of Cameron Slater’s emails.

As to what else happened at the Internet Mana launch, well, who knows? It certainly didn’t get reported, and for that Laila Harre needs to deliver some strong words to her Press Secretary and her Party Visionary.

Poll of Polls update – 20 August 2014

The latest Roy Morgan poll has just been released. The polling window runs from 4 August to 17 August, meaning that been a quarter and a third of the polling was done following the release of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics book. We’ll need to wait for further polling before the real impact of the book and its fallout can be seen.

The results of the Roy Morgan will undoubtedly be somewhat of a disappointment for Labour and the Greens. National is up 2% to 48%, while on the left, Labour drops 2.5% to 27.5%, and the Greens drop 0.5% to 11.5%. That’s a 9% gap between National and a Labour/Greens bloc.

The big mover of the minor parties is NZ First, up 1.5% to 6.5%. That’s the highest they’ve been in the Roy Morgan since September 2013, and it’s the party’s second highest poll result this year from any of the major polling companies.

For the other minor parties, there’s very little movement. The Maori Party falls 0.5% to 1%. The remainder are uncharged – Internet Mana on 2.5%, the Conservatives on 1%, ACT on 0.5%, and United Future on 0.5%.

So here’s how the Poll of Polls looks now:

National: 49.6% (-0.1%)

Labour: 27.5% (-0.1%)

Greens: 11.8% (nc)

NZ First: 4.9% (+0.2%)

Maori: 1.0% (nc)

United Future: 0.2% (+0.1%)

ACT: 0.5% (nc)

Internet Mana: 2.2% (+0.1%)

Conservative: 1.8% (-0.1%)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 64 (nc)

Labour: 36 (nc)

Greens: 15 (nc)

NZ First: 0 (nc)

Maori: 1 (nc)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 3 (nc)

Though there’s no change to the distribution of seats, NZ First is so very nearly back up to the 5% threshold. If they get there, six seats will disappear in total from National (losing three), Labour (two) and the Greens (one).

Currently, overall, the Right bloc maintains a lead of 66 seats to 54 for a Labour, Greens and Internet Mana alliance, with National governing alone on 64 seats. If NZ First were to take 0.1% off National and get to the threshold, National would have 61 seats, still enough to govern alone, if only just.

National’s campaign strategy

Back in 2005, Labour’s slogan was “Don’t put it all at risk”. Fast forward to 2014, and National’s is essentially the same. The party’s first TV ad of the campaign is out, telling us to “keep the team that’s working”, as a sleek, well-oiled rowing crew cuts cleanly through the water. The opposition crew is briefly shown; an array of red and green rowers, with one numpty in purple, and the boat trying to go in two directions at once.

The opposition boat crew, from National's first TV ad.

The opposition boat crew, from National’s first TV ad.

It’s a good ad: National’s team is portrayed as winners, and people like backing winners; the water looks pristine, reminding us of our country’s clean, green image (just don’t think too hard about National’s somewhat lacklustre stance on clean rivers…); we see a list of all the OECD countries we’re doing better than. Slightly off-putting though is the similarity of the backing track’s baseline to Eminem’s Lose Yourself, from the Eight Mile soundtrack…

The ad has been criticised for a lack of focus on policy. It tells us what National has done, not what they’re going to do. But there’s a reason for that. National hasn’t yet had it’s campaign launch – that comes on Sunday.

National would have had a strategy, planned out long ago, of coasting for two weeks on good headlines and high polling, taking swipes at whatever opposition policy was announced, and then putting the foot on the gas for the campaign launch. Announce a big policy or two on the 24th, overshadow Labour, and keep talking up the positive record and drip-feeding policy through to election day. The first election ad wasn’t meant to need any policy.

Of course, nobody planned for the release of Dirty Politics, which has kept National hopelessly on the back foot for the past week, fighting an endless outbreak of fires. They won’t want to rush the release of policy, and mess up their timetable, which means the strategy is simple – endure the remains of this week and hope that the fires begin to die down, put on a good show on Sunday and hope the media are ready to focus on policy, start rolling out the policy, and hope it won’t be long before Labour does something stupid themselves.

Unfortunately for National, the Labour Party caucus have been remarkably disciplined lately. Thanks to Dirty Politics, they can see a genuine possibility of grabbing the Government benches in one month. Nothing unifies the ill-disciplined like the sweet scent of success. Nonetheless, if there’s no immediate bounce in the polls, there’s every possibility that things will turn feral again in the Labour camp, which is what National will be hoping and praying for.

And so everyone waits for the next round of polls…

Last Chance Saloon – John Key’s paper-thin defence of Judith Collins

When Judith Collins was initially confronted by media about the accusation in Dirty Politics that she had leaked former Labour staffer, Simon Pleasants’, name to Cameron Slater, she refused to answer questions. It was all lies, just a smear campaign.

Then she admitted that the allegation was indeed true – she’d provided Slater with Pleasants’ name and job title, as described in the book.

That changed over the weekend. Apparently Cameron Slater already had Pleasants’ name; Collins was merely providing his job title.

Now, with the gradual dumping of the original emails on Twitter by Nicky Hager’s source, we know that Collins also provided Mr Pleasants’ phone and fax numbers, including his cell phones numbers. As with the Oravida scandal-saga, it appears to be a case of waiting to see how the story changes when new information is revealed.

Nonetheless, John Key has announced this morning that he stands by Ms Collins, although her actions were “unwise”. She’s on her Last Chance, but it’s the same Last Chance as she was previously on, not a New Last Chance:

“What she’s on is on her last chance after what happened last time. But at the end of the day she’s also subjected to a left-wing smear campaign. And people will actually see that as well for what it is.”

Matthew Hooton, yesterday on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme, opined that Mr Key needed to fire someone, but that Jason Ede was too far down the food chain. Given her previous behaviour over Oravida, and the final warning that flowed from that, one would have thought she’d be the ideal candidate.

Nonetheless, the script for National still seems to be one of absolute denial wherever possible. Offering up National Party scalps provides Nicky Hager and his allegations with legitimacy. Key seems intent on brazening it out till election day.

To see just how thin Key’s defence of Collins really is, you only have to listen to his Morning Report interview with Guyon Espiner, which Hooton described as Key’s worst in six years. Here’s the Judith Collins segment, with thanks to Karol at The Standard:

ESPINER:  OK. Well what about the behaviour of your minister Judith Collins?  Is it acceptable for her to divulge the name of a public servant, because he may have leaked details ?

KEY: Well I don’t have the details on that one

ESPINER: she suspected he did.

KEY: I just don’t

ESPINER: Well, why don’t you ask her?

KEY: Well because I. A: it’s very. Sorry it’s.  Look to be

ESPINER: In fact, in fact, with respect, Mr Key, she has admitted that. She conceded she did pass on that name.

KEY: Yeah, but I don’t know the details under, of all of that scenario.

ESPINER: So why don’t you ask her?

KEY: Because, at the end of the day, we’re five weeks out from an election, people can see that Nicky Hager’s made a whole lot of things up in his book. He can see that he can’t back a lot of them up.

ESPINER: Well, I’m talking about one that can be backed up. You’re not going to get away with that.

KEY: See he

ESPINER: Because, because, this is one that can be backed up, because the Justice Minister of New Zealand has conceded publicly, that she did pass on the name of a public servant.  That resulted in him getting some pretty severe death threats. And you think that’s, OK?

KEY: And people can see that

ESPINER: It’s OK?

KEY: And people can see

ESPINER: Yes or no? Is it OK?

KEY:  And people can see that this

ESPINER: Is it OK?

KEY: People can see

ESPINER: Is it OK that Judith Collins did that, yes or no?

KEY: And people can see that this is a smear campaign by Nicky Hager and

ESPINER: I’m not asking you for a critique about Nicky Hager’s motivation

Key: Well I

ESPINER: I’m asking you about something that is publicly in the arena. Judith Collins has said, “I passed on the name of this public servant.” And we know what happened after that.

KEY: But the

ESPINER: I’m asking you a simple question. Was that appropriate, Yes or No?

KEY: context  is totally relevant, because at the end of the day, I don’t know all the context of what happened here and in all those situations

ESPINER: You know the context here, Prime Minster. Please answer the question.

KEY: We don’t know

ESPINER: Was it appropriate for your Justice Minister to pass on the name of a public servant doing his job, who was then severely sanctioned on a website?

KEY: So, I don’t know all the details behind all of that. But what I do know, is that this is a series of selected pieces of information. Many of which can’t be backed up. I know that this was

ESPINER: I’m asking you about one of them.

KEY: Yeah, well, I’m not going to go into your individual ones, because in the end, this is a smear campaign, about which, I gotta say, started the week with with people, you know, out there

ESPINER: No, I’m not, you’re not going to talk about burning effigies, etc, because it has nothing to do with this.

KEY: Well, it does [voice hits a squeaky note]

ESPINER: I’m talking No

KEY: to do with this, because, at the end of the day,

ESPINER: No. this is about the behaviour of your Justice Minister. Do you stand by her today?

KEY: Yeah [slightly squeaky voice] I stand by her. And in the end, it does have a lot to with it, because we started the week with burning effigies. Then we went into, into, sorry, FU videos. Then we went into into burning effigies, then we went into Bill

ESPINER: OK, we’re not going to traverse the whole history.  Here’s a final question for you.

Student leader ‘revolted’ by politics – that’s what dirty politics does.

Sam Johnson is a fellow about whom it’s rather difficult to find any bad press – founder of Christchurch’s Student Volunteer Army; 2012 Young New Zealander of the Year; ranked number 22 on the Readers Digest top 100 trusted people list; endorsed by John Key when he successfully stood for the Ricccarton-Wigram Community Board in 2010; approached by Lianne Dalziel to be her running mate in the last Christchurch mayoralty race; founding Trustee of the Ministry of Awesome…

And he features on Stuff this morning in an article that begins:

Student Volunteer Army kingpin Sam Johnson says the underhand tricks exposed by Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics have left him revolted by politics.

Johnson is quoted as saying:

The whole thing is revolting. There’s obviously dirty tricks and games played on every side but I just think we’re coming up to an election and we are promoting all these campaigns to get young people to vote… the whole thing needs to get itself cleaned up.

That’s on all sides. This is not restricted to Whale Oil or Simon Lusk. It’s everywhere. It’s quite disheartening. I think we need values-driven politics.

Even before this book, I’ve been put off all sorts of politics. The council debacle was enough to put me off. I’ve seen friends go in and spat out the other side.

You can see why someone like Johnson would receive a brief taste of politics, even only at local body level, and recoil in disgust. And that’s a great pity. Politics, whether it’s local body or at a national level, is supposed to be about public service (“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, if we’re going to really descend into the cliches…). Surely people like Sam Johnson are exactly the type of people we eventually want to attract into politics?

Yet who in their right mind would want to be a politician in this day and age, knowing that everything you say and do, and everything you’ve said and done, will be picked over with a fine-tooothed comb and used to try and destroy you?

Sam Johnson featured briefly in Dirty Politics. Simon Lusk saw him as a client, and was unimpressed by a Green Party MP making favourable comments about the Student Army. Lusk asked Slater:

“Cam, can you bash this c… [the Green MP]. I’ll write it… Sam is a client. He will pay off long term.”

Johnson describes Lusk as just one of his ten to 20 mentors during his Community Board campaign. I’m sure Johnson threw up in his mouth a little to discover that Lusk thought him a long-term cash machine, existing purely to further Lusk and Slater’s ambitions.

Lusk has written:

There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turn out, and drives away the independents. Voting then becomes more partisan.

Add to that, it also drives away people like Sam Johnson.

 

Key’s farcical “Don’t ask, don’t tell” routine

John Key is sticking to his defensive strategy: deny everything, label Hager’s book a smear campaign, and – when pressed on specific allegations – say he doesn’t know the details. There is of course a very easy way for Mr Key to become acquainted with the details, which he doesn’t seem keen to do, and that’s to simply ask the right people.

For instance, there’s the issue of how classified SIS documents were suddenly declassified and released at break-neck speed to Cameron Slater, following his OIA request. Now, according to John Key this morning on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, Key had no knowledge that the SIS had released the documents. That’s despite Key being the Minister responsible for the SIS. And that’s despite there being some considerable political interest in the contents of the documents – after all, they made Phil Goff look like a fool, a liar or a lying fool, depending on your political allegiance.

Matthew Hooton, on Nine to Noon this morning, made the point that it is “preposterous” that Warren Tucker, as director of the SIS, would release such politically sensitive documents without first alerting the Minister, John Key. Under the ‘no surprises’ rule, I’d count releasing documents showing the leader of the opposition misled the public (whether accidentally or otherwise) as a bit of a surprise.

Nonetheless, John Key says he didn’t know, which means (taking him at his word) that either Mr Tucker made this unilateral decision or that Mr Tucker received a thumbs up from someone in Mr Key’s office who then didn’t pass that information on to Key.

So surely, all Mr Key needs to do, to clear everything up, is to ask Mr Tucker what precisely happened. Was the decision to declassify and release purely that of Mr Tucker’s? If so, why? And if Mr Tucker said he had in fact briefed someone in the Prime Minister’s office, who was that person?

Then there’s the issue of Judith Collins, and what she may or may not have leaked to Cameron Slater. Mr Key says he can’t really comment on any of that as he hasn’t asked Ms Collins about it. Nonetheless, there’s a serious allegation that Mr Hager has made. Hager alleges Collins leaked the Bronwyn Pullar letter to Slater. Collins is on record, both inside and out of the House, completely denying that she or her office had anything to do with the leak. If Hager is correct, Collins lied to Parliament and the New Zealand public. Surely that’s something Mr Key would at least want to ask Ms Collins personally?

Or the five word email by Ms Collins to Cameron Slater, in which she provides the name and title of Simon Pleasants, a former Labour staffer, who is promptly, viciously and wrongly smeared by Slater. Collins refuses to say what her email was in response to, and John Key says he has no idea either. Well, all he has to do is ask Collins what question from Cameron Slater she was replying to.

And then there’s the issue of the National Party staff member who downloaded the Labour Party’s database. John Key has confirmed that Jason Ede definitely accessed the database. He’s said, “Jason became aware of that [that Labour’s database was open to the public], and he did go and have a look”. But there’s no confirmation that Ede downloaded the database. Given that Ede still works for the National Party, one would think it should be a relatively simple matter for Key’s office to ask Ede exactly what he did or didn’t do.

Or the other National Party IP address that accessed the database? Peter Goodfellow, the Party President, has confirmed that another staff member rummaged around – just to check that National’s security wasn’t that bad, don’t you know? Who was that staff member and what, if anything, did they download? Mr Goodfellow already seems to know a great deal on the subject, so it shouldn’t be a great inconvenience to Key to call up the President and swap notes…

Those are just a selection of the questions to which Mr Key could presumably get quite easy answers, should he so desire. I could keep going, but you surely get the point.

This is cynical politics from Mr Key, and it’s an utter farce. He and National want the story to die down, so Key is steering well clear of specifics. If he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t know. And if he doesn’t know, he can’t answer the media’s questions. Everything peters out, and the media finally get around to reporting on policy.

However, Mr Key has, I believe, miscalculated badly. The media aren’t going to simply give up on this. The number of very specific questions that need answering are too many. The number of grubby little dots that need joining won’t suddenly disappear. And with Mr Hager’s alleged source beginning a piece by piece dump of the original emails via the @whaledump Twitter address, the journalistic interest will definitely not die.

Whether the wider public gives a damn is of course a different story. The four people with whom I raised it at Court this morning simply rolled their eyes and muttered derogatory comments about Nicky Hager. And these are intelligent, well-read people who I would generally respect.

John Key is perhaps hoping that the public don’t care now, and as long as nothing definitive comes out to link Key directly to the scandal, the public will continue to not care. Time will tell whether he’s right…

Poll of Polls update – 17 August 2014

One News and 3News are back to going head-to-head with their poll results, releasing their respective Colmar Brunton and Reid Research poll this evening. Both show National down – dropping 2% to 50% in the Colmar Brunton, and 1.9% in the Reid Research.

Labour’s results across the two polls are in stark contrast to each other – down 2% to 26% in the Colmar  Brunton, but up 2.3% to 29% in the Reid Research.

The Greens rise in both polls – up 1% in the Colmar Brunton to 11%, and up 0.6% in the Reid Research to 13%.

For the minor parties, the big story in the Colmar Brunton poll is the Internet Mana Party, up 1.9% to 3.9% – a result that would see them pick up four MPs. Good news too for NZ First, who hit 5% after gaining 0.6%. The Conservatives also gain, up 0.7% to 2.4%, while the Maori party are up 0.3% to 0.9%. There’s not such good news for ACT or United Future – ACT drops 0.2% to 0.6%, while United Future fails to register.

In the Reid Research poll, it’s a different story for Internet Mana – down 0.3% to 2.0%. Likewise, NZ First fails to make the 5% threshold, although they’re close on 4.6%, having gained 0.3%. The Conservatives drop 0.2% to 2.5%, while the Maori Party drops 0.3% to 0.8%. ACT rises 0.2% to a meagre 0.3%, while United Future remains steady on an even more meagre 0.2%.

So here’s how the Poll of Polls looks now:

National: 49.7% (-0.6%)

Labour: 27.6% (+0.1%)

Greens: 11.8% (+0.1%)

NZ First: 4.7% (+0.1%)

Maori: 1.0% (nc)

United Future: 0.1% (nc)

ACT: 0.5% (nc)

Internet Mana: 2.1% (+0.2%)

Conservative: 1.9% (+0.2%)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 64 (-1)

Labour: 36 (+1)

Greens: 15 (nc)

NZ First: 0 (nc)

Maori: 1 (nc)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 3 (nc)

During the last few updates, National and Labour have been busy trading seats with each other, and this update is more of the same. After dropping 0.6%, National lose a seat, while Labour picks it up, having made a small gain of just 0.1%.

The Conservatives continue to climb, up from 1.5% at the end of July to their current 1.9%. However, there’s still a hell of a lot of improvement to be done if they’re going to have a hope of getting close to the 5% threshold.

Likewise, Internet Mana continues to climb too, up another 0.2%. Since the merger of Internet and Mana was announced, their collective average polling has risen from 1.1% in early June to 2.1% today. Compare that to the Maori Party, who were on 1.2% in early June and are now on 1.0%, and it’s obvious which of the two parties has the momentum.

That means that overall, the Right bloc falls back to a total of 66 seats, compared to 54 for a Labour, Greens and Internet Mana alliance.

Of course, both of the two polls released tonight had a polling range that ended the day before the release of Dirty Politics, so it remains to be seen what impact Hager’s book has. As I’ve predicted, the impact won’t be much.