There are two lines that politicians should be coached to avoid at all costs.
One is: “Don’t you know who I am?” Australian Labor Party MP Belinda Neal uttered these words, or an approximation thereof, to staff at Iguana Joe’s nightclub in the New South Wales city of Gosford. Now Neal’s political career is in tatters – and her husband, NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca, is on a slippery slope too – as controversy rages over claims that the couple behaved in an intimidating and abusive manner, demanding that nightclub staff be sacked and threatening to have the club’s liquor licence cancelled. It’s never a good look when a bullying, egotistical politician tries to pull rank and status on lesser beings, least of all when that politician happens to be from the party of the workers.
The other line that press secretaries should advise their bosses against using under any circumstances is this: “Print one thing wrong, sunshine, and I will sue you”.
This, the Dominion Post reports, is how the Right Honourable Winston Peters, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Her Majesty’s Government, responded when reporter Phil Kitchin sought comment from him about the enigmatic Tommy Gear’s involvement with the New Zealand First Party. Gear, the Dom Post reports, is a close friend of the New Zealand First leader and has been paid for many years out of the Parliamentary Service budget, but no one seems to know exactly what he does.
There’s something almost endearing about Peters’ snarling response – part Humphrey Bogart, part Detective Inspector Regan of The Sweeney – to Kitchin’s inquiry. It’s so true to character that if you close your eyes you can hear him saying it.
Peters’ evolution from shrewd, populist politician to self-parody is now virtually complete. He risks being the only person in Wellington who takes Winston Peters seriously.
The other interesting thing about his comic attempt to scare Kitchin off is that it seems to suggest Kitchin is on to something, which is probably not what Peters intended. When a politician says “Print one thing wrong, sunshine, and I will sue you”, it could easily be decoded as confirmation that there is indeed a good story there, but if the reporter gets so much as one small detail wrong, Peters’ lawyers – Messrs Huff, Puff and Bluster – will come after him.
This can be an effective way of frightening off a timid reporter, but I don’t think it will work on Kitchin. He’s been monstered by experts.