Phil Goff and Joe Karam are both learning that no matter how carefully you try to control events, things have a nasty habit of unravelling.
Initially in the driver’s seat in the Richard Worth affair, Goff is now a helpless passenger who doesn’t know where the ride is going to end up.
John Armstrong in the New Zealand Herald today points out that the Labour leader uncharacteristically declined to go on Morning Report yesterday. “You know it is a cold day in hell when Phil Goff declines an invitation to speak on the radio,” he wrote.
Armstrong argued that the Worth affair had ended up rebounding on Goff because he had misled the public about the sort of person Neelam Choudary was. “He intimated she was some low-level Labour Party member who had become confused and traumatised by Worth’s alleged advances,” wrote Armstrong. “The actual person is highly active in the party with enough self-confidence to seek nomination to become a candidate for Parliament and tell Worth firmly where to go.”
What Labour was initially able to sell as a high-minded attempt to alert prime minister John Key to an alleged sexual predator in the government’s ranks suddenly began to look like a grubby exercise in political point scoring – in other words, the same old same old.
What’s even more embarrassing for Goff is that it turns out Choudary was implicated in an immigration scam for which her husband was convicted last December. Once this came out – as it was bound to – it became much harder for Goff to portray Choudary as a helpless victim.
A politician of Goff’s experience should have foreseen the likelihood of all this becoming public. But in the excitement of the chase, and perhaps over-eager to score a point against a government that so far has had a pretty charmed run, his warning sensors appear to have malfunctioned.
TV3 turned up the heat under Goff when it reported last night that a statement ostensibly written by Mrs Choudary and tabled in Parliament was in fact prepared by a Labour Party staff member. Then political editor Duncan Garner got Goff to admit on camera that the much reported “transparent garment” that Worth allegedly urged Mrs Choudary to buy in India was in fact something called a zardosi, or embroidered sari. Evidently that incriminating word “transparent” wasn’t used at all.
TV3 also interviewed a victim of the immigration scam who said most of his dealings were with Mrs Choudary, not her husband.
Uh-oh, as Pete Smith used to say in the movies when things turned pear-shaped. None of this necessarily redeems Worth, of course, but it does diminish any claim Labour might have had to the moral high ground.
Now, Joe Karam and the David Bain case. Karam (who apparently has developed the disturbing habit of referring to himself in the third person) has adroitly orchestrated events around Bain since the not-guilty verdict last Friday, but even a former All Black fullback can’t always keep a firm grip on a greasy ball.
Just when the case seemed all done and dusted, the explosive “I shot the prick” recording, accompanied by previously secret testimony alleging Bain had once plotted to rape a female jogger, blew the whole issue open again and gave new impetus to the “Bain is guilty” camp. Karam did his best to play down both developments, but they underlined the fact that in the vital court of public opinion, the jury is still out.
On top of that, reports indicated a split within the previously tight Bain defence camp. Karam was reported as saying the Crown had approached defence lawyer Michael Reed QC offering “concessions” in a plea bargaining deal – a claim Reed reportedly dismissed as “absolute nonsense”. Then Radio New Zealand spectacularly turned that story on its head, quoting anonymous sources as saying the defence team had approached the Crown about the possibility of having four murder charges dropped in return for a guilty plea in relation to Robin Bain’s murder.
Reed went on Morning Report to deny both stories. Any suggestion of a plea bargain was rumour and speculation, he said.
So there it rests, but probably not for long. The Bain story, like the Worth affair, has some way to run yet. And the lesson from both is clear: once things are in the public domain, no one can control how they will play out – especially not with a hungry media on the case.
Footnote: According to John Drinnan in today’s Herald, TV One newsreader Wendy Petrie’s celebrated “fist pump” at the end of her live appearance outside the Christchurch High Court on the day of the Bain verdict had nothing to do with the fact that she had successfully pulled off an error-free broadcast (though that might indeed have been reason for self-congratulation in view of the fact that she later referred twice to Bain having been found guilty).
No, it seems the truth is even more dismal: Drinnan says Petrie was celebrating the fact that One’s live item went to air ahead of TV3. If so, then here, laid bare, is irrefutable evidence of the self-absorbed, parallel universe inhabited by television people.
Let’s suppose One did beat TV3. Who would notice? Do TV newsroom bosses imagine that New Zealanders have two TV sets running side-by-side in their living rooms to see which network beats the other by a minute or two? More to the point, do they think anyone cares?