I believe our television current affairs interviewers do a pretty good job. Both The Nation and Q+A have been generally well served by interviewers who have been fair and even-handed, asked intelligent questions and been tough without indulging in gratuitous blood-letting. But I thought Q+A’s Susan Wood let herself down at the weekend.Even before interviewing Professor Marilyn Waring, Wood gave us a taste of what to expect by describing Waring as “one of our most influential thinkers”. Really?
To be fair, Waring deserves everlasting credit for having the guts to stand up to Robert Muldoon, unlike the pusillanimous male lickspittles with whom he surrounded himself (and Q+A obligingly reminded us who some of them were by showing the famous footage of a clearly under-the-weather Muldoon, surrounded by his inner circle, announcing the 1984 snap election that Waring precipitated by announcing she would cross the floor).But one of our most influential thinkers? Influential to whom, exactly?
Wood then proceeded to conduct possibly the softest interview I’ve seen on Q+A, nodding sympathetically throughout as Waring recited a drearily familiar left-wing litany of grievances. Essentially her message is that the much-touted rock star economy is an illusion and that New Zealanders are being hoodwinked by spinmeisters. (Subtext: we’re all too dumb to understand economics and need people like Waring, who objects to people putting an “ideological” spin on the subject – I particularly liked that bit and thought she did well to keep a straight face, given her own leanings– to explain what’s really going on.)These are perfectly legitimate views, and I could even agree with Waring on one point: namely, that damage to our waterways means the public is at least partly bearing the cost of the dairying boom. But what I object to is that she sailed through the interview without once being challenged. Wood smiled benignly throughout, as if she were in the presence of a much-loved and slightly eccentric maiden aunt. That’s not a privilege extended to other guests on Q+A.
I could only conclude that Waring is one of Wood’s heroes. And that would be fair enough too, provided she didn’t make it so painfully obvious.