Are you disgusted by what’s going on in politics? I am. We all should be.Everything about the Dirty Politics affair is reprehensible. Let’s start with Cameron Slater.
I fully understood the angry reaction to his headline “Feral dies in Greymouth, did world a favour” after a West Coast man was killed in a car that was allegedly trying to escape the police.Slater wasn’t to know that the dead man’s family had already lost three other sons in accidents, including one in the Pike River explosion. But anyone with a modicum of sensitivity would have realised a family would be grieving. A cruel and gratuitous taunt wasn’t going to help.
Someone was supposedly so offended that they hacked into Slater’s emails. At least that’s the explanation put forward for the leaked material on which author Nicky Hager based his book Dirty Politics. So you could say it was poetic justice that the “feral” post has caused such discomfort for the government. (Less so for Slater himself, I suspect; I think part of him relishes the notoriety.)Only thing is, I’m not sure I buy the explanation about how Hager came into possession of the emails, any more than I bought his claim years ago that several National Party sources independently and simultaneously supplied him with a wodge of emails relating to Don Brash’s meetings with the Exclusive Brethren.
National Party people, leaking to a known left-wing crusader at the expense of their own party? It seemed highly improbable then and it still seems improbable now.What makes me suspicious is that whoever hacked Slater’s emails subsequently began drip-feeding them on Twitter in a carefully phased operation obviously calculated to cause maximum political damage. As TV3 political editor Patrick Gower pointed out, that required a high degree of political and media savvy.
Suspicion has fallen on Kim Dotcom (hardly surprising, given that he boasted at the weekend about hacking the German chancellor’s credit rating), but both Dotcom and Hager strenuously deny his involvement.Whoever’s responsible, it began to look less like the work of someone who had spontaneously attacked Slater’s email account out of anger at the “feral” headline, and more like an example of the political “black ops” that Hager supposedly despises.
Hager’s role in the affair has largely escaped critical scrutiny. He has been a trenchant critic of clandestine surveillance of private communications in the past – indeed, wrote a book about it. Yet here he is, using stolen emails to write a book whose publication is timed to derail a party he obviously opposes.He apparently made no effort to corroborate his information, as a responsible journalist would do, yet he insists on calling himself a journalist because it conveys the erroneous impression that he’s even-handed and has no political agenda.
In my opinion Hager’s double standard – one rule for intelligence agencies, another for him – is contemptible. Yet the media have largely allowed him to claim the moral high ground.Ah yes, the media. To be fair, the press could hardly ignore Hager’s book. Reporters would have been remiss if they hadn’t asked hard questions of John Key, as Radio New Zealand’s Guyon Espiner did on Morning Report. Key has rarely, if ever, sounded less comfortable.
But sometimes the media get so excited that the chase itself becomes the story. Even Fairfax political reporter Andrea Vance wondered on television at the weekend whether, in their frenzied pursuit of the Dirty Politics story, journalists had done the public a disservice by largely ignoring other important election issues.What we don’t know (or didn’t at the time of writing) is whether the media firestorm has swung support away from the government or had any impact on the undecided voter. Many people quickly lose interest in what they regard as Beltway issues and tune out.
Finally, what about the government’s performance? That brings me back to the D-word.As irritating as Hager’s sanctimony is, we are left with the disgusting reality that he has exposed government involvement in sleazy smear campaigns and machinations of a type that Richard Nixon would have approved. The political process, which has historically been remarkably clean in New Zealand, has been tainted.
Almost as objectionable was the prime minister’s dissembling and evasiveness as he tried unconvincingly, day after day, to defend his indefensible justice minister, whom he should have sacked at the outset, and his bland pretence that despite the billowing clouds of smoke, there was no fire.Key is partly right when he says the election has been stolen from us, but he needs only to look over his shoulder to see the people responsible.
The irony is that two weeks ago, he had this election virtually in the bag. If National loses, it will have only its own hubris to blame.