It’s rarely that I feel moved to write in defence of a Labour Party leader, but TV3’s attempt to skewer Andrew Little over an unpaid bill is pure mischief-making.Two nights in a row, Patrick Gower has tried to beat this up into a major embarrassment for Little. Last night he went so far as to say it signified the end of the honeymoon for the Labour leader. The rest of the media don’t seem too excited over it, but when TV3's political editor says it's the end of the honeymoon - well, it is, at least as far as TV3's concerned.
Gower does some very good work, and I’m mostly a fan. But when he gets bored, he tries to inflate minor issues into crises. Conflict and drama are meat and drink to him, and when there isn’t any he’ll manufacture it. On this occasion his friend and stablemate Duncan Garner, on RadioLive, seems to have been an enthusiastic accomplice.If the affair of the unpaid bill is embarrassing to anyone, it’s Little’s chief of staff Matt McCarten. Everything Gower has reported suggests that’s where the blame lies for not paying freelance journalist David Cohen the $950 owed to him for advice given during Little’s bid for the party leadership last October.
That’s as it should be. Party leaders can’t be expected to deal with the minutiae of housekeeping.Little could probably have got himself off the hook by saying the problem lay in McCarten’s office, but of course he wouldn’t because it would look like he was dumping on his right-hand man. And what fun Gower would have had with that.
The most interesting aspect of the non-story to me is the revelation that Cohen was engaged to work for the Labour Party.I know that freelance journalism is a precarious way to make a living, and that there’s a powerful temptation to take work wherever you can get it. But conflict of issues arise when people who comment on matters of public interest (Cohen is National Business Review’s media columnist) are simultaneously involved in political work behind the scenes.
I suspect this goes on much more than we know. Cohen has come out in the open because he was understandably pissed off at not being paid. Otherwise his relationship with Labour would probably have remained secret. How many other notionally independent commentators, I wonder, are potentially compromised by connections we don’t know about?