Back in the early 1980s, I was invited to run a feature-writing course for journalism students at what was then Wellington Polytechnic (now part of Massey University). The three full-time tutors didn’t think they had the requisite experience to teach this form of journalism, and in hindsight I’m not sure I did either. But for six weeks or so, one afternoon a week, I would trudge up to the Polytech and try to pass on to the students what little I had learned about writing feature-length stories.At the end of the course, the tutors were keen to know which students I thought stood out as potential feature writers. I named two. One, if I recall correctly, was the daughter of the poet Lauris Edmond; the other was Steve Braunias. At the mention of the latter name, the tutors almost literally recoiled in astonishment. They’d written Braunias off as hopeless. In fact he was a classic square peg in a round hole – stubbornly resistant to all attempts to make him write in the formulaic manner required for news stories, but clever and funny when he was freed from stylistic constraints.
Braunias of course went on to become a high-profile writer and satirist and is now feted in literary and media circles. I’m not aware of anyone else on that feature-writing course who has made an impact in journalism. So while I take no credit for Braunias turning out the way he did (if my tutoring had been inspirational, others on the course would presumably have shone too), at least my judgment was vindicated.I mention this episode because Braunias himself recalled it in a recent interview with an admiring Duncan Greive on the online news and commentary site The Spinoff. But it’s what Braunias went on to say that interested me. Here’s the relevant passage, from the section of the interview in which Braunias talked about that journalism course:
“I couldn’t tell a news story. I had no nose in news. I didn’t have the hunger for it, or the gall. I just didn’t have what it takes whatsoever. I was just kind of a dimwit.“The feature writing course, that was appealing and I kind of got saved there in a way. I got first place in the feature writing thing, and it was marked by a guy from the Listener magazine, Karl du Fresne. He became a bit of a shocking, right wing, redneck, reactionary goose. It was a bit of a shame that my saviour was writing opinions so inimical to me, and so awful to read.”
Braunias seems a bit conflicted here. He calls me his saviour, but in the same breath denounces me because of my supposedly loony right-wing views. The way he tells it, I was sagacious enough to recognise his talent, but then something mysterious happened that apparently fried my brain and turned me into a drooling right-wing imbecile. A goose, to be precise. Pardon me, but how does that work?Let me attempt an explanation. In the circles Braunias moves in, namely the Auckland media priesthood, the only legitimate journalism is that which conforms to a left-wing template. Deviation is heresy and must be countered with scorn and ridicule.
The rationale is that if someone is right wing, it can only be because they’re stupid or nasty or both. (The term redneck, which Braunias used to describe me, unmistakeably implies rank ignorance as well as conservatism.) This is the smug, Pharisaical way in which members of the Auckland media elite dismiss any opinions that don’t concur with their own.Braunias is not the only offender and certainly not the worst. Others include Russell Brown – Auckland’s leading prig – and former Listener editor Finlay Macdonald.
My blog in September on the death of Graham Brazier, from Hello Sailor, triggered a frenzy among the left-wing Auckland twitterati, Brown and Macdonald joining the pack with gusto.I committed the sin of questioning the media’s deification of Brazier and suggested Hello Sailor weren’t the band they were cracked up to be. To the Auckland media elite, this was heresy on a grand scale. But rather than address any of my arguments, they ran the line that I must be thick as well as reactionary. (They were conspicuously silent, surprisingly, on Brazier’s record as an abuser of his female partners, although I’ve no doubt that they all see themselves as staunchly pro-women.)
“Christ he’s an idiot,” tweeted Brown, referring to me. Elsewhere, on his Hard News site, he called me an ass. This is apparently the only way Brown can explain the fact that someone else sees things differently from him.“Careful, we mustn’t speak ill of the brain dead,” tweeted Macdonald. Giovanni Tiso and Philip Matthews weighed in with similarly puerile jibes, yapping like toy poodles. Braunias chimed in too. All the usual suspects, in other words.
In another Twitter feed, Macdonald called me an asshole. This guy’s the New Zealand head of a major publishing company, for heaven’s sake, and here he was indulging in the digital equivalent of poking his tongue out and making faces, like the leader of a school playground gang.These people fondly think of themselves as liberals, but in truth they’re anything but. Quite the reverse: they’re bigots whose carefully constructed liberal façade conceals an angry, sneering intolerance of any opinions that conflict with their own. I think they're gutless, too. They share their views with people they know will agree with them, because there’s safety in numbers. They hunt in a pack and compete to come up with the cleverest putdown of anyone they don't like.
And here’s another thing. If the explanation for my deviant, redneck opinions is that I’m too stupid to know any better, should they be mocking me? Wouldn’t it be more consistent with their sanctimonious pseudo-liberalism if they took pity on me? Shouldn’t they, as caring people, be wrapping me in a warm embrace of inclusiveness?
On second thoughts, scratch that. The thought is too frightening to contemplate.