Sunday, November 29, 2015

Steve Braunias and the Auckland media priesthood

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 fa├žade 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.



Neil Harrap said...

Karl, you've hit the nail on the head! What a great read, so calm and erudite as you dismantle the complacency of the priesthood of Left-wing media. Love your work!
Neil Harrap

Lindsay Mitchell said...

I suspect the line between fantasy and truth is a very fine one for Braunias. His book about the 2014 campaign trail had me laughing outright as he mercilessly took the piss out of the Greens.... followed very quickly by ACT.

kassto said...

Karl, I feel privileged to be friends with you and not with them!

- Kathy Stodart

Jigsaw said...

They are part of the reason that journalism in this country is at such a low ebb. Their self satisfaction is suffocating and allows no views that don't match exactly with their own. Bad enough by Findlay MacDonald also seems to work for Radio New Zealand not only does he guest on it but also sometime runs the afternoon show. As you say they paint themselves as liberals but as almost diametrically different and they allow no place for any disagreement with their 'correct' views.

Brendan McNeill said...

Unlike the rest of the Western world, the left in NZ appears to have a monopoly grip on the MSM. Is that a fair assessment in your opinion? (no need to name dissenters other than yourself).

Perhaps we need to call in the Monopolies Commission?

These are the same people who cannot understand why centre left parties like National keep winning elections, as opposed to their hard left preferences. This despite the fact that they shamelessly campaign for them, as the Herald did recently attempting to fund raise for Labour under the pretext of preserving liberal western democracy.

I guess they hope to outlive us more conservative dinosaurs so they will be free to usher in their European style utopia with all of its attendant benefits.

Michael Wynd said...


An excellent post. The old line about behind every liberal is a dictator waiting to break out is so true. The 'safe space' mentality of the media in Auckland in particular you have shown so very clearly. It seemed to me prior to his cancellation, for a while that John Campbell ran stories based on the latest dinner party conversations in the Grey Lynn-Ponsonby-Mt Eden-Herne Bay circle. It's a very closed little group you mention and they get very angry when you point some some salient facts at variance to their group-think. Paul Little is another charter member of that group. I'd also include Jack Tame as someone who lives in America yet seems to have a singular inability to understand the culture and history of place. Some of his pieces are willfully[?] ignorant.

You do realize that this might get you off the social circut?

Nick Gibbs said...

I enjoy the writings of Steve Braunais whom I first discovered in a Listener column he wrote twenty years ago on the death of a friend. He had a striking talent for writing and it's a surprise that this wasn't immediately clear to his tutors.

Such a shame then that he is a left-wing goofball.

Karl du Fresne said...

What we’re seeing is the inevitable result of the politicisation of journalism training by left-wing tutors, many of whom have little journalism experience themselves. This is exacerbated by the forced departure from many news media workplaces of older, wiser hands who learned their trade the old-fashioned way and were taught to be even-handed - even if their personal inclination was to the left, as it often was.

Karl du Fresne said...

One advantage of living in a provincial town is that fear of ostracism is not an issue. You can't be banished from a social circuit that doesn't exist.

Mark Hubbard said...

You hit on the motif of the Left that annoys me the most. Arrogance. An arrogance, and unearned haughtiness in thinking because they would emote policy on feelings, they are the only part of the political spectrum that cares or has compassion. Albeit that compassion consists of throwing tax payer money at social problems caused by tax payer money building dependence, and thus never dealing with the actual problems (but allowing them to feel smug and superior). In fact in their ruthlessness to all that is not them, they prove the opposite; they are vicious sods - which some of them find for themselves when they break the strict identity politick code that operates - but it's an arrogance that makes them contemptible. I want to interact with them still, because you can't give up ... but more and more lately I just take myself to the beach. I'm hardly tweeting these days and my blogging is falling off.

Mark Hubbard said...

One thing to my last post ... I like Braunais.

Damien Grover said...

Little harsh on Steve Braunias who was just bravely giving his opinion on Karl du Fresne's views.