Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Muller could take a lesson from BoJo

A bit of free media advice to Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye (and I’d happily offer the same advice to Labour politicians): don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into playing the media’s game.

There are journalists in the parliamentary press gallery (and I’m sorry, but the name Tova O’Brien springs to mind again) whose modus operandi is to probe constantly for any sign of weakness, conflict or contradiction, and to pounce triumphantly when they uncover anything that looks remotely capable of being blown into a scandal. They then sanctimoniously editorialise about it to an audience that often can’t see what the fuss is about and probably couldn’t care less.

Their mission is to make mischief. Paddy Gower was another master of this game. As I wrote in a profile of Paddy years ago for The Listener (remember The Listener?), political journalism in the 21st century has become essentially a form of sport.

Exposing hypocrisy, inconsistency and double standards is a legitimate function of journalism, but something’s out of kilter when catching politicians out begins to look like its raison d’etre.

O’Brien – and possibly other reporters too, although I got the impression she was the principal provocateur – sprang a trap for the new National leadership team and they obligingly walked straight into it.

If they deserve ridicule for anything, it’s not that Muller failed to include a Maori in his shadow cabinet; that’s just another confected outrage stirred up to produce a lead item for the 6 o’clock news bulletin, like the MAGA cap.  No, the reason they should feel embarrassed – and why questions should be asked about their judgment – is that Muller and Kaye (and even more astonishingly, their media advisers) apparently failed to see this coming. Did it not occur to them that in an era obsessed with identify politics and minority grievances, someone would demand to know why they had an all-white front row?

As an aside, Muller could have easily avoided this by promoting one of the party’s capable Maori MPs to the front bench; perhaps Shane Reti, who seems an impressive performer. It needn’t have been seen as tokenism, since Labour appears unembarrassed by having Kelvin Davis as its deputy leader – a status presumably acquired on the basis of his Maori roots rather than through ability and achievement.

By this morning, Muller seemed to have regained his equilibrium and was saying what he should have said yesterday: namely, that he chose his front-bench line-up on the basis of ability and merit, and with a focus on broad issues. End of story. Voters can show at the ballot box whether they agree with his choices; isn’t that how democracy is supposed to work?  

Advancing transparently absurd pleas in mitigation – such as citing Paula Bennett at No 13 in the rankings, and even more comically identifying the palpably Pakeha Paul Goldsmith as Ngati Porou – was playing the media’s game. It looked desperate and pathetic – but worse, it looked weak.

Muller should have taken a lesson from Boris Johnson, another conservative politician with his feet to the fire, and stood his ground. The public would have respected him more for it. He should at least give the impression of having faith in his own judgment even when he doesn’t.


Hilary Taylor said...

Spot on. Good grief, I'm stunned at this naive cock-up on the part of Muller & Kaye. The Maga hat shouldve been out of sight for the screamingly obvious reason, and going from 2 part-Maori leaders to none should've also rung loud, clanging bells and a response pre-prepared for those Ardern sycophants in the Press corp, most of them these days, probably all of them. God the schadenfreude for Bridges & Bennett. Nerves of steel for this game and they don't have them.

Scott said...

Totally agree that the leader of the opposition needs to expect vigorous attacks from the media. So Todd needs to put on his big boy pants and stand his ground.

The only thing I would add is that media coverage is very one sided. John Campbell ripped into Todd Muller about his voting against gay marriage and abortion up until birth. And this is the problem. The media are almost always liberal and leftists and so dislike right of centre, conservative politicians. They are not prepared to give them any sort of honeymoon or even just a fair shake.
Contrast John Campbell with Jacinda Adern - "lovely to see you prime minister".
If the media in NZ could offer any sort of balance and objectivity the world would be a better place.

Andy Espersen said...

It is the whole idea that a party necessarily must have a representation of various skin colours on its front bench that is an abomination. That is racism, pure and simple - and it stinks. I hate it - and I will vote for any party that comes out clearly and unequivocally against any sort of preferential treatment for any race.

Odysseus said...

I see Stuff today has an article by Donna Miles-Mojab attributing the darkest motives to ownership of a MAGA hat. Here's what she wrote about ISIS in July 2016: "If you thought Isis were made up of just uneducated jihadists, you are very much mistaken. Isis has many highly educated followers who understand the full potential of science, technology and social media." Just how stupid are New Zealanders?