Friday, February 26, 2021

The right to say what you (and others) think

I got a text message from a friend yesterday morning to say she was sitting in a café in Christchurch reading The Star, that city’s free weekly paper. She thought I might be interested to know that there were 26 letters to the editor in response to the paper’s publication (with my permission) of my recent article from The Spectator Australia about the state of New Zealand politics.

Shortly after that text arrived, Barry Clarke from The Star emailed me to say that the letter-writers were overwhelmingly in agreement with me. The letters filled two pages of the paper and Barry said there were others that he couldn’t find room for.  

My piece certainly seems to have struck some sort of chord. The previous week, I received an email from the Spectator Australia to say the article had attracted 20,000 page views on the magazine’s website.  That was within a couple of days of publication; I imagine there have been more since. I would also guess that a lot of those page views were from New Zealand, since Australians aren’t exactly noted for their fascination with affairs on this side of the Ditch.

I’m told too that Mike Hosking read excerpts of the article on his NewstalkZB breakfast show one morning last week.

You’re welcome to think that in telling you this, I’m skiting, but it’s not so. I wouldn’t claim for a moment that my article contained any startling new information, still less any blinding insights. The point is that it got a reaction because it said things that a lot of people were obviously thinking, but which they’re not accustomed to seeing printed in a mainstream paper.

I don’t regard this as reflecting favourably on me. Rather, it serves to highlight the depressing ideological uniformity of most published opinion in the New Zealand media. It shouldn’t be a novelty to read a mildly conservative opinion piece, but it is. What we used to call the broad-church press, where readers could expect a full range of views to be argued in editorials and opinion columns, is all but extinct. Many people feel so overwhelmed by the oppressive daily barrage of puritanical wokeism in the print media – much of it written by young university graduates with minimal life experience and a dangerous susceptibility to whatever argument is most emotionally appealing – that the appearance of even a single countervailing view has a strangely invigorating effect.

I’ve never purported to speak for “ordinary” New Zealanders, assuming any such creatures exist. What I would say with absolute certainty is that the mainstream media no longer speaks for them either – and more disturbingly, doesn’t even speak to them. Arthur Miller’s famous dictum that a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself no longer holds true. Not only are newspapers speaking to an increasingly narrow audience, but the conversation is being conducted in the ideological jargon of identity politics and the culture wars. It’s a language many New Zealanders don’t recognise or understand, and its purpose is not to inform but to lecture, browbeat and indoctrinate.

There are honourable exceptions, of course, and The Star appears to be one of them. From what I’ve seen, it’s a bright, newsy paper that’s prepared to row against the prevailing ideological current – a quality which its readers applaud, judging by the tone of this week’s letters. (It may be no coincidence that The Star is owned by the Otago Daily Times, the most traditional of the major New Zealand dailies, and still staunchly independent.)

One last thing. Several of the letter-writers complimented The Star, and me, on our supposed courage – me for writing the article, and The Star for publishing it. I can’t speak for The Star, but I don’t feel courageous and never have. It never occurred to me that you need courage to say what you think in what purports to be a free country. It’s our democratic birth right.


Andy Espersen said...

I wrote a letter to the leadership of the National Party last week, including the following passages. These very much relate to your Spectator Australia article, Karl :

“I have voted in NZ elections for over 60 years (emigrated from Denmark in 1958 at the age of 23). This time round I voted ACT; but mostly voted National, I think (except, of course, towards the end of the Muldoon years, when I certainly got to vote Labour under Lange and Douglas!). And the reason I came to ACT was without a shadow of doubt that National had lost its conservative soul. Its strength (as well as its weakness) is its traditional conservatism.

I want you and your party to realise why it was you lost so badly in last year’s election – simply because I would like you to, and expect you to, recover as a party. But that will require a lot of scrupulously honest soul-searching among you all in your caucus - which must be initiated by you, Judith Collins and Shane Reti. Your problem seems to me to be basically that you are trying to out-woke the woke-ists.


Karl du Fresne, our foremost, senior social and political commentator, has just written an article for The Spectator Australia, “New Zealand transformed, but not in a good way”. It is a fine summary of the dangers threatening our New Zealand democracy today– and expresses a fair bit of criticism of “Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition”. If Simon Bridges or Judith Collins had made speeches like this article, National could have won the election, I believe. But if they had done so, they would have left themselves open to a lot of adverse comments from many corners in our society. Was that what you secretly feared??.

If you go to this site you will discover that du Fresne’s article was “removed by moderators” 4 days ago. Some comments to his article were thoughtfully left by the moderators, such as “karl du fresne is a racist wank stain” - which just goes to show the type of persons this crowd consists of. If you dare to utter opinions like Karl du Fresne’s, you will without a doubt attract many similar messages. Don’t ever be scared of that! Consider it a badge of honour.

The article is of course available on du Fresne’s own blog”

Kiwiwit said...

You have obviously hit a nerve. I think the Ardern Government, by rushing through its race-based unconstitutional changes to the local body electoral system, will face a Trumpian backlash over its subterfuge on this issue.

Trev1 said...

Karl, your Spectator column was and is a beacon that expresses the inchoate thoughts and fears of people watching their country fall into a rapid decline on so many levels. The "mainstream media" only continue to exist because they have enthusiastically become the paid pimps of the government. I don't see much hope in the near term, the Opposition is utterly hopeless. Please keep writing.

Unknown said...

I was at the Supermarket yesterday when I got a text saying "Listen to 738AM (Magic) It will make your blood boil".

I got back and they were talking about racism and deprogramming kids in school. I've read a lot about Critical Theory and all that and they never got above the level of the subject being understood in it's traditional way.

Magic needs to get hold of someone like James Lindsay or Helen Pluckrose to guide people down the rabbit hole and out.

David George said...

We've certainly fallen a long way from the aspiration that Adolph Ochs described in that famous 1896 statement: “to make of the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”

There is a toxic combination of rampant ideological capture, bullying and genuine fear within the media. The zeitgeist is, perhaps, exposed most clearly and from bitter experience by Bari Weiss in her resignation from the New York Times.
"a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.

Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative."

Phil said...

In reply to Kiwiwit, the backlash can only happen if people know about it. I watched TVNZ news all week and they didn't report the story instead they ran multiple attack stories on the National Party. This bothers me greatly. We now have a media format that focuses on the kindness of Jacinda Ardern while her Government passes policy with no comment and State media attacks the opposition. It is what we would expect in Russia or China.

Brendan McNeill said...

Those of us who are 60+ have been socialised in a very different world. What seems like ‘common sense’ to us, has not been inculcated in subsequent generations, certainly not those of 25+ years who now occupy the HR departments of our corporates, and are journalists at our daily papers.

Free speech has become hate speech, to be white is to be racist, all hegemonic power structures must be dismantled, sexual orientation is immutable from birth, but one’s gender is fluid, only bigots disagree, and on it goes.

We may be tempted to laugh this off, and think they will grow up one day. That would be a mistake. They are ideological, passionate, and completely serious.

Andy Espersen said...

kiwidave - Excerpt:
" .......truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else."

Well chosen excerpt - there is the nub of it all. Let us fight this repressive way of looking at truth with as much passion, with as much energy, as we can master. Our democracy depends on it.

Keep it up, Karl.

hughvane said...

Should you Karl, and others, be interested in just who was writing LttE in support of what you had to say in The Spectator, and then your blog, go to page 20.