By FORREST CHAMBERS*
All our arguments are about the Story. What story do we believe? Who is doing right, and who is doing wrong? Where is the story going, and what should we do as participants in the story?
Stuff's Fire and Fury tells a story: some people in New Zealand have become sucked into dangerous right-wing political extremism, and the anti-Covid-vax and anti-mandate movements have really just been portals into far-Right darkness. Once we have had an anti-mandate protest, the story goes, we will have Trump-crazed rioters storming Parliament and killing politicians (cut to scenes of the January 6 Capitol riots).
It seems that Covid-19 and vaccination has now become a signifier for “what side are you on?” – that is, “What story do you believe?” If you don't trust Pfizer, that means you don't trust the government, so that means you must be extreme Right. Right? And vice-versa. This is a dangerous oversimplification.
I have watched the Covid phenomenon unfold and seen the unprecedented and outrageous clampdown on freedom of thought and belief. When I see doctors, scientists and ordinary lay people with reasonably derived questions and opinions censored, de-platformed and suspended on social media, I can see there is something terribly wrong.
I would have thought Fire and Fury “journalist” Paula Penfold would be curious about the unfolding Covid story as the data emerges (for example, reports of adverse reactions, rising excess death rates, declining birth rates) rather than simply taking sides and describing any Pfizer injection sceptics merely as victims of misinformation and pawns of the far Right. There are so many doctors now speaking out. Dr Dave Cartland, a British GP, is just one example: https://metatron.substack.com/p/breaking-the-silence. He tells his story of going from accepting what he was told, getting vaccinated, then seeing a sharp rise in “unexplained” and unusual health conditions in his work; complete denial that vaccination could possibly be linked; censorship of free medical discussion; fear among colleagues; and eventually his decision to speak up, questioning the vaccine narrative (and losing his job). But rather than consider what he has to say, according to the logic of the story: if he is sceptical of the official Covid-19 vaccine strategy, he must be lumped in with the far-Right league of miscreants. Almost every day there are more doctors and public figures trying to “walk back” their initial support for the vaccines and lockdowns. Are they joining the far Right? No!
Yes, there are far-Right bad actors out there, fomenting hatred and violence, and they should be diminished. I guess the question is: what is the best way to do that?
Perhaps we need to consider the question, what is their story? It is clear at this point in the global technological society that corporate media giants and other “powers that be” undeniably can and do exert social manipulation and control. (I guess the question is: just how much are we manipulated and controlled? The work of the eminent psychologist Dr Robert Epstein is very disturbing.)
Most likely, politicians must co-operate, or they won’t be politicians for very long. The way I’m hearing the “far-Right” ranting, it seems they are aware of manipulation and control and want to fight it. Obviously, some of their theories about the “deep state” really go off the deep end (adrenochrome, anyone?), but their basic intuition is right: people are being manipulated and controlled. Unfortunately, their response and tactics (take down the government) are completely wrong.
Of course, the mainstream media are implicated in this story of manipulation and control. I had family and friends at the mandate protest and closely watched the reporting which was so biased against it (with a few notable exceptions, like the political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards, who, after he gave sympathetic reportage, had to weather a social media pile-on). I watched Chantelle Baker’s livestream of the police-induced riot and listened to RNZ at the same time. It was clear which one was most truthful (Chantelle’s). The MSM have their story to tell and will tell it, selecting “facts” and incidents to support it. That is why the people at the protest didn’t welcome MSM reporters.
Out of the thousands of people present at the protest, two were chosen for the so-called documentary who looked/sounded like gullible Kiwis who had swallowed Counterspin hype. They were chosen to fit the “story”.
At one point in Fire and Fury, the three Voices for Freedom (VFF) women leaders were equated with women of the “Nazi programme” because they were “wholesome” (gasp!). This would be laughable if it wasn’t so provocatively offensive and plainly wrong. Would the VFF three have more credibility (i.e. be less like Nazis) if they were less wholesome? It seems they can't win either way. Too wholesome? Nazis! Unwholesome? Well, say no more...
While on the topic of Nazis, let’s remember that the Nazis used “'modern medical science” to justify the separating out of Jews, putting them behind a wall in the early days of the Warsaw Ghetto. This was justified by the “scientific” belief (story) that Jews carried typhus, and the best way to protect the “innocent public” was through segregation. Just like the vaccine mandates, which decreed that our teenage daughters could not attend dance class because that would put everyone at risk (justified by modern medical science). It is only a short step then to scapegoating and hating a group of people you have “blamed” and ostracised. Sound familiar? This is what the mandate protest was about: division and hatred caused by a government policy. Not far-Right nonsense (although I agree there were far-Right activists trying to capitalise on the collective disgust at government policy).
And if the “Nazi” accusations aren't convincing in a “documentary”, add a bit of spooky atmospheric music and high production values to sway the audience. Just like ... oh yes, it was the Nazis who pioneered “state of the art” media and propaganda films to great effect (see Leni Riefenstahl). What else reminds us of Nazi tactics? Monopolising and controlling all sources of information, quarantining'/segregating/scapegoating, denouncing and firing critics, government and big business working together, etc. Unfortunately, accusations of being “Nazi” have a dangerous tendency to boomerang back.
A couple of last points: “personal anecdotes” (such as: “my uncle got sick after the injection”) were dismissed as just another kind of “fake information” designed to con people into the wrong beliefs. Which prompts the question: how can journalism proceed if anecdotes are now off-limits? Or how, indeed, can we make sense of the world without listening to anecdotes?
A number of years ago, Fire and Fury presenter Paula Penfold was curious about anecdotes and investigated possible adverse reactions to Gardasil (a mass vaccination programme for teenage girls intended to reduce HPV and cervical cancer). But in this current climate, she would not be able to run a story on Covid vaccines as she did on Gardasil without becoming a victim of the “Covid vaccine sceptics are actually Right-wing puppets” story. Truth-seeking journalism has been sacrificed to the predetermined story.
It would take a truly courageous journalist to go beyond the “received and approved” story. But they seem to be very rare birds these days.
*Forrest Chambers is a prison chaplain who lives in Levin.