Some readers of this blog will be familiar with Political Roundup, a daily summary of political news and comment compiled by Victoria University political scientist Bryce Edwards. Available free by email, it includes links to the source material and provides a very useful guide to what commentators are saying.
Edwards leans to the left himself but Political Roundup covers a broad ideological spectrum – too broad, it seems, for senior press gallery journalist Ben McKay, the New Zealand correspondent for Australian Associated Press.
I recently learned that in December 2021, McKay emailed Edwards and asked whether he had considered excluding my blog posts from his daily wrap. This wheedling suggestion was apparently provoked by a post in which I criticised the press gallery for being more concerned with the thrill of the political chase than with the substance of politics. (Edwards, to his credit, appears to have disregarded McKay's request.)
McKay, who has never met me, described me in the email as deranged, racist and misogynist. These would be defamatory accusations if I took them seriously, but I prefer to adopt Katharine Hepburn’s maxim: “I don’t care what anyone says about me as long as it’s not true.”
He also implied that I was senile, that I no longer had a place in the mainstream media (probably true, although I relinquished my gigs in the MSM entirely of my own choice) and was reduced to writing a “sad blog” in which I was often hyper-critical of “decent journalists” - that is to say, his gallery colleagues. He concluded: “I think your readers would do well not to be served up this trash.”
I hadn’t heard of McKay until I learned of this and certainly won’t lose any sleep fretting about his opinion of me. But it becomes a matter of public interest when a senior political journalist surreptitiously tries to use his influence to have another commentator cancelled because he doesn’t like what he writes. It reinforces my suspicion that some mainstream journalists are more than merely ignorant of the importance of free speech in a liberal democracy. They are actively hostile to it.
Perhaps even more alarming is the ease with which McKay resorts to crude, simplistic, bumper-sticker stereotypes such as “racist” and “misogynist”.
1. If McKay resorts to such lazy caricatures in an email to an influential academic, can we assume he does the same in his political reportage and analysis? Remember, McKay is the conduit through which many Australian readers get their information about New Zealand politics. Is his coverage coloured by the same ignorant bias and bigotry?
2. Does McKay’s intolerance of dissenting opinions reflect the views of others in the press gallery? I don’t know. But the gallery hunts as a pack and I suspect many of its members have been captured by conformist groupthink. There’s safety in numbers, after all; it saves you from having to think for yourself. (The long-serving Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was an appalling man in many respects, but he got one thing right when he described press conferences as “feeding the chooks”.)
3. Does it occur to McKay that the principle of free speech, on which all journalists and political commentators depend, applies regardless of the prevailing ideological currents? These currents may be flowing McKay’s way at the moment, but what would happen if he suddenly found himself trying to operate in a hostile (i.e. non-woke) political environment? I imagine he might then feel very grateful for the right to express himself freely - a right that he apparently resents being granted to others.