Derek Daniell is a Wairarapa farmer who runs the internationally respected Wairere Romney stud. He is also a tireless and articulate advocate for pastoral farming, a sector that’s under sustained political attack at a time when the New Zealand economy has never been more reliant on it. I’m posting this link to Derek’s latest commentary because it’s important that people realise there is a counter-narrative to the one promoted by the mainstream media.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
So Tova O’Brien sat down with Jami-Lee Ross for a Newshub Nation interview that has reportedly “gone viral”. This was a golden opportunity missed: the two most unpleasant people in New Zealand politics confined together in a Newshub studio. Couldn’t someone have quietly locked the door and tip-toed away?
Monday, October 19, 2020
Tell you what (as Judith Collins likes to say): there’s at least one thing I welcome about the election result. It’s that there can be no doubt about its legitimacy, and hence about Labour’s right to govern.
It was a clean win, an emphatic win. Even if it wasn’t the result
many of us wanted, we were left in no doubt about who were the winners and who
were the losers.
More specifically, I welcome the result because we’re likely
to be spared the grubby, opaque post-election manoeuvring that has tarnished so
many elections since New Zealand adopted the MMP system in 1996.
I’ve always maintained that we replaced one imperfect
electoral system with another that was even more deeply flawed. The most
egregious of MMP’s many defects is that once the citizens have cast their
votes, they relinquish all control over what happens. The politicians disappear
behind closed doors and indulge in horse-trading that we can neither see nor
All bets are off. Never
mind what the parties campaigned on or what promises were made; pretty much
everything is on the table in these coalition talks, and what emerges is rarely what people voted for.
The great irony is that we were sold MMP on the basis that
it made politicians more accountable, when the exact reverse is the case. It’s
the very antithesis of transparency.
We saw it at its worst in 2017, when Winston Peters leveraged
his party’s puny 7 percent share of the vote into the assumed right to dictate
the arrangements under which we were to be governed for the following three years – the apparent starting point being Peters’ insistence on his own
appointment as deputy prime minister, for which there was no skerrick of a
All of which was bad enough. But what made things even worse
– infinitely worse – in that instance was the realisation, after the event,
that the coalition talks were an elaborate charade. Those participating assumed
National and Labour were negotiating for Peters’ favour in good faith from
positions of equal strength (as did the hapless voters trying to peer through
the impenetrable smokescreen). It was only later that we learned Peters had
quietly instigated legal action against senior National cabinet ministers over
the supposed leaking of his superannuation over-payments, and was thus no more
likely to enter a coalition with National than to announce that he was
renouncing politics and entering a Trappist monastery.
Peters’ deception meant he was able to extract commitments
from Labour that they might not have made had they realised he was bound
to do a deal with them anyway. So we ended up with a Labour-led government that
was established in shonky circumstances and whose legitimacy remained tainted throughout
No one can say the same about the Ardern government Mk II.
It commences its triennium free of any doubt about its right to govern.
That leads me to the other thing I welcome about the
election result. Mr Seven Percent became Mr 2.7 Percent on Saturday night, and
so was consigned to richly deserved political oblivion. Thus a man who has been
a mostly malignant, vindictive presence in New Zealand politics for more than
four decades has been banished at long last. I couldn’t help but think of
Oliver Cromwell’s ringing words to England’s so-called Rump Parliament in 1653:
“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say,
and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
It remains to be seen whether Labour will enter some sort of
governing arrangement with the Greens, but it’s hard to see why they should. As
things stand, Labour will have 64 seats in the new Parliament, which is more
than enough to govern alone.
Labour doesn’t need the Greens, and from a pragmatic
standpoint would be better off without them. As both Helen Clark and Michael
Cullen have reminded Labour in the past 24 hours, New Zealand elections are won
in the political centre. Labour triumphed in this election by persuading voters
they had nothing to fear from a second Ardern government. It’s clear that a
large number of National voters switched their allegiance to Labour for one
reason: to keep the Greens out of power. Labour will already be looking ahead
to 2023 and will want to lock in those centrist votes, knowing it’s likely to
face a far better-organised National opposition than it did this time. So it must
weigh up the appeal of buddying up with the Greens, and thereby keeping faith with the hard-core left, against the risk of scaring off all those new converts to
Bear in mind too that Ardern pledged in her victory speech to govern for every New Zealander, and will be held to that. It’s hard to see how she can fulfil that promise while aligning herself with a radical left party that commanded only 7.6 percent of the vote. She will have to make a choice, and history suggests she will tack pragmatically just as previous Labour leaders have done (remember Clark and the Foreshore and Seabed?), and as she did herself when she ruled out a capital gains tax.
All that aside, from a purely democratic standpoint there’s
another compelling reason why the Greens should not be in government, and it
comes back to that 7.6 per cent. It’s a measure of how our thinking has been distorted
by MMP that a party with so little popular support assumes it’s entitled to exercise
power. Since 1996, New Zealand has
experienced tail-wagging-the-dog politics because the system gave it little
choice; no party won enough votes to govern on its own. Now that a party is emphatically
in a position to do so, it should act on the mandate voters have given it.
A few other thoughts about the result:
will be a huge burden on David Seymour and his nine novice ACT MPs, who will probably
have to do the heavy lifting in opposition to proposed hate speech laws – the crucial
political and ideological battle of the next three years – and other woke initiatives. ACT shouldn’t count on receiving much support from National, which
will be busy either settling scores or licking its wounds, and in any case has rarely
shown much commitment to the fight against neo-Marxism.
Congratulations to the new “real” MPs: i.e. those former list MPs who now represent actual
electorates and are therefore accountable to real people rather than to party
apparatchiks. Chloe Swarbrick in Auckland Central is one; Kieran McAnulty in
Wairarapa and Jo Luxton in Rangitata are others. The question for all of them is
this: which comes first – loyalty to the party or duty to the electorate? It
becomes especially pertinent in predominantly rural electorates where
government policies could be inimical to farmers, especially if the Greens get
into positions of power.
Davis has rightly been excoriated for his oafish, churlish speech on election night
– the one grating note during a generally good-hearted night when losing
National Party candidates (Nick Smith, for one) were applauded for turning up
at Labour celebrations to concede personally to their opponents, which was an
example of New Zealand politics at its benign best. Any thought of the tone-deaf Davis
remaining Labour’s deputy leader – or heaven forbid, becoming deputy prime minister
– should have been extinguished right there and then.
■ Chris Luxon – really? If he’s the answer, then people aren’t asking the right
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
In 1992, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote a celebrated book with the extravagant title The End of History and the Last Man. In it, he argued (I’m quoting from Wikipedia here) that the triumph of Western liberalism marked the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.
The rationale was that the Soviet Union had
collapsed under the weight of its own tyranny and sclerotic inefficiency. The
decades-long Cold War that defined the post-war era was over and free-market
economics (Reaganomics in the US, Thatcherism in Britain, Rogernomics in New
Zealand and similar variants elsewhere, including Australia under Bob Hawke) had
prevailed throughout the democratic West.
It seemed at the time that the epochal struggle between
Marxism and capitalism had been emphatically resolved. There was a mood of smug
triumphalism (guilty, your Honour) among advocates of what came to be termed
Ha! We (and Fukuyama) could hardly have been more
wrong. The supposed “end of history” turned out to be merely a brief,
anesthetising lull. Far from the ideological contest between left and right
being decided once and for all, the contest broke out anew in an insidious and potentially
even more lethal form. No one saw this
coming; or perhaps I should say no one on the right side of politics.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Western
civilisation and Western democratic values are under attack as never before in
modern history. The breadth, intensity and viciousness of this attack is
Where it will lead is impossible to say. That will
largely depend on whether society recognises what’s at stake and has the will to
dig in and resist it.
At the moment, there’s little sign of that
happening. Tragically, the only world leader putting up any sort of fight, Donald
Trump, is a politician whose values are so bereft of any ethical coherence that
if anything, his stand gives the woke left an illusion of moral credibility.
As yet there seems to be no settled term for the amorphous
ideology driving this attack on Western capitalist values. It’s variously
described as cultural Marxism, neo-Marxism, post-modernism, identity politics
or, more colloquially, wokeism. It has
its ideological roots in Marxist theories about power structures and the
oppression of supposedly disadvantaged minorities – people of colour, women, LGTBQ
people, Muslims and immigrants, to name a few – by a privileged white elite. Its
adherents see society not as a cohesive body of people with mutual interests
but as an agglomeration of marginalised and victimised identity groups struggling
to break free of repressive norms.
Having realised decades ago that that the fight
between capitalism and classical Marxist economics was lost, the extreme left
opened a new front. They attacked liberal democracy’s soft underbelly: its
values, conventions, institutions and philosophical foundations.
Suddenly a whole range of bedrock values, from the
right to free speech to belief in fixed biological gender, was under savage attack.
The underlying purpose is to destabilise society and therefore render it amenable
to radical change.
Our supposedly shameful history and heritage also stand
condemned. If we can be persuaded to be ashamed of our past, how much
easier it becomes to persuade us that the society that grew out of it is deeply
I wrote in a column in 2018: [Neo-Marxism]
grows out of the assumption that Western
civilisation, and all that goes with it, is fundamentally rotten and therefore
must be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up.
You can see Marx’s influence in neo-Marxism’s hostility to capitalism, its contempt for supposed bourgeois values – the family, for instance – and its emphasis on class and division.
But neo-Marxism takes classical Marxist analysis a whole lot further, examining every issue through the lenses not only of class but also of race, gender, sexual identity and any other potential point of difference that can be leveraged into a grievance.
It marches arm-in-arm with identity politics, seeing society not as a cohesive whole, sharing common interests and aspirations, but as a seething mass of oppressed minorities struggling for liberation – hence the ever-increasing number of aggrieved groups clamouring for special recognition. The result is polarisation and fragmentation.
Neo-Marxism also sets out to create a sense of continuing economic and social crisis, using this as justification for ever more intrusive state intervention and control. And it seeks to undermine our most basic understanding of human nature and society. How we see and interpret the world is dismissed by neo-Marxists as a social and political construct, a product of our conditioning.
Nothing is fixed, not even the sex we are born with, and nothing has any objective value. Every belief and every value, no matter how soundly based in human experience and observation, is up for attack.
Paradoxically, while the neo-Marxists assail some belief systems as oppressive – Christianity for example – they make excuses for others, such as Islam, although it’s infinitely more controlling. But don’t go looking for ideological consistency in neo-Marxism; you’d be wasting your time.
Some woke ideas (most notably the belief that sexual identity is a mere societal construct, “assigned at birth” as if by some conscious and arbitrary human intervention) strike most New Zealanders as demonstrably barking mad, but that hasn't stopped them being embraced by radical zealots and championed by sympathetic polemicists in the news media.
The speed with which all this happened caught what
might loosely be termed the right off guard. The neo-Marxists have captured most
of our key institutions: universities, schools, the media, the health sector,
the churches, the public service, the arts and, to some extent, the courts. Even
sport has succumbed (hello, Israel Folau).
Resistance to the woke agenda has been strangely subdued,
enabling the activists to characterise those who openly oppose them as an
extreme right-wing fringe. Note, for example, how the New Zealand media routinely
stigmatises groups such as the New Conservatives as “far right” but never
attaches equivalent labels to parties on the far left such as the Greens, preferring
to treat them as mainstream. In doing so, the media have succeeded in creating the
convenient illusion that the political centre has shifted sharply to the left.
Not only that, but by relentlessly focusing on the grievances
of small, disaffected and highly vocal minority groups, the media present a
warped and distorted image of society. The playwright Arthur Miller famously
observed that a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself, a metaphor that
can be extended to all the media. But these days it’s a conversation dominated and
largely controlled by left-wing political and ideological elites, and one in
which the mainstream of the populace plays little part. The image of New
Zealand that’s frequently presented in the media – that of a country sharply divided
between a privileged white ruling class and a seething mass of the oppressed –
is a gross caricature of one of the world’s most tolerant, liberal democracies.
frequent reference to the "culture wars", but this is a misnomer. “War” implies
two opposing sides, but in fact the offensive from the left has encountered
little resistance – not because of any compelling force in its arguments (there
usually isn’t any), but because the people who should be leading the counter-charge
are cowering in their foxholes. Politicians who profess to adhere to conservative
values have been missing in action, intimidated into silence by the sheer
volume of white noise from the activist media. They apparently forget the old
management adage that what you accept, you approve.
Corporate institutions have capitulated even more cravenly,
scrambling to demonstrate their woke credentials by re-branding products to appease
ideologically driven complainants. (A notable example was the renaming of
Australia’s Coon cheese brand, a consumer favourite established in 1935 by
Edward William Coon.) Fear of boycotts
is usually the driver.
A key part of the woke left’s strategy is to deny that
any of this is happening, or at least that it’s part of any grand plan. On Wikipedia, the idea of cultural Marxism
is dismissed as a “far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theory”. The Wikipedia entry goes on to characterise
it as an idea peddled by religious fundamentalists, white nationalists and
This is a variant of the line taken in the 1950s and '60s by New Zealand Marxists who scoffed at claims of communist influence by ridiculing
fears of “reds under the bed” (to which Catholic trade unionist Tony Neary, who
staunchly resisted communist infiltration of the union movement, riposted that
the Reds were sitting up in bed and having breakfast brought in).
As I wrote in that 2018 Dominion Post column: And how do the neo-Marxists respond when anyone resists their nihilistic
theories? Typically, opposition is howled down as hate speech or met with
sneering and ridicule. There’s no room in the neo-Marxist world for dissent or
freedom of expression.
The tragedy is that neo-Marxism is
triumphing because the institutions of liberal, democratic government are too
weak, too naïve, too complacent or too uncertain of the worth of their own
values to put up a fight.
Neo-Marxism has now extended its influence far beyond universities, reaching deep into government, schools, the media, the arts and even the churches. The result is a society that is losing confidence in itself, which is precisely the neo-Marxists’ aim – because a society that has lost confidence in itself is easier to intimidate and control.
AS I WRITE this, we are in the last days of an election campaign. If the opinion polls are accurate, and I have no reason to doubt them, Jacinda Ardern will be New Zealand’s prime minister for the next three years. The only real uncertainty is whether Labour will govern alone or in coalition with the Greens.
Either way, there will be nothing to stand in the
way of a re-energised neo-Marxist agenda. New Zealand First has served as a
restraint on the government since 2017 but the brakes will be off after
Saturday if, as the polls predict, the Peters party fails to win a seat.
(Disclosure: I held my nose and voted for Peters in the last election precisely
because I reasoned – rightly, as it turned out – that NZ First could curb the
ideological excesses of Labour and the Greens, but I can’t bring myself to vote
the same way again. No one has done more to bring politics into disrepute in my
lifetime than Peters, and even my fear of a left-wing juggernaut in government
isn’t enough to justify supporting him a second time. I’ll be voting ACT, though not
with whole-hearted enthusiasm.)
What might a Labour or Labour-Green government
deliver? We have already had a foretaste in the form of one of the world’s most
permissive abortion regimes and the proposal to legalise cannabis. Expect much
more under a re-invigorated and unrestrained Ardern government, starting with
laws to curb so-called “hate speech”. The putative justification – that the Human
Rights Act doesn’t protect people from attacks on the basis of their religion (for
which read Islam) – can be easily fixed by a simple amendment adding religion
to the existing protections against discrimination on the grounds of colour,
race, nationality and ethnicity. But don’t expect the government to stop there.
Using the Christchurch mosque massacres as a pretext (a false one, since the
absence of restrictive speech laws didn’t cause the shootings and the introduction
of tough new ones wouldn’t prevent a similar occurrence), the government is
likely to crack down on any speech regarded as offensive by members of supposedly
vulnerable minority groups. Egged on by provocateurs in the media, an Ardern government might decide not only to lower the threshold
at which speech is considered harmful, but to extend protection to other groups
demanding special treatment – for example, trans-gender people.
We hear a lot from such groups about the need to embrace
diversity, but the one diversity they don’t tolerate is diversity of opinion. Yet
free speech is the currency of liberal democracy. Once we accept curbs on our
right to engage in free and robust discussion of contentious issues (but stopping short of advocating active discrimination or incitements to violence,
which present law rightly prohibits anyway), we risk becoming what might be
called an illiberal democracy: one in which we may still be free to vote for
the politicians of our choice, but without our votes being informed by full and
open debate. Putin-style democracy, in other words.
But it’s not just transformational legislative change that advocates of
liberal democracy should worry about under a new leftist government. Even where
it doesn’t take the initiative itself by passing radical or oppressive new laws, a Labour or Labour-Greens
government will provide a political environment highly conducive to the advance
of the woke agenda. Expect more agitation for separate institutional
arrangements for Maori (including non-elected positions on councils), more unilateral
adoption of Maori place names (fine, but let’s do it by referendum), more condemnation
of supposed white privilege and white supremacy, more hysteria over so-called
cultural appropriation, more humiliating, Salem-style public denunciations (accompanied
by mandatory attendance at “cultural competency” courses) of people who refuse
to toe approved ideological lines, more pressure
on companies to pander to exaggerated minority sensitivities (and grovelling
apologies when they are perceived to have fallen short), more politicisation
of the police, more judicial activism by courts incorporating tikanga (Maori
custom) in common law, more virtue-signalling by academics and writers who proclaim themselves as socialists (and therefore unashamedly align themselves with a sorry history of tyranny, repression and economic ruin), more arrogant interference with people's freedoms by activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, more social media bullying
of dissenters and more instances of “cancel culture”, where organisations are
intimidated into abandoning legitimate speaking engagements for fear of disruption.
All of this is happening already, of course, but it’s
likely to acquire far greater momentum with the encouragement, tacit or
otherwise, of a government that doesn’t have to worry about humouring a
socially conservative coalition partner.
The striking thing about the current election campaign
is that barely any of this has been mentioned. It’s only slightly melodramatic
to say there’s a battle going on for the heart and soul of the country, but
there has been little hint of this other than in New Conservatives campaign billboards
calling for free speech. National, the party that supposedly represents mainstream
conservative values and therefore should be manning the barricades against the
neo-Marxist takeover, is timidly tip-toeing around it and pretending not to see
it, possibly because it’s terrified of incurring media antagonism. Covid-19, the government response to it and
the likely economic consequences have so dominated people's attention that the woke
agenda has been allowed to proceed virtually unchallenged. New Zealand in three years’ time could feel
like a very different place, and not in a good way.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
First up, a disclaimer. I am not, and never have been, a National Party supporter. While there have been rare occasions in the past 50 years when I’ve voted National, they are outnumbered by the times I’ve supported Labour. National won’t be getting my party vote next week, though I may yet decide to support the party’s Wairarapa candidate. (For the record, I voted for Labour’s Kieran McAnulty last time.)
It’s important that I get that declaration out of the way,
because otherwise what I’m about to write will be dismissed by Labour camp
followers as sour grapes from a disgruntled Tory. (That’s bound to happen
anyway, but I need to spell out my position regardless.)
Now, to the point of this post. In recent weeks I’ve watched
with mounting disbelief as the network formerly known as TV3 has conducted what
appears to be a sustained offensive against the National Party.
Initially I gave Newshub and its political reporters the
benefit of the doubt, thinking perhaps the run of events was against National
and over time the playing field would be levelled. But that hasn’t happened,
leaving me convinced that Newshub is functioning as Labour’s unofficial propaganda
I shouldn’t be completely surprised, because it’s happened
before (I wrote about it here). But nine years on, the bias is even more
explicit and infinitely more mischievous.
No one who believes in the importance of fair and impartial news media can accept this is right. Fair, accurate and impartial journalism is never more important than during an election campaign. Some of us can remember when in every newspaper newsroom, someone was assigned to tot up the daily column inches given to each of the major parties to ensure no one was given an unfair advantage. But Newshub doesn’t appear to care about maintaining even a pretence of neutrality.
You could choose virtually any night at random to illustrate
this, but let’s examine Tuesday night’s bulletin. It started with political
reporter Jenna Lynch – eager-beaver apprentice to chief stirrer Tova O’Brien – asserting
that National was in crisis mode following leaks to Newshub by MPs reportedly
unhappy with Judith Collins’ leadership.
Taken in isolation this would be unexceptionable, but
context is everything – and this story meshed neatly with an ongoing Newshub
narrative portraying National as a party in disarray – a “death spiral”, in
O’Brien’s words – and not fit to govern. A write-off, in other words, and not
worth wasting a vote on.
“The cracks are getting wider and the wisecracks nastier,” opined
Lynch – except that the wisecracks she was referring to appeared to relate not
to the election campaign or Collins, but to totally unrelated grudges dating from
the National leadership takeover by Todd Muller five months ago.
There was also a sneering reference to “fawning MPs” clustering
around Collins on the campaign trail. But fawning MPs are a staple on the political
circuit, and certainly not confined to National. Why should Collins be singled
out for derision when it’s long been a bizarre convention that when party
leaders appear on camera, they must be surrounded by sycophantic MPs and
ministers furiously nodding in agreement at whatever the boss is saying?
Because it fits the Newshub narrative, that’s why.
Lynch went on to make the unsubstantiated claim that Collins
was “on the ropes”, then linked this supposed crisis to a bitchy Twitter
exchange (is there any other kind?) between Muller’s former PR adviser Matthew
Hooton and deposed deputy leader Paula Bennett. But the Twitter sniping
appeared to have nothing to do with Collins; it was about the circumstances in
which the ill-fated Muller took control back in May.
It apparently didn’t matter that there was no connection,
because it served the purpose of providing a pretext to cross to Winston
Peters, who wisecracked that it explained why Collins had been shown praying (which,
in turn, served as a cue for Lynch to remind us that Collins was accused of politicising
her faith); and then to Ardern on the campaign trail, so that we could observe
for ourselves the stark contrast between the National leader – white-anted by
disloyal caucus members, according to Lynch, and looking defensive in the face
of Lynch’s insistent questioning – and a relaxed and smiling prime minister untroubled
by caucus disloyalty or awkward questions from hectoring reporters, surrounded by adoring fans, posing for selfies, accepting
gifts from awe-struck children (“Oh, is that for me?”) and patting dogs.
I mean to say, who would you prefer as the country’s leader:
Agatha Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda
or Glinda, the Good Witch of the South from The
Wizard of Oz? No contest.
Newshub invited Ardern to put the boot into her opponents
over their internal friction but she declined. After all, why
risk being seen as indulging in petty schadenfreude when Lynch was doing the job
But Newshub hadn’t finished with Collins and National. Next
we crossed to political editor O’Brien, who pronounced the
party was in turmoil (hadn’t we just spent three minutes hearing Lynch say much
the same thing?) and that the writing would be on the wall for Collins if
National lost the election (as it is for most major party leaders who lose
elections, but hey, here’s a radical suggestion: why don’t we just wait and
We then segued into an unrelated item about politicians
criticising the media, the main purpose of which seemed to be for Newshub’s
political journalists to pat themselves on the back for irritating people like
Peters, David Seymour and Gerry Brownlee, as if getting up the noses of
politicians is how the efficacy of journalism should be measured.
Since it was stripped of any explanatory context, the item would
have made no sense to anyone other than the most obsessive political junkie. In
most cases it wasn’t clear what the politicians were talking about, or to whom.
This was not about imparting useful information to the public, which is
supposedly the purpose of journalism. The purpose seemed to be to satisfy some
other agenda known only to those involved.
The item included a brief clip of Brownlee, who in July was
the target of repeated Newshub attacks accusing him of indulging in conspiracy
theories over the government’s response to Covid-19, delivering an
extraordinary rant to someone off-camera in which he said: “Your [presumably
meaning Newshub’s] people give me the shits. You’re bloody lazy as buggery.”
Again, there was no explanation of what this was about. It
doesn’t matter, apparently, that the audience is left out of the loop; it’s all
about point-scoring. But the item did serve as the cue for yet another cross, this
time to Greens co-leader James Shaw, who was presented as the voice of
moderation and reason. Politicians on the campaign trail get tired, intoned Shaw solemnly,
“but that’s no excuse for rudeness”. The take-home message: there are wise and civilised
politicians like Shaw, and then there are feral bullies like Brownlee.
Oh, and we shouldn’t forget the long-suffering journalists
who bear the brunt of these nasty attacks by politicians when all the heroic hacks
are doing is trying to get to the truth of things. “Political journalists get
used to it,” said O’Brien (oh, nail me to the cross), before noting with
satisfaction that Brownlee had apologised “unreservedly” for swearing at the unnamed
Newshub reporter. Vindication, then, and shame on the politicians for getting down
in the mud, where high-minded journalists refuse to go.
O’Brien’s patronising advice to the politicians: “Chill,
guys, just chill.” Not surprisingly, she said nothing about the endless baiting
and provocation politicians have to put up with from scalp-hunting reporters.
Politicians are not an easy class of people to feel sorry for, but political
journalists sometimes make it possible.
Whatever this is, it’s not journalism as I understand it. It’s
a continuation of a long-standing trend whereby journalists see themselves not
as mere observers and reporters of the political process, but as active players
Duncan Garner pioneered this style of journalism at TV3 when
he was political editor and each of his successors – first Paddy Gower, now
O’Brien – has taken the approach a step further. O’Brien is the worst, constantly
setting out to generate conflict and controversy by catching politicians out, goading them, tripping them up and asking loaded questions that she hopes will generate
headlines for the six o’clock bulletin.
There was a good example of her approach recently when Newshub led its bulletin with a story quoting Ardern as promising a
crackdown on hate speech. This wasn’t a pre-planned policy statement on the government’s
part; rather, O’Brien used Ardern’s unveiling of a memorial plaque at the Al
Noor mosque, and an emotive statement from the local imam, to press the prime
minister for an impromptu commitment on whether hate speech would be outlawed
if Labour won a second term unencumbered by the killjoys of New Zealand First (who
previously vetoed it).
On one level, this was an enterprising journalist seizing
the moment, but it was also a significant breakthrough for the woke agenda –
one that O’Brien immediately took a step further by encouraging Ardern to agree
that as well as outlawing hate speech against religious groups, Labour would also
apply the law to speech relating to sexual orientation (which could make it
illegal to say mean things about trans-gender people), age and disability. It
seemed a prime case of journalism intersecting with ideological activism.
Intriguingly, the same Newshub that sanctimoniously took Collins
to task this week for supposedly making up policy “on the fly” over a promised review
of Auckland Council apparently thought it quite unexceptionable that Ardern did
precisely the same on hate speech, despite it being an issue with infinitely
graver implications for democracy. Make of that what you will.
There was more in similar vein in last night’s bulletin. We
saw Ardern being mobbed by rapturous fans in Dunedin (O’Brien, without a hint
of sarcasm, called it Ardern's people’s princess vibe) and we were again invited to
contrast this with scenes of Collins getting a distinctly cool response, other
than from obvious National Party plants, in the forlornly empty streets of Ponsonby.
(But hang on: what party doesn’t attempt to ensure a few strategically placed sympathetic
faces when the leader goes out in public? Ardern’s handlers did it too when she
was in the Wairarapa recently.)
It’s impossible to convey in words the striking disparity in
this coverage. It’s relentlessly positive toward Ardern – fawning isn’t too
strong a word – but strives tirelessly to nobble her main rival with stories of
caucus disloyalty and belittling scenes from the campaign trail. On top of all
this, O’Brien had the chutzpah last night to make sympathetic noises about the ordeal
Collins is being put through. To paraphrase a quotation from Robert Muldoon
when talking about his bete noire The Dominion: with friends like O’Brien, who needs enemies?
I detest this style of journalism. It attempts to place
journalists at the centre of the action rather than on the periphery, where
they belong. They abuse their power by seeking to influence events rather than
simply reporting them in a fair and balanced way and allowing the public to
make up their own minds. They are every bit as guilty of abuse of power as the
most despised press baron.
And while some journalists insist on seeing themselves as
morally superior to politicians, it can be argued that the reverse is
true. As devious and self-serving as some politicians may be, they can still claim
the moral high ground because ultimately they are accountable to someone:
namely, the voters, to whom they must answer every three years. No journalists
have to submit to that judgment.
I’ll finish this post by repeating what I said at the start.
I’m not a National supporter and it won’t concern me in the slightest if
National loses the election. In fact I’d go further and say they’ve done
nothing to justify winning it.
It's no help to National that there’s a whiff of desperation in the
way Collins is conducting her campaign, as evidenced by the cheesy shots of her
praying, presumably in a late play for support from the Christian right. But it’s
hardly surprising that she’s looking desperate when she has journalists like O’Brien
and Lynch enthusiastically charting every stumble and writing her off before
the voters – the only people whose opinions ultimately count for anything – have
had their say. Collins isn’t competing with just the Labour Party; she also has
to reckon with journalists who are clearly willing her to fail.