Readers may have noted David’s comment yesterday under my post about the Stuff documentary Fire and Fury.
David, a journalist of long experience, remarked on the current media witch-hunt for local body election candidates suspected of holding the “wrong” views on issues such as vaccination. As an example he cited Masterton mayoral candidate Tina Nixon, who was “outed” - along with several others - by the Wairarapa Times-Age for having “links to alternative politics or conspiracy theories”.
The page 1 story (above) was based on unsubstantiated claims by an activist group calling itself Fighting Against Conspiracy Theories Aotearoa (FACT). No one from FACT was identified.
The story was presented in a melodramatic fashion under the headline “Who is pulling the strings?”, complete with a graphic depicting puppet strings. Most of the candidates named had no chance to respond.
Today on page 3, the Times-Age followed up its story with an apology (below) which acknowledged that it didn’t give the named candidates a proper opportunity to respond to the claims against them. As David noted in his comment yesterday, the shadowy FACT has also apologised to Nixon on its website.
To its credit the Times-Age stated: “Publishing the story without sufficient opportunity to respond falls short of the expectation of responsible journalism from our paper.” I would go further and suggest the decision to run the story at all was questionable, given that it implies the beliefs attributed to the candidates are a threat to society and therefore not ones that can legitimately be held in a liberal democracy.
There’s a second mea culpa on the paper’s editorial page from journalist Mary Argue, who as the recently appointed chief reporter acknowledged responsibility for the way the story was covered.
Good on her, but I don’t think she should bear the sole blame. Argue hasn’t been with the Times-Age long and only a year ago, judging by something she wrote for The Spinoff, was still a journalism student. No one with her limited experience should be in a position that requires tricky editorial calls.
Meanwhile, other media outlets continue to go after local body candidates who are deemed political harijans. The Dominion Post locks on to an anti-vax GP and Morning Report asks whether the media should be doing more to expose others of her ilk – to which journalism professor Jim Tully, who can be relied on to say exactly what RNZ wants him to say, unsurprisingly agreed.
If people like Fire and Fury narrator Paula Penfold genuinely want to know why so many people no longer trust the media (although somehow I doubt that she does), she could start right there.