Monday, August 29, 2022

And they wonder why media credibility has nosedived ...


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.



R Singers said...

Another weird thing is that now journalists think reporting on other Journalists opinions is more important than the actual issue.

The Redbaiter said...

FACT is run by Stephen Judd, (who has a few tech businesses), and he is not really secretive about his running of his professed "group".

He is though very secretive concerning the other members of his group.

Stephen Judd appeared on Tova O'Brien's how last week. I emailed her and asked her to ask Mr Judd who the other members of his group are. Tova did not even mention this issue, but as usual, gave Mr Judd free reign to espouse his views. Here's my email-


Hi Tova,

I see you are interviewing Stephen Judd tomorrow.

Please ask Mr. Judd to identify the members of his group FACT. Their website gives no names and is very secretive in terms of who makes up the group. If he refuses to identify other members of his own group, he has no business alleging secretive behaviour by other groups (such as VFF).

Mr Judd is a well known left wing activist. FACT, (if there are indeed any members besides Mr Judd), is probably just a group of similar far leftists with an axe to grind against anyone they see as opposing their ideology.

FACT have no automatic right to legitimacy, especially if they will not name themselves. Given their own far left proclivities, nor can they claim to be objective commenters on the so called "far right". Why would any serious journalist allow them/him this pretense?

The Redbaiter

Kiwiwit said...

I’m making a point of noting down any of the candidates that legacy media say have unacceptable views so I remember to vote for them in the local body elections. The top of my list is Barbara McKenzie for mayor in Wellington.

Karl du Fresne said...

My apologies for a couple of silly typos in the original version of this post (since corrected).I promise to proofread myself more rigorously in future.

Anonymous said...

And yet Efeso Collins holds unacceptable views, if you subscribe to the Stuff definition, around homosexuality and abortion yet we hear nothing about those

Almost as if a brown skin and a red rosette gives him a Get Out of Jail Free card

Odysseus said...

It's one thing for inexperienced journalists to make a poor judgement call. It's quite another to see the government paying the media to demonize other New Zealanders, and for journalists to be actively complicit in doing so. With one or two rare exceptions the media have no credibility in this country.

Madame Blavatsky said...

Politics is fundamentally about differing viewpoints being presented and judged accordingly by the people. The so-called "end of history" that came at the end of the Cold War was touted (by the adherents of the victorious ideology, liberalism) as also being the end of politics. It is no surprise then that any disagreement is condemned as being a priori unacceptable. Ultimately, the liberalism dominant in the West requires just as much censorship, condemnation of dissenters and demands for conformity in order to maintain its grip on power as any of the other ideologies it triumphed over. Once it became established as the paradigm, it maintains a totalitarian stranglehold on acceptable thought.

When the question being asked is "who is pulling the strings" of these so-called shadowy recalcitrants, an equally (and probably more) pertinent question is "who is pulling the strings of those trying their best to denounce and discredit these people who legitimately seek to make political change?" Clearly it is an organised campaign of institutional resistance.

Karl du Fresne said...

I have withheld some anonymous comments relating to this post because they stray into conspiracy-theory territory, which I don't want to encourage, and in one case make detailed allegations that I can't verify.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl

Stephen Judd is the spokesperson for Fight Against Conspiracy Theories (FACT).


Judd is also the head of GIS for Catalyst IT.


Catalyst IT rebuilt the election management system prior to the last Labour Party victory.


How is this conspiracy theory territory?

Referenced, now, with any speculation removed, so I hope you will allow the comment.

Karl du Fresne said...

Madam Blavatsky,
I'd be interested in seeing the evidence for your assertion that neoliberalism resulted in the stifling of dissent. I suspect you don't have any.

R Singers said...

I'm sure Karl if we also had access to the Masters of Ancient Wisdom we'd understand as Madame Blavatsky does. Given the use of the name of a famous charlatan as a nom de plume I suspect the person behind the name doesn't expect us to take them seriously.

Madame Blavatsky said...

I assume you're joking Karl. For one thing, you've just posted an article above detailing the attempted stifling of dissent in neoliberal New Zealand. You may also have noted a phenomenon that is prevalent throughout our neoliberal world (i.e. the West), where ideological heretics are banned from social media, or in some cases lose their livelihoods, when they dare step off the neoliberal bandwagon of acceptable viewpoints. We are all familiar with the tactics of the mob who enforce the neoliberal ideology: "racist" "homophobe" "bigot" etc. In fact, you've posted many times in the past on the tangible threats to free speech in the neoliberal West. Twitter purges, Facebook censorship, YouTube deplatforming and many other examples come to mind. The idea is "you are either liberal, or else you are a Nazi and will be destroyed." This is paradigm totalitarian stuff. I could go on if you like, but I think that I've ably refuted your implausible denial of the stifling of dissent in neoliberal societies.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Karl.

These are exactly the sorts of biases and potential conflicts of interest that journalists should be investigating.

There is a lot of them, and I have posted them to your blog before. Sadly, there's no room in journalism for investigative journalists with a proper transparency and public interest agenda.

Even Shaun Plunket proved incredulous in respect of some very good information which one day, if he is still around, he will appreciate he was privileged to have received rather than put upon.

Best regards to consistently discerning you.

Karl du Fresne said...

Madam Blavatsky,
All I can say is that your concept of neoliberalism is far removed from mine.
Incidentally, if I may display a little neo-illiberalism, I have humoured you this far by posting your often querulous comments, but you're testing my patience. This could be resolved by the simple act of identifying yourself. I'm under no obligation to engage in exchanges with people who shelter behind pseudonyms.

Max Ritchie said...

The people attempting to stifle dissent in NZ (and in many cases succeeding) are not neo-liberals, or any other type of liberal. Mostly they are left-wing fascists n the proper sense of that description ie advocating State control.

R Singers said...

@Max Ritchie a fair chunk are just secular Calvinists who have got a little bit wound up.

Anonymous said...

In a way, they are both correct; and both wrong. It depends what angle you look at t all from.

The communists are at work on the ground. Useful idiots or behind in their mortgage payments?

It’s not always clear, even to an ageing former spook like me.

What is clear is that the communists and other radicals were actively recruited through various organisations that were not quite as they presented themselves: groups that presented themselves as grassroots, which the media reported on as being grassroots, but which were, ultimately, slaves to the corporate agendas of some of the wealthiest hedge funds in the world.

Klaus Schwarb has a bust of Lenin for in his office, does that make him a communist? Larry Fink claims to see both corporate profits and environmental solutions in the buy up of vast tracts of farmland.

What really motivates them? Is the “woke” philosophy about social progress, communist agitation, or a divisive propaganda smokescreen behind which lies pure corporate greed?

Andy Espersen said...

Disgusting – isn’t it?

Also here in Nelson I spotted the STUFF-owned Nelson Mail front page headline, “Candidates’ links to conspiracists” (by journalist Amy Ridout, Sat. August 27th). She objects to this group’s stated aim, “to make New Zealand ungovernable” (Voices for Freedom –VFF). And she obviously thinks that is a good enough reason to disallow members standing for council! They had a leading role in Parliament grounds “occupation” (sic – it was in fact a legal protest). Shock- horror : they are against forced vaccination!! Well – so what! It is perfectly legal to be against forced vaccination. As it happens, our own Human Rights Legislation is also against that!!!. Thousands of New Zealand citizens have martyred themselves to defend our existing Human Rights Legislation against their own government!! This is terrible to contemplate – and makes me ashamed to call myself a New Zealander. But I greatly admire them.

If any group is able to achieve making New Zealand ungovernable by democratic, non-violent means – I say, good on them! If our politicians will not hear what citizens are telling them, and if our news media are corrupted by our politicians – then we need to follow groups like VFF. That is how real democracy works.

We have enough legislation to enable police to come down hard on protesters who are not peaceful or law-abiding – by the way, why did police not use their powers to pick out the vandals who eventually joined the original VFF parliament grounds protesters?

Anonymous said...

If any of your readers think it's wrong for a newspaper to identify anti-vaxers and consipiracy theorists, they don't understand the role of the press. This is essential information for voters, just as it's essential to point out the extreme youth or extreme age of candidates, or their known political affiliations. I could never vote for an anti-vaxer and would hate to do so unknowingly. Others might vote for them on that information alone. The facts must be verified before publication, of course.
It is just as essential to give individuals a right of reply to criticism and as you rightly point out, the failure to offer this is one of the reasons for the decline of trust in our media.
As for the anonymity of the FACT crowd, your readers Anonymous, David, Trev 1, The Redbaiter, Ken, and Anna Mouse are equally gutless. (Assuming "Mouse" is made up.) Stand behind your view or shut up. It is a continuing sadness to me that you allow your readers to hide in this way – one of the few things you have got wrong in the four decades I've been following you.
Finally, it's tragic that a journalist with only a year's experience is the chief reporter of a provincial newspaper. It took me seven years of learning from vastly experienced seniors to get there.

Karl du Fresne said...

This most recent comment was posted by my good friend and former colleague Bill Moore, ex-editor of the Nelson Mail. He thought he'd identified himself, but the clunky system defeated him as it has many others. My apologies to all those who have been similarly frustrated.

Max said...

Useful contribution from Bill, so thanks for that. However, the principal issue I have with the media is their apparent bias....

I'd be happy for people right across the spectrum to be 'outed', not just those who the media consider aren't like them.

Gary Peters said...

I truly think your old friend Bill is ill-informed.

The main thrust of the protest, as far as I was concerned, was anti mandate and that confirmed by the many professional, semi professional, tradespeople and ordinary people I spoke with.

I have had all vaccinations that were available as a child and those suitable for international travel when I ventured into a few unhealthy zones 😎

I chose to not have the covid treatment and still stand by that decision.

I have also elected to both take and reject other medical procedures when offered and even advised.

Surely that is my right or do people like Bill now believe they have final say on my medical procedures? How about my finances Bill? Do I need to seek public or government approval for what I spend my money on.

Finally, why is "my body my choice" an acceptable argument in the abortion debate yet not in the covid conversation?

Anonymous said...

Whilst any credible bit of reporting should provide an opportunity for those subject to any allegations, sticking ‘wrong’ in sneering scare quotes doesn’t change the fact that many of these views are conspiratorial, extreme and what most people would consider fringe. Given that VFF have explicitly stated they’re looking to deliberately mislead the public as to candidates true views and true intentions, exposing them would seem a pretty basic journalistic public service function. They of course should be allowed to stand, but if people are looking to deliberately conceal their views and allegiances, surely ensuring the public are informed is something anyone should expect.
There’s quite an irony, that there’s calls to expose who’s behind FACT and what their ideological allegiances may be. I have no issue with that, as there’s far too many groups who’s spokes people get interviewed without anyone questioning their agenda, replacing one double standard with another obviously isn’t the answer.

Trev1 said...

"There is a suspicious lack of interest from so-called disinformation specialists and reporters when it comes to identifying Left-wing conspiracy theories." Steven Edgington writing in the Daily Telegraph today.

In this country Left-wing conspiracy theorists seem to be trotted out as experts on disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Karl du Fresne said...

Once again, readers have posted comments detailing what they allege are the past activities and connections of people who might be described as shadowy agitators and “influencers” on the far left. These commenters don’t identify themselves.

Their claims may well be correct. If that’s the case, I invite them to publish them somewhere else under their own names rather than use this blogsite as a platform. I’m not interested in giving oxygen to conspiracy theories of any type, least of all when the people promoting them want to use me as a cat’s paw while they hide behind the shelter of anonymity.

On that same note, several commenters have responded to Bill Moore. Some make reasonable points, mainly about the perceived dangers of outing themselves, but all are either anonymous or use obvious pseudonyms. Since Bill has the courage to identify himself, it would be unfair to allow others to argue the toss with him unless they’re prepared to do the same. So I’m afraid they’ve wasted their time. (Gary Peters is an honourable exception.)

I greatly value most of the comments on this blog, but how many different ways do I have to say this sort of thing before people get the message? I have better things to do than act as a class monitor.

Andy Espersen said...

Have just read Bill Moore's comment above. Aren't we getting our concepts muddled? Is everybody quite clear in his/her mind about what the subject is about?

To be an anti-vaxer is not at all the same as being against forced vaccination. And all the despised "Voices for Freedom" folks, all the original parliament grounds protesters, all the Brian Tamakis of this world, are all exclusively just against people being forced to be vaccinated. They are for Freedom - with a capital F.

In our modern, twisted journalism, is freedom now an F-word??

Phil said...

Karl, I am grateful that you allow comments but the primary purpose for me is to read your articles. There are a handful of journalists including yourself providing thoughtful commentary on the times we are now living in. In the MSM, other than Newstalk, I haven't read an editorial critique of Jacinda Ardern's leadership in the last 5 years.

Gary Peters said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David McLoughlin said...

As for the anonymity of the FACT crowd, your readers Anonymous, David, Trev 1, The Redbaiter, Ken, and Anna Mouse are equally gutless.

I'm not anonymous. I post under my own name. Finding facts has been my whole career. I have no idea why .blogger removes my family name, making me come up only as david. Maybe I shall just put my signature under my posts? Karl knows I am me, we have known each other professionally for years.

david mcloughlin (journalist).

Trev1 said...

Like David, I seem to be stuck with Trev1, but I have given my full name before on Karl's blog.

Trevor Hughes

Hilary Butler said...

Neo-liberalism. "The reduction of state interventions in economic and social activities and the deregulation of labor and financial markets, as well as of commerce and investments"

The "state", at the moment, cannot be described as neo-liberal, and neither can your former colleague, Bill Moore, who would not vote for someone who was anti-vaccine.

My question is, on what prejudice does Bill assume that someone who is anti-vaccine, would NOT protect his right to have all the vaccines he wants?

I am antivaccine, and for very good reason. But that doesn't extend to imposing my anti-vaccine convictions on anyone else.

People who travel to countries where infections are endemic get vaccines on the assumption that they can walk through the endemic infection swill and not get that infection. So let them get vaccines. Their body their choice. Why then, do those people get back to New Zealand and start insinuating that the few people who choose not to vaccinate, will be the execution instrument of those who do?

IMO, there should be minimal state intervention in economic, medical (it's called making an informed choice) and social activities, and deregulation of labour and financial markets and commerce and investments.

IMO, there should be no such thing as a cashless society and that the current digital ID, track and trace, mandates and all the other versions of societal coerced control, must stop.

As Gary says above, why is it that today's politicians get behind "my body my choice" when it suits them, but reject the same concept when it doesn't suit them?

Everyone should have the right to make their own choices.

Theoretically a neo-liberal government would enable Bill Moore to live his life exactly as he wants according to the choices he makes. He could have all the vaccines he wanted, and would allow me to live my life by my choices determined by my own experiences in the past.

The current government does no such thing. Jacinda has created the harijan, and speaks with a forked tongue. Jacinda's lapdog, the media, beats to the same tune because they are constrained by golden handcuffs, but have also been so brainwashed that they don't need strings any more to say what she wants them to say.

The Media has become the facilitators of an outrage industry based on a biased culture of sensoriousness, using thought-terminating cliches. Like "Trust the science" which has turned out to be wrong at every turn. "Safe and effective". On which planet? "protect others" yeah right. An order I placed in a shop coudn't be fulfilled becuase the quadruple vaccinated "expert" was off work with his third bout of covid.

Everyone knows it. Everyone sees it. Everyone experiences it. Yet, the media still beat to the tune of the cliches everyone experiences are lies.

What Paula Penfold doesn't realise is that harijans, who know history, and understand democracy and neo-liberalism, see right the brainwashed political presstitutes, and other groan-worthy media bobble-heads who click their heels and channel Ardernisms, and parrot nonsense.

Harijans aren't hounded when they go into politics, because they don't matter. They are hounded because harijans shine light where fable-enablers don't want light shone.

Harijans want to give everyone the right to determine their own lives in their own way.

And those in the media, such as cartoonist Tremain, who understand the story of the emperor who had no clothes, and who see clearly what is happening, are cast into the outer "pale" of harijan land.

That is the real tragedy... that the fourth estate is now a bought estate with little clout or scope to point out the obvious.

R Singers said...

Unfortuantely Bill Moore has either missed the point or is deliberately avoiding it. We have the Government paying journalists to write stories about a group of candidates they have chosen to vilify.

Are there stories about all the candidates funded by the Public Interest Journalism fund? No.

Are there in depth investigations into these groups to discover or explain what they're about? No. (David Farrier seems to be the only NZ journalist interested in investigating group membership and that's only Christian groups.)

Are there stories about groups the other candidates belong to? No.

Do I think it's the role of newspapers to just call people names, no I don't. And I'm suprised he's defending it happening.

And on the topic of the media calling people names, Sean Plunket actually bothered to interview Chantelle Baker. It's worth watching and it will suprise you.

Robert Singers
Using my own name on the Internet since 1991.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl , thanks for a considered piece. The taped conversations I had with the News Director were, well amazing. I, like you think that Mary should not shoulder the burden of this either. I just wish they would try for more balance in articles ie actually getting comment from anyone who is the subject of a story before printing stuff. I have also had concerns re letters to the editor for some time. In the end I just gave up expecting any sort of decent right of reply. But there are young reporters there who have been really great to deal with.

Anonymous said...

That last comment was from Tina nixon

Karl du Fresne said...

Bill Moore has asked me to post the following on his behalf:

To be clear, my previous comments were solely about journalistic practice. As an editor, I didn't allow noms de plume and rarely withheld correspondents' names. As a reader, I hope to be well-informed on the issues of the day. In this instance, knowing if a candidate has campaigned for or against Covid vaccination is information of value in my decision-making.
It appears that some of you, like myself, intended to include your names but were defeated by the technology. In that case, you cannot be accused of gutlessness. The rest of you know who you are.

Andy Espersen said...

I was "defeated by technology" at some stage when commenting on Karl's blog. But my computer-knowledgeable son fixed it somehow (though not completely).

But commenting on Bassett, Brash and Hide I am still "defeated". So I simply enter my name ahead of or following each comment.

Alas, I was born 1935 B.C. (before computers).

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Peter Hewson said...

Grateful for that tip about FACT, Anonymous.

If the benefit of allowing anonymous comments is to be better informed, then, I say, go with it.

This organisation seems to have a lot of influence, and I would be seriously concerned If the company Catalyst were involved in local body election management, given Mr Judd’s aggressive biases. I noted this from today: