Monday, June 19, 2023

On hatchet jobs and offence archaeology

I read something by Andrea Vance at the weekend. Why? Good question. I think I read Vance to assure myself that I’m not missing anything by not reading her. Figure that out if you can.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair, because she has done some good work. I remember a column of hers from 2021 in which she gave the government a robust and deserved serve for being obsessively secretive.

Regrettably her piece yesterday, which purported to be an analysis of electorates to watch in the 2023 general election, was marred by the familiar Stuff slant. This is now so embedded that you barely notice it.  

Referring to the Maungakiekie seat, Vance wrote that Labour candidate Priyanca Radhakrishnan had name recognition as a minister (oh yes, everyone’s heard of her), while National’s Greg Fleming had “attracted headlines for only the wrong reasons”.

To see what those reasons were, we had to go to another Vance story from April in which she recited a list of National contenders who had made dicks of themselves.

Her chief target then was Taieri candidate Stephen Jack, who revealed himself as an unreconstructed 1970s Neanderthal when he posted a video on Facebook that included the line, “I like my Covid like I like my women – 19 and easy to spread”. Even an after-dinner speaker at a rugby club prizegiving would baulk at that.

Vance then listed others who had similarly distinguished themselves, including Sam Uffindell, Jami-Lee Ross, Andrew Falloon, Hamish Walker and Jake Bezzant.

Fair enough: National does have a serious problem with candidate selection. I was reminded of that when I saw Uffindell standing behind Luxon at a policy announcement on the TV news a few nights ago. Uffindell seems such an unappealing candidate that if I were a National strategist, I’d go to inordinate lengths – possibly even drugging his drink or breaking his legs – to keep him out of the public view. That permanently blank face makes me wonder whether he even has a pulse. He’s a reminder of all that’s wrong with National’s random idiot generator, to use Vance’s witty phrase (credit where credit’s due). But how did Fleming make the list of shame?

For that we had to go back nearly 20 years to when he was chief executive of the Maxim Institute. Yes, you read that correctly: 20 years.

There’s a term for this tactic; it’s called offence archaeology. It involves trawling back through printed and online records – even going back decades, as in this case – in the hope of digging up a statement or event that might be used to smear a political enemy. It’s a tactic that's used almost exclusively against the Right, as on this occasion.

Vance’s story linked to a recent hatchet job on Fleming by Newshub’s Jenna Lynch – yes, that paragon of journalistic excellence – which recalled that while with the Maxim Institute in 2004, he issued a statement opposing the Civil Unions Bill. In it, he said civil unions were same-sex marriage in all but name and suggested the government might as well go the whole hog and formally recognise relations based on polygamy and incest.

Characteristically, Newshub presented the story in the most prejudicial manner possible, using the headline: National candidate Greg Fleming compared civil unions to polygamy and incest – thus neatly ignoring that his statement plainly wasn't meant to be taken literally. Lesson: never give the woke media an excuse to present a flippant or ironic statement as if it were intended seriously. If they can twist it to make you look bad, be sure they will. 

This was hardly surprising, of course, given Lynch's record. But then, like the other half in a tag wrestling team, Vance took up the attack. 

Vance clearly regarded Fleming’s 2004 press release as being on a par, in terms of offensiveness, with sending a pornographic image to a teenager (Falloon), assaulting a boy with a bed-leg (Uffindell) or having sex with staff members (Ross).

She called Fleming’s statement homophobic, a routinely overused word that means hatred or fear of homosexuals. But to oppose civil unions didn’t imply hatred of gays and lesbians. It was a rational and predictable response from a moral conservative to a Bill that profoundly changed the legal status of same-sex relationships, which many Christians regarded as wrong.

Oh, but I forgot: you’re no longer allowed to be a moral conservative, and to be Christian is even riskier. Christians are equated with sexual abuse, patriarchy and fundamentalism; think Gloriavale.

So Fleming’s statement on behalf of a legitimate conservative lobby group is disinterred nearly 20 years later and now results in him being equated with sleazebags and morons like Ross and Jack.

Sorry, make that ultra-conservative lobby group, which is how Vance described both Fleming and the Maxim Institute. I suspect that in the eyes of some press gallery journalists, pretty much anyone to the right of Luxon is ultra-conservative and therefore beyond the pale.

Funny how we never hear the term ultra-Left; presumably, only conservative people are capable of taking scary, extreme positions. (Wellington city councillor Tamatha Paul, who’s standing for the Greens in Wellington Central, got a mention in Vance’s story, but there was nothing to indicate that many Wellingtonians view her as a dangerous zealot. She’s on the right side, after all.)

Perhaps the saddest part about all this is that Fleming has responded exactly as we have come to expect from spineless National politicians when they find themselves in the gun from scalp-hunting journalists. He has given his tormentors the satisfaction of resiling from his statement in 2004 and assuring them he would never say the same thing now.  He’s taking his cue, of course, from his leader, who seems desperate to reassure the media that he won’t interfere with the right to kill unborn babies, regardless of what he might have thought about abortion when he entered Parliament.

It’s worth noting here that not content with impugning Fleming’s credentials, Vance also used her story about potential swing seats to take a snide swipe at former long-serving Nelson MP Nick Smith. “National insiders used to talk about ‘the Nick Smith Effect’ whereby locals stubbornly continue to vote for an incumbent for reasons that seem unfathomable to outsiders,” she sighed exasperatedly.

Those pathetic, benighted voters in Nelson! How could they be so stupid? Why didn’t they ask Vance for her advice about who to vote for? How could the locals possibly know what’s best for them?

She conveniently didn’t mention that the people of Nelson liked Smith enough to elect him as mayor last year with a stonking majority of more than 9000 votes. Here, writ large, is the lethal combination of intellectual arrogance, bigotry and elitism that continues to eat away at the credibility of political journalism.



Anonymous said...

Great article. Both Lynch and Vance are so biased they're actually dangerous.

Gary Peters said...

Right, we know the problem but what the hell is the solution? Boycott all media?

Trev1 said...

Both Vance and Stuff's proprietor, Sinead Boucher, hail from Northern Ireland. Both seem to be pushing a radical Left agenda. Do they miss the "Troubles " of their native land, and are they intent on promoting division here? I do wonder.

R Singers said...

Where's the border between reading the work of these people for "research" and it just being plan masochism?

I promise you, spending the same time watching this digger being rescued from blue clay is going to leave you feeling less dirty and more entertained than anything NZ's legacy media can manage.

And to @Gary Peters, yes starve them of money including "clicks". The whole edifice needs to collapse so something better can take its place.

Jordan Heathcote said...

To say the quiet part out loud, they are going to evolve the Right towards the populist side more and more behaving like this.

You are only legitimate as a Right wing leader or politician if the legacy media HATES you. Unless they seethe at your very sight, you are just a weak cup of tea.

Journalists are deeply hated because they have this immense power to punish and bully, then cry when pushed back on for their lies and misrepresentations. It has become obvious how much they lie and misrepresent in the age of the internet. Why do I care if there is a 'free press' when it is just a bully pulpit to punish wrongthinkers which includes myself?

The reactionary criticism that Democracy is simply rule by the Rich via the ownership of Media to impose political narratives on the masses rings true constantly when one reads Stuff.

The obvious evolutionary path here is that a wealth man will spin his own media apparatus up and use the Trumpian tactic of constantly attacking, belittling and undermining the media, spreading distrust of it for popularity while cultivating their own media to spread their message, impose policy etc.

hughvane said...

I said it in response to Karl’s previous post about journalism in NZ ... ie. “ these rabid, raving media 'journos' [Andrea Vance included] are part of a cabal, with predetermined agendas to sink anything vaguely or definitively right-of-centre”.

The tragic parallel to that is/are the Nats lumbering and stumbling toward the election in October. An example: a Facebook item showing Christopher Luxon sitting in a tractor cab at Fieldays with a soppy grin on his face. Wow, that’s going to persuade the politically swinging and uncertain Urbanites.

Another is how National is going to get tough on crime - and gangs - the two being synonymous apparently. We're spared detail, so it becomes a guessing game.

Someone in the think tank of the National Party machinery chose those two examples as promoting Mr Luxon, and the Party. Aaaaaagh!

Thus Andrea Vance and her ilk have all the childish material they need, right there in print and image.


D'Esterre said...

Jenna Lynch: aptly-named, is she not?

"..offence archaeology"

Nice: I hadn't heard that one before. Does that aphorism also come from Vance? And if it's being applied to pollies, perhaps Vance herself needs to be careful. Some of us still remember the Peter Dunne imbroglio, a decade or so ago. Sauce for the goose and all that....

"He has given his tormentors the satisfaction of resiling from his statement in 2004..."

The spinelessness of National candidates and of Luxon himself infuriates me. If they want us to vote for them, they need to stop being so pusillanimous and stand by their statements and opinions. This week, Nicola Willis is holding a public meeting in a nearby suburb. If I decide to go, I'll be saying exactly that.

Their flip-flops don't engender confidence in their willingness to make tough decisions. For instance, 3 Waters as it is proposed needs to be abandoned, as does the co-governance policy being forced upon NZ.

For what it's worth, I don't give a tinker's toss what people like Sam Uffindell did when they were young and silly. I'm much more concerned with how they'll behave as MPs. They'll be there to GOVERN, not to be top of the popularity stakes. If they turn out to be useless, as well as behaving unethically, out they go, and deservedly.

Birdman said...

To reiterate my comment on Karl's previously excellent post on these ex-professionals, they are invariably puerile and childish attempts at criticism where their measure is often of an immeasurably small mind.

The guy who attended Luxon's New Plymouth meeting had it right when he noted that “you need to grow some balls and get some mongrel in you.". Too true and that goes for all the Nats. Seymour continues to get cut through because he does have the balls to say what needs to be said and provide policies people will vote for.

Just another example of pathetic RNZ bias this morning with the comparative interviews of Ginny Andersen and Paul Goldsmith over dealing with gangs. Guess who got the powder puff versus the continual interruptions and attack.

Karl du Fresne said...

I think you're probably drawing a long bow in wondering whether it's significant that both Vance and Boucher were born in Northern Ireland. Pure coincidence, I'd say.

Karl du Fresne said...

I first came across the term "offence archaeology" when it was used by Toby Young, associate editor of (and a columnist in) the Spectator. He was a victim of it.

Alex said...

What a ridiculous statement .

What then is the reason that most other journalists are biased toward the left ?

Clearly neither of them incited the troubles, as you call it, so why would you infer that they would want the same here.
If they were German would you assume that they support invading European countries?

At least their version of journalism has some, albeit tenuous ,relationship with reality.
Which is more than can be said for your attempt to cast undeserved aspersions.

Karl du Fresne said...

I think the above comment was intended for Trev1.

Brendan McNeill said...

There is every reason to believe Greg Flemming will win the Maungakiekie seat come election day. Presumably this is why the the left are agitated into digging through 20 years or more of his public statements. I'm sure the publicity will do him no harm.

Trev1 said...

I think there's a legitimate point to be made about foreign-born journalists, or politicians and academics for that matter, promoting radical agendas here based on their experiences in their countries of origin. Karl advanced a similar thesis in his column on 7 June when he wrote of New Zealand as a "blank canvas for the culture wars".

Northern Ireland is a place where communal divisions run deep and, from my dealings with people from that place, leave real scars including, in some, a very particular view of the world divided into "oppressors" and "oppressed".

Paul Peters said...

I agree with Trev1.
I was thinking about this some years ago when I saw Stuff's drift sharply to distancing with UK ties, ''colonialism'', flag, etc
From the profiles I have read neither appear, in my views, likely to be sympathetic to the UK, especially England, and protestant monarchs. Whether they worked there or not is irrelevant.
I could say similar about a few others on Stuff I know who hold similar anti-UK views. Their world view fits neatly into and runs in line with that of the current LGM government on race and nationality, purging anything Brit from the masthead etc
Religion a long bow? Perhaps, but I personally know ex -Stuff who are most strongly of the world view above; lapsed yes, but it sure comes out nastily when they drink. Hatred would be a fair description.
They can hold and push whatever view they wish, of course, I just object to my taxes funding an ideological propaganda machine . If I want to fund one I can do it myself.

Paul Peters said...

I would like to add the ex staff I know are of a similar Scots/Scots-Irish/Irish mix background , as am I with Cornish and Breton thrown in . A Celtic brew! Discussion can be robust with valid points on both side
Anyway the bottom line is we taxpayers should not have to fund Stuff. Then it can do what it likes subject to laws we are all (mmmm ??) to comoply with

Richard said...

I was interested in Vance's take on Ohariu. An electorate she has a certain history in.
Apparently the sitting member, Labour's Greg O'Connor is gaining traction by suggesting that he will have more time to 'look after the electorate', against Nicola Willis, who as likely MoF and Deputy PM (?), will be far too busy.
She apparently hasn't consider why O'Connor has plenty of spare time after 6 years as local MP. The fact he wasn't considered for Police Minister despite a lifetime spent there prior to being an MP, might suggest he is, well, useless. Any doubt on that would be removed by a wander through the lifeless J'Ville Mall, which he promised to fix.
I suspect the old adage 'if you want something done, give it to a busy person' would be more appropriate here. Or could I suggest Vance shows an inherent lack of confidence in a woman to do the job against 'one of the boys'.

Ben Thomas said...

I am afraid that I cannot take Vance seriously as a journalist. Anyone who worked for the News of the World has zero credibility.

Alex said...

Trev and Paul sound more like Andrea than Andrea.

D'Esterre said...

Ah: so journalists are fair game, too? All right, then: Peter Dunne. People can trawl the online archives with regard to that particular saga. I don't think it reflected particularly well on her.

In truth, I'm not a fan of the practice of digging up dirt on people who're in the public eye, unless it's germane to a stance they might be taking.

Nobody's perfect, and I've known people who might have considered politics, were it not for personal issues in their past which they preferred to keep private.

Frederick Williscroft said...

Nick Smith was an incredibly hard working and popular MP for Nelson. When he went to the Nelson labour party headquarters to congratulate Rachel Boyack on her victory in the 2020 election he was given a sincere and heartfelt rendition of "he's a jolly good fellow". Those there, unlike Vance, recognised someone who had given sterling service to the electorate.

I thought Vance's article was flawed straight from the off when she predicted that the election would be close, based on the latest "Labour internal polling" which she then detailed. Funny how this internal polling is only revealed intermittently and always shows them in or near the lead. As reliable as the Wellington bus service. I find it annoying that she and Stuff only use this polling when it suits their narrative.

Gary Peters said...

I posed a question, what do we do about it, yet it seems no one has an answer. Shame about that.

Also Karl, I'd like to commenton part of your post.

"assaulting a boy with a bed-leg (Uffindell)"

Would it not read better and be more accurate thus,

"assaulting another boy with a bed-leg (Uffindell)"

I think it needs to be made clear that Uffindell was a youngster himself and in the company of others. He may have been the instigator or not but surely he should not be pilloried for actions taken as an immature kid.

I am quite certain that should the perpetrator of the sexual assaults at the labour party youth camp ever reach a higher station within the party his indiscretions will be dismissed as "youthful stupidity".

If it were the case that we should all be held accountable for our youthful stupidities then I for one would have some serious issues to deal with.

Speaking of Uffindell, as you were, I thought I'd post a bit of his CV.

"He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Studies and a Bachelor of Commerce in Management at the University of Otago. While at university, he and his flatmates competed in an online competition for Dunedin's filthiest flat, and city health inspectors visited three times.[7]

After university, he worked in banking for ten years in Sydney and in Singapore, including working in financial crime at Westpac and becoming a vice president at Deutsche Bank.[8][9] He gained a Master of International Law and International Relations from the University of New South Wales.[9]

Uffindell returned to New Zealand in 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic. As of early 2022 he was the head of financial economic crime for Rabobank New Zealand, and was a partner in his wife's fertiliser supply business."

As a father of a son who attended Otago twice, there is nothing in that CV that would make me think less of the man, whatever his appearance 😎

Karl du Fresne said...

Uffindell was several years older, and presumably a good deal bigger, than the boy he assaulted. While there are many of us who wouldn't wish to be reminded of everything we did in our adolescence, I think we're entitled to form some conclusions as to his character.
As for his qualifications, I came to the conclusion long ago that letters after people's names and impressive-looking CVs don't necessarily tell us much about them. That applies on both sides of politics.

Gary Peters said...

Fair enough Karl but he was 16.

I'm 67 and I got my ankle broken at High School during 3rd form hazing and many of those involved were a bit older than 16 so that form of bullying has been around for quite a while.

A VP at Deutsche Bank is a high office and not granted to "non team players".

Anyway, we need experienced and competent people in government and so far Uffindell hasn't had the opportunity to show his mettle. Should he fail to do so I'm pretty sure both his electorate and caucus will take action.