Dirty laundry

The response on the part of the National government to the out-of-left-field publication of Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager has been almost as revealing as the content of the book itself.

Members of National’s traditional constituency, the well heeled, the business and farming communities probably won’t admit it, but they’ll be feeling queasy when they find how routinely the Government uses a potty-mouthed, puerile bully, aka Whale Oil (Cameron Slater), to attack its opponents.

Judith Collins features heavily in the book and the dialogue between herself and Slater reveals far more of the vicious and vindictive Collins that surfaces only occasionally in the public arena. She’s been happily feeding him scuttlebutt for years, faithfully reproduced on Whale Oil.

Key is determinedly keeping his distance from the National party flunkies implicated in the story. Perhaps predictably he is trying to control the narrative with responses along the lines of:

  • the claims made in the book are ‘dissolving before our eyes’
  • it’s perfectly normal to ‘brief’ bloggers as well as the mainstream media because social media is such an important part of modern communications
  • the content of the book is based on stolen emails
  • but everyone else does it, so why can’t we.

Well, let’s take a closer look. Apart from a claim made about Collins intervening to move a prisoner that appears fairly circumstantial, nothing in the book has been seriously challenged.

As for briefing bloggers, well yes that’s fine – but does the Government also “brief” bloggers such as The Standard or Public Address, which take a perhaps less pro-National line than the likes of Kiwiblog and Whale Oil? And there’s a big difference between the mainstream media and blog writers like Cameron Slater, David Farrar – and me for that matter. They’re not bound by journalistic standards or ethics or basic fact-checking obligations and in Kiwiblog/Whale Oil there seems little or any attempt to moderate the often vitriolic and hate-filled comment threads.

Stolen emails? I understand much of the chatter that was passed to Nicky Hager was in the form of Facebook messages, not just emails. But yes, they were sourced after someone mounted a cyber attack on Whale Oil’s system in response to Slater’s “feral” slur about a young man killed on the West Coast. So Hager has material taken without authorisation and he has to tread a fine ethical line. He pointed out in an interview today that he had refrained from publishing any of the personal details also included in the 8 gigabytes of data.

I was somewhat surprised earlier this year when Whale Oil was given the 2014 Canon Media Award for best blog. Apparently it was for his breaking the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang affair story – it would be interesting to know how much digging he did on his own behalf for that one. There was a fair bit of criticism at the time from other journalists but most of this was slapped down – honour among thieves and all that.

So what’s going to become of this? Nicky Hager has written a good, carefully crafted book that throws more light on a process that we all kind of knew goes on, but is far more deeply institutionalised within the National Government than we might have realised. If Judith Collins really does fancy her chances of taking over as leader in the post-Key era, this book does her no favours. Most National supporters (like those in Epsom) will probably just shrug and smirk like their Dear Leader, hold their noses and carry on.

Labour will probably kicking themselves that they’ve chosen their relentlessly Pollyanna-ish “Vote Positive” tagline, because this book has plenty of juicy material to tempt them down off the moral high ground and get stuck into National and their right wing blogger friends.

At this stage the story still has legs and it’s going to add another dimension to what is shaping to be a seriously loopy election campaign.

Update: Key gets slippery in Monday’s Morning Report.


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