Wow it’s only been a month since Matthew Hooton was working in “strategic communications” for the NZ National Party Leader, in the Leader of the Opposition’s office at Parliament. No worries, said the NZ Herald, and welcomed him back to political ‘Opinion’ writing with open arms. Photo: Jason Oxenham NZ Herald.
I was asked a question about Matthew Hooton on Twitter recently, and it got me thinking:
“Hooton crops up time and time again in ‘Dirty Politics’. Who funds him?” (click to view on Twitter)
Who funds Matthew Hooton? Gee, that’s a good question.
Hooton used to run a corporate lobbying/PR firm in Auckland. That’s the basis of the frankly risible NZ Herald disclosure statements on his ‘opinion’ columns (hit jobs, really) which variously describe him as ‘an Auckland-based PR consultant’.
As a quick aside, it’s been amusing watching the NZ Herald progressively whitewashing Hooton’s role as a political agent/operative for the NZ National Party. These three examples of the ‘disclosure’ published by NZME at the bottom of his hit pieces in the Herald are all from this month. The Herald must think we readers (I’m a subscriber) are idiots.
Noithing to see here folks. How the NZ Herald has chosen to progressively airbrush out Matthew Hooton’s ‘strategic communications’ role with the National Party’s leaders. What? Do they think it might be embarrassing to admit the Herald’s Politics ‘Opinion writer’ was — up until a month ago — a paid Partisan Political Operative? Might that be seen as, gee, a conflict in the lead-up to general election? OK. So let’s not mention it. (These three increasingly opaque disclosure statements all from August 2020, oldest at the top, most recent on bottom. Tsk.)
Anyway, sometime in the last year or so Hooton’s business website exceltium.com went offline.
www.exceltium.com is now a dead parrot
Hooton also shut down his Twitter account, shortly after his campaign to undermine (some would say ‘politically assassinate’) National Party leader Simon Bridges on behalf of Todd Muller was exposed; and just before he went to work for Muller in the Leader of the Opposition’s office. Continue reading →
UPDATE: Thanks to a reader, I’ve now seen this spiel in which the astroturf lobby group admits abandoning ‘idealogical purity’ and its previous “state[ment] on the record that we would never accept taxpayer funding”.
Like everyone applying for the subsidy, this group would have had to make a declaration that they had experienced, or forecast a 30 percent drop in income. Wow, if so, that happened quick. I guess their donations and sales of souvenirs dried up?
Some useful discussion of this aspect and others, here: sparked by Russell Brown on Twitter (Gosh it would be ironic if this sparked a closer look at this rubbery group’s funding, eh?)
I’ve had skin in this game in the past, and reason to think about it recently in relation to the actions of local (New Zealand) lobbyists The Maxim Institute* (see Unlikely online bully, Liam Hehir). So a recent discussion caught my eye.
This strikes me as a good working definition:
Defining plagiarism is trickier than you might think, but most of the time we distinguish it from other kinds of copying (allusion, quotation) fairly easily: it’s plagiarism if the copyist hopes no one will notice.
Working in news and features, it really doesn’t ‘cost’ a writer much at all to cite a source. But it’s in the creative ‘space’, and politics, and also what’s referred to as ‘original research’ that writers are sometimes tempted to take credit (oh, that phrase!) for the work of others.
No-one’s perfect, including me.
* Speaking of Christians involved in politics, this recent Christianity Today editorial calling for Donald Trump’s ejection from the US Presidency as a ‘profoundly immoral’ and unsuitable person is remarkable and worth a read: Trump Should Be Removed from Office
A long running lawsuit between two stupid Auckland men is finally is over.
“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
A long and bitter court feud between former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Jordan Williams has been settled, with an apology and compensation from Williams.
On Tuesday, Craig sent out a press release saying he’d received a full apology and a payment from Williams, after Williams admitted making false allegations about him.
It means a retrial of a case in which Williams accused Craig of defamation will not go ahead.
I well remember when our lawyers, Earl and Ben from Simpson Grierson, explained to me and two of my authors that once we had filed our lawsuit alleging copyright infringement – against recidivist plagiarists who had copied large chunks, word-for-word, from several of our books and articles, then published them as their own work – the lawyers told us we were said to be ‘engaged’ … and we could only ‘disengage’ by agreement with the parties we were suing, or by a court result.
That felt uncomfortable, and as the mounting expense, the stress, and the shitfight of the litigation escalated, it got really uncomfortable. It also took so long for the foaming guilty party to stop their stupid tub-thumping and own up, make an acceptable settlement offer, to pay damages (any of this sound familiar?) The NZ Herald‘s sardonic business reporter Anne Gibson headlined her story on the end of the legal action: ‘Copyright dispute turns into a saga’. Sigh.
So I have an inkling of the stress these two roosters – Colin Craig and Jordan Williams – have been enduring as this legal fiasco/soap opera has ground on – for years and years. Honestly, I’m relieved and glad for both of them, and their loved ones, that this, at least, is over. I know what an unsatisfactory state of affairs this result must be for them both.
And I don’t like how this development has been reported in some quarters, with an implicit criticism of Colin Craig for using every avenue and opportunity available to him to seek to salvage his burned-beyond-all-recognition reputation from the molten ashes created by a deliberate, concerted, (in my personal opinion, based on what I’ve seen) devious and BAD FAITH smear campaign which aimed to destroy him, and decapitate the Conservative Party.
A page from Colin Craig’s ‘punch back’ booklet ‘Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas’
Katz, J also quashed the ludicrous award of $1.27 million ‘damages’ issued to Williams by a sympathetic/gullible/hypnotised jury who seemed to regard Jordan as a poor wee choir boy – and judged that he was somehow more defamed than Michael Stiassny ($825,000 in damages) whose defamer set up a dedicated website to unfairly smear him and (if I recall correctly) leased a fricken motorway billboard to tell Aucklanders and visitors to the region what an [alleged] lying [alleged] crook he [allegedly] was. (Yeah, I did recall it correctly, see Siemer loses defamation appeal in Stiassny case): Continue reading →
Check. Check. One, two, three, four. Is this thing ON?
Hello readers, I logged in last night (yeah, it’s been a while) to mark THE END of the landmark legal case, Jordan Williams v Colin Craig, which (gulp) reached The Supreme Court, in which New Zealand’s most-defamed man was suing the politician he set out to destroy, for punching back.
It ended quietly, and thank goodness for all of us, it’s over. (Or is it?)
Anyway, that post is still coming; but in the meantime, something else caught my attention:
Hey. there’s no harm in posting this on the internet. This is just ‘a joke’, eh?
One good ‘joke’ deserves another, a few days later…
I expected better from Liam Hehir, a lawyer who moonlights as a social conservative (i.e. religious right) essayist. Liam used to write a newspaper column and still does for a few websites as well as the ‘Maxim Institute’. That’s an activist Evangelical Christian lobby group disguised as a ‘think tank’ which apparently sources its ‘thinks’ from equally opaquely-named North American-based activist conservative/Christian groups like ‘The Heritage Foundation’ which can be seen as part of what we used to call The Moral Majority. In turn, Maxim can be seen as seeking to promote here in New Zealand what one observer calls ‘American-style religion-based politics’.
The Maxim Institute is still living down various plagiarism scandals from quite a while ago, and (earlier this year) one of its senior figures being caught in the act using a false name in his ‘letters to the editor’ campaign (like, multiple editors, multiple newspapers – see below) against a proposed referendum on assisted suicide for terminally-ill patients. This was, I think aptly described as ‘a particularly devious tactic‘ at the time by the newspaper columnist who uncovered it, Martin Hanson, writing in The Gisborne Times.
Religious dogma cuts very little ice with most people, so they [the Christian activists opposed to euthanasia] have to devise an alternative strategy to avoid any mention of their real motive.
To put it mildly, concocting non-religious arguments has proved challenging, not least, for truth.
A particularly devious tactic has recently come to light in the newspapers. A certain “Stephen Francis” has written letters to The Dominion Post, The Gisborne Herald, The Southland Times, Hawke’s Bay Today, Rodney Times, The Northland Age and most recently The Whanganui Chronicle, all arguing against David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill.
Anyway, no big thing, OK? but Liam and I fell out on Twitter (hey, it happens. It’s Twitter) over what I saw as a lack of proper disclosure of his roles for the National Party, specifically his work as the electorate chair for the party in Palmerston North some years ago. Look, I’d read and enjoyed maybe half a dozen of his essays and somehow escaped knowing that.
The Spinoff website prominently posted a disclosure (his disclosure) on a recent typically entertaining article by Liam about a 17 year old schoolboy being selected as the National Party candidate for Palmerston North.
Credit to The Spinoff for, I guess, turning Liam’s throwaway disclosure into part of the lead on his ‘opinion’ column, eh? Good on them. But that disclosure surprised me and I said so: Continue reading →
What she says about the unintended consequences and effects of public shaming via the internet (the web and social media’s ability to shame someone to death) reminded me of this comment, which I shared here in 2015, coincidentally:
On three occasions during my ‘career’ as an online critic and avenging angel I have deliberately pulled back from castigating a ‘target’.
In all three cases, I became concerned at what appeared to me to be the real possibility that the person whose actions and modus operandi I was criticising might do themselves physical harm as a result of the stress they were experiencing in response to my criticism…
If anything, since then, I’ve become more sensitive to this issue, and the risks. And, to a certain extent (but not completely), I’ve lost my appetite for the bombastic calling-out of scumbags.
I have cited this wise saying before: “Don’t argue with an idiot. People watching might not be able to tell the difference.”
“Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,” says Monica Lewinsky.
In 1998, she says, “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” Today, the kind of online public shaming she went through has become constant — and can turn deadly. In a brave talk, she takes a hard look at our online culture of humiliation, and asks for a different way.
Jeremy Hardy has died, aged 57, from cancer. He was a hero of mine, an absolute craftsman with words.
In a world that values eloquence and intelligent, good faith argument, but has to often make do with ‘debate’, Hardy stood apart as a man who could couch the toughest criticisms in a comedy shell.
He was so much more than a poltically-aware comedian and writer. He was a committed man, with great intellect, wit, and an attention span, who knew how to build a sharp verbal spear, to make his point – and he was good hearted with it.
I first encountered him (‘found’ him), as many did, through his work with BBC panel shows, notably The News Quiz, which has been a staple for me for years.
It was a shock last night to tune in to The News Quiz podcast (BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy) and hear the news of Jeremy Hardy’s death, and the brief tribute from Miles Jupp.
Go well Jeremy. We were so lucky to have you.
My sympathies to his family and those who loved him.
This page, from Jeremy Hardy’s official website, reads most poignantly, now. Especially the last line.
Shouting ‘lügenpresse!’ – political operative, professional smear artist Matthew Hooton sets out to discredit a news organisation.
National Party loyalist and paid political propagandist Matthew Hooton stooped to another low strategy recently, responding to a news report embarrassing to the National Party’s Simon Bridges with allegations of ‘corrupt’ journalism.
I’ve noticed that when he’s under pressure, Hooton seems to opt for breathless conspiracy theories and smears. The last one we discussed here at The Paepae, you may recall, was his complaint that the Electoral Commission had [allegedly] acted “unlawfully” in its efforts to increase voter turnout for the 2017 General Election.
It was all part of a dastardly plot, Hooton screeched, to swing the election to Labour’s Jacinda Ardern – because the ‘missing million’ voters the Commission was targeting in its voter participation campaign would (according to Hooton) be ‘overwhelmingly’ left-voting, thus disadvantaging his beloved right wing National Party. I thought that was pretty much out in woo-woo territory (see ‘Why is Matthew Hooton SO UPSET at efforts to increase voter turnout?‘).
But this week, in response to a news story on TV3/Newshub Matthew Hooton really went spare. He reached into a dark corner of the propagandist toolbox.
Apparently in a state of high upset, Hooton accused a prominent TV political editor of ‘corruptly’ running ‘a despicable smear campaign’ (oh, the irony) against the National Party leader. The reporter was, it should be said, merely doing her job, reporting a news story. But in Hooton’s fevered conspiracy theory, she is engaged in a ‘personal vendetta’ to remove Bridges as National Party leader, having formed a view he’s ‘not modern enough’ to lead the party. (Don’t get me started on his other conspiracy theory about how women in senior journalism roles is somehow A Very Bad Thing for his beloved National Party. Matthew, pls.)
His preposterous, bullshit claim of a ‘vendetta’ carried out by an ‘extreme left-wing’ journalist is no innocent misunderstanding. It’s a strategy.
Hooton, for whatever reason, most likely his longstanding partisan loyalty to National (“deep in my DNA” remember, as he said here) is peddling a ‘lügenpresse‘-style (lit. ‘The lying press’) conspiracy theory: smearing news coverage of which he doesn’t approve as ‘corrupt’ and untrustworthy. What a piece of work. Desperate.
Listen as Matthew Hooton first coldly, then hotly and very deliberately smears and defames Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien – and with her, effectively the whole Newshub news network, every journalist, editor and producer.
The other voices are RadioLIVE Drive hosts Ryan Bridges and Amanda Gillies, and former president of the Labour Party Mike Williams. Even Williams, one of Hooton’s regular dance partners, remarks that he’s struck by Hooton’s extreme “even for him” hissy fit and nonsense.
A wry aside: Notice how Bridges introduced Hooton so sweetly — even using the collusive ‘political commentator’ cover he operates under in the media — before realising that, oops, on this occasion, Hooton’s mask had slipped and instead of sweet, reasonable Dr Jekyll, it was Mr Hyde, the full-blown snarling, spitting, breathless political propagandist and smear artist on the line.
It was an innocent joke, police inspector, I promise.
A while ago, in relation to Murray McCully’s emails, we discussed the motivations of leakers, particularly poltical leakers, and I suggested that Every source leaks for a reason, Patrick in a post I illustrated with this ‘The best hackers are Russian’ T-shirt – which seems ironic at all sorts of levels now.
Today, Axios writer Jonathan Swan has published a fantastic brief on this subject, centred on the dysfunctional Trump White House, in which leaks have been a feature since Day one.
The big picture: The leaks come in all shapes and sizes: small leaks, real-time leaks, weaponized leaks, historical leaks. Sensitive Oval Office conversations have leaked, and so have talks in cabinet meetings and the Situation Room. You name it, they leak it.
My colleague Mike Allen, who has spent nearly 20 years covering the White House, says we learn more about what’s going on inside the Trump White House in a week than we did in a year of the George W. Bush presidency.
This White House leaks so much that meetings called to bemoan leaks begin with acknowledgement the bemoaning will be leaked, which is promptly leaked…by several leakers in a smallish room.
Why does this White House leak like it’s going out of style? I reached out to some of the Trump administration’s most prolific leakers — people who have been wonderful sources to me (and, I assume, plenty of other reporters) — to get them to explain the draw.
“To be honest, it probably falls into a couple of categories,” one current White House official tells me. “The first is personal vendettas. And two is to make sure there’s an accurate record of what’s really going on in the White House.”
“To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me,” the current White House official added.
“The most common substantive leaks are the result of someone losing an internal policy debate,” a current senior administration official told me. “By leaking the decision, the loser gets one last chance to kill it with blowback from the public, Congress or even the President.”
“Otherwise,” the official added, “you have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending ‘Mexican Standoff.’ Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it’s only a matter of time before someone shoots. There’s rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first.”
A former senior White House official who turned leaking into an art form made a slightly more nuanced defense of the practice. “Leaking is information warfare; it’s strategic and tactical — strategic to drive narrative, tactical to settle scores,” the source said.
Another former administration official said grudges have a lot to do with it. “Any time I leaked, it was out of frustration with incompetent or tone-deaf leadership,” the former official said.
“Bad managers almost always breed an unhappy workplace, which ultimately results in pervasive leaking,” the former official added. “And there has been plenty of all those things inside this White House. Some people use leaking to settle personal scores, or even worse to attack the President, but for me it was always to make a point about something that I felt was being unjustly ignored by others.”
Be smart: To any would-be leakers who are considering the practice, I’m also told leaking is pretty fun. Give me a call if you’d like to try it out. — Axios
Imagine having the reputation “A former senior White House official who turned leaking into an art form…” Wow.
In a fascinating and well worthwhile discussion between James Comey and Benjamin Wittes in this week’s Lawfare podcast, it was striking that one of the questions Comey felt he didn’t have enough information to comment on was one he was asked about the possible motivations of Mark Felt, the FBI executive who was ‘Deep Throat’ in the Nixon/Watergate scandal days.
Too good not to share. I spotted this graphic on Twitter (somehow Amanda Gillies’ tweet sharing it got to me) but it’s around. So excellent! The oldest link I could find was here. If you have a better idea of its provenance, drop me a line as a comment.
Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.
Chilling. Not just because it’s a Trump thing. This is propaganda.
To think about: What does this parroting of an obvious top-down script say about the integrity of the ‘news’ organisations?
I’m glad it’s been exposed for the shabby little spin that it was.
A side issue raised by the Cambridge Analytica exposé is the revelation that the subterranean dirty political operators use a feature of end-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail – expiring messages (sometimes called ‘self-destructing’ messages, no doubt in homage to TV show Mission: Impossible and its classic line, “This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.”)
Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix has been ‘suspended’, as a part of damage control arising from his revelations to Channel 4’s hidden camera reporter.
A quirky detail is his instructions to his supposed new client to ‘Set up a ProtonMail account‘ (“Nobody knows we have it,” Nix said, in a worthy entry in Famous Last Words) and his description of how CA use ProtonMail with settings to make the encrypted email messages ‘disappear’ after two hours.
So, how do you suppose ProtonMail might be responding to all this inadvertent worldwide product placement?
Cambridge Analytica’s Mark Turnbull, the managing director of CA Political Global and CEO Alexander Nix filmed in a hidden camera sting, in which Nix was secretly recorded describing in detail how his operatives have operated hidden camera stings.
Good god. This is devastating. And, at another level, deeply ironic.
Watch below. 19 minutes of your time well-spent.
And to think we used to regard Crosby Textor as ratbags, huh? Just goes to show.
This exposé also puts into context our local wannabe political activists highlighted in Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics — remember his account of Cameron Slater sniffing around for ‘dirt’ on politicians and journalists, even asking a former prostitute friend to check with her mates working in brothels for salacious details? And Slater Jnr sending his apprentice Jordan Williams down to a pub in Wellington late at night on a wild goose chase – futilely looking to get a photo of a senior politician worse-for-wear? Pfft.
I reckon Dirty Politicsjust scratched the surface, and it sounds like this Cambridge Analytica crowd would fit right in.
Into the bloodstream
There’s a lot notable in the video, including that line from Mark Turnbull about feeding weaponised information “into the bloodstream of the internet” – and doing it in such a way that it’s not recognised for what it is — and doesn’t trigger a reaction of: ‘That’s propaganda’.
Because the next question is, ‘Who put it out?’
As we’ve seen, there’s a lot of hidden action in this dirty politics/dirty PR/attack PR world.
Nice to have the lid lifted a bit.
This is worth a listen too:
Boy with all this FB/Cambridge Analytica stuff going down, the timing couldn’t be better to listen to @aleksk’s latest #digihuman episode about the vortex, 3rd person effect, & confirmation bias & hostile media. https://t.co/lxiCx2L6WA