By happy coincidence, as I was driving with family to Hunua Falls (above) for a swim and a picnic on Good Friday, I tuned into Radio NZ National in time to hear a panel discussion from a book festival held in Christchurch last year. It featured Guardian reporter and The Snowden Files author Luke Harding, Perth (Australia) journalist and author Richard KIng (Offence), and Nicky Hager whose book Dirty Politics had just been published.
Having enjoyed (if that’s the right word) Harding’s Snowden book, and devoured Nicky Hager’s (see Read it and weep. Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ and following) I found it interesting listening — especially a turn in the conversation where Hager was asked and talked about how he’d approached a source who had obtained a tranche of attack blogger Cameron Slater’s communications … and then explained the source’s motives.
You can hear the whole discussion by clicking on the links in that Radio NZ image above (let me know if that doesn’t work — I’ve archived it). But here’s a 7 minute clip of the relevant section. In it, Hager describes the dirty tricks politicians and sleazy PR companies used to “discourage, distract, demoralise, demonise and delegitimise” their opponents – and how Cameron Slater’s online nastiness and toxicity (eventually) led to his exposure as a secret tool of John Key’s National Party and dishonest corporate interests. Both groups, it seems clear, covertly used Slater’s PR attack blog to ‘bash’ political opponents — it seems Jason Ede was paid to do this from the PM’s office — sometimes through ghost-written pieces Slater published under his own name.
extract: Nicky Hager at the Word Festival Christchurch August 2014
MP3 file [6MB]
It’s worth listening to the whole 52 minute clip when you get a chance.
There’s been much wailing and thrashing about from the Slater camp since the revelations of Dirty Politics. They seem to have, frankly, undone him. Sure, superficially the WO ‘machine’ is still churning out content supported by deputy dawg and ‘moderator’ Pete Belt, Slater’s wife Juana (who, honestly, writes hateful dreck), and other acolytes.
But the trauma of Cameron Slater’s ‘examination’ since Dirty Politics — in inquiries, court cases, a privacy law suit, and in the media — and his own admission, made through tears and grinding teeth no doubt, that he has systematically misled people (i.e. lied to them) about the extent of his influence (‘talking big’ about Judith Collins, exaggerating his links to John Key, fundamentally misrepresenting his role with the PM’s office) seem to have gutted him.
Of course, it’s tempting for Slater’s critics (of which I am one, in case there’s any doubt) to see the world as they want to see it. But it seems clear the failure to launch of Slater’s much-vaunted (does Mr Boastful do anything any other way?) “news service” which, he claimed was going to cause ‘carnage on the media landscape’ is a symptom of his radioactive potato status. Any way you look at it, the Slater brand is damaged, perhaps permanently.
In the aftermath of his dishonest behaviour being exposed, Cameron Slater has, at various times, expressed outrage at an alleged ‘left wing conspiracy’ aiming to ‘destroy’ him and drive him to suicide; bragged that he knows exactly who the whistle blower Rawshark is; begged for money to pay his lawyers’ bills; hawked branded T-shirts and sun hats; and issued menacing threats of recrimination and exposure against journalists he insists/admits/claims he was previously spoon-feeding his attack lines and smear stories.
Slater reacted particularly badly to Fairfax political editor Tracy Watkins when she described his ‘brand’ as ‘repugnant‘. (Not that she’s alone in the media drawing attention to that self-evident fact. And ask John Key and Judith Collins.)
Key’s wise-cracking has a new edge. He used to call his opponents muppets and it would come across as disarmingly friendly. These days it sounds more like a profanity than an affectionate put-down.
And to say National’s third term began disastrously would be an understatement.
Key continues to be wrong-footed by the toxic fallout from Dirty Politics.
He is badly tainted by his association with Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, whose brand is repugnant to most voters. His lack of candour about their ongoing relationship, and the care with which he and his office have tip-toed around Slater, is fertile ground for ugly speculation that Slater must have something over him.
I’ve had the opinion for a long time (and said so) that Cameron Slater’s toxic behaviour and campaigns are damaging to the National Party. Indeed, some in the National Party saw that for themselves (see The Simon Lusk stigma?) and surely, by now, even Judith Collins has worked out the facts of life.
Despite his ceaseless self-promotion as some sort of ‘conscience’ of the National Party and repeated attempts to position himself as a far-sighted prophet crying in the wilderness, lamenting daisies crushed in the caterpillar tracks of the Party machine, Cameron seemingly fails to grasp the impact of his near-continuous public displays of nasty, personal, churlish disloyalty and disrespect for his fellow Party members. These things hurt the National Party. That seems indisputable.
So Cameron Slater has become more than just a loose cannon. It seems he is seen as ‘an enemy within‘ the National Party. And Cameron’s guru/Svengali Simon Lusk with him, apparently. From what’s emerging, the current National Party leadership has identified Simon Lusk as having a potentially baleful influence on future MPs: “A very negative agenda for the Party” really doesn’t sound flash, does it?
It’s worse. Slater and his Dirty Politics partners-in-crime — David Farrar, Simon Lusk, Carrick Graham, Cathy Odgers and boy wonder Jordan Williams — have, in my opinion, through their cynical actions, poisoned political discourse in this country. Does that seem implausible?
Consider how this nasty bunch of dirty PR propagandists* and their hidden, duplicitous tactics of personal denigration, attack and smear campaigns — not just of political actors (bad enough) but also scientists, public health officials, social activists and others (as Hager describes in the audio clip above and in his book) — have made it harder for ordinary people to speak up.
That’s a disservice to us all. Dirty politics indeed.
* I say ‘dirty PR’ because I believe there is a way to ‘do’ PR propaganda with clean hands.