I closed my post last night ‘Returning to the scene of the crime (or How I fell for Jason Ede’s spin)‘ with these words…
“There’s a conversation to be had about how journalists use and get used by ‘sources’ like Cameron Slater and David Farrar. It’s a discussion that’s been around for a while but most recently given impetus by Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics … it needs to carry on.
We need to talk about it.”
So it was fascinating to read this on stuff.co.nz today:
Hager ‘avoids shaming’ journalists
by Oliver Dunn
Investigative writer Nicky Hager said he kept some journalists out of the dirt in his latest book Dirty Politics in hope of a cleaner future.
In a small Wintec lecture theatre, Hager let student journalists pick his brain about investigative journalism and his book.
During the intimate Q and A, Hager talked about the Kiwi journalists named in his book.
“If you see a name of a journalist in the book, they are the ones I don’t think have done anything wrong, they’re just incidental to the story. Every journalist who had been taking stories in dodgy ways from David Farrar, one of the bloggers, or Cameron Slater or from the prime minister’s office, I actually left their names out. I decided not to do the journalists basically.”
All apart from Rachel Glucina, who Hager described as “despicable”.
Although Hager highlighted the problem of media being played by Slater and others, he also said he understood the demands of the industry.
“I think that a whole lot of people had done things which were dodgy and wrong. In other words they knew that the prime minister’s office was feeding them information and you could get really easy stories.
“You were being used but it was giving you another headline in a job which is very busy and competitive, where people want to get stuff, so there’s a ton of horrible temptation to keep being an outlet for Cameron Slater and people.
“The people I’m talking about are in the press gallery, senior journalists. Basically I didn’t want to humiliate them, I wanted to give them room to think again and do it differently. That was the reason. Because we’re a small country and there are only going to be the same senior journalists the year after and the year after that, so let them change their minds on it.” …
Hager is right about the temptations of working in the intensely competitive environment of the press gallery and political reporting generally. The pressure on reporters to get a ‘scoop’ or an ‘angle’ can be astonishing. It can and does lead to misjudgements when dealing with politicians and their flacks cynically ‘feeding the chooks’ — to cite Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s adage, referred to* in my post ‘In the service of the 9th floor‘ [Sorry, fixed dud hyperlink] about another recent example of OIA glove-puppetmastery/manipulation of the press gallery e.g. “the extraordinary alacrity with which the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) fulfilled recent Official Information Act (OIA) requests for dirt on Aaron Gilmore”.
Certainly, in this case it seems clear that Mr Gilmore is being ‘thrown under a bus’ or ‘hung out to dry’ or [insert crucification/execution metaphor of your choice here] by his former colleagues. An OIA request fulfilled with such speed is a rarity. The last one I can recall was when the then boss of the SIS Warren Tucker apparenty wanted to land a punch on then Opposition leader Phil Goff and fast-tracked an OIA response to a request by right wing lapblogger, activist and National Party mouthpiece Cameron Slater. (see: SIS boss’s slow resignation letter + Slater says enuf!)
The newshounds of the poltiical press, by skirting around their information sources for the Gilmore skeletons (i.e. not telling us it was the Prime Minister’s Office or the National Party whips ‘feeding the chooks’) risk being seen as little better than, in effect, the same pliant political tools as Whaleoil and his fellow propagandist David Farrar.
I’d love to see some reporting of the double-dealing and poltiical discpline being brought to bear on the errant list MP by his ‘boss’ John Key, and how it’s being managed. Has there been such reporting? Point me to it, if you see it, please.
I respect Nicky Hager and I respect the reasoning he’s offered for avoiding “shaming” “senior journalists in the press gallery” by not disclosing their dubious dealings with the deceitful Cameron Slater and David Farrar. That’s his call.
The risk is that by not exposing it, the cosy collusion will continue. And that seems like a high price for a democracy to pay … unless we truly do buy the line that this is ‘politics as normal’.
What do you think?
* And here: Media bias: In the eye of the beholder