Nicky Hager‘s important new book Dirty Politics – How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment is out (and quickly ‘sold out’ in some places).
The information in Nicky Hager’s book exposes — and for some of us, confirms — our worst fears about the grubby activities being undertaken by nasty, dishonest people to manipulate politics in this country.
Honestly, it is disgusting to read what they’ve been doing, and how they talk about it among themselves. That’s strong language, I know, but read the book and consider these matters for yourself. Hager has made the Preface of his book available here at www.dirtypoliticsnz.com
I’ve just finished carefully reading it. Work obligations aside, I’d decided I wouldn’t comment on the book here at ThePaepae.com until I had read it all (including the detailed endnotes) partly to avoid fulfilling this:
Besides frequent feelings of disgust and outrage about how dishonest, devious, cynical and downright nasty some of the players in this dirty game have been, I have come away from reading Dirty Politics feeling glad that I’ve opposed them and been a thorn in their side — even if in only a small way.
Regular or occasional readers of The Paepae will know that for years I’ve tried to shine a light on some of the dark arts operators exposed in Hager’s book. I’ve criticised their actions, their deceit, their twisted ‘logic’, ‘morality’ and double standards. I’ve highlighted their abusive, fixated, relentless bullying and smears. And, as it turns out, I had fingered their hidden commercial PR, political propaganda activities and agenda.
A number of the characters exposed in Hager’s book have been the subject of scrutiny here …
- Cameron Slater
- David Farrar
- Cathy Odgers (Cactus Kate)
- Carrick Graham
- Jordan Williams
- Simon Lusk
- Matthew Hooton
Jason Ede, cast in the book as the PM’s ‘black ops’ staffer, almost doesn’t feature at all here on The Paepae. Just one mention: Deceitful “PR blog” questions worth considering. That says a lot about the spin doctor’s determination to keep his actions on behalf of his masters hidden, below the radar. (Well, until now.)
Wayne Eagleson, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, features only on the periphery. I mentioned him around media management (vomit) at the ill-fated Urban cafe ‘cup of tea’ stunt with John Banks, and in relation to spying on Fairfax’s Andrea Vance around the Kitteridge report leak. I’ve always liked Wayne, since he was Rob Eady’s offsider in Jim Bolger’s office.
Sarah Boyle doesn’t appear here. Maybe she should.
I watched the Dirty Politics book launch (live streamed!) at Wellington’s Unity Books, and saw Nicky Hager’s speech about the book (“You won’t believe what’s in it, and how bloody awful it is!”) and his daughter reading an extract, so I knew I’d be interested in reading it. I bought a couple of copies the next afternoon (shout out to the two Barbaras at Readaway Books in Howick) and posted one off as a birthday gift to a conspiracy theorist I knew would enjoy it. 🙂
I was surprised to find out through Twitter that night, before I’d even opened my copy of the book, that I am mentioned — in a small passage on p44 (see below) following Nicky Hager quoting a post from The Paepae about matters at the heart of Dirty Politics — ghost-written political attack material from the National Party published on right wing blogs as if it was the work of the blogger. Hager had quoted from this 2011 post: ‘With one swift blow, Kate knocked the wind out of the duplicitous toady …‘
The ‘duplicitous toady’ in question was David Farrar, who tweeted this photo from near Hager’s book launch appearing pleased he had his own chapter in Dirty Politics. He needn’t be so thrilled. What’s exposed about David confirms the worst of what I’ve said about him — his cultivated pretence of being a ‘moderate, centre-right’ voice, concealing, underplaying or fudging his role as a key National Party media and political operative. It demonstrates the subterfuge about Farrar’s long-standing collusion with fellow political attack dog Slater, and his own dirty tricks e.g. mimicking journalistic tropes (‘exclusive’, ‘report’, ‘investigation’, ‘reveal’) while, it seems to me, carrying out deliberate personal “hits” on National’s political opponents. (see example: ‘EXCLUSIVE: Peters an illegal candidate for NZ First’ posted just days before the 2011 election.)
In damage control mode, David Farrar has this week announced an intention to ‘clean up’ his blog and its often scurrilous comment stream. He said he’ll make it more ‘transparent’ when he is publishing ‘political party’ (read: National Party)-authored spin and political attacks — assuring us that he’ll no longer pass it off as his own ‘independent’ writing. He declared he intends to join the dubiously conceived Online Media Standards Authority. David Farrar said he intended making his (let’s face it) proven, partisan ‘PR attack blog’ subject to OMSA’s code of practice & complaints procedure as if it were ‘media’.
To say I’m not convinced is an understatement. As I have said before, while he’s by all accounts personally likeable and, I’m sure, great company, I can’t help but see David Farrar as a conniving partisan and campaigner with a long track record of behind-the-scenes media manipulation, feeding political spin sometimes, in my view, to the point of deceit … but with a decent bedside manner.
David Farrar comes off badly in Dirty Politics. So does Cathy Odgers (Cactus Kate).
Although I have at times been in disagreement with Cathy Odgers, and although I have clashed with her (publicly and privately) about the subterranean PR activities of her little right wing cabal (they refer to themselves as the ‘Vast Right Wing Conspiracy’), I thought she had class. It seems not. How disappointing to discover she’s actually a good fit with Cameron Slater’s other enablers and damaged acolytes.
Cathy Odgers, apparently, writes attack articles for Slater’s PR blog, like others, to be published under his name. (Falsely, in other words.) You may have already read the NZ Herald article Bloggers revealed Hager’s address which reports Cathy Odgers admitting to a June 2013 email exchange recounted in Hager’s book. Hager describes her seeking to get his (Nicky Hager’s) home address into the hands of pissed-off Chinese billionaires with the hope or expectation that one of them, whose hidden trust details were exposed by Wikileaks with assistance from Hager, would arrange ‘chop chop for Nicky’. Speaking after her email conversation was exposed, Cathy Odgers (who is a lawyer) seemed to minimise it as “just private chatter and banter between various people” … but Hager’s address was included in a post on the whale oil site that she admitted to the the Herald that she wrote, and it was published as if it was written by Slater.
Carrick Graham — If the Hager book’s allegations against him are accurate (and I have no reason to doubt them) Carrick Graham should, in my view, be run out of the PR Institute of New Zealand, assuming he’s a member. The spectacularly unethical campaign of attacks he’s apparently carried out using Slater’s website, and other social media, against scientists and others in the wider health sector — apparently on behalf of tobacco companies, alcohol and food marketing companies — seems nothing short of a disgrace.
Science writer Peter Griffin produced a calm, reasoned article based on the revelations in the book about the protracted smear campaigns and ‘astroturf’ personal attacks Carrick Graham has (apparently) undertaken. It’s worth reading: Cash for comment and New Zealand’s MOD squad
As for part-time lawyer, neophyte lobbyist/dark arts PR ninja Jordan Williams, I just don’t want to say what I think of him. It’s fair to say I already had a low opinion of Jordan’s ethics. Hager’s detailed account of how Williams/Slater/Lusk operated the ACT Party leadership coup, the shadowy 2011 anti-MMP campaign — which I criticised at the time (Claims of ‘Integrity’ in the anti-MMP Campaign accompanied by smear tactics and Peter Shirtcliffe’s campaign against MMP (MkII)) — makes my skin crawl.
Based on what’s revealed about Slater/Lusk “apprentice” Jordan Williams in Hager’s book, it’s fair to say I now hold Jordan Williams in utter contempt. I personally will never trust him, nor anything he says or writes, beyond the most trivial without independent verification. These are harsh judgements, I acknowledge that. I don’t say that about many people.
Stand up comic Matthew Hooton hardly features in this book — which is just as well, because he still hates Nicky Hager for quoting his leaked emails around the Don Brash putsch in The Hollow Men.
In Dirty Poltiics, it’s revealed that Matthew worked with Carrick Graham on an extended OIA fishing campaign for Graham’s tobacco company clients and others … getting details of government funding for health groups, including anti-smoking groups, as fodder for Graham’s lobbying and smear campaigns. Matthew hasn’t worked particularly hard to conceal those activities. I was more alarmed to read of Rodney Hide’s and Peter Dunne’s roles in opposing smokefree workplace legislation. (p81)
Whale Oil — my part in his downfall (with apologies to Spike Milligan)
Yeah, I already knew Cameron Slater hates me and this blog “that frequently critiques the Whale Oil and Kiwiblog blogs”. I expressed the intention to seek out the context in which Cameron Slater made those comments about me in a Facebook message to a ‘trusted friend’… Well, be careful what you wish for. I’ve now seen the exchange of FB correspondence that Nicky Hager quoted (another reason why I’ve waited to comment on the book). His quotes are accurate.
Nicky Hager’s synopsis, “Slater was frequently annoyed by Aranyi’s writing” is an understatement. There’s a great deal of nutting off about me and lots of foul abuse, as you can imagine.
But the other thing that’s apparent is Slater’s slippery grasp of reality. As well as profanity, ill-wishes and wailing, the pages of FB messages between him and his ‘close friend’ about me are peppered with exaggerations and factual inaccuracies — about where and when I’ve worked in the news media, my contractual arrangements, who I’ve talked to and met, my sources of income — all stated by Cameron ‘FFS I’m not a journalist!’ Slater as if they were facts, when they are not. (Also, he can’t count.)
Now, from what’s revealed in Hager’s book, I’m obviously not the first or only journalist these guys have set out to smear, hurt or muscle. Equally, it’s not a crime to get things wrong when you’re slagging somebody off to your mates. But sadly, Slater’s venomous misstatements of fact about me were, it seems to me, in part smears designed to reduce my credibility in the eyes of his ‘trusted friend’ — who was actually trying to find the best approach to dealing with a controversial matter I’d raised here on The Paepae.
One of the untrue statements Slater peddled caused her and several other people to doubt my honesty on a very simple matter of fact I had stated here on this blog. With Slater’s factually wrong smear in their minds, they distrusted me — concluding that for some undisclosed reason I wasn’t telling them the truth … and therefore, I couldn’t be trusted.
That’s nasty, because we know now, from reading the book, who the two-faced, back-stabbing, lying dissembler in this situation is, and it isn’t me. It’s Cameron Slater.
The baleful influence of Simon Lusk
I can see now, anyone reading the book (or the @whaledump-leaked Facebook messages between Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater) can see what a thoroughly negative, dangerous, and, based on that source material, corrupt, malign influence Simon Lusk has been on the National Party when he’s had a chance.
I’ve written before that I think Lusk’s & Slater’s actions hurt the National Party. I think they are toxic. This dynamic duo seem to think they’re unstoppable because in 20 years time, when they’re in their 60s, Lusk and Slater expect to have used their odious ‘attack politics’ tactics to dominate the Party and have their pet MPs in place. Or they’ll have waited for those in their 60s currently running the National Party to die out.
Being an upland game hunter Simon is nothing if not patient and cunning. The current hierarchy won’t be in any position after the next election to influence anyone’s career negatively or even positively, they will all be either voted out, resigned or retired. Same with the current parliamentary wing. In 20 years time even more so, but the Triumvirate will still be operating.
— Cameron Slater (maybe, or maybe Simon Lusk himself) writing in response to Andrea Vance’s May 2013 profile of Lusk, cited here
If you read just one post about Simon Lusk (there are a few) make it this one: The Simon Lusk stigma? which demonstrates, thank god, that there are good people in the National Party working against these destructive, soulless ‘attack’ tactics.
I’m going to stop here for now. You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the two politicians whose activities and co-dependent relationships with the dirty machine are ‘outed’ in this book: Judith Collins and John Key. That’s for a couple of reasons:
1) This post is approaching ‘tl;dr’ length already, and there’s been plenty of discussion elsewhere about them and their [alleged] contacts and misdeeds. More information will come to light, I’m sure. I highly recommend Danyl Mclauchlan’s series and also Gordon Campbell’s. (Read around those posts in both cases, as their continuing analysis is valuable and insightful.) Any others you find useful, please drop a link to them in comments.
2) In other respects, I pretty much stand by what I’ve posted about these matters here at The Paepae over the years (search tags: John Key ; Judith Collins). Mr Key is a brilliant political communicator but can be evasive, suffering convenient ‘brain fades’. Ms Collins is simply a disappointment.
Last year, before Hager’s book came out, a National Party insider told me (quietly) that my ‘wild speculations’ about Cameron Slater and Simon Lusk were ‘unnervingly accurate’. Since it came out, I’ve been approached by people saying, in effect, “Shit Peter, you were right!” Yes, well, I was. Sometimes. But not always.
Among other things, it seems I did fall for the spin deployed about the fast-tracked Official Information Act request to the Security Intelligence Service about Phil Goff’s briefing. I bought the line that Cameron Slater got such a quick turnaround because he had sent in a very focussed request. I also suggested at the time that Warren Tucker had an axe to grind, defending his reputation from Goff’s questioning.
Some have made the point, rationally, that these events harbour the ‘politicisation’ of the Security Intelligence Service.
I’m not so sure it is political. I think it’s personal.
Tucker’s (reported) actions of ‘soliciting’ OIA requests from media (if true) … and then by-anyone’s-standards clearly fast-tracking a response to the first OIA request to right wing/National Party blogger Cameron Slater can be seen as personally vindictive.
I think he was trying to defend his reputation from political attack. Has he overstepped the mark? Yes, I think so.
In my view Tucker should have sucked it up and maintained a professional silence. Is that a challenge? Yes. Don’t like it, Mr Tucker? Resign. Leave the politicians like John Key and Bill English to malign Phil Goff as they have done, effectively calling the Leader of the Opposition a liar and publicly, repeatedly, questioning his integrity. Their disrespect for Goff is unquestionably, transparently political. The more they (and the likes of Cameron Slater) pile on kicking Phil Goff … the less plausible Goff’s so-called ‘sins’ and [alleged] faults seem.
A head of department’s first role is to protect their minister. That’s the politcal reality that Tucker seems to have forgotten, or has put aside in (a) petulance, or (b) embarrassed guilt. (Don’t forget to consider the unfashionable possibility that Phil Goff might be right.)
Tucker’s role as head of department obliges him to protect his masters — in the first instance the PM … but, being the SIS, the position of Director is unique in that he is also by convention accountable to the Leader of the Opposition — thus the requirement in this case for him to brief the Labour leader. If he tripped up, he’s only made things worse.
As it turns out, it now looks like that was a Prime Minister’s office black-op ‘hit’ on Goff, using Cameron Slater.
So I fumbled that, and didn’t get close enough to the heart of what was [allegedly] really going on. Also, I scorned the often febrile blogger Martyn Bradbury for his ‘hallucinations’ and ‘vitriol’ about the SIS-OIA matter. I owe Martyn Bradbury an apology for that. This is it: Sorry Martyn. It looks like you were right about this and I got it wrong.
Echoes of the Watergate cover-up?
Interestingly, it’s this [alleged] misuse of the Security Intelligence Service for political purposes and the [alleged] misuse of the OIA rules, favouring National’s attack dog PR blogger Slater above real news media outlets, which has drawn John Key into a messy, tangled, Nixonian ‘What did the PM know and when did he know it?‘ situation.
Mr Key, and certain government officials are now trying to tell media and the people of New Zealand that Mr Tucker’s words ‘I notified the Prime Minister’, ‘I advised the Prime Minister’, ‘I informed the Prime Minister’ (jpg), the Ombudsman’s words ‘discussion with the prime minister’ (pdf) — and, ludicrously, Mr Key’s own words, “he told me” (video) — all actually mean that SIS boss Warren Tucker discussed the fast-tracked OIA release NOT with Prime Minister John Key … but with an unnamed staffer in the prime minister’s office — someone who is not Jason Ede.
Which leads me to Sarah Boyle.
Hello again Sarah.
Facts are stated to the best of my knowledge and commentary is my honest opinion. Corrections or clarifications are always welcome by email. Comments are open, but will be moderated.
– Best wishes, Peter Aranyi © 2014 All rights reserved.