“Dirty Politics” and The Teflon Man
The release of Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Secrets” has unleashed more of a political firestorm than many had anticipated. (Or, perhaps some did.)
The glare of publicity has been shone like a laser-beam into the darkest, most noisome recesses of right wing politics in this country. Defeatist cynics (like Mike Hosking) have shrugged and said, “well, we knew it was like this”.
No, we did not. We may have suspected; we may have heard fragments; we may have seen indications. But very few knew precisely how dirty our politics had gotten.
As someone who has been politically active – first on the centre-right; then centre-left; and now even further to the left – I had my suspicions as to the abuse of power. But nothing concrete upon which to base my suspicions,
Hager has built those concrete foundations and nothing short of a seismic event will shake them to bits.
National’s entire hierarchy, from it’s most inner sanctum Politburo, to it’s apparatchiks and fellow-travellers, is now facing the grimmest reality that their dirty laundry has been hung out for all to see. Only the most obsessively-partisan of National’s supporters will ignore Nicky Hager’s findings. (Just as Muldoon and other authoritarian leaders had their die-hard supporters.)
The recent media stories has raised some interesting points to consider…
1. The Timing of the Book Launch
Key has called the timing of the launch of Nicky Hager’s book “cynically timed” for the election;
“This is a cynically timed attack book from a well-known left-wing conspiracy theorist. It makes all sorts of unfounded allegations and voters will see it for what it is.”
Rubbish. When else would you launch a book that relates to a critical political situation? After the election? When it’s too late for people to access relevant information to base their decision upon who to vote for?
In which case, should Nicky Hager have released his earlier expose, “Seeds of Distrust“, which was highly critical of the then-Labour government? After the 2002 election?
And should party Leader’s televised debates and other election campaigns be conducted post-election also?
That’s how ridiculous Key’s proposition is.
But let’s be crystal clear here. Key’s concern isn’t related to “cynicism” of the timing. His concerns relate solely to the damage it will cause his Party and his re-election chances. Otherwise, Nicky Hager’s book is no better or worse timed than the release of this book, by pro-National, conservative NZ Herald columnist, John Roughan;
Roughan’s hagiography was launched this year, on 26 June. Three months before the election.
Was that cynical timing to promote the the Teflon Man’s public image?
2. John Key has not read the book
Key says he has not read the book, and refuses to do so.
He has summarily dismissed Nicky Hager’s book as,
“Mr Hager’s making claims he can’t back up and they’re not factually correct.”
And on TVNZ,
“He should knock his socks off and release anything he wants because most of the assumptions are now dissolving before his eyes.”
And on Interest.co.nz;
“All I know is that Nicky Hager is a left wing conspiracy theorist and makes stuff up.”
So, without reading Nicky Hager’s book or launching an investigation into his claims, Key has condemned and dismissed it out of hand.
But when it comes to the allegations of wrong-doing by “Justice” Minister, Judith Collins, Key is only too happy to support her – even though he has not read the book (so he claims). On Collins, he says,
See TV3 video here. @ 7.28
Journo: “Are you satisfied that Judith Collins didn’t leak Bronwyn Pullar’s name?”
Key: “Well that’s the assurance that she’s given me and I accept her at her word.
Journo: “Do you feel you have go back and check that now given what’s in the book?”
Key: “No, I don’t think so.”
Key “… if that’s what the minister said then that’s what she has said, I accept her at her word.”
This is a Prime Minister who dismisses allegations of ministerial abuse of power – without even considering those allegations? How does work?!
This is not the first time Key has refused to read information regarding one of his Ministers accused of wrong-doing;
PM reaffirms support for John Banks
“I haven’t read that police report and I’m not going to because I don’t need to … It’s not my job to do a forensic analysis. What I can tell you is, the law doesn’t work.” – John Key, 16 September 2012
PM under pressure over Hauiti
But the Prime Minister says he does not, and rejects suggestions that Ms Hauiti is getting away with it. He told reporters he has not asked how much money is involved.
“That’s actually not a matter for me.That’s a matter for Parliamentary Services and her. She made it quite to me that she was standing down from Parliament and that was on the back of the advice she’d had from the party, which took a pretty dim view to her making a mistake.” – John Key, 24 July 2014
Key won’t investigate Collins claims
Prime Minister John Key says he probably won’t look into allegations made about senior cabinet minister Judith Collins in Nicky Hager’s new book.
An entire chapter of Dirty Politics is dedicated the relationship between Ms Collins and WhaleOil blogger Slater, who are close friends.
Mr Hager alleges Ms Collins fed a “continuous supply of material to Slater”, including press releases, political gossip, tip-offs and serious leaks. – TV3, 15 August 2014
Key is using a CIA strategy from the early 1960s called “plausible deniability” – with a peculiar Kiwi twist. Basically, it works like this; confronted with a scandal, Key refuses to read a report; then tells the media he is unable to act to address the scandal because he doesn’t have “those details” (see below; IP Address Linked to National). Then the Teflon man walks away.
Basically, he has given himself an “out” to wipe his hands of a problem and not have to deal with it.
Quite a piece of ‘work’, our esteemed Dear Leader.
3. IP Address Linked to National
Key cannot even get his ‘spin’ story straight.
See TV3 video here. Note @ 2.33:
Journo #1: “The IP Address went back to your office.”
Key: “Nah, I don’t think that’s right. It’s nothing to do with our office.”
Journo #2: “There was an IP Address that went back to your office and to the National Party, National.Org.Nz.”
Key: “Well, look, I don’t have those details. But what I can tell you is, that Mr Slater has made it quite clear, it’s nothing to do with the National Party…”
So first of all, Key tried to deny that the IP Addresses of Jason Ede were not connected with trawling through Labour’s computer.
When pressed by a second journalist, Key denied knowledge of the IP Address evidence.
Questions for Mr Key;
- Instead of flatly denying the existence of the IP Address evidence, why does Key not mount an investigation into the claims?
- How can he deny evidence that Ede has accessed a Labour Party computer when he admits “I don’t have those details“? How can someone deny an action he has no knowledge of?
- If he doesn’t “have those details” – when will he seek to learn what those details are?
- Why is Key relying on blogger Cameron Slater “that Mr Slater has made it quite clear, it’s nothing to do with the National Party”? Is Key unable to make that assertion himself?
The answer is: He has contradicted himself. Key is lying and clumsily attempting to cover Jason Ede’s (and his own) arse.
4. The Labour Party Computer accessed by PM’s political advisor, Jason Ede
The Prime Minister’s ‘spin’ on National Party “political advisor, Jason Ede, accessing Labour’s computer files without permission is that if the computer was not suitably protected, therefore it was open to the public.
Which is kind of like saying if your back door is unlocked, anyone should be about to walk into your home and help themselves to your property. Because Ede and Slater did not just “have a look around” the files – they downloaded and took files – as he admitted in an interview with TV3’s “The Nation” host, Lisa Owen; on 16 August;
Lisa Owen: “So you’re denying categorically that you were working with Jason Ede and that you were both in that computer, downloading material?”
Cameron Slater: “I was in the computer, downloading material. I will not and cannot speak for somebody else. That’s up to them to answer those questions.”
Slater told Lisa Owen,
“Well, I don’t speak for the National Party. I couldn’t possibly speak for it, but I was certainly into the back end of the Labour Party’s website. If they couldn’t manage security of their website, their credit card details and their financial information about their membership, well, then they weren’t really fit for government at the time. But there was certainly no hacking involved in that and quite unlike Nicky Hager’s scurrilous little book, there’s no illegal acts that were taking place at that time.”
So Slater is saying that a political party that can’t manage a computer system is not fit to govern.
You were saying, Cam?
5. Interesting Question & Answer from Key, re, Jason Ede
See TV3 video here. Note @ 19.53:
A journo asks Key if he has spoken to Jason Ede, one of the principle characters in Nicky Hager’s book.
Key replies, “No, I haven’t.”
One would think that the publication of a book that has seized public attention and made serious allegations against the National Government would warrant the Prime Minister to pick up the phone; dial Ede’s number, and ask him for a chat. The phrase, “Now, would be good” springs to mind.
So why didn’t Key talk to Ede?
And if he hasn’t spoken to Ede, how does he know that Nicky Hager’s allegations regarding Ede are false?
6. Key’s relationship with Slater
Nicki Hager’s revelations have put this story from earlier in the year into a whole new perspective;
According to Nicky Hager, the SIS decided to release a document to Slater within twentyfour hours, after an OIA request;
Mr Hager’s book alleges the PM’s office used its knowledge of secret SIS documents to tip off Mr Slater to attack the Labour leader in the 2011 election campaign.
Mr Goff accused Mr Key of lying about knowing about an Official Information ACT request to the SIS.
Mr Goff said Mr Slater’s OIA request was answered within a day, which was unheard of, while other media had to wait.
And why did other media have to wait for the same information? Why was Slater given this information so quickly?
And more to the point – how did he know to ask for it?
As Nicky Hager wrote, on page 40 of his book;
“Documents like the SIS briefing notes are not usually released to the public, under the Official Information Law or otherwise. Someone had over-ruled the usual practice and then fast-tracked the release. The released documents were stamped as being declassified on 26 July 2011, the same day that Slater sent off his request. Where was the time for decision-making and consultation?”
If – as it seems – Key used his ministerial position as the Minister in Charge of the SIS to facilitate this OIA information release – then what we have here is what many New Zealanders have feared since the GCSB Amendment was passed last year; the abuse of a state security apparatus by a politician for purely selfish, destructive, venal-political purposes.
For the first time (?) in modern history a political party in our country – through a willing agent – has used state power to destroy the career (and election chances) of a political rival. This was a planned, systematic, subversion of our democratic process – the system for whom thousands died for in two World Wars. And for which we remember each year for their supreme sacrifice.
This should frighten all New Zealanders who are in possession of a sound mind.
7. National-aligned NZ Columnist not impressed with Slater-Collins-Ede Cabal
When National’s own pet columnist, John Armstrong, gives credence to Nicky Hager’s book, then the National Party and it’s cadres are in deep, deep, doo-doos. His column on 16 August took a swipe at National and it’s Teflon Man leader. In part, he made these astute observations;
“National’s tactic has been to keep the focus on Mr Hager and persuade people he had hidden motives for writing the book – rather than being drawn into arguments about its damning contents.
Mr Key’s damage-control operation was designed to both defuse and confuse.
However, the Prime Minister looked and sounded distinctly uncomfortable when questioned by reporters on Thursday afternoon.
He conceded nothing and repeatedly answered questions by saying the book’s allegations had ”nothing to do with National”.
When it was pointed out to him that National was clearly implicated, he made excuses, saying he had not been briefed on the detail.
If Mr Key’s answers sounded glib there was good reason.
The vilification of Mr Hager by Mr Key and Steven Joyce, National’s election campaign supremo and the one designated to front for National when there is trouble, is a charade.
Their dilemma is that they have to rubbish the book as being wrong on every score when they know much if not all of it, is accurate, simply because the contents come straight out of the mouths of Mr Slater, Mr Ede and other National Party figures and associates.”
Nailed it, John. And when you look at the TV3 video, it rapidly becomes apparent that Key is lying his head off – even as Associate Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, beams lovingly at his Dear Leader in the background. (Honestly, it looks like the guy was going to rush up to Key and give him a huge smooch on the cheek! Though Key certainly looked like he needed a cuddle and hot milo.)
Armstrong suggests that “Mr Ede might yet have take one for the team and resign, as evidence that National has cleaned out its Augean stables”.
That would be my guess as well. Ede is Dead Man Walking.
On the other hand, Collins is safe. The Nats are too close to an election to dump her as a minister. Plus there are suggestions that she does have something over Key, which is why he never fired her sorry arse over the Oravida Scandal. Or Katie Bradford dust-up. Or any other mess she has been publicly involved in.
She is the female embodiment of a certain other National Prime Minister from the mid 1970s to mid 1980s.
8. Media collusion implicated?
The Donghua Liu Affair (which I am still investigating) implicates certain media as colluding with the National Government.
On page 128 of Nicky Hager’s book, an event took place where TV3 journos asked David Cunliffe;
Journos: “Have you ever met Donghua Liu?”
Cunliffe: “I don’t recall meeting him, no.”
Journos: “Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?”
Cunliffe: “No, I did not.”
Journos: “Did you advocate on his behalf at all?”
Journos: “Were you aware of official advice advising against granting permanent resident?”
Cunliffe: “Not to my recollection.”
The very next day, the National Government supplied a copy of a letter Cunliffe had written to Immigration NZ, in April 2003 – eleven years ago – to the media. The letter had been released the following day after Cunliffe had replied to those questions. By 2.29PM, the Herald had an on-line story published by staff reporter, Jared Savage.
So, if the journos recieved the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu-Immigration letter on the 18th of June – what prompted them to ask leading questions, the previous day, that effectively trapped Cunliffe into providing answers to something that had transpired over a decade ago?
There are strong indications that many in the media have been forced to rely on bloggers for news-stories. As staffing levels are cut back to maximise profits and shareholder returns, remaining journalists are under increasing pressure to use short-cuts to find stories. Bloggers like “Whale Oil” provide a free, easy source of “news” – especially when said “news” is derived from information that has been leaked from Jason Ede and Judith Collins.
This creates two consequences.
Firstly, being reliant on a far-right blogger who also happens to be a covert mouthpiece for the government creates inherent problems surrounding ethics, privacy, agendas, lack of accountability, and an abuse of ministerial power if information is wrongly used.
Remember that many government departments hold vast amounts of information over us. Paula Bennett used private data in 2009 to silence two critics, Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston.
Leaked emails referred to in “Dirty Politics” indicate that Collins released the name and details of one public servant, which was then used by Slater to carry out a vendetta against him. The civil servant suffered abuse and death threats as a result.
When mainstream media support such a blogger (and I’m sure the relationship is a two way street), they are aiding and abetting nefarious people with nefarious agendas. This runs counter to the ethics that the media purports to live by.
If those ethics no longer count, legal protections for media institutions (eg; protection of sources) should be stripped from legislation. It is because of supposedly strict ethics which the MSM hold to, that they are accorded privileges the rest of us do not enjoy.
Secondly, a two-way relationship with a psychopath with a penchant for verbal/written abuse, sleaze, lies, publishing threats of violence, and wrecking peoples’ lives – is not something that should sit well with professional journalists. Eventually, as with the political relationship between Slater and Ede, and Slate and Collins, the truth about such working relationships becomes public.
What journalist who is serious about his/her career wants to be associated with a quasi-fascist, on-line thug such as Cameron Slater (and his equally nasty mates).
There is an old saying about “supping with the devil…”
If the media has found itself reliant on the likes of Slater (who is clearly a conduit for the National government), then the media runs the risk of becoming a mouthpiece for the government.
This is a growing danger as staffing levels continue to fall in media companies and older, more experience staff retire (or are hired as PR by corporates, institutions, government, and government bodies), leaving younger, inexperienced journalists to fill an ever-growing vacuum of institutional and historic knowledge.
Mainstream media should learn a valuable lesson from Nicky Hager’s expose. Using someone like Slater as a news-source has consequences.
9. When TVNZ became an organ of the government propaganda machine
One of the worst ever media responses to a story like this came from TVNZ’s “Seven Sharp” on 14 August. It was… awful.
(Hat-tip: Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury)
I encourage people to watch the opening segment, where Mike “interviews” Minister Steven Joyce, and then interogates and derides author, Nicky Hager.
Any pretence that Mike Hosking is an “unbiased journalist” has been firmly dispatched. The man is a mouthpiece for the National government and his behaviour and line of questioning proved it.
Nicky Hager’s investigations have uncovered practices that can only be described as an abuse of power by this government.
Did Hosking ask challenging questions to the Minister? Answer: no.
Did Hosking put specific examples requiring explanations to the Minister? Answer: no.
Was Hosking’s line of questioning relevant to the book and offer insights to the viewer? Answer: no.
Hosking then asked hard questions from Nicky Hager, who to his credit realised that he was being set up as the “fall guy” for the story.
This was not journalism. Not even close. It was superficial, Fox-style partisan politics masquerading as “informed debate”. Again, not even close.
The only television I have seen in my life that came close to Hosking’s slanted, pro-government performance was during my visits to Eastern European countries in my lates teens/early twenties. In those times, Eastern Europe was ruled by well-policed, undemocratic, One Party “communist” regimes. Television “news” was little more than a mouthpiece for the government – no questions asked. There was never even an attempt at balance.
Hosking would have fitted in perfectly.
As far as I am concerned, Hosking’s “talent” lies elsewhere, but not in journalism. Perhaps a PR/spin-man for a cereal company or arms manufacturer or bordello run by the Chow Brothers (he’s already sold his soul, so the other bodily bits should be equally saleable).
As for TVNZ, it requires a thorough clean-out by an incoming Labour-led government and people like Hosking marched out the front door, escorted by Security.
Somewhere, since 1984, we have taken a terrible road to a future which I cannot recognise except as a more subtle version of the country that my parents fled in 1956.
Truly folks, this is not the New Zealand I grew up in. .
Wikipedia: Seeds of Distrust
Oxford Dictionary: “hagiography”
MSN News: John Key trashes Nicky Hager’s book
Interest.co.nz: Key defiant over Hager book and defends both Ede and Collins
NZ Herald: PM reaffirms support for John Banks
Radio NZ: PM under pressure over Hauiti
TV3 News: Key won’t investigate Collins claims
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet: New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
Otago Daily Times: Opinion – National ignores incriminating material
Fairfax media: Bennett won’t rule out releasing beneficiary details
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 August 2014
= fs =