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Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part rua)

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Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” – Eric Hoffer, 1902 – 1983

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Recent Timeline*

4 April: Trump announces he wants all remaining US forces out of Syria “very quickly”. Trump says; “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, Well, you know, you want us to stay? Maybe you’re going to have to pay”.

8 April: First reports emerge of chemical gas attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta province. Reports are unverified.

8 April: Russian government calls reports of alleged gas attack in Douma “fake news” and describes the story as a “false flag” operation. Russia’s Foreign Ministry states; “The goal of this… baseless speculation is to shield the terrorists and… the radical opposition that refuse to engage in a political settlement [process], as well as to justify potential military strikes from the outside”.

9 April: Trump promises major decision in next twentyfour hours  on alleged gas attack.

10 April: Syria  and  Russia invite Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate allegations of chemical attack in Douma.

10 April:  Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee,  Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov warned the West; “ The double standard policy has overstepped all possible boundaries. At this point, the [pro-Putin parliamentary majority] United Russia party must responsibly state that we are going to take all political and diplomatic measures, and also military measures if such need arises. Not a single unlawful action will be left without response.”

11 April: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says it will support any military strike on Syria in retaliation for the alleged gas attack in Douma; “If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present”.

11 April: Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, repeats Colonel General Shamanov’s warning to the US: “If there is a US missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.

12 April: French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France has evidence that Syria carried out the gas attack in Douma; “We have proof that last week, now 10 days ago, that chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar al-Assad. Our teams have been working on this all week and we will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective.”

Two days later, hours after the US-led attack on Syria, France releases statement on evidence of alleged gas attack: “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, (French intelligence services) were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.

12 April: OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team lands in Syria to investigate alleged gas attack in Douma. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said; “We will facilitate the arrival of the team to anywhere they want, in Douma, to check whether or not there was use of chemical substances”.

14 April: Trump announces US-led attack on Syria, launching 105 missiles at targets in that country. Trump  states: “So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality”.

14 April: President Putin of Russia states categorically: “Just as one year ago, when the Shayrat Airbase in Syria came under attack, the US used as a pretext a staged chemical attack against civilians, this time in Douma, a Damascus suburb. Having visited the site of the would-be chemical attack, Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent. Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place.”

15 April: Trump declares: “Mission accomplished!”

15 April: Russia loses vote in UN Security Country to condemn US-led military strike. Russian UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia said: “Today is a very sad day for the world, the UN, its charter, which was blatantly, blatantly violated.”

15 April: US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley, tells Fox News Sunday that US troops will remain in Syria: “Yes, it is all of our goal to see American troops come home. But we’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things. ”

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* International time-zones not taken into account: above dates are approximate.

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Local media reporting…

The response of our local media to report Saturday’s missile strike has been largely superficial and followed the Western narrative;

(a) the gas attack happened

(b) Syrian government forces were responsible

…From NZ Herald

Most, if not all stories published on the Herald’s website originate from Associated Press.

One of the first reports, dated 8 April, was headed “Syrian regime accused of killing civilians in chemical attack“. The first two paragraphs gave equal space to claim/counter-claim;

A Syrian rebel group has accused government forces of dropping a barrel bomb containing poisonous chemicals on civilians in Eastern Ghouta, and a medical relief organisation said 35 people had been killed in chemical attacks on the area.

Syrian state media denied government forces had launched any chemical attack as soon as the reports began circulating and said rebels in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma were in a state of collapse and spreading false news.

The third paragraph referred to “an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma“.

While an un-named “medical relief organisation said 35 people had been killed in chemical attacks on the area” – curiously the UK-based anti-Assad organisation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, appeared more non-committal;

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 people had died in Douma as a result of suffocation caused by the smoke from conventional weapons being dropped by the government. It said a total of 70 people suffered breathing difficulties.

Interestingly, this early statement ties in with an investigation and interviewing of eye-witnesses,  by Middle East correspondent, Robert fisk, who reported nine days later;

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

Could it be that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights inadvertently told the truth before a new version was framed, blaming the incident on so-called “poison gas”, instead of a lack of air and heavy dust?

The Herald/AP story admits as such;

Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory director, said he could not confirm if chemical weapons had been used.

In the same article, the so-called Medical relief organisation, Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), put  the blame on an alleged “chlorine bomb”. They stated it  “hit Douma hospital, killing six people, and a second attack with “mixed agents” including nerve agents had hit a nearby building“.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)  is a US-based organisation and according to the Russian government-aligned website, RT News, is funded through a United States government department. RT News is scathing of SAMS;

SAMS is not merely a group of Syrian doctors tending to the wounded in war torn areas, nor can it be considered a objective source on chemical attacks and other atrocities. The organization is a USAID-funded lobbying powerhouse that functions with a single-minded determination to stimulate a US-led war of regime change that will place Syrian Islamists in power in Damascus.

It is unclear at this stage how SAMS knew within a day that Douma had been hit by an alleged “chlorine bomb”.

The 8 April Herald/AP  story continued with reporting of the battle for rebel-held Douma, and that Syrian government forces were advancing on the town. There was no further mentioned of a so-called chemical weapon being used.

The following day, the Herald ran another AP story. This time, there was no reference to the term ‘alleged’. Instead, ‘suspected’ entered the framing of the narrative, being used three times.

One statement referred to “a suspected poison gas attack” – whilst stating definitively that “at least 40 people were killed“;

The missile attack followed a suspected poison gas attack Saturday on the last remaining foothold for the Syrian opposition in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. At least 40 people were killed, including families found in their homes and shelters, opposition activists and local rescuers said.

The story  related allegations of a “chlorine attack” from both well-known anti-Assad organisations, SAMS and the White Helmets;

They did not identify the substance used, but the civil defense organization, also known as the White Helmets, and the Syrian American Medical Society, a medical relief organization, said survivors treated at clinics smelled strongly of chlorine.

To it’s credit, a disclaimer immediatly followed;

Those reports could not be independently verified because of a government blockade around the town.

The three authors of this AP  story appeared very keen to impress upon readers that allegations of a “gas  attack” had not been independently verified. This despite that Trump was already ‘tweeting’  of a “mindless chemical attack” before any evidence had been gathered or facts verified. (Who needs facts or evidence when you’re the President of the United States?)

Unfortunately, despite the not-independently-verified disclaimer, parts of the Herald/AP story neglected to insert the all-important term, ‘alleged’;

First responders entering apartments in Douma late Saturday said they found bodies collapsed on floors, some foaming at the mouth.

By omitting the term ‘alleged’, the above phrase takes on a factual status that is not deserved. There was simply no independent corroboration of any bodies “ collapsed on floors“, nor that “some [were]  foaming at the mouth“. What is the point of a not-independently-verified disclaimer if  unsubstantiated claims are presented as facts?

Again it is worthwhile noting that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights refused to apportion blame on alleged chemical weapons;

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a higher death toll, saying at least 80 people were killed in Douma, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside them.

With the heavy bombardment on Douma, the above statement makes far more sense as to a cause of fatalities. It also ties in with Robert Fisk’s findings.

By contrast, a Herald/AP story on 11 April yielded fourteen uses of ‘suspected’; five of ‘apparent’; four of ‘alleged’, and three of ‘allegations’;

The U.N. Security Council has rejected a Russian resolution that would have welcomed an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into a suspected poison gas attack in the suburbs of Syria’s capital.

[…]

The international chemical weapons watchdog says it will send a fact finding mission to the Syrian town where an alleged chemical weapons attack occurred over the weekend.

The OPCW mission to Syria was referred to early-on in the story;

British Ambassador Karen Pierce said the U.K. opposed the resolution because an OPCW investigative team is already headed to Syria and the Russian text did not include a new body to determine accountability for chemical weapons attacks.

Occassionally, though, an assertion was presented as factual, omitting the use of ‘alleged’ to maintain the unverified aspects to these events;

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s poison gas attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus.

[…]

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s [unverified*] poison gas attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus.

[…]

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s chemical attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus. The opposition blamed President Bashar Assad’s forces for the [alleged*] attack, accusations the government strongly denies.

[* – inserted by Author]

Another story on 11 April occasionally referred to an ‘alleged’ attack;

The Syrian air base was struck by missiles a little more than 24 hours after the alleged chemical attack. Israel does not typically comment on its operations in Syria, and it is unclear whether the missile attack was linked to the alleged use of chemical weapons

As was ‘suspected’ attack;

The international chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday it was sending a fact-finding mission to the Syrian town where a suspected chemical gas attack took place over the weekend, following a request from the Syrian government and its Russian backers that appeared to be aimed at averting punitive Western military action.

Russia’s doubts that an alleged chemical attack even took place at all was canvassed, as was the OPCW mission to Syria.

However, statements by rebel groups were still reported as facts;

Syrian opposition activists and paramedics said more than 40 people were killed in last weekend’s suspected chemical attack and blamed the government.

Nowhere was it stated explicitly that reports of any deaths were unverified.

Such an omission might lead a reader to unconscious bias, accepting the alleged chemical attack as a proven event because of the claim – still unverified – that people had died.

A 13 April Herald/AP story reported that Syrian government forces had retaken Douma from rebels. The so-called “gas attack” was described as ‘alleged’ seven times.

With the defeat of the rebels in Douma,  no one had been reported as asking two basic questions;

1. What did the Syrian government hope to gain by allegedly using chemical weapons to retake Douma – when it was already close to victory anyway?

2. Why was the alleged  gas attack carried out against civilians, rather than rebel fighters? If the alleged gas attack was indeed orchestrated by the Syrian regime, it would have made more strategic sense to target armed enemy combatants rather than unarmed civilians.

A subsequent NZ Herald/AP story on 13 April carried the claim that the French government had “proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks”. The story did not mention what that “proof” was, or how it had been obtained. The OPCW mission to Syria had not yet reached Douma to carry out their investigation.

The article did not use ‘alleged’, and ‘allegations’ was used only in conjunction with the Syrian government denying culpability for any so-called “attack”. In fact, the story abandoned any consideration that the alleged attack was still to be verified;

He [President Emmanuel Macron] previously said any French action would target Syria’s chemical weapons abilities.

Note: not, “Syria’s *alleged* chemical weapons abilities“.

The US-led strike on Syria was only a day away.  Media stories now seemed to lean further toward the alleged gas attack as factually proven, rather than still-to-be-verified.

Macron’s so-called “evidence” was revealed the following day, in a story run by Reuters;

The French services analyzed the testimonies, photos and videos that spontaneously appeared on specialized websites, in the press and on social media in the hours and days following the attack.

Testimonies obtained by the French services were also analyzed. After examining the videos and images of victims published online, they were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated. The spontaneous circulation of these images across all social networks confirms that they were not video montages or recycled images. Lastly, some of the entities that published this information are generally considered reliable.

In other words, Macron – and later Prime Minister Ardern – based their “evidence” on unverified video footage and photographs supplied by rebel groups in Douma.

Macron’s “evidence” brings back memories of  strident insistence by the US in 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Those claims were eventually proven false.

All, of which was pointed out in a subsequent Herald/AP story on 15 April;

The West’s assessments of what happened April 7 in Douma rely mainly on open source information. That includes witness testimony, as well as video and photos shot by aid workers, victims of the attacks and unspecified additional intelligence about barrel bombs and chlorine canisters found in the aftermath.

The same story pointed out to Herald readers;

The three countries launched their missiles even as the fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was in the Syrian capital and had been expected to head on Saturday to Douma.

Though these valid points were utterly lost amidst unsubstantiated allegations by the US and it’s clients in Syria;

The White House said doctors and aid organizations on the ground in Douma reported “the strong smell of chlorine and described symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin.” A senior administration official told reporters Saturday that while there was more publicly available evidence pointing to the use of chlorine, the U.S. has “significant information that also points to sarin use.”

It would be a very astute, politically aware, member of the public to “read between the lines” and arrive at any other conclusion that – on the balance of probabilities”, and not “beyond reasonable doubt” – that the West had reliable evidence to point to Assad’s forces being the culprits in the alleged gas attack on Douma.

Indeed, this very fact was highlighted when an acquaintance of this blogger referred to “Assad being responsible for the [so-called] gassing of his own people”. Upon closer questioning, my acquaintance was unaware that;

A. There was no evidence who carried out the alleged attack,

B. That it may not even have occurred at all,

C. And that an OPCW team was presently in Syria awaiting an opportunity to enter Douma to conduct their investigation.

It is against a back-drop of media stories that fail to reinforce that the so-called “gas attack” has not been verified, nor has the OPCW not carried out their investigation – yet statements by Western governments and Syrian rebels are reported as “facts – that a subtle narrative has taken hold in the public’s collective consciousness.

The fact that Robert Fisk’s own investigation has cast serious doubt on supposed events in Douma on 7 April has barely been reported. Only two  references to Fisk’s reporting (according to a Google search) can be found in New Zealand’s mainstream media;

Mediaworks “Newshub” reported on 19 April;

Syrians living at the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack say it never happened, according to a new report.

British journalist Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, says when he visited the site in Douma his questions about the attack were met with “genuine perplexity”.

The attack was used as a pretext for last weekend’s air strikes against the Russia-backed Assad regime.

“Oddly, after chatting to more than 20 people, I couldn’t find one who showed the slightest interest in Douma’s role in bringing about the Western air attacks,” Mr Fisk wrote.

“Two actually told me they didn’t know about the connection.”

The video of civilians suffering from the effects of chemical weapons – believed to be chlorine and sarin – is undoubtedly real, but a local doctor told Mr Fisk they were suffering from hypoxia – oxygen loss – and dust inhalation.

“On this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived,” said Assim Rahaibani. “People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss.”

The confusion began when someone shouted “gas!” and panic broke out.

“People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

And on 22 April, Mark Dawson, editor of the Whanganui Chronicle, wrote a suprisingly radical (for the msm) critique of US military involvement in other nations’ affairs;

[Prime Minister Ardern]… has taken some criticism for her less-than-enthuiastic take on bagging Russia, rallying behind the United States and cheering on Donald Trump’s missile strikes on Syria.

It has been pointed out, with underscores, that she “accepts” rather than “supports” the US bombing of Syria, and that puts her out of step with other leaders gathered in London this week. Oh dear, a national leader who doesn’t relish killing people … how terribly squeamish.

But hang on …

On Thursday, Robert Fisk of the Independent reported from Douma, the city where the Syrian chemical attacks that prompted the US retaliation are said to have occurred.

Fisk travelled the pummelled city freely — most of the fighters and government minders from Bashar al-Assad’s regime have got out. His report casts serious doubt on whether there actually was a chemical attack.

Fisk has lived in and reported from the Middle East for 40 years; he is fluent in the languages and has never been tainted by suggestions of political partiality or propaganda. In short, he is the genuine article — a journalist.

The United States has said al-Assad used chemical weapons in Douma, and maybe that is correct.

But it should be remembered that for more than 50 years US foreign affairs have featured two constants — putting its troops in other people’s countries and lying.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq … all have been marked by a consistent policy of lying to the American people and the world.

So perhaps Ms Ardern has good reason to be cautious.

…From TV1 News

The first reference from TVNZ’s “One News” was on 8 April, with war reporting centered around the Syrian government’s ongoing battle to retake Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, from the rebel group known as “Jaysh al-Islam – The Army of Islam Syria“. Jaysh al-Islam is funded by the Saudi Arabian government and fought against ISIS.

A brief one-sentence referred passingly to the so-called gas-attack in Douma;

CNN and other outlets are reporting a possible chemical attack against civilians has taken place.

The word ‘alleged’ is not used anywhere in the story.

On 9 April, a news story on the TVNZ website is unambiguous in determining that the so-called ‘attack’ took place. The headline left no room for doubt;

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The source of the story is Associated Press, but no other indication where it originated from.

The text of the story, though, is somewhat more circumspect than the guilty-judgement of the headlines;

The report comes after a suspected poison gas attack killed at least 40 in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the last foothold for the Syrian opposition in the area.

President Donald Trump has promised a “big price to pay” for the suspected chemical attack.

And for some strange reason, TVNZ placed an image of a launching rocket at the bottom of the ‘story’.

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Though what that image has to do with Douma is unclear, as rebels have claim that the alleged gas attack was dropped by Syrian Government helicopters – not by missile(s).

The terms ‘alleged’ and ‘unverified’ are not used in the above ‘story’.

Two days later, TVNZ  ran another story – and again the headline was unequivocal:

 

Trump promises ‘forceful’ action after chemical attack on civilians in Syria

 

There was no mention of ‘alleged’, ‘suspected’, or ‘unverified’: the headline stated the so-called gassing as fact.

But again, the text of the story made belated attempts to appear impartial;

“…apparent chemical weapons attack…”

The term ‘alleged’ finally made an appearance;

“…the weapon of choice in a US attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians….”

Curiously, the author of the story touched on one peculiarity in this so-called “attack” that – until Robert Fisk’s investigation – had not been noticed;

The White House sharply rejected any suggestion that Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack, which killed more than 40 people, including children.

There was no follow-up on this point. The un-named author does not elaborate on the suggestion that “Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack“.

In what way had “Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack“?

There is no explanation. No follow-up. In one passing sentence, the writer may have missed a critical possible motive for the alleged gas attack. As the time-line above shows, eleven days after Trump announced that the US will withdraw its forces from Syria – the American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated unequivocally, “… We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things.”

On 14 April, the term ‘alleged’ is used for the first time (?) in a TVNZ headline;

 

Russia says alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

 

The story used terms;

“…victims of the purported attack were staged…”

“…the suspected chemical attack…”

“…threatened military action in response to the alleged attack…”

“…She said of the alleged chemical attack…”

“…the suspected gas attack in Douma…”

“…the suspected April 7 attack…”

“…previous alleged use of chemicals by the rebels…”

The nature of the impartiality of the terminology may have been prompted by the re-taking of Douma by Syrian government forces, and serious doubts being raised regarding the veracity of the so-called “gas attack”. Or, the author of this particular write-up may have been more conscious of the fact that the so-called “gas attacks” were, as yet, unverified.

However, sadly the non-judgemental terminology was undone with a claim that was yet to be supported by independent investigators;

“… and killed more than 40 people in Douma…”

The phrase should have read “… and *allegedly* killed more than 40 people in Douma…”, to keep it consistent with the unverified nature of this story.

The story reported that OPCW was sending a team to investigate the situation in Douma. It also featured strong counter-claims from Syria’s Russian ally.

The following day, another headline presented the so-called attack as a fact, omitting any reference to ‘suspected’ or ‘alleged’;

 

Russian Defence Ministry claims chemical attack in Syria was a ‘planned provocation’ by UK

 

– though the opening statement indicated otherwise;

The Russian Ministry of Defence on Friday (local time) said it has enough evidence showing that a planned provocation was carried out in the case of alleged chemical attack in Syrian town of Douma on April 7.

The headline and the body of the text are contradictory.

Another story on 15 April raised concerns about the actual claims of chemical weapon usage by the Syrian army. The story quoted a Syrian official who asked an obvious question after a so-called “chemical weapons manufacturing facility” was destroyed by American missiles;

 “If there were chemical weapons in the building, we would not be here. My colleagues and I came here at 05:00 this morning. If there were chemical weapons, we would need to wear masks and take other protective measures to be staying here.”

It would be interesting if there were a follow-up to this story to determine if – after the buildings were destroyed by missiles –  the surrounding area had been contaminated by toxic chemical fall-out.

The story headed;

 

Syrian research facility hit by US strikes didn’t have chemical weapons, says official

 

– did not pre-judge the veracity of the rebel’s gas attack claims.

A further story on 15 April again reverted to predetermined judgement, with the opening paragraph suggesting that the unverified was now verified;

President Donald Trump on Saturday declared “Mission Accomplished” for a US-led allied missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons programme, but the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

A paragraph near the end of the story also accepted “as fact” that chemical weapons facilities were targeted;

The strikes “successfully hit every target,” White told reporters at the Pentagon. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons “bunker” a few miles from the second target.

With few exceptions, most other headlines also presented the so-called gas attack as factually proven, without the all-important caveats of ‘alleged’, ‘suspected’, etc;

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Despite being a state-owned broadcaster, TVNZ – like its privately-owned cousins – has used language that pre-determined (a) the veracity of the alleged “gas attack and (b) those culpable. Attempts to use neutral, non-judgemental terms have been sporadic and mostly within the text of the stories.

The headlines cannot be viewed in any other way than casting blame on the Syrian government as being the ‘authors’ of the so-called gassing of Douma.

None of which has yet to be verified by the OPCW acting on behalf of the U.N.

…From TV3 News

On 8 April , TV3 News reported the so-called “gas attack” with headlines that left zero room for doubt;

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The  alleged “gas attack” was reported without question;

Dozens have been killed in a chemical attack in Syria after a barrel bomb dropped poisonous chemicals on civilians in eastern Ghouta

A medical relief organisation has estimated 35 people have died as a result of the attack, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has confirmed 11 deaths.

A Syrian rebel group is accusing government forces of launching the attack. State media has denied this claim.

More than 70 people suffered breathing difficulties due to the attack, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

According to the Syrian American Medical Society, a chlorine bomb targeted Douma hospital and a second bomb with “mixed agents”, including nerve agents, was dropped on a nearby building.

The most basic journalistic tenet was ignored: question everything. The story could have been written by hired propagandists writing for any government. It was not news – it was a copy-and-pasted press release.

The following day, a subsequent headline read;

 

Syrian gas attack death toll tops 70

 

Though the term “a suspected chemical attack” was used and Russian statements denouncing the claim as bogus were published, the headline carries the weight of pre-judged pseudo-authenticity. The headline conveyed the firm message: the “gas attack” happened; people died; an atrocity was committed. The subtext is that the culprit was the Syrian government (or its allies).

After all, why would the rebels gas their own? That would be like questioning whether the “gas attack” occurred at all.

A further headline on 9 April also repeated the certainty of Assad’s guilt;

 

Retaliation on Syrian military base after chemical attack

 

As the West launched its missile strike on Syrian targets, a 14 April Newshub headline read;

 

US, UK and France launch strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack

 

The opening statement referred to a “suspected chemical attack” – not ‘alleged’;

The United States, France and the UK have launched military strikes in Syria to punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for his suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump has announced.

– and then declared that the Western attack was launched to “punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for his suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again“.

Doing it again“? Is the world completely convinced Assad did it the first time on 7 April?

The same Mediaworks/Newshub story then made an even more astounding (and unsupported) claim;

The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Mr Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

There was no corroborating evidence to back up the assertion that “a defiant Mr Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals“. It was an assertion based purely on Western government’s press releases.

On 15 April, another story perpetuated the slanted, partisan nature of the “gas attack” claims;

 

First images emerge of latest bombing in Syria

 

The US military says the joint air strikes by the US, UK and France have set back Syria’s chemical weapons capability “for years”.

The story reported;

The target, a chemical research centre outside Damascus, was on the receiving end of 76 of 105 cruise missiles fired at Syria on Saturday.

– without a shred of evidence that the destroyed buildings housed “a chemical research centre“. For all we know those buildings may have been producing pharmaceuticals, as one Syrian official stated. Or buzzy-bees, for Syrian children. There is zero evidence either way.

Another story on the same day reported a statement made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, parroting the non-fact that the destroyed buildings housed chemical weapons facilities;

Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday New Zealand “accepts why” the strikes, which targeted Syrian chemical weapons facilities, took place.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.”

Not even the lesser term ‘suspected’ was used.

Unfortunately, the Green’s condemnation of the US-led bombing failed to mention anywhere that the alleged “gas attacks” had yet to be verified by the OPCW. Their statement in Spinoff on 14 April accepted the so-called “gas attack” in Douma as factual.

It was not until 17 April – ten days after the alleged “gas attack” – that Newshub revealed in depth that the OPCW had not even visited Douma to investigate the alleged attack;

 

International inspectors push to see Syria gas site

 

At no point does Mediaworks/Newshub recognise the contradiction of apportioning blame to Assad before the OPCW had had a chance to investigate.

Which does not prevent the same article from asserting;

The United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for the suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

Note the phraseology: “Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria” – not “three *alleged* chemical weapons facilities in Syria“.

On 16 April, Mediaworks/Newshub’s Anna Bracewell-Worrell published a story that explicitly stated;

On April 7, civilians in Syria were attacked with chemical weapons.

The images that came out of the attack were horrifying – civilians convulsing and struggling for breath, children ash-faced and terrified. At least 42 people were killed.

[…]

It is the second time Mr Trump has ordered retaliation after the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

Claims by Russia and the Syrian government that the so-called “gas attack” was fake was casually dismissed;

Russian officials have even suggested the attack was staged.

Yet, further down in the same story, the author referred to;

Mr Trump said that attack was also a direct punishment for Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

It was a rare moment for Mediaworks/Newshub to employ the term ‘alleged’. At some point, the author may have realised that allegations of a “gas bombing” had yet to be proven. Thus far the story appeared to be firmly in the realm of war propaganda.

Unfortunately, a subsequent comment by the author returned to the Official Western Narrative;

Following the missile attack on chemical weapons…

Then came the explosive (no pun intended) on-the-scene report by veteran Middle East Correspondent, Robert Fisk, that locals in Douma had no knowledge of a “gas attack” in their city;

“Oddly, after chatting to more than 20 people, I couldn’t find one who showed the slightest interest in Douma’s role in bringing about the Western air attacks.”

One would find it inconceivable that the smell of chlorine would go unnoticed by citizens in a sizeable city such as Douma.

Mediaworks/Newshub – to its credit – ran a story on Fisk’s investigation on 19 April;

 

Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

 

As far as this blogger can determine, Mediaworks/Newshub was only one of two media outlets that reported on Fisk’s findings in any meaningful way. The other was Mark Dawson, writing an editorial for the  Whanganui Chronicle.

All of which makes Tova O’Brien, Newshub’s Political Editor, “opinion” piece on 17 April another example of Western media “pundits” banging the war-drum of hysteria;

 

Tova O’Brien: PM’s position firmly on the fence isn’t good enough

 

No stranger to flawed “news” reporting, Ms O’Brien abandoned any pretext of journalistic impartiality and the search for truth when she tried and convicted the Syrian government as the culprit behind the alleged “gas attack” on Douma;

These are just a few of New Zealand’s close friends who got in behind the United States, United Kingdom and France when they launched airstrikes against the murderous Syrian regime and its chemical weapons sites…

Ms O’Brien didn’t doubt for a moment that the alleged “gas attack” occurred, and that there were (allegedly) victims;

The attacks came after yet another gas attack that killed 75 people, including children.

[…]

US airstrikes in Syria last year in response to a chemical weapons attack clearly didn’t deter further similar attacks by the Syrian regime.

[…]

But meanwhile the Syrian war wages on. Children keep dying, being gassed, poisoned by nerve agents – eyes weeping, noses and mouths streaming and frothing. They’re vomiting, and if the exposure is great enough they’re lucky if they die fast.

Ms O’brien blamed “an impotent UNSC that has diplomatically done sweet FA when it comes to the Syrian War” and demanded, “should innocent Syrians and their children suffer because the UN is inherently flawed?

Nowhere does she mention that not only is the alleged “gas attack” unverified – but that the OPCW has despatched an investigatory team to search for evidence.

Evidence.

The stuff we usually require before confirming a crime took place and assigning guilt to the culprit.

Even as Ms O’Brien towed the Pentagon-line that the dastardly Bashar al-Assad was guilty of a chemical weapon atrocity,  her employer went from this;

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… to this;

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Luckily for us there are real journalists operating who ask the hard questions and risk their well-being to bring us the truth. It is far harder than Ms O’Brien and her desk-bound colleagues who operate well away from “theatres of conflict” and instead rely on propaganda from governmental media “advisories” (ie; propaganda).

Unfortunately, when the truth is eventually teased out and presented to the world (as when the mythical “weapons of mass destruction” were shown to be a Western governmental fabrication), it is rarely presented with the same mass-coverage as the original “fake news”.

In this case, Robert Fisk went to Douma and discovered that the so-called “gas attack” lacked credibility with the locals. In other words, he revealed that it was fake news.

The question we – especially so-called professionals in the mainstream media – should be asking is: did the public notice?

…Conclusion

What makes governmental war pronouncements sound so credible is not from whence they emanate – but that they are given a veneer of factualness by constant, non-critical repetition by the mainstream media.

Our media is tasked with running a critical gaze over government-supplied information. Alleged “events” are supposed to be tested  and “facts”  fact-checked.

Instead, when it comes to war, in many instances they have become a compliant mouthpiece for State propaganda far more effective than anything Josef Goebbels could have envisioned in his widest dreams.

No wonder George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” was never built. Instead it was outsourced to private enterprise. They apparently do it so much better.

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References

NZ Herald:  Syrian regime accused of killing civilians in chemical attack

The Independent:  The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

RT News:  Al-Qaeda’s MASH unit – How SAMS is selling regime change & driving US to war

NZ Herald: Syrian news reports missile attack – US denies it fired them

Twitter: Trump – 9 April 2018

NZ Herald:  The Latest – UN nixes Russian text on Syria gas attack probe

NZ Herald:  Chemical weapons experts to inspect attack site in Syria

NZ Herald:  The Latest – UN Security Council schedules meeting on Syria

NZ Herald:  France mulls military action against Syria for gas attacks

Reuters:  French declassified intelligence report on Syria gas attacks

TVNZ News:  Prime Minister reaffirms that she ‘accepts the decision’ to bomb Syria – but would have preferred going through the UN

NZ Herald:  Certain of gas attack, allies struck Syria before UN report

Mediaworks:  Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Whanganui Chronicle:  Please be careful what you ‘accept’, Jacinda

TV1 News:  Suspected Syrian gas attack reportedly kills 70 Douma

Wikipedia:  Jaysh al-Islam

Daily Mail:  The Army of Islam: Militant group battling ISIS and the Syrian regime show their might in ‘graduation ceremony’ featuring 1,700 soldiers and a fleet of armoured tanks

TV1 News: Strikes hit Syrian airfield one day after chemical attacks on civilians, – reports, US denies responsibility

The Independent:  Syrian government accused of using nerve agents as death toll from Douma ‘chemical weapons attack’ rises

TV1 News:  Trump promises ‘forceful’ action after chemical attack on civilians in Syria

TV1 News:  Russia says alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

TV1 News:  Russian Defence Ministry claims chemical attack in Syria was a ‘planned provocation’ by UK

TV1 News:  Syrian research facility hit by US strikes didn’t have chemical weapons, says official

TV1 News:  ‘A perfectly executed strike’ – Trump declares ‘Mission accomplished!’ after US-led missile attack on Syria

TV1 News:  France says decision to launch strike on Syrian chemical weapons based on trusted information

TV1 News:  US vows to hit Russia with fresh sanctions in wake of Syrian chemical attack

TV1 News:  Syrian Minister meets with international chemical weapons watchdog over deadly chemical weapons attack

TV1 News:  Shots fired at UN security team visiting site of suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria

Mediaworks/Newshub: Dozens killed in Syria chemical attack

Mediaworks/Newshub: Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Mediaworks/Newshub: Syrian gas attack death toll tops 70

Mediaworks/Newshub: Retaliation on Syrian military base after chemical attack

Mediaworks/Newshub: US, UK and France launch strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack

Mediaworks/Newshub:  First images emerge of latest bombing in Syria

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Greens condemn ‘Trump-led’ strike on Syria

Spinoff:  Bombing Syria will never bring peace. NZ must stand up against ad hoc violence

Mediaworks/Newshub:  International inspectors push to see Syria gas site

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Strikes on Syria – How we got to the edge of ‘World War III’

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Tova O’Brien – PM’s position firmly on the fence isn’t good enough

Additional

The Times: Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack

Previous related blogposts

The GCSB law – Oh FFS!!!

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

One minute to midnight?

It is ten seconds to midnight

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 May 2018.

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NZ Herald changes – For Real?

24 September 2015 1 comment

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typewriter-bleed

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The following two reports were posted on Radio NZ’s website within a few hours of each other on Friday 18 September (ignore the date given on one item; Updated at 2:39 pm on 20 August 2015).

The first item reported that “APN [parent company of the NZ Herald] plans to begin registration of visitors to its New Zealand Herald website before the end of the year, as the company’s profits fall“.

The article went on to outline how “The Australian-based APN News and Media – parent company of NZME which owns the Herald – has indicated it wants to charge customers for online content“.

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NZ Herald to start digital registration of readers

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The next item reported that some of NZ Herald’s most experienced columnists were being dumped;

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High-profile NZ Herald jobs under review

 

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Now call me old-fashioned, but it strikes me as a rather bizarre business strategy that, on the one hand, the owners will shortly be raising a paywall on NZ Herald’s on-line content, and demanding payment to read material…

… whilst on the other, they are cutting some of their most experienced contributing writers?!

How does that work?

Actually, it doesn’t.

Expecting consumers to pay for a product that the company owners are busily gutting is an insane proposition. Reducing the content of the paper, written by some of the most insightful, respected columnists in this country,  is a self-defeating policy. It will only achieve one thing; a reduction in quality leading to an eventual  loss of readership.

In commercial-speak: No sound business model can succeed if consumers are presented with a lower standard of quality of product.

In plain english: gutting a newspaper is bad business, and harmful to the democratic process.

This is not a solution, this is an ill-considered panic-move. As usual, it is workers who will pay for bad management decisions that any fool can see will not work.

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References

Radio NZ: High-profile NZ Herald jobs under review

Radio NZ: NZ Herald to start digital registration of readers

Previous related blogposts

Pay Walls – the last gasp of a failed media business-model?

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"WTF?!?!"

                                                   “WTF?!?!”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 September 2015.

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Categories: Media Tags: ,

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

15 July 2015 6 comments

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair - v2

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1. The Stage is Set

Just over one year ago, the NZ Herald published a series of stories relating to a then-eleven year old letter written by then-Labour leader, David Cunliffe; alleged “big donations” made to the Labour Party by migrant businssman, Donghua Liu; and other assorted (and somewhat dubious) allegations of “impropriety”.

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NZ Herald - Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - letter for immigration nz

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NZ Herald - Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party - Donghua Liu - john armstrong - david cunliffe resignation

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NZ Herald - Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - $100,000 bottle wine

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A time-line of events is outlined here: The Donghua Liu Affair:  Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media

Judging by the activities of the office of the Minister for Immigration; TV3 journalist, Brook Sabin; NZ Herald personnel Shayne Curry, Tim Murphy,  Jared Savage,  and John Armstrong;  blogger Cameron Slater, and assorted right-wingers, it is also evident that there was a high degree of collusion between these parties.

One day before the Herald launched it’s “exclusive” that David Cunliffe had written an eleven year old letter on behalf of Donghua Liu, right-wing blogger “Barnsley Bill” (Russell Beaumont) posted this cryptic comment on blog, ‘The Dim Post‘;

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barnsley bill - russell beaumont - donghua liu - nz herald - the dim post

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Hours before Jared Savage’s story (David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid) went live on-line at 2.29PM, Twitter chatter between the Herald’s Editor, Shayne Currie, and sundry right-wing characters were gleefully anticipating the release;

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shayne-curry-twitter-nz-herald-donghua-liu-david-cunliffe-immigration-nz1

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Some Tweets have been deleted by their authors – but the screenshot above is a permanent record of  the conversation. (Acknowledgement to  co-writer, ‘Hercules’, for uncovering this part of the story.)

But the ‘clincher’ was this post, on far-right blog, ‘Whaleoil‘, published at 12.57PM – an hour and a half before the Herald published Savage’s story at 2.29PM;

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donghua liu - nz herald - whaleoil - cameron slater - jared savage - david cunliffe

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See full story revealed here: The Donghua Liu Affair: The Players Revealed

Even the Prime Minister could not resist chipping in with his own “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” reference to being privy to more information, as he stated the following morning (19 June) after Savage’s story went live. As Savage reported;

Speaking from the East Lawn at the United Nations this morning, Mr Key said he had heard rumours that Mr Liu had given more that $15,000.

“I’ve heard the rumours and we’ll see what actually comes out but I’d be very, very amazed if the amount is $15,000,” he told New Zealand reporters.

Key’s reference to “$15,000” related to allegations made by the Herald that Liu paid that amount for a book autographed by then-Labour leader, Helen Clark. On 16 June, Savage wrote;

But the Herald can reveal Liu, 53, also paid $15,000 at a Labour Party auction in 2007 for a book signed by Helen Clark, the Prime Minister at the time, according to a party source.

On 22 June, Herald journalist, Bevan Hurley, reported on the now-mythical $100,000 bottle of wine;

Millionaire businessman Donghua Liu spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.

The embarrassing revelations are contained in a signed statement from Liu, which the Herald on Sunday has obtained.

The Herald’s sole informant was migrant businessman, Donghua Liu. (More on this point later.)

2. Retractions

But only three days later, as Labour hit back demanding evidence of Liu’s claims and pressure mounted on the Herald to “put up or shut up”, a new, revised, statement appeared;

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NZ Herald - Donghua Liu's new statement on Labour donations - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - $100,000 bottle wine

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Savage wrote;

Liu, to whom Labour gave permanent residency against official advice, says his earlier signed statement on the wine auction was “capable of two meanings” and after repeated inquiries from the Herald he says he wants to clarify what he spent the $100,000 on.

[…]

He said the figure was the total payments to Labour and its politicians which included the wine auctions, a $2000 donation to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, the Yangtze River trip and anonymous donations to MPs.

“I have no reason to inflate this number. It’s as best as I can remember,” said Liu.

The Herald’s back-tracking continued when this editorial appeared on 27 June 2014;

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NZ Herald - Editorial - Cries of bias will not stop reporting - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - $100,000 bottle wine

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The editorial bluster continued until the un-named author came to the salient point;

“At the weekend, the Herald on Sunday reported from a signed statement by Liu in which he appeared to claim he spent $100,000 on wine at a Labour fundraiser and $50,000-$60,000 hosting former Labour MP Rick Barker in China. The paper verified the document was from Liu and put its claims to Mr Cunliffe and the Labour Party.

On Wednesday, Liu provided the Herald with another statement, after being pressed for more detail, in which he corrected his previous implication that $100,000 was paid for a bottle of wine and limited his total spend on Labour and its MPs when it was in power to “close to $100,000”.

The Herald immediately published his clarification, with prominence on our website, where it remains, and amended the Herald on Sunday story online. The Sunday paper will publish a clarification this weekend.

Liu’s mis-statement, however, has been grasped as proof of Herald complicity in a plot against Labour. The claim is risible, across the range of political coverage but also explicitly over the Herald’s investigation of National and Labour and their damaging cosiness with Donghua Liu.

We regret having reported inflated and conflated dollar figures.”

On-line public commentary following the editorial was scathing and in no mood to be mollified by this Clayton’s apology (if that is what it was intended to be). No wonder it was eventually closed down.

3. Press Council Complaint & Consequence

On 5 July 2014, I laid a complaint with the Press Council regarding the nature and content of the Herald stories.  The  complaint referred to several Herald articles omitting to mention Cunliffe’s letter being eleven years old; that no evidence had been presented to support Liu’s claim he had paid $15,000 for a book , nor $100,000 for a bottle of wine; that the Herald had not released the full text of Liu’s signed statement, and other examples of misreporting and lack of evidence.

(Full text of complaint here.)

On 21 August 2014,  the Press Council deliberations yielded it’s decision.

Despite the complaint against the Herald being dismissed by the Press Council (hardly a surprise), it is noteworthy that the Council did issue one admonishment against the paper;

We accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement. It can correctly be distinguished from the Cunliffe letter released under the Official Information Act. We do not consider there is any obligation on a newspaper to publish it in full. While they were entitled to rely on such a statement as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source.

(Full text of Decision here.)

In fact, the entire series of stories emanated from just one man: Donghua Liu. Not only was the businessman’s story uncorroborated, but the Herald was reluctantly forced to concede that several of Liu’s “facts” were simply incorrect.

There is also the strange involvement of Cameron Slater, Russell Beaumont, and other sundry assorted right-wing characters, who were party to the Herald’s story.

On top of which was the even stranger fact that the Herald’s OIA request (made by Jared Savage on 16 June 2014) into Donghua Liu’s immigration was processed within 48 hours – a feat unheard of when it comes to Official Information requests.

(Full text of Immigration NZ letter here. Full story here.)

4. The Herald’s Promises of  more “evidence” and “details” to come

Part of the Herald’s defence was that the Donghua Liu investigation was on-going and more revelations were to follow. The following comments by the Herald’s then-editor-in-chief promised the following;

Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy, 27 June 2014

“We are continuing to investigate the payments from Donghua Liu and the circumstances of his various migration approvals.”

Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy,  4 July 2014

“We fully expect further details to come will show the  Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based.”

Murphy made similar commitments to the NZ press Council as part of their defence against complaints in the handling of Dongthua Liu’s allegations;

Tim Murphy, email, 7 July 2014 & NZ Herald statement to NZ Press Council, 15 July 2014;

“We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly.”

Tim Murphy, ibid

“You seem to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim he attended only a staff party in China.  We do not accept this and expect further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be revealed in due course.”

To date, no further evidence, nor details, have been forth-coming.

I wrote to Shayne Currie, the Herald’s recently-appointed editor, asking;

It is now one year on from the Donghua Liu Affair, which ranged from 18 June 2014, to 27 June 2014, when  several allegations were made regarding David Cunliffe, Rick Barker, and the NZ Labour Party.

At least one of those allegations (a so-called “$100,000 bottle of wine”) was retracted by your paper. Another allegation, of a so-called “$15,000 book signed by Helen Clark”, was never proven.
Two complaints to the NZ Press Council were, for the most part, not upheld, though your paper was roundly criticised for sole reliance on only one source (Donghua Liu), and not confirmed from a second source. The Press Council stated in it’s findings that this was a failure of a basic tenet of journalism.
On several occassions, the then-editor of the Herald, Tim Murphy,  stated that the investigation into this story was on-going and expected further details and evidence to emerge.
I refer you to statements made by Murphy;
[See statements above by Tim Murphy]
As it has now been exactly one year since the Donghua Liu Affair, are you able to advise me as to what further “details” and “evidence” the Herald’s “continuing investigations” have uncovered?
I will be seeking comment from other ‘players’ in this story, and felt it fair that I seek your comments as well, to present some degree of balance.
I will be happy to present any comment you wish to make, verbatim.

As this story is published, Currie has not replied to my emailed questions.

5. A response from Labour’s Mike Williams

Former Labour Party President, Mike Williams, was more forthcoming when I questioned him on the Donghua Liu Affair. On 8 July, Williams told me;

“I was incensed by this. Because if the Labour Party had picked up $150,000 I would’ve known about it.”

This was all founded on bullshit. There were no donations from Donghua Liu. Not a cent.”

Williams was scathing of the manner of the Herald’s reporting of Donghua Liu’s claims;

“This story was just total bullshit, it was front page bullshit. They kind of withdrew from it, but it did damage the Labour Party at a time when it didn’t need much damage.

There’s gotta be a withdrawal or apology, I would have thought.”

6A. Conclusion

In a previous chapter of the Donghua Liu Affair (The OIA Gambit), ‘Hercules’ and I wrote;

What appears to be an orchestrated  Beehive plot to dig dirt for throwing at Labour leader, David Cunliffe, ahead of a crucial parliamentary debate is revealed in a paper trail linking Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, and the Parliamentary Press Gallery offices of the New Zealand Herald and TV3.

Hatched in National’s anticipation of a hammering in a debate on Wednesday 18 June (note the date) prompted by the resignation of ACT leader, John Banks, the plot was pivotal on having Cunliffe first deny helping Auckland businessman Donghua Liu with his residency application – before producing an eleven-year-old letter from Immigration’s files as proof that the Opposition leader was either a liar or had suffered serious brain fade.

On its own, the letter was innocuous…

…What is certain is that the real reason for the urgent 48-hour response to the OIA requests was to ensure that the Cunliffe letter was in the public domain by midday on Wednesday 18 June.

The same day that the government was facing a torrid questioning by the Opposition after the conviction and resignation of ACT MP, John Banks. A government that desperately needed a credible diversion. Relying on another beneficiary-bashing story from Paula Bennett was simply not tenable.

This was the a Dirty Trick of the highest order, involving an eleven year old letter; complicit media looking for another  easy sensational news story; Ministers with connections to right wing bloggers; and journalists who run with the pack instead of asking questions that might yield real answers.

As they say in law enforcement circles; Motive. Means. Opportunity.

The government had all three.

This was the real story behind the Donghua Liu Affair.

However, there is more to it than that.

The motivation of the National government to smear and destroy David Cunliffe’s credibility is fairly obvious. With National facing an election later that year (2014), a resurgent Labour Party led by a new leader was the last thing they needed.

But there were two other players in this Affair…

6B. Donghua Liu

As I wrote in a previous chapter on this Affair (The impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign), the Herald came into possession of the first of two statements by Donghua Liu (neither of which have ever been released publicly, despite ongoing demands for transparency);

The date on Liu’s “signed statement” – 3 May – was only two days after Maurice Williamson’s enforced resignation after being found out attempting to influence a police investigation into Liu’s assault on two women.

The close timing of Williamson’s resignation and the date on Liu’s “signed statement” was a critical mistake on the part of those responsible for this smear campaign. It ties the two events together. I believe Key’s senior media strategist, Jason Ede, and right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater were probably involved.

The motive for the smear campaign was an act of utu, in retaliation for Labour prosecuting revelations against Maurice Williamson.

Interestingly, the Herald political reporter who wrote the Donghua Liu stories made a passing reference to Maurice Williamson as well, in an email to me dated 17 July, last year;

It all started with queries about his citizenship while the Nats were in power, against advice, specifically after Maurice Williamson writing an email in support in 2010…it eventually led to Mr Williamson’s resignation as a Minister for intervening in a police matter and the discovery that Liu was also lobbying Immigration Minister Woodhouse to change policy. –  Jared Savage, email, Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 11:27 PM

From several media reports, it seemed clear that the relationship between Donghua Liu and Maurice Williamson was more than just a formal MP-Constituent relationship. They appeared to be good friends;

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Liu, who has close ties with the minister, was arrested in December last year following a domestic violence incident…  He had previously lobbied his colleagues to grant Liu citizenship against official advice. Liu’s citizenship was approved in 2010 by then Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy. He later made a $22,000 donation to the National Party. TV3, 1 May 2014

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National MP Maurice Williamson lobbied a ministerial colleague to give New Zealand citizenship “as fast as possible” to a wealthy businessman – then conducted the ceremony himself the day after citizenship was granted against the recommendation of officials.The urgent VIP ceremony, believed to have taken place in Mr Williamson’s electoral office, is another close link between the former Minister and millionaire property developer Donghua Liu, who has donated $22,000 to the National Party previously. – NZ Herald, 1 May 2014

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He [Maurice Williamson] later revealed that Liu owned a bach next to his family’s house at Pauanui, and the MP had used the property and performed minor repair work on the house when Liu was in China.“I’m a fan of being a handyman and the house was good to be able to use while we were doing it,” he told Campbell Live.Mr Williamson recommended the neighbouring holiday home to Liu when it went on the market.  He also said he had eaten dinner with Liu as part of a group five or six times. – Otago Daily Times, 2 May 2014

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When Williamson resigned his ministerial portfolio on 1 May 2014,  Donghua Liu no doubt noticed his friend’s misfortune, and conveniently  supplied his statement to the NZ Herald three days later.

Donghua Liu could not have been too happy at the downfall of his ‘mate’, and was eager to exact revenge against the Labour leader, David Cunliffe.

One of the few remaining questions is; who put him (Liu) up to it? Who could have prompted a migrant businessman, with poor command of the english language, to make a formal statement, and ensure it made it’s way to the Herald’s offices?

It had to be someone well-connected with the National government; who had experience with ‘dirty tricks’; links with media; and who has/had a working relationship with right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater (who, don’t forget, published Jared Savage’s Donghua Liu story on Whaleoil one and a half hours before it appeared on the Herald’s own website!).

I think we all know who fits that ‘job description‘.

6C. NZ Herald

If, as evidence indicates, the Donghua Liu story was a cunningly concocted smear-campaign run by the National Party to discredit David Cunliffe, they needed someone – a willing ‘patsy’ –  to make the allegations of “hidden donations”. That man was Donghua Liu, loyal friend of disgraced Minister, Maurice Williamson.

They also needed a compliant media outlet who could be ‘tipped’ off about Cunliffe’s 2003 letter on behalf of Donghua Liu. That media outlet would be the NZ Herald. More specifically, Jared Savage, who has admitted to regular contact with right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater.

How did Herald Reporter, Jared Savage, know to lodge an OIA request on 16 June 2014 with Immigration Minister Woodhouse’s office, seeking, “Any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from any Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005″.

Why was Savage’s OIA request granted within 48 hours – a feat unheard off when it come to this government responding to OIA requests by journalists, bloggers, members of the public, etc. (See:  The OIA Gambit)?

Was the Herald knowingly complicit in a smear campaign against David Cunliffe?

This blogger thinks not.

In which case, what was the Herald’s involvement?

Simply put, National’s “black ops” team  manufactured a story against Cunliffe using a twelve year old letter, and a bogus statement (note; it was not a signed, witnessed affidavit, which has greater legal standing than simply a signed statement) by a friend of Maurice Williamson – Donghua Liu.

Through Jared Savage, the Herald was offered an “exclusive”,  despite having no corroborating evidence nor a second source to back up Liu’s claims – a fact pointed out by the Press Council as a critical mistake. Remember that the NZ Press Council, in it’s decision (see:  The Press Council’s decision) on complaints laid against the Herald, stated;

While they were entitled to rely on such a statement [from Liu] as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source.

There could be no “second source”. Because it was all a concocted lie.

Whether or not the Herald’s editor at the time (Tim Murphy), Shayne Currie, or Jared Savage suspected that the Donghua Liu story was a pack of lies is moot.

What is indisputable is that the Herald was handed – on a plate – an exclusive story that ultimately aided in the destruction of David Cunliffe’s political career.

For the NZ Herald, that was the “pay off”; an exclusive story. They were not going to turn away from such a sensational story – especially when a competitor such as TV3 could run with it.

Shayne Currie and Tim Murphy may have been aware that Liu’s claims were bogus, but they were willing to sacrifice their journalistic integrity to throw caution to the wintry winds of Wellington’s politics and run with it anyway.

The fact that the Herald’s current editor, Shayne Currie, has not made any form of reply to my email indicates that the Donghua Liu Affair  is a story that they would rather quietly ‘went away’.

It is a unusual when a media outlet will not defend it’s own and one has to ask the obvious question – why?

Because the Donghua Liu Affair, as reported by the Herald in June and July last year, was a fabrication from beginning to end.

Otherwise, where is the new ‘evidence’ and ‘details’ promised by then-editor, Tim Murphy? Like Liu’s claims, Murphy’s promises were empty.

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Addendum1

Tim Murphy was given an opportunity to answer questions relating to the Donghua Liu Affair. A near-identical email to the one sent to Shayne Currie has not been responded to.

Addendum2

On 16 June this year – nearly the exact anniversary of the Herald publishing it’s first Donghua Liu story on 18 June 2014 – all domestic violence charges were dropped against Mr Liu.

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References

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill

Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH

Whaleoil: BREAKING – David Cunliffe’s career, such as it was, is over [ UPDATED ]

NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour Link – More to come

NZ Herald: Under-fire donor gave to Labour too

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister

NZ Herald: Maurice Williamson conducted citizenship ceremony himself

Otago Daily Times: Williamson used Liu’s holiday home

NZ Herald: Editorial – Ministers and immigration shouldn’t mix

Fairfax media: Jason Ede still has Beehive access

NZ Herald: Jason Ede resigns from the National Party after Dirty Politics scandal

NZ Herald: Collins resigns – Jared Savage and Fran O’Sullivan respond

NZ Herald: Domestic violence charges against millionaire businessman dropped

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair:  Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media

The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign

The Donghua Liu Affair: The first step to a complaint to the Press Council

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

The Donghua Liu Affair:  The Players Revealed

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2015.

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Have the media finally learned to ask the right questions?

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planet key

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When right-wing, normally pro-National,  columnists like the NZ Herald’s John Armstrong question the veracity of this government’s assertions, then it is another indication that things are not going well for John Key’s six-year old administration.

Specifically, Armstrong’s questioning  Steven Joyce’s claim on 12 March that thousands of new jobs have been created in Northland;

When you add that to the 7,500 extra new jobs created in Northland in the last year, it is clear that the region is turning the corner and beginning to grow well.”

Armstrong replied two days later, lambasting the National Minister;

Deserving of special scrutiny is the repeated claim by Steven Joyce that 7500 new jobs were created in Northland last year. It certainly sounds impressive. The Economic Development Minister’s assertion is based on Statistics New Zealand’s household labour force survey. That indeed showed an increase of 7500 more people in employment in Northland at the end of last year as against the previous December.

The survey, however, stipulates that anyone who does paid work for as little as one hour a week is classed as being in employment. When people talk about “new” jobs, they usually mean full-time or part-time with a reasonable number of hours. We simply do not know what types of jobs were actually created.

Note Armstrong’s comment; “The survey, however, stipulates that anyone who does paid work for as little as one hour a week is classed as being in employment”.

He is indeed correct. Statistics NZ considers a person to be employed if they;

  • worked for one hour or more for pay or profit in the context of an employee/employer relationship or self-employment 
  • worked without pay for one hour or more in work which contributed directly to the operation of a farm, business, or professional practice owned or operated by a relative 

Note that a worker does not even have to be paid for Statistics NZ to consider you officially “employed”.

Which Armstrong duly noted;

The risk of making bald assertions without qualification is underlined by the survey’s other finding that despite the apparent strong lift in employment, the number of unemployed in Northland fell by only about 100 during the same 12 months.

It is refreshing that some in the media are finally starting to pick up the mendacities of this government. Key and his cronies are simply not be be trusted and every utterance they make should be fact-checked.

If an openly pro-National columnist understands that the governments claims are bogus, it should not be beyond the abilities of other journalists to undertake basic research as well. There is simply no excuse; the information is readily available through search engines.

Even Cameron Slater has picked up on National’s blatant  propagandising and seems less than impressed.

As I blogged in early February;

If the last six years have shown us one thing, it is that the next scandal and revelations of dodgy ministerial practices and inept Prime Ministerial behaviour is not too far away.

The media are alerted. The public now have some awareness of dirty politics behind the scenes. And journalists are starting to exercise a form of collective memory.

It is said that the public no longer care about politics, and that Key has “de-politicised” it. But, like the continuing bad stories that finally destroyed Jenny Shipley’s government, continuing negatives stories can have a corrosive effect on this government.

The more times Key is caught out lying or being tricky with the truth or breaking promises – the more that the public will slowly but surely distrust his “brand”.

The loss of Northland will not only be damaging to the National government, it will be the clearest indication yet that the value of “Brand Key” has been  irrevocably tarnished and diminished.

This will be Key’s final term in office.

Hat-tip: Maria Sherwood – ‎John Key has Let Down New Zealand

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References

National Party: Strong economic performance in Northland

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Questionable tactics in race for Northland votes

Statistics NZ: […] Definitions

Whaleoil: Wheels come off Steve Joyce’s Northland campaign

Previous related blogposts

Un-employment; under-employment; and the plain unvarnished truth

Un-employment; under-employment; and the plain unvarnished truth*** UP DATE ***

Roy Morgan Poll: Unemployment and Under-employment up in New Zealand!

Witnessing the slow decay of a government past it’s Use-By date

When the teflon is stripped away


 

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3000 more jobs - fantasy by J Key

 

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 March 2015.

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How biased is the media? A Patrick Gower case study

29 November 2014 6 comments
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Patrick gower - twitter - laila harre - mana internet party alliance

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Isn’t it interesting that Patrick Gower – who made his partisan feelings crystal clear on Twitter on 29 May with this extraordinary outburst;

 “Lalia Harré – you make me feel sick by how you are rorting MMP http://www.3news.co.nz/Opinion-Hone-and-Dotcoms-grubby-deal/tabid/1382/articleID/346334/Default.aspx#ixzz334vE4jKO Same goes for your pals Hone, Dotcom, Minto and Sykes.

– is also the same one who interviewed Laila Harre on Saturday, 22 November, on TV3’s “The Nation”? What measure of  neutrality did “The Nation’s” producer, Tim Watkin, believe that Gower possessed, to run that interview?

Quite simply, any reasonable individual would have arrived at the conclusion that Gower should have disqualified himself and the role given, instead, to the highly talented Lisa Owen.

Notice how Gower was very well behaved during the interview, when face-to-face with  Harré?

But once Harré was off the set and he was with the panel (Mike Williams and Matthew Hooton), the gloves and mask came off and Gower’s vitriol issued forth;

“… She blamed Labour there, she blamed the Greens, she blamed the National Party, she blamed the media, she blamed Georgina Beyer, although she did say-“

“… I think there’s two words for what we saw over there, before and that’s called in denial. Hmmph!”

“… She’s not going to go in with the Greens, she’s betrayed them. Labour won’t have a a bar of her. No chance of Laila Harré coming back to Parliament. And that’s why you see this sort of denial from her. She’s got it horribly, horribly wrong and she still can’t admit it.”

It should be noted that neither Williams (an ex-Labour President) nor Hooton (a right-wing commentator) could possibly comment impartially on the Mana-Internet Alliance. Both Labour and the Right had a unified agenda to smash Mana-Internet at the election (See: 2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date). There was simply no attempt at balance with the panelists or the the host-interviewer (Gower).

What is abundantly clear is that Gower seemed to lack a certain inner fortitude to say the things he did to the panelists, to Harré’s face.

This was part of  an ongoing, unrelenting onslaught against the Left. The same dirty media that saw right-wing, self-professed “media personalities” appointed to host political debates, despite public opposition and cries of partisanship;

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Can Mike Hosking host the leader's debate - fairfax poll

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There was good reason for public disquiet over Mike Hosking hosting one of the election leadership debates. His political allegiance was already well known;

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"As I see it, all things considered we are doing pretty bloody well. We box above our weight. "We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them in Government."

Hosking: “As I see it, all things considered we are doing pretty bloody well. We box above our weight.
“We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them [National] in Government.”

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An example of media bias was clearly shown over the issue of two holidays by two party Leaders. As I wrote on 24 July;

The recent non-story on David Cunliffe’s three day holiday should be proof-positive that the mainstream media (msm) is fixated on pumping out as many “bad news” reporting as can be generated by a headline-seeking; advertising-driven; lazy corporate-media system.

We’re all aware that whilst Cunliffe took a three day break (I’m surprised he bothered to come back, instead of telling this country to go get f- – – – – !), our illustrious Dear Leader was off on a ten-day holiday, sunning his pale, $55 million arse, on a Maui beach in Hawaii.

Whilst the media did indeed mention that salient fact (albeit in passing), it was taken as a given that the leader of a party polling 50%-plus in the polls is entitled to a holiday.

Meanwhile, the leader of a mid-twenties-polling (?) Party is – it was hinted – not entitled to any such break.

The subtext was blindingly obvious; success breeds reward. In this case, a warm, sunny Hawaiian beach.

And failure means you don’t deserve a single damn thing, so get-back-to-work-peasant!

(See:  When the mainstream media go feral: A tale of two holidays)

Perhaps the most outrageous, recent political “hatchet job” was the Herald’s  character assassination scheme launched against David Cunliffe, using unproven (and later discredited) allegations from immigrant-businessman, Donghua Liu. The story behind Liu’s shonkey allegations; a 13 year old letter; and information strategically released by National minister, Michael Woodshouse, to Herald and TV3 journos, was nothing less than a disturbing abuse of ministerial power and media influence. (See:  The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed)

When a party leader continually receives bad press (eg; condemnation over taking a 3 day break; the colour of the scarf he wore; a manufactured “scandal” regarding a 13 year old letter, etc) what is the mainstream media telling this country?

At one stage the level of attacks against Cunliffe descended into pettiness and farce when, on TV3, on 24 July,  TV3’s Tova O’Brien ran this report on their 6PM News bulletin, about Key’s face appearing – photo-shopped – on the cover of the “Rugby News“;

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tova o'brien - tv3 - john key - cover rugby news - david cunliffe

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However, stuck at the very end of the video-version of the story, was this oddball, juvenile parting-quip by O’Brien;
“So once again the blue team gets one over the red team. Yes, it’s cringey, but it’s left Cunliffe looking whingey.”

(See: When the mainstream media go feral: the descent into sheer farce, according to Tova O’Brien)

As I pointed out on 30 July,

Despite the fact that the story was ostensibly about Key getting his face photo-shopped onto a magazine and scoring some free election-year publicity – a supposedly well-educated, “impartial” journo still managed to somehow insert a childish comment about David Cunliffe. That’s despite the fact that Cunliffe’s comments were much more restrained and measured than the criticism  made by Winston Peters in the same video.

So there we have it, folks. Even when the story is about John Key – a silly little journo still managed to turn it into a swipe at David Cunliffe.

Such was the mainstream stream leading up to the election on 20 September.

Returning to Patrick Gower, there are three questions I would like to pose to him;

1. Why is it that Gower condemned the Internet-Mana alliance as “sickening” – but not the ACT-National deal in Epsom, with the same intensity?

2. Or the National-NZ First-Maori Party deal to endorse Labour’s Kelvin Davis over Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau?

3. Why was Dotcom’s funding of Mana-Internet such a big deal worthy of condemnation – but millionaires funding National and ACT is barely noted, in passing, if at all?

Otherwise, Patrick, this is not impartial, intelligent journalism.

It’s not even close.

Postscript1 (Brick-bat)

Note to MSM journos, sub-editors (those remaining), current affairs/news producers, et al) – ok, we get the “Stuart Little” reference,

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andrew little - stuart little

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Ho, ho, ho.

But enough already.

It was funny for the first thirty seconds. Now it’s just lame.

Message to journos: don’t be lame. It’s not cool.

Postscript2 (Bouquet)

For an excellent interview with a political leader (whether Labour, National, Greens, whatever), check out TVNZ’s Q+A today (22/23 November), where veteran reporter/interviewer, Heather du Plessis-Allan interviewed new Labour Leader, Andrew Little. This is how an interview should be conducted; the host asks the questions; the guest is given time to respond, without interuption.

All TV/radio hosts take note.

 

 

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References

Twitter: Patrick Gower

Pundit: Tim Watkin

TV3: Laila Harre stepping down as Internet Party leader

TV3: “The Nation” Panel – Patrick Gower, Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton

Fairfax Media: Labour claims Hosking’s biased

NZ Herald: Media – Hosking plugs car and Key

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

TV3: David Cunliffe owns up to getting it wrong

TV3: Stuart Little, leader of the Opposition?

TVNZ: Q+A 22/23 November

Previous related blogposts

Mike Hosking as TVNZ’s moderator for political debates?! WTF?!

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed

When the mainstream media go feral: A tale of two holidays

When the mainstream media go feral: the descent into sheer farce, according to Tova O’Brien

2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date


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media sensationalism and laziness - Jon Stewart

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 November 2014

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MSM under-mining of new Labour Leader already begun?

26 November 2014 Leave a comment

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confused-man

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It did not take long.

In fact, on the same day that Andrew Little won the Labour leadership*, the first media reporter was already asking if he would be stepping down  if Labour failed to lift in the all-important polls.

On Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, the usually uber-sensible, Mary Wilson asked these gormless questions of Andrew Little,

@ 4.35

Wilson: “And in terms of your accountability though, if at the end of 2016, there is no movement [in the polls] there is no change, what happens then?”

@ 4.47

Wilson: “Is there any point during the next few years where you will say, ‘Ok, this hasn’t worked; I haven’t done what I set out to achieve; I’m leaving’.”

@ 5.00

Wilson: “And if you’re not there by the end of 2016, would you step aside?”

Now bear in mind that Radio NZ is not part of the ratings-driven, advertising-revenue-chasing corporate MSM of this country – but still those questions were put to Little.

How long before the corporate MSM – sensing sensational headlines and potential advertising revenue –  begin baying for blood and drafting stories which begin to portray Little in a negative light?

It was the relentless attacks on Cunliffe from all quarters of the MSM (including non-commercial Radio NZ) which contributed to under-mining his leadership in the eyes of the voting public.

The public’s perception of a political figure is determined largely by how he is portrayed by the media. Fairness and accuracy can play little part in reporting stories targetting a political figure. As the Donghua Liu Affair, in the NZ Herald showed with disturbing clarity, even a non-story can be spun in such a way as to totally destroy a man’s credibility and reputation.

Note: As an aside, in defending the Herald’s story on the 13 year old Donghua Liu-Cunliffe letter,  Editor  Tim Murphy stated in June this year (in an email to this blogger), that “We fully expect further details to come will show the Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based“. Nothing further has been produced by the Herald to back up it’s assertions since it was forced to make retractions on 25 June.

The Donghua Liu Affair was part of  an ongoing, targetted, smear campaign against David Cunliffe. The non-story, involving a 13 year old letter; a non-existent $100,000 bottle of wine; and an alleged, yet-to-be-discovered, $15,000 book, painted Cunliffe as untrustworthy, and the Labour Party as dodgy.

The new  Labour leader will have to keep his wits about him and use every media-related connection and employ the best possible media minders to counter an MSM that can no longer be trusted to report the basic truth. With the likes of Patrick Gower and Mike Hosking competing to be the “baddest bad asses” on the Media Block, accuracy and truth play third-fiddle behind egos (#1) and ratings (#2).

TV3’s Patrick Gower has already had a ‘go’ at Little’s victory, referring to the democratic selection process as “the great union ripoff”;

It’s a backdoor takeover by the unions. Simply, Andrew Little would not be Labour leader without the unions. He is the unions’ man; Little is a union man, and the unions have got their man into Labour’s top job.

Gower’s statement mentions “unions” five times in three short sentences. Which, when you think about it, is bizarre given that the Labour Party was born from the union movement in the first place**. Who did Gower think would lead Labour – someone from the Employers’ Federation? Business NZ? The Business Roundtable?
Silly little man pretending to be a political commentator.

The TV3 on-line article is bizarre in itself with TV3’s “Online Reporter”, Dan Satherley,  reporting  TV3’s Political Reporter, Patrick Gower’s, utterances. Journalists interviewing each other?

What next – siblings marrying each other under an ACT-led government?!
Predictably, Gower then launched into his own “Who’s-the-next-Leader” guessing game;

Gower says there remains the chance Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern – known informally as ‘Gracinda’ – might have another crack at the leadership – but this time with Ms Ardern leading the way.

I think there will be a switcheroo – Jacinda as the leader, Robertson as the deputy. He’s probably seen the writing on the wall that it has to be her if they have another go.

They just can’t help themselves. In an ‘Interstellar‘-quality vacuum of any meaningful news reporting, media-hacks like Gower will  blather on about any silliness that enters their heads. Far be it for him to actually interview Andrew Little and ask him questions like;

What’s on your agenda if you become Prime Minister?

What’s your point-of-difference to National?

What do you hope to achieve, legislation-wise, in the First 100 Days of a government you lead?

You know, real questions that real journalists used to ask, in real interviews, with real people.

At the same time, the same brickbat used to beat the MSM around it’s collective head should be generously applied to the Labour Party hierarchy’s backside.

When Labour president Moira Coatsworth made this statement in the NZ Herald, congratulating Andrew Little;

Labour president Moira Coatsworth, who announced Mr Little’s victory, said he would lead a reinvigorated party into the 2017 election campaign.

Andrew has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2017. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.

– it was the same gushing enthusiasm she voiced for David Cunliffe last year;

The Labour Party congratulates David Cunliffe on his win. David has been elected by a robust and democratic process and has won on the first round with a clear majority. This gives him a strong mandate as leader and he has the full support of the Labour Party.

[…]

David Cunliffe has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2014. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.”

– and before that, David Shearer, in 2011;

I congratulate both David and Grant and look forward to working closely with them as we build towards a Labour victory in 2014.

David and Grant bring a fresh approach; a breadth of skills and a strong commitment to rebuild for a Labour win in 2014.”

The repetitive nature of Labour’s revolving-door leadership leaves the voting public scratching it’s collective head, wondering WTF?! As I blogged on 2 October;

If the Labour caucus don’t support their own leader – especially when times are tough – why should they expect the voting public to take their  leadership choices seriously? After all, with four leaders gone in six years, it would appear to be a temporary position at best.

And earlier, on 25 September, I wrote to the NZ Herald;

If Labour keeps changing it’s Leader after every defeat, then I put the following questions to them;

1. How will a Labour Leader gain experience, if they’re dumped every couple of years?

2. How can the public be expected to get to know a Labour Leader, and develop trust in that person, if their presence is fleeting and disappear before we get to know him/her?

3. How will a Labour Leader learn to handle victory, when s/he first won’t be allowed to understand defeat? Humility is learned in failure, not success.

I also pointed out in the same letter-to-the-editor;

The Greens have leaderships that are stable and long-term, irrespective of electoral success or failure. That is because the Party has faith and confidence in their leadership choices.

Even pro-National columnist for the NZ Herald, John Armstrong stated the obvious on 18 November;

 “The public should warm to him. But that will take some time.

Meanwhile, on the day that Andrew Little won the leadership contest, John Key made this astute observation;

What this process has shown is that there are deep divisions within the party, they’re a long way away from agreeing with each other or even liking each other.

Andrew Little has the task of unifying a group of individuals who historically have shown they have very low levels of discipline.

He has a point.  Labour’s lack of internal discipline is in stark contrast to National’s public facade of unity. Both parties have their own factions – but National is the one that has succeeded in keeping in-fighting private and behind closed doors.

There is a weird  irony to this. Labour is supposedly the party that espouses an ideology of collective action whilst National is the party of unfettered individualism.

Yet it is the Nats who work collectively and collegially for their number one goal: power. Any factional agitation and cat-spats for dominance is kept well away from the public and media gaze.

By contrast, Labour appears to be a party of rugged individualists that would make ACT look like an Ohu commune from the 1970s.

Labour could do well do learn from their rivals.

The alternative is more dissent and dis-unity within Labour; more leadership changes; and a National government stretching into the 2020s, with Max Key taking the reigns of Prime Ministership from his father, and assuming the dynastic role of “Little Leader”.

Personally, I prefer a “Little Leader” to emerge from a Labour-led government, and not a future National regime.

Andrew Little’s success will be our success as well.

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* Disclaimer: This blogger is not a Labour Party member, nor has any preference who should be Leader of that party.
** Acknowledgement to Curwen Rolinson for his perception and pointing this out on his Facebook page.

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References

Radio NZ: Little man for the job of Labour’s big rebuild

Radio NZ Checkpoint: Little says narrowness of his win not a problem (audio)

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

TV3 News: Gower – Little’s victory ‘the great union ripoff’

NZ Herald: ‘He has the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders’ – Andrew Little elected Labour leader

Interest.co.nz: David Cunliffe wins Labour leadership contest, defeating Grant Robertson and Shane Jones

Scoop Media: Labour Party President congratulates new leadership team

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Andrew Little’s first job – drown out Winston Peters

MSN News: Labour is still divided – Key

Te Ara Encyclopedia: Communes and communities

Facebook: Curwen Rolinson

Previous related blogposts

A Study in Party Stability

No More. The Left Falls.

Letter to the editor: the culling of Cunliffe

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed


 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 November 2014

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The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed

24 September 2014 10 comments

 

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composite header - donghua Liu Affair - v2

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– Special investigation by Frank Macskasy & ‘Hercules

Speculation that the Beehive office of Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, was behind the release of a letter linking Labour leader, David Cunliffe, with controversial Chinese businessman, Donghua Liu, is supported by Twitter chatter linking Herald editor, Shayne Currie, with Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil blog.

Nothing to see here” Currie’s boss, Tim Murphy, tweeted on 19 June in response to questions about Immigration NZ’s speedy release the previous day of the now infamous  Cunliffe-Donghua Liu 2003 letter to his investigations editor, Jared Savage.

“We seek info, public service tells govt and denies us info. We refine request and get letters. We publish. Pretty standard.”

But there was nothing “standard” about the handling of this OIA request. Made at lunchtime on Monday June 16 it produced a response — which usually takes at least 20 working days —  within 48 hours. Plucked from a file and previously withheld on privacy grounds, the 11-year-old letter was immediately put to use by National’s frontbenchers in the debating  chamber and by the Parliamentary press gallery in the corridors to discredit Cunliffe and undermine his leadership of Labour’s caucus.

Although just a routine check on progress being made on  Donghua Liu’s residency application, signed by Cunliffe as New Lynn MP in March 2003, the letter was touted as evidence of support and advocacy for the controversial Chinese businessman.

[Full Background]

For the Herald, it lent credibility to its investigation into allegations that Liu had made big donations to the Labour Party.

Jared Savage’s investigation had included a request on May 8 for all information that Immigration NZ held on Donghua Liu. After taking three weeks to decide to withhold everything on his file on privacy grounds, the ministry sat on that decision for another three weeks before suddenly agreeing to  release it to Mr Savage at 8.59AM on Monday 16 June.

Although no explanation was given for the sudden u-turn it is most likely that the potential for extracting maximum political advantage from releasing the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter became apparent over the preceding weekend.

The resignation of ACT leader John Banks as an MP had taken effect on the Friday (13 June). The filling of the vacancy created in Epsom required a special debate on whether to hold a by- election or wait for the general election on September 20. Gerry Brownlee decided to get it over with, scheduling it for Wednesday afternoon following the weekly General Debate. That meant National faced a torrid afternoon on Wednesday 18 June as Opposition parties combined to hang the Government’s dirty washing all around the debating chamber.

A  diversion would be handy.

First, the response to Mr Savage’s May 8 OIA request had to be cleared away and replaced by a fresh request targeted more precisely at the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter. Mr Savage obliged with an email seeking “any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from an Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005.” The email was sent at 1.04pm on the Monday and asked for the request to be treated urgently because of “the public interest in this case.”

Just over an hour later, at 2.11pm, a remarkably similar request arrived from TV3’s political reporter, Brook Sabin;

“We’d like to know if any Labour MPs lobbied for Donghua Liu’s residency back in 2005 . . . Cheers.”

A growing army of managers, business advisors, comms people and consultants went straight to work on co-ordinating responses to the two requests. Ironically, although TV3 lodged their request sixty seven minutes after the Herald, Sabin was to scoop Savage by three minutes when the 2003 Cunliffe letter was released just under forty eight hours later at 12.49PM on Wednesday 18 June.

Twitter chatter in the hour leading up to the letter’s release reveals a small network of journalists and right-wing bloggers who knew it was coming. They had their stories already written and were waiting impatiently to hit “send”.

12.10pm: Herald editor, Shayne Currie, starts the count down on Twitter: “Tick, tick, tick . . . keep an eye on @nzherald #scoop.”

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Shayne Curry - 12.10 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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The 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter has not yet been released at this point. No one outside of  Immigration NZ and Minister Woodhouse are supposedly aware of it’s existence. It would not be released for another thirty nine minutes.

At exactly the same moment, an unidentified staff member in the Immigration Minister’s Beehive office in Wellington emails across the Parliamentary complex to Cunliffe’s office with a heads-up. Two documents, Cunliffe’s 2003 letter and a similar one sent five months earlier from Labour’s Te Atatu MP, Chris Carter, are to be released to the media “around 1pm”.

12.12pm: Meanwhile, “Pete” is getting impatient. Described in his Twitter profile as “a fluffer, researcher, reporter, journalist, moderator and deputy editor” for Whale Oil Beef Hooked, “Pete” tweets back at Currie: “We’ve been waiting. Get on with it. #bloodyembargoes.”

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Peter  - 12.12 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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12.23pm “Pete” is missing lunch. He asks @Inventory2 [Wanganui right-wing blogger and National Party member, Tony Stuart] and Currie if he has enough time to make himself a sandwich;

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Peter - 12.23 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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12.28pm: Currie tells sandwich-seeking “Pete” to “Take your Herald mobile app.

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Shayne Curry - 12.28 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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12.30pm: Back in Wellington, ministry staff are racing to get the  letters to the minister’s office. An area manager in Visa Services emails 10 colleagues with the news that a copy of the OIA response to Sabin’s request has been sent to the minister’s office.

12.39pm: The Visa Services area manager reports that he’s “just been advised that the Ministerial consultation has been completed so we will proceed to release.”

12.42pm: The same area manager then emails 10 colleagues to report that the consultation process has been completed and the letters are being released. “I have also asked . . . when we can release the Brook Sabin OIA.”

12.49pm: A business advisor in the ministry’s “Operations Support” team emails scans of the signed response and the two letters to Jared Savage at the Herald. At this point the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters ‘officially’ become public.

12.53pm: Sabin posts a scan of the Cunliffe letter on TV3’s website with a story quoting extensively from it. His story appear four minutes after ImmigrationNZ release the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters to Savage.

12.55pm: “Pete” checks in. He’s had lunch and he’s hot to post the story he’s already written after hearing from Whale Oil. Currie gets the green light and, obviously unaware that the Herald has already been scooped by TV3, tweetsBig political story breaking now . . . what David Cunliffe knew and said about Donghua Liu.”

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Pete - 12.55 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Shayne Curry - 12.55 - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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12.57pm: Cameron Slater posts excerpts from Savage’s story on his Whale Oil blog along with a transcript from a media briefing the previous day on Labour’s KiwiSaver policy when Sabin’s TV3 colleague, Tova O’Brien, asked Cunliffe four questions about Donghua Liu.

12.59pm: Blogger Keith Ng posts the Question and Answer transcript on Twitter, describing it as a “wicked sick burn.”

1.00pm: The Herald’s veteran political correspondent, John Armstrong, posts a comment on the Herald’s website saying Cunliffe “is in deep political trouble. So deep that his resignation  as Labour’s leader may now be very much in order”. Armstrong’s column is written and published on-line eleven minutes after Savage is emailed the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters.

1.46pm: Parliamentary Press Gallery accuse Cunliffe of lying and and being a hypocrite in 8-minute “stand-up” on his way into the debating chamber.

2.00pm: Cunliffe arrives in chamber, met by jeering from National benches. Ministers use the 2003 Cunliffe-Liu letter to attack the Labour leader’s credibility. Two of them (English and Woodhouse) quote directly from TV3’s Question and Answer transcript from the previous day.

On the following day, Thursday 19 June . . .

8.04pm: Herald political editor, Audrey Young, in New York with the prime minister, reports that Key admitted knowledge of the Cunliffe/Donghua Liu letter for some weeks. She says Cunliffe’s denials that he wrote “any such letter” has “thrown his leadership into crisis.”

5.14pm: Herald deputy political editor, Claire Trevett, and political reporter, Adam Bennett, report that Woodhouse had confirmed that his office had informed the prime minister’s office of the letter’s existence within a few days of learning of it on 9 May, the day after Savage lodged his first OIA request — the first of three conflicting accounts from Woodhouse.

Four conclusions

1. This was no ordinary scoop. This was a political dirty trick with journalists as willing participants when they should have been exposing it for what it was. Links between political operatives, bloggers and journalists are inevitable and revealed. Ultimately the credibility of mainstream news depends on  its objectivity, independence and accuracy.

2. While the last-minute scramble to publish the letter before 1pm on the Wednesday depended on its release to the Herald’s  investigations editor at 12.49pm, there is no record of its  release to TV3’s political reporter. There is no paper trail, except a few references in internal emails. If it didn’t come from the ministry, it must have come from the minister.

3. The production and circulation of the Question and Answer transcript, required to support the — false — claim that Cunliffe had lied or suffered serious memory loss, remains a mystery. Blogger Keith Ng’s instant judgment on it as a “wicked sick burn” is more than just a smart turn of phrase.

4. Nicky Hager’s chapter on the Cunliffe/Donghua letter in ‘Dirty Politics’ refers to a blogger called “Barnsley Bill”, who – on the day before the Cunliffe-Liu story “broke” on 18 June in the Herald –  made this cryptic remark on Danyl McLauchlan’s blog, “The Dim Post;

Within 24 hours the poll are going to be the least of David Cunliffes problems.
Keep an eye on the herald website, we are about to see pledge card theft relegated to second place as the biggest labour funding scandal.

Comment by Barnsley Bill — June 17, 2014 @ 10:21 am

Followed the next day with this;

Pascals Bookie..
There ya go. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11276510
Boom.
Now wait for the 100k bottle of wine to drop

Comment by Barnsley Bill — June 18, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

“Barnsley Bill’s” reference to “the 100k bottle of wine” was made before the Herald published allegations of Liu spending $100,000 on a bottle of wine to the Labour Party. (Allegations which have since been re-tracted by the Herald.)

Subsequent questions put to  “Barnsley Bill” have yielded no sensible answers, and his/her responses have been evasive. (Ref.)(Ref.)(Ref.)(Ref.)

Maintaining his cryptic game-playing,  “Barnsley Bill” referred on “The Daily Blog” to “look to Kerikeri for the leak” – which he pointedly repeated. Kerikeri is in the Northland Electorate. Northland is National MP, Mike Sabin’s electorate.

Mike Sabin is TV3 journalist, Brook Sabin’s father.

These are the people who knew about the 2003 Cunliffe letter before it was made public under  OIA requests on 18 June. Those OIA requests were ‘smoke-screens’ as TV3, NZ Herald, and Whaleoil already had the documents, or had been informed of their content.

Those letters were provided by the Office of the Minister for Immigration.

Under Savage’s OIA request there was a deliberate, pointed paper-trail trail by Ministry officials. No doubt the civil servants involved had an idea what their Minister was up to, and wanted plausible deniability in case any investigation resulted. By contrast, no such paper trail exists to explain how Brook Sabin obtained his copy of the 2003 Cunliffe letter. Minister Woodhouse was clumsy.

This could have come directly from the Minister’s office.

As the Twitter discussion and “Barnsley Bill’s” cryptic, prescient, comments  indicate, there were several people “in the loop” to what was clearly a calculated, planned, – if rushed – political trap and public smear campaign. Clearly, these people did not expect anyone to notice their public conversation.

Organised from a  Minister’s office; with involvement by Cameron Slater,  and with TV3 and NZ Herald complicity, David Cunliffe walked into that trap.

The truth is only now coming out.

Put the whole Twitter conversation together, and it is abundantly obvious that those involved knew that the story was coming out  prior to the Ministry releasing the 2003 Cunliffe and 2002 Carter letters.

Herald Editor, Shane Currie certainly had fore-warning.

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Shayne Curry - Twitter - NZ Herald - Donghua Liu - David Cunliffe - Immigration NZ

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Acknowledgement

Appreciation to ‘Hercules‘ for providing  information and filling in the gaps. Without your in-put, this story would never have come it.

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References

Wikipedia: Shayne Curry

Document Cloud: David Cunliffe-Liu-Immigration NZ 2003 letter

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request 16 June 2014

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request declined 8 May 2014

Parliament Hansards: Daily debates – Volume 699, Week 75 – Wednesday, 18 June 2014

TV3: Cunliffe’s links to Liu (see video)

NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party

Document Cache: Jared Savage OIA request extension-approved 16 June 2014 8.59AM

Radio NZ: John Banks to resign from Parliament

Document Cache: Jared Savage – Immigration NZ – new OIA request – 16 June 1.04PM

Document Cache: Brook Sabin – TV3 – Immigration NZ – OIA request –  16 June 2.11PM

NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid

Document Cache:  Release of OIA to Jared Savage – covering email – 18 June 2014 – 12.49PM

Document Cache: Chris Carter – letter – 3 October 2002

Twitter: Pete – 12.12PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.23PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie – 12.28PM

Wanganui Chronicle: Wanganui man outed in Hager’s book

Document Cache: ImmigrationNZ Area Manager to 10 colleagues – 12.30PM

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.39PM

Document Cache: Immigration NZ – 18 June – 12.42PM

Twitter: Pete – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Curry – 12.55PM

Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH

Whaleoil: BREAKING – David Cunliffe’s career, such as it was, is over [ UPDATED ]

TV3: Tova O’Brien’s four questions to David Cunliffe, 17 June

Twitter: Keith Ng –

NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order

NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour Link – More to come

NZ Herald:  National denies dirty tricks campaign against Cunliffe

The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill

The Dim Post: Entities – Barnsley Bill

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

The Daily Blog: EXCLUSIVE: Was the Donghua Liu Affair another example of Dirty Politics?

Mike Sabin

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair:  Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media

The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign

The Donghua Liu Affair: The first step to a complaint to the Press Council

The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?

The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?

The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision

The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit

 


 

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Vote and be the change

 

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 September 2014 as “The Donghua Liu Affair – how the NZ Herald played their part in #dirtypolitics

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