By Scott Milne
There has been quite a bit of discussion about the role of the press, and some on the left – me included – perhaps a bit critical of the role that the press has played in Dirty Politics. Some journalists have quite rightly pointed out that this feels like the public telling them how to do their job, and are a bit sensitive about it.
I get that. No one who feels they are good at their job likes criticism of how they do it. As a teacher, I have also experienced it. I feel I am a good teacher. I go out of my way to help any students who ask for help, and try and run an inclusive classroom where students feel safe, and enjoy learning.
But here is the thing. Overall, an individual journalist may be doing a great job. An individual’s stories may be fair, balanced, insightful. But the impression given by a publication as a whole may not be. Where are those stories placed? What is the overall “tone” of a publication? In short, editorial choices can do plenty to undermine the content of a story.
Before this year’s election, we were told, through the media, that Dirty Politics was just politics, and the kind of things outlined in Hager’s book were the kind of thing that “everybody does.” This was repeated often and loudly. By Politicians on the right – Joyce and Key. By media commentators. Certainly by Slater.
In my opinion, one of the big failings of the left during the 2014 election campaign was the failure to confront dirty politics head on. Key told us no one wanted to know about that, they wanted to talk about policy. Exposing National’s corruption was all a big left-wing conspiracy.
Everybody does it.
Although not universally accepted, enough Key people – excuse the pun – accepted this. Repeated this. Agreed with this. Instead of the exposure of corruption, Dirty Politics became Labour’s fault. The Green’s fault. Kim Dotcom’s fault.
Everybody does it.
And yet, what examples did they point to, where the left had been involved? A speeding motorcade. A signed painting. A secret trust, amounting to less than a fraction of what Key can raise in one dinner charging $5,000 a head.
Where are the examples of character assassination of the kind carried out on Phil Goff, and, in fact, on other critics of this government? Academics, teachers, school principals have all been smeared by WhaleOil. And now, the links between the 9th floor of the Beehive and WhaleOil are clear for everyone to see.
Where are the examples of the SIS being used in a parochial way? Where are the examples of the OIA process being abused for political gain? If such examples existed, do you honestly believe that the National Party wouldn’t have used them? It was a false equivalence that Labour, the Greens, and the Media allowed Key to get away with.
I was encouraged by a recent response to a question I asked on Twitter:
Every journalist who responded, did so the same way, or favourited the response of Brent or John.
So my point is, I am not critical of individual journalists. I think they do a difficult job, with limited resources, under tight time frames.
But I want to ask you this. Is the impression you got from the press before the election in the coverage of dirty politics, that it was unacceptable and not everyone did it?
Because I didn’t. And that is the problem.
And I don’t know how to fix it.
Scott Milne (@LostArcNZ)