Running scared: ‘Truth is great and will prevail.’

02 Nov

Nicky Hager Jesson lecture

It’s interesting how much the knives are out for Cunliffe on behalf of the right wing columnists.  This is in a context when they are looking at a possible Labour-Green coalition to be the next government.   In the terms of Hager’s significant Jesson lecture this week, are such columnists journalists or PR people?

Hager began with a quote from a war memorial: Truth is great and will prevail.  For him this should be a guiding principle for good investigative journalism: the relentless pursuit for truth and facts beyond the political manipulations and PR distortions that passes for much of mainstream journalism in neoliberal times.

The attempts to present “both sides” of the story are superficial, and don’t demonstrate thorough investivative digging.  They present a side that is more in touch with the the proponents of neoliberal values, than with the interests of the general public. And they tend to follow the lines fed to them by a Labour and National Party PR people.  For instance we rarely, if ever, hear leaks from pro-Cunliffe people within Labour.

Team Cunliffe seems to be far more cautious.  You could argue this is because they are not in control of the party right now.  But even when Cunliffe was running for leadership, most of the smears in the MSM were against Cunliffe.  Shearer got more positive coverage. Any counter reports as told by Labour insiders were expressed on left wing blogs.

Duncan Garner has been one of the most prominent MSM “journalists” to characterise potential Labour Party leader, MP David Cunliffe, as not being a team-player. It’s interesting to see how Garner’s position has shifted slightly since Shearer stood for the Labour Party leadership.  Initially, while leaving his options open, Garner leaned slightly towards Shearer, subtly reinforcing the “white anting” from the Labour caucus against Cunliffe.

Sure, in the short term it does matter – Cunliffe is ready to go now and he arrives with a huge grasp of knowledge on policy, he’s been on the frontbench in opposition and he’s been a senior Minister.

But he divides his caucus.

He’s not popular amongst the majority yet. But so what? Not everyone liked Helen Clark. But the difference is that most respected her.

Cunliffe’s problem is not so much that he’s disliked – but he doesn’t command respect. Yet.

One of Cunliffe’s supporters – a long time MP, text me last week to say if I continued the line that he was not liked, I would “end up with egg on my face.”

One of Cunliffe’s opponents, an MP who is leaving the caucus – told me he’s a “smarmy prick who will never beat Key”. Other MPs have told me he’s lazy, arrogant and rude.

To be fair – I have not found Cunliffe that unlikeable at all.

Indeed I have always found him warm, engaging and available. Two MPs have told me they’re voting for Shearer because “he’s not Cunliffe, and that’s enough.”

But for my money Cunliffe is the “ready now” option. Shearer is the “ready soon” option.

Then he came out gunning for Cunliffe.
The majority of Labour politicians clearly dislike David Cunliffe. With a passion. And with a serious degree of what now looks like hatred and mistrust.
But Cunliffe is not only disliked by his caucus – he is not trusted. So many have told me he never delivers on his promises and is sneaky and lazy.

Sources have told me Shearer was advised to demote him when he became Labour’s leader, but Shearer resisted and said he wanted to work with Cunliffe.

That hasn’t worked apparently – my sources tell me Shearer is deeply disappointed with Cunliffe and he feels let down. This relationship cannot last.

According to Shearer’s sources, the Labour leader no longer trusts Cunliffe. That view is shared by the majority of the caucus.

In my view Cunliffe, despite his big brain and obvious talents, is being white-anted by this caucus. He will never be leader with this caucus.

Now it’s Shearer has failed, … but not Robertson, and not Cunliffe as viable leader!

Sadly for Labour – they’re still looking for that person. David Shearer has failed. Labour’s lucky it’s not getting done under the law for false advertising. …

Labour MPs believe Grant Robertson is perhaps the next leader, but they don’t believe he’s quite ready – nor do they want to install a gay leader just yet. It shouldn’t be an issue – but it always is.

That’s why he remains the deputy. He knows politics is all about timing. Shearer has become the fall guy. Like Phil Goff was. It’s dishonest. …

I’m sure he’s [Shearer] entirely capable behind the scenes – you don’t do what he’s done by being stupid – but I’m just saying he’s not cut out for the hurly-burly, think-on-your-feet world of opposition politics. Robertson and Cunliffe are. …

Put simply, Shearer does not look, act or sound like a man ready to take over the Treasury benches and drive New Zealand out of this recession. The voters see it.

They see a Labour Party unconvinced and confused by their own choice. Until that changes, Labour will stay in opposition.

So who does that leave for Labour?  Garner doesn’t seem interested in exploring any positive alternatives for Labour, only in showing its disarray. However, in describing his difficulties in getting an interview with Cunlifffe, Garner exposes a Labour leadership caught up in its own PR machinery and internal politics, disconnected from it’s members and the public interest.

Cunliffe was the easiest to get hold of. But, without naming names, the hoopla I was put through before he was ‘allowed’ on TV was fascinating. Even Cunliffe was nervous – but keen.

It took six hours of negotiating to get him on. It was quite simply, outrageous. It took me one text to get Russel Norman on the telly. It took two phone calls to get the Prime Minister to agree to a one-on-one interview.

Hager said that a good investigative journalist (which is in fact a good investigative journalist) would be on the side of the general public. However, in the last 2 decades, the numbers of political PR people and  have escalated, and paid lobbyists have become too influential.  In The Hollow Men Hager showed that the National Party needed PR people to disguise their true agenda, which included economic policies that most of the NZ public would have accepted. in the 1980s and 90s:

The free-market reforms did not have public support and neither the Labour nor National Governments announced their plans before being elected. Introducing the policies was only possible with brutal political tactics, tactics that have had lasting effects as much as the policies themselves. The chief tactic was speed and riding over all public opposition.

The consequences of such intensive, neoliberal manipulations are that civil society has become broken and demoralised.  Critical voices amongst journalists, economists, and public servants have been marginalised, while

other people who went along with the reforms were being rewarded, rising up in the public service, in universities and many other parts of society.

Democratic process, the interests of ordinary and struggling New Zealanders, and oppositional activism have been severely undermined.  Hager outlined the characteristics of required for good journalism to promote democratic participation, “civil society” and political integrity:

All points of view in political issues should be reported. But rather than pretending we are reporting two equal “sides”, the profession of journalism should be clear that it is on the public’s side. It is about redressing the obvious inequality of power and creating the possibility of democratic decision making. In effect, it is the PR companies, industry lobbyists, spin doctors and the rest on one side, and the news media and sometimes community groups on the other. Investigative journalism is an important component of giving the public interest side a chance.

Columnists like Garner, Guyon Espiner and Jane Clifton follow the PR of the ruling groups (perhaps hedging their bets in potential support of a new PM or government), and are not acting in the “public interest”. For instance, they have so far failed to get the bottom of the white anting against Cunliffe.  Yet Cunliffe has a strong record in working successfully in teams in business, and in his New Lynn electorate – that is a success story for him, in a mixed working and middleclass area, and it is rarely (if ever) the focus of mainstream journalism in NZ these days.

A tweet doing the rounds last night, linking Hager’s speech and Garner on Cunliffe showed some succinct and critical wisdom:

If Cunliffe and the Labour Party are at odds, does that mean he has more in common with the voting public than they do?

Joint Parliamentary Inquiry Press Conference

Meanwhile, Jane Clifton exposes the fears of those that lean right, in her latest column in The NZ Listener.  Like Garner, she acknowledges that Key is struggling.  But she then goes on to superficially examine a potential Labour-Green-NZ First coalition.  Her evidence is largely based on seating arrangements and smiles of party leaders at the press conference called to announce the joint parliamentary enquiry on the manufacturing crisis.  This leads her to kind of discount Peters, but not quite.  And then she focuses on a Labour-Green coalition, highlighting some recent policy differences, and concludes that it will be a fraught business.

Even at the prosaic level of working in Parliament, where they are almost always on the same side of issues, the two parties do not entirely trust one another. Despite the personal equanimity of the respective leaderships, this is a relationship that can only get uglier as the election approaches. They are after the same vote and the Greens are no longer classifiable as a minor party. It has already done serious, bedrock damage to Labour’s vote.

And yet, all coalitions have such inter-party tensions, and previous MMP governments have shown they can be successfully negotiated. With reference to his book The Hollow Men, Hager indicates how such strategies work to undermine opposition parties:

As the ACT Party campaign manager had explained to Brash, the way that usefully biased ideas are established is by producing “some common lines that become the ‘mantra’” and then, as the National Party’s Australian strategy advisors told them, you just have to “keep repeating it endlessly” (THM p. 165).

For the grass roots left, there’s no problem in acknowledging the challenges.  However, there are truths and alternative facts that are not getting examined in depth or given a fair airing in the MSM.  Cue grass roots to make their views heard loud and clear.


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