Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

We Had an Election, Remember


Reading the New Zealand Herald and watching Parliament this week, one could be forgiven for thinking that the 2014 election hadn't yet taken place. Left-leaning editorial writers and opposition parliamentarians have been busy re-hashing stories that grabbed them during the election campaign as though the voters hadn't yet passed judgment. It's worth reminding these people; an election occurred on 20 September, and they lost. The people have spoken. Voters told them that they had weighed up Nicky Hager's "Dirty Politics" amongst other things and decided his book was either irrelevant to the current state of things, or was a pile of crap. "Dirty Politics" is a corpse, and there's little sense now trying to resurrect it.

Why would these journalists and lefties, too many of whom are one and the same, want to revive Hager? A few, I guess, want something to keep bashing National with. They are angry at the election outcome. I keep being surprised at how many people believed until the numbers went up that a left coalition was still on the cards. Others possibly believe in St Nicky, and admire his chutzpah in using stolen emails for pecuniary gain. That, they seem to think, is "investigative journalism" at its finest.

There will be others again, many of them young or naive in the extreme, who actually believe Hager's story. They have so little understanding of political processes in New Zealand or anywhere else that they think there was something new and especially sordid about Jason Ede acting as a conduit to bloggers, passing information, and discussing tactics designed to put National in a good light. Some won't know about the methods used by the Labour government while Helen Clark was in office 1999-2008, when press releases and exaggerated criticism of opponents were filtered to "The Standard", Labour's electronic broadsheet. Nor will they know about the priming done by cabinet minister Ruth Dyson each morning of her email tree with sleaze that the government wanted to be widely disseminated. The Prime Minister knew all about it. I found out about it: some of Dyson's stuff was inadvertently sent to me! Some journalists won't know that throughout her career Helen Clark had a list of journalists she'd ring to exchange gossip. Sometimes she would only hint, other times she'd tell the person on the other end of the phone about what she planned to do to some on her own side who had incurred her wrath. Occasionally she'd plant an idea that the journalist would be encouraged to follow up, hopefully with devastating consequences. A few people in today's press gallery were involved and are currently keeping their heads down. If John Key rang Cameron Slater in any capacity, what's the difference? The Herald's editor might like to tell us?

All of this is called politics. Politics throughout time has been conducted in this manner. The telephone rather than emails used to be the chosen conduit. Earlier still, politicians and editors dined together, or went to country house parties at places like Cliveden to exchange gossip. I used the telephone myself to get my messages out to people. The only thing new since my day is that emails started being widely used from about 1996. The internet made the task of dissemination easier, and quicker, and the number of contacts spread exponentially. Blogs appeared. The intentions behind many of them are no different from what has always been happening. The argument advanced by breathless editorial writers that Jason Ede was doing something new reveals ignorance so great that one suspects ulterior motives.

This last point is worth exploring further. With Hager's home and his computers having been searched, and with him responding with a legal challenge of his own against the Police, St Nicky is in the news again. Some journalists see an opportunity to push for a widening of the definition of a journalist's legitimate sources to include the proceeds of hacking. Editorial writers and others appear happy to turn a blind eye to the disgraceful and illegal methods used by Hager and his mates to glean information. They willfully overlook the fact that Hager acquired a huge number of stolen emails and proceeded to snip and paste and weave the matter into a book that he sold, pocketing the royalties, and availing himself of taxpayer funds from the Author's Fund. Making a profit in other words from stolen goods. The journalist's goal of selling news, they are claiming, has a higher priority than obeying the law. In this view, the end justifies the means. It's the logic of Lenin, and of dictators over time. And it turns the basis of our legal system on its head.

It's time these people calmed down. The voters have spoken. Yes, Nicky Hager still has some explaining to do, not because it is relevant to politics today, but because he admits to breaking the law and needs to be called to account. A desirable by-product of his shaming might be that we are spared more of his crude electioneering that has besmirched four or five of our most recent election campaigns, Labour's as well as National's.