When the news of Hone Harawira’s “support for Osama Bin Laden” broke in the Herald I was suspicious of it – there was no byline on the story and it wasn’t on the front page. Surely such a revelation would be headline news and surely the journo that covered it would want to claim such a cracker story as their own. And why did it take two days between Hone saying it and the Herald picking it up. The whole thing had a sense of a cautious editorial decision.
My gut feeling was there was context missing and that it had the feel of research unit work. Especially as Matthew Hooton has been touting a similar line about Annette Sykes (I asked him about the rumours he’s working for Brash –
so far he’s not denied it [Matthew has confirmed he's not working for Brash]).
Then I saw the video. My first impression was Hone was saying we shouldn’t be celebrating a man’s death in his usual roundabout way.
One of our commenters described it this way:
I just watched the clip http://tvnz.co.nz/te-karere/video [it's about two thirds in] – it turns out the full quote was “they [bin laden's family] mourn for a man who fought for the rights, the land and the freedom of his people”.
It seemed to me he was talking about the way Bin Laden’s family would have thought of Bin Laden.
Whatever was going on it was pretty clear that Hone wasn’t backing Bin Laden just as it was clear that the context of what he said had been altered with the removal of a single word: “they”.
By the afternoon the story was whipped up into a frenzy. Which surprised me because it seemed patently clear from the video evidence that what people were claiming Hone meant he hadn’t meant at all. Several commenters here and on other blogs who actually watched the Te Karere video said as much.
I suppose that by then there was enough blood in the water that journos who should have known better felt obliged to report on the story with headlines that misrepresented what Hone said. After all, it fits the “loose cannon” narrative they’re all sold on and perhaps they convinced themselves that the perception was more important than the facts (and perhaps it is). Then when it was nice and juicy Key stepped in.
And now Hone has apologised for the way he said what he said. Not for saying he supported Bin laden (because he never did) but because the power of the lie was so great he probably felt he had to.
Unfortunately this will be represented as confirming the lie.
There’s a couple of lessons in this. One is for the Mana party who have learned the hard way how the echo chamber runs and how watchful they will have to be.
The other is for the journalists and the pundits: there will be a lot of this over the next seven months. If you buy into this dirty game like you have with Hone you will be doing yourselves and democracy a huge disservice.
I should note two more things: I’m not a great supporter of Hone, I like the left politics Mana espouses but I’ve had a bit to do with a few of the people in his team (as I’ve had a bit to do with a lot of political operators across the spectrum) and I’m not confident they have what it takes to put any weight into their vision. That they’ve let their guard down like this doesn’t change that.
I’m also disappointed in the opportunism show by Trevor Mallard in this matter. He’s the man running Labour’s campaign and for him to make the fundamental mistake of assuming his enemy’s enemy is his friend is amateur – the right wing echo chamber he threw in with on this will be used against Labour this year and today he helped make it a little more powerful.
In politics you’ve got to take your lumps because life isn’t fair but frankly the whole debacle has left a bad taste in my mouth.