Lynton Crosby of the political spinners Crosby/Textor, who ‘advised’ both John Key and Don Brash, has finally given up on trying to pursue a unwinnable defamation case against Nicky Hager and Radio NZ.The case appears to me to have been started largely as intimidation by the Crosby (and maybe the National party) to find out who was feeding Nicky Hager information from inside the National party.
Nicky Hager has a long but very interesting post in ‘Crosby v Hager’: defamation proceedings used as a political weapon
The case arose following a feature article I wrote last year, revealing something that the National Party leader John Key had been keen to keep secret. When Key became leader at the end of 2006, following the publication of my book The Hollow Men and the resignation of former leader Don Brash, he pointedly told reporters that he would not be using the same political advisers as Brash. He went further in another interview and said that he didn’t get advice on things like media because he preferred to rely on his own instincts.
It was therefore embarrassing when I found out that, after just one week as leader, Key had visited Australia and sought a meeting with Brash’s most controversial advisers, the Australian political strategists and pollsters Crosby/Textor. He signed them up to work for him, not just on the coming election campaign, but immediately as his personal advisors on image, presentation and tactics. Key’s ‘natural’ image, which had been complimented in the media, was actually being managed by the same wily and cynical Australian spin doctors Brash had used. The article outlined the company’s controversial reputation and described the partners Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor’s tactics in Australia, Britain and New Zealand.
When the story appeared on 29 June 2008, National was furious. Key refused to confirm publicly that he was using the company while behind the scenes his media staff attacked me for doing the story. The day after the article was published I was invited onto Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme and basically repeated what I had written in the newspaper. For unclear reasons, I was sued over this interview (not the article) and the lawsuit came from Crosby/Textor co-director Lynton Crosby (not the other co-director, Mark Textor, who has mostly acted as the advisor for National).
This case dragged on for 11 months with legal trivialities about the layout of legal documents. It got to the point that Crosby would have had to have disclosed information about Crosby and Crosby/Textor’s practices and clients.
Early on my lawyer and I assumed that Crosby would pull out of the process before it reached the ‘discovery’ stage, when legally we could demand to get copies of internal Crosby Textor documents that might provide further evidence of the sorts of manipulative tactics I had discussed in the interview. This is what happened. In the last few weeks they have negotiated their way out of the case.
In other words, when Crosby would have had to have made a case and do it on evidence rather than empty legal posturing. Nicky Hager and his lawyer could have had a field-day with information that Crosby would have had to provide.
So Crosby took the couple of minor brownie points that Nicky conceded long ago about some trivial mistakes.
A correction and apology was made to Mr Crosby in this week’s settlement that the words ‘Mark Crosby’ were not referring to ‘Lynton Crosby’.
Towards the end of the interview Mr Hager talked about personal attacks on the Labour Party leader, Helen Clark, being an example of dirty tactics in politics. He didn’t say Crosby was behind these attacks â€” which Crosby claimed in the defamation case â€” so he offered early in the case to clarify this as well.
The first was mixing up the names of Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor in a live interview, when referring to Mark Textor’s role in some notorious push-polling in a aussie election.
There is no evidence that the systematic and deliberate personal attacks on Helen Clark were being pushed by Nationals advisors. However the spread of those viral messages through the comments sections of political blogs and in some fundamentalist communities was certainly increased about the time that Crosby/Textor started advising Nationals leaders. It could have just been an unfortunate coincidence in timing.
After 11 months of what can only be described as irrelevant legal posturing, Crosby dropped the suit. Not that he would have won anyway if it’d gone to court. It does not appear that there was a winnable case.
The likely reason for bringing the suit originally was more interesting. When you got through all of the turgid and florid legal posturing from Crosby’s lawyer Ric Lucas, you get to the point of why the proceedings started. It had nothing to do with Crosby’s reputation.
The letter then made a curious demand: ‘Mr Crosby requires you to disclose your sources immediately.’ The National Party and Crosby/Textor of course wanted to know who had leaked me their inside information that had appeared in my book and then in the article on Key’s use of Crosby/Textor. But this was hardly essential to allegations of defamation (there are special rules in defamation to protect sources) and added to my feeling that the legal action was motivated by more than seeking redress for the supposed defamation in the Radio New Zealand interview.
As Nicky Hager says, this is seems to be using defamation as a political weapon of intimidation. The question is probably less about Crosbys ‘reputation’ and more about how much John Key or the National party were involved in initiating and continuing this vexacious suit? The case appears to me as having been started so that John Key and National could find the leaks inside their party that Nicky Hager has been accessing. If so, then this means that National are getting really concerned about their leaking ship.