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Dirty politics denouement

Written By: - Date published: 10:27 am, March 4th, 2021 - 29 comments
Categories: blogs, Dirty Politics, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags:

Another chapter of dirty politics has reached its conclusion with Carrick Graham offering an abject apology to Doug Sellman, Boyd Swinburn and Shane Bradbook for smearing their reputation via the Whaleoil website.

I wrote about this case in 2017:

Spare a thought for poor Cameron Slater.

He is currently involved in a High Court defamation case.  Three medical researchers, Doug Sellman, Boyd Swinburn and Shane Bradbook are suing Slater, Carrick Graham, former National front bencher Katherine Rich and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council for comments made on Slater’s website.

The details of the alleged defamatory comments have been suppressed but it has been reported that Slater has been alleging that Sellman Swinburn and Bradbook are “troughers” “rorters” and have been “ripping off” the public purse.  Sellman and co are public health professionals engaged in research concerning the adverse effects that too much sugar is having on our diets.  For previously unknown reasons this attracted Slater’s attention and he made all sorts of allegations about their competence and motivation in a number of blog posts.

The book Dirty Politics suggested that this was no random drive by smear but a professional hit paid for by Rich and the Food and Grocery Council.

You get the feeling that the statement drawn up and read to the Court had a large dollup of utu used up in its drafting.  From Alex Braae at Spinoff:

Opening arguments started today in the socially distanced Auckland High Court, but the court was adjourned for discussions to take place between the parties. After a lengthy break, Graham’s lawyer Chris Patterson returned to read the public apology.

“Mr Graham made various defamatory comments about the plaintiffs using various pseudonyms on blogs published on Mr Slater’s Whale Oil website. He encouraged, inspired and contributed to the text of certain defamatory blog posts about the plaintiffs that were published on Whale Oil, including making payments to Cameron Slater,” Patterson told the court.

“Mr Graham did so as part of his business, and in order to advance the interests of industry. Mr Graham apologises for the hurt and harm caused to the plaintiffs by these blog posts and comments.”

Patterson said his client was “now aware that a number of statements that he made about the plaintiffs were untrue, unfair, offensive, insulting and defamatory. Mr Graham acknowledges the plaintiffs’ work on the harms of tobacco, alcohol and processed food and beverages was undertaken responsibly, and in the public interest.”

David Fisher at the Herald has outlined how the various postings were motivated by cash, and details the allegations made in court that Graham may have not been entirely truthful during the proceeding.

Graham had said on oath: “I have talked and shared information with (Slater) on the basis that it might contribute to his knowledge or understanding of an issue. I have never procured nor instructed the first defendant to publish a blog post. The closest I have come to ‘requesting’ a blog post is communicating with the first defendant ‘this would be a good story’.”

Salmon said: “The evidence will show that Mr Graham’s assertions are untrue.” He said Graham had paid Slater for posts which would benefit his public relations clients, including the FGC and British American Tobacco.

He said evidence showed Graham’s company, FCL, had paid Slater $124,430 between October 2012 and May 2016. He said neither Graham or Slater had “given any proper explanation of what services” were provided for the money, or to whose benefit those services were.

Salmon said there was also evidence the FGC had paid FCL $365,619 between November 2009 and July 2016 with invoices carrying “generic narrations”.

While there was evidence from Rich that she had not heard of Bradbrook, or the agency at which he worked, before the lawsuit, Salmon said the particular posts targeting the expert in 2009 and 2010 “were published for the benefit of BAT”.

He said Graham had not produced any invoices from BAT and there was a subpoena requiring him to produce them at trial.

Weirdly Graham objected to the Spinoff covering the case.

The defence had previously sought to block The Spinoff from reporting on the trial, on the grounds that Swinburn has written for the site in the past, and The Spinoff has had commercial arrangements with the University of Otago.

Those arguments were dismissed by Justice Tracey Walker.

“I reject the suggestion of implicit or explicit bias on the part of The Spinoff by dint of a commercial relationship. First, the mere publication of op-ed pieces by one of the plaintiffs in the past is of no moment. Secondly, there is nothing in the material presented to me which suggests that being a sponsor of media influences news reporting on that platform,” she ruled.

“I accept that sponsorship is the underlying reality of media funding in today’s environment and is analogous to advertising in the analogue media environment. The Spinoff is subject to the same fairness and balanced reporting imperatives as other media. I treat its application in the same vein as the applications by other media.”

Comparing the Spinoff’s treatment of important issues to the treatment those issues received on Whaleoil shows what a frankly bizarre argument it was.

It is good to see justice occurring.  And I am sure there is a pretty significant dollar amount attached to the settlement.

29 comments on “Dirty politics denouement ”

  1. Anne 1

    It still doesn't alter the fact that many people had their reputations smeared by Cameron Slater on the Whale-Oil site. I know from personal experience that the fallout from false smears can have very serious consequences and that they can last for years.

    While I am pleased to see these academics receive justice and recompense, there will be others who have neither the clout nor the financial wherewithal to ever see justice in any form.

    Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know Slater and Co. have never been publicly condemned for their behaviour over the years. It was left up to Nicky Hager to reveal the truth and look what was done to him? The police raided his home as if he was the criminal…. but that's another story.

    • NZJester 1.1

      The main reason you have such a ugly minded bunch of people in charge of the National party these days to is the false allegations made by Slater about members of the National party they considered moderates pushing them out of positions of power. From that vacuum of moderates the party the ugly rightwing stepped In to fill those position he helped make vacant leading yo the horrible years under Key.

      • Anne 1.1.1

        Mark Mitchell. National MP with leadership ambitions. Alleged to have paid Cameron Slater to smear his rival at the time of the Nat Party selection to be the candidate for Rodney in 2011.

        • Anne

          Found this on Wikipedia:

          In 2014, Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics presented evidence which suggested that Mitchell had hired political strategist Simon Lusk during the National Party selection process for the Rodney electorate. Lusk appeared to have collaborated with blogger Cameron Slater to discredit Mitchell's opponents, particularly Brent Robinson. Mitchell strongly denies ever paying Lusk or Slater.

          Yeah… he probably payed for the services 'indirectly'. After all, he was also an ex- mercenary agent so he'd have known all the tricks of the trade.

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    Cameron and Judith, up in a tree…

  3. shanreagh 3

    The actions of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council have long interested me. It seems to be weirdly and openly partisan, perhaps modelled on the US style lobby groups.

    Engaging with politicians/lobbying, donating to all parties, participating in discussions, responding to changes on the horizon is one thing but dirty politics is quite another.

    I am trying to be careful in case the NZFCG is still to be heard.

    • shanreagh 4.1

      According to this she is no longer on the Board, seems to have been an odd choice even for those who believe in having people 'inside the tent'. Presume it was a blatantly political appointment with no concern for the fit/appropriateness. It would have been a conflict of interest nightmare to police.


    • Dean Reynolds 4.2

      It's incredible that Rich is still the CEO of the Food & Grocery Council after she instigated the FGA's disasterous involvement with Slater, Graham, etc.

      Looking at the pathetic National Party today, it's apparent that their instigation of Dirty Politics at all levels, has debased them & left them with no moral compass or coherent political strategy or philosophy. They sowed the wind & they reaped the whirl wind – couldn't have happened to a shittier bunch of individuals!

      • georgecom 4.2.1

        maybe the likes of the FCG will have learnt a lesson about using money for grubby little campaigns to promote their financial interests and the expense of smearing reputable people. dirty little people doing grubby little deeds.

  4. tc 5

    "Another chapter of dirty politics has reached its conclusion…" but the book remains a work in progress with nact and a compliant Media seeking 'gotchas'.

    They showed with Woodhouse/Boag, Gez, Slimon etc that not much's changed. Collins is hamstrung by her involvement under Key as detailed in Hagers book

    • Robert Guyton 5.1

      Dirty politics has destroyed the National Party, don'tcha think?

      They played hard and now they're rock-bottom.

      We should be celebrating, full-bore!

      • Red Blooded One 5.1.1

        I'm not sure the National Party are at rock bottom, close I grant you, but we also have the tag team with Act. David and Judith are both flinging faeces like bored Baboons in the hope that it’ll stick anywhere other than on them.

      • tc 5.1.2

        Nope robert. Kiwis have a short memory and an owned MSM. National also are very well funded.

        • Robert Guyton

          Maybe so, but I believe the tide has turned and left them stranded.

          • Drowsy M. Kram

            Collins led her ‘pod’ to an electoral stranding. Now taking applications to lead the refloat; those with ‘baggage’ need nor apply ?

            Depicts a spoof of the Beached As internet video clip. In this cartoon a whale (Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater) and a shark (Justice Minister Judith Collins) are beached on a New Zealand shore. Behind them a rowboat of National government figures Gerry Brownlee, Bill English, John Key, and an unidentified national MP try to row away and escape the scene. Two seagulls ask the whale and shark for “ghost chups. Refers to Collins resigning after details were released of her dealings with Slater and the SFO in the book ‘Dirty Politics’.

            • shanreagh

              I had forgotten this absolutely brilliant cartoon. The seagull and the ghost chips!!

              • logie97

                There is a clip of Collins in parliament "attacking" Nicky Hager around the time of the DP book release. Does anyone have the link? Would be great to see it replayed now, particularly as late as September last year, she was clarifying the point that Nicky Hager should will meet his maker. Like all Christians, that is what she believes.

  5. Tiger Mountain 6

    Perhaps Nicky Hager and others could produce a “Dirty Politics–Epilogue Edition”, where are they now? type of thing. There is so much detail to recall that even those of us that followed events for the years from the publication of “Hollow Men” to “Dirty Politics” and on to pony puller Key’s exit, it is tricky to fully keep up.

    So many peoples lives were ruined and others denigrated and smeared by Whale and the Nats, and a few exonerated like Nicky Hager and Martyn Bradbury and now the three medical researchers. National was and is bent&ndashKey and the offshore trust industry that his personal lawyer was involved in, Whale having first dibs on OIA releases! and sharing pillow talk with Key late at night according to Parliamentary records. Much of the nation seemed not to care when Rawshark began to spill, but at least it is recorded for history, and to warn other generations.

    • Marcus Morris 6.1

      My thoughts exactly Tiger. This morning Collins is twittering on about this KFC business. I read somewhere that the right wing reporter that has stirred this up has been reprimanded for only telling part of the story. Clearly Collins is anxious to divert public attention away from Dirty Politics. She will never change.

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