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Written By: - Date published: 1:30 pm, May 7th, 2009 - 53 comments
Categories: Media, racism - Tags:

Interesting article in the Herald today. It concentrates on a conversation between Melissa Lee and an old racist pharmacist from Mt Albert who won’t vote for her because she’s Asian.
It turns out that the Herald has interviewed many reasonable people (most of whom supported Shearer) for this piece. So why spend half the article on what some daft old bugger has to say? It’s clearly a dogwhistle “if you don’t vote Melissa Lee, you’re a racist too”
David Farrar picks it up, only to prove you can break a dogwhistle if you blow too hard.
The irony is that it is Lee engaging in racial stereotyping. Lee thinks that because “twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian” she will get their votes. Not only is that premised on people voting on ethnic lines it assumes all Asians are alike.
Ultimately, the worst thing about this attempt to make race an issue is it puts the candidates’ identity above the issues and policies. In fact, I’m struggling to recall an article from the mainstream media on Mt Albert that focuses the issues, rather than the parliamentary politicking or the candidates’ personal qualities.

53 comments on “Dogwhistlin’ ”

  1. bilbo 1

    “In fact, I’m struggling to recall an article from the mainstream media on Mt Albert that focuses the issues, rather than the parliamentary politicking or the candidates’ personal qualities.”

    Sounds a bit like The Standard.

  2. The comments to Farrar’s posting do not look so much the result of a dog whistle but more the result of someone putting a whole heap of LSD into their posters’ water supply.

    Ryan Sproull’s comments were more grounded in reality than most of them and deserves repeating for everyone’s afternoon’s entertainment. He said

    “Western medicines are actually only really effective for red-blooded people. The Asian’s green blood is mostly impervious to such things. However, the Asian has an advantage when the USS Enterprise encounters psychoactive plant toxins on alien planets in star-clustered reaches.”

    Kiwiblog can be a scary place …

  3. Imposter JJW 3

    If the good people of Mt Alberto vote for me i will table a bill that will make it compulsory for websites such as this to pay tribute to funk soul musicians and they drugs that made them famous rather than politics.

    Lets face it politics sucks anyway.

  4. r0b 4

    My “favourite” quote from that dreck of an article? Of David Shearer – “despite a reputation as a grey United Nations bureaucrat”. Mmmm. Uh huh. A reputation straight out of the National Party spin machine and reprinted verbatim by the loyal Herald. Classy.

  5. gingercrush 5

    The irony is that it is Lee engaging in racial stereotyping. Lee thinks that because “twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian’ she will get their votes. Not only is that premised on people voting on ethnic lines it assumes all Asians are alike.

    That comment strikes me immediately because the article doesn’t even say that. Lee says, “”Twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian, 40 per cent were born overseas. I think I can empathise with them”. That is vastly different to what you are implying.

    Though lets put what you say in perspective. Do Maori not vote along their ethnic lines or Pacific Islanders? How many Pacific Islanders vote National compared to Labour? Not many. How many Maori vote National? Not Many. Of course people vote on ethnic lines. There isn’t much data available to see how asians vote. The only big Asian electorate is Botany. That overwhelmingly voted National. But other times, Asian strongholds have voted for Labour. I suggest much as in the United States like Hispanics they’re very swing voters. Though I think overtime they will settle. For National to prosper they need to garner large numbers of Asian voters because they’re a growing population.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 5.1

      Pointing out that 24% of the electorate is Asian is just dumb. Remember India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and half of Turkey are classified as Asian. It could be argued that the non selection of Ravi will hurt with Asian voters.I suspect the comment was only a throw away line as part of a longer conversation, but politicians do need be more careful when making blythe generalisations. This goes with her “I know NZ better than him comment”

  6. My “favourite’ quote from that dreck of an article? Of David Shearer – “despite a reputation as a grey United Nations bureaucrat’. Mmmm. Uh huh. A reputation straight out of the National Party spin machine . . .

    Don’t you mean the Green Party spin machine?

    • Eddie 6.1

      A cheeky person might ask if there’s a difference these days under Russel Norman.

    • r0b 6.2

      I still hope that the Greens will head back towards the light, so I’m prepared to cut them some slack!

  7. SPC 7

    FFS everyone knows that Labour under Goff will run as a continuance of National lite after Key won power by running as Labour lite.

    If Greens, as the only remaining left wing party, cannot call them the tweedle dee tweddle dum men of the grey/gray centre – because others claiming to be of the left (but wanting a united front behind one of the grey/gray parties Labour) don’t approve of calling it like it is, it does not speak to the Greens but …

    • r0b 7.1

      FFS everyone knows that Labour under Goff will run as a continuance of National lite

      FFS does everybody know that? I certainly don’t. Why so quick to judge Goff on your preconceptions? Why not wait for his actions?

      Oh well – by all means spit the dummy and wallow in a good old fashioned leftie civil war, if you really think it will help. But I used to think the Greens were better than that.

      • SPC 7.1.1


        There once was a time when the left came to the Greens (earlier the Alliance) because they did not want to be confined to supporting a centrist path.

        Now if the Greens choose to say that a centrist path is one chosen by grey/gray men they call this lack of solidarity.

        Surely the choice of Goff spoke to choosing to fight Key’s Labour lite with Goff’s National lite? Simply put, if Key moves to the centre-right being in the centre to replace the government. It is at one level a restraint on National moving to the centre-right, that if they do they will lose.

        But the whole reason why the left moved to Alliance and then Greens is that they wanted more than restraining National from being able to move to the right by running a centrist Labour party.

        But hey, if the non environment left can put up with no progress on the environment through National’s term for sake of a centrist Labour government replacing National should they move away from the centre – and thats the extent of their political ambition – what sort of left is it, Vichy left?

        • r0b

          Got to go to the dentist SPC, so later. But Labour is the left that people vote for, and the left that actually gets stuff done. “Vichy left” is in such poor taste that I whap you with the Godwin stick. Bye for now…

        • r0b

          Surely the choice of Goff spoke to choosing to fight Key’s Labour lite with Goff’s National lite?

          Why? On what recent evidence do you make such a claim? Surely the choice of Goff spoke to choosing the most experienced and most appropriate candidate to pick up where Helen Clark left off? Why are you Greens so intent on demonising Goff – before he’s even done anything?

          But hey, if the non environment left can put up with no progress on the environment through National’s term

          I hope that you do get progress on environmental issues SPC, but I can’t say I’m holding my breath. I’m not even sure that you can stop things from going backwards. How are you doing on stopping the gutting of the RMA?

          Here’s where I’m from. I don’t much care about parties, I care about the causes and issues of the left. I happen to be a member of the Labour Party because they are much better organised than the Greens in my electorate, and I don’t like wasting my time. But I have voted for, contributed to, and worked for the Greens (because its all about causes and issues, not parties). I’ve been around long enough to know that leftie civil wars are inevitable – because we care about things passionately. I’ve also been around long enough to know that a certain amount of civil war can be healthy, but that if they get out of control they’re very, very destructive.

          There once was a time when the left came to the Greens (earlier the Alliance)

          Yes, and before them the Values party. Values is gone. Alliance is gone. What conclusions do you draw about the viability of a hard left party in NZ politics? As above – Labour is the left that people will vote for. The left that gets stuff done. The left that has done a huge amount of good for NZ. Of course Labour is far from perfect, but to my mind it is better to have imperfect progress than none at all.

          The Greens have lasted well as a hard left party so far because of the mana of Rod (whom I knew in Trade Aid long ago) and Jeanette, and because they have a very clear and attractive environmental brand. My genuine fear with respect to the current Green strategy is not that it will take votes from Labour – personally I don’t much care who on the left gets the votes – my fear is that the Greens will so damage themselves in the eyes of some of their core supporters that they will slip below the 5% threshold. That would be a tragedy.

          Please give some thought, next time you feel like painting Labour as the “Vichy left”, to the fact that we are not in truth your enemies, that we are not all fools or misguided, that some of us have good reasons for doing what we do, that there are very real differences between National and Labour, and that those differences matter to the environment and to the lives of many many New Zealanders.

          We now return you to your regularly scheduled civil war. Sigh.

          • SPC


            Funny thing is – it was the Greens who were attacked by others on the left for remaining true to their environment policy position – of trying to influence the mainstream parties and work with them to get results. The attacks on the Greens for this were not initiated by them.

            Were the slights on this thread made at the expense of the Greens made by them – responding to them is not launching anything.

            The Green Party exists as a party of environment principle and its existence (Values was operating in a FPP environment) and reliability as a left wing partner to Labour is premised on this. Expecting them to sell out on environment policy (accept a delay on insulating homes and making home heating affordable) because of solidarity on the left would be to betray its declared committment.

            If a party of the left cannot campaign for votes on the basis that another party is centrist (when it is) – without others on the left complaining about the lack of solidarity … one wonders how far some “on the left” can go out of loyalty to the “Third Way”.

            There was once a left wing nation, but because some saw the left as too weak to survive the threat of the right they became (Vichy) centrists. But it was only those true to the resistance of the left who were the heroes who built Kiwibank.

            The Greens party’s credibility is built around its environment cause and it is a left wing party – do not ask it to sell out for the convenience of a centrist party, however preferable its government might be to a full blown right wing regime. The Green Party is the only party committed to a coalition with Labour alone – for it to be slighted by those on the left for being true to its environment policy committment is a travesty.

    • Pascal's bookie 7.2

      heh, my old dad reckons that:

      Those that reckon that everyone knows, reckon everyone knows what they reckon.

    • Maynard J 7.3

      Your logic is…fucked.

      National ran as Labour lite and won. If Labour win, it will be by being National lite, you say. National lite is obviously a left version of National v1.0, which is a left version of National (remembering that ‘National’ was originally Labour lite).

      So Labour lite being National lite, when National lite dervied itself from Labour, means Labour will be…Labour. A left-wing party.

      Labour were a fair bit more amicable to the Greens than National. All you get now are regulations on pills for Men Issues, quack medicine and ‘the bird’ over the ETS. The wrong kind of bird.

      Ah well, at least the Greens weren’t stupid enough to tie a slogan to the MoU. Imagine the grief I could give them if the agreement was touted as “Environment-enhancing” or “Frog-enhancing”.

      • SPC 7.3.1

        Maynard J

        No. All centrist alternatives in opposition simply offer little substantive change in policy – which Key offered in 2008. Thus Goff offers in 2011 what Key did in 2008. Little change in policy settings made by the former government. Goff’s campaign will likely be based on what Key might do (move to the right) if given a second term (as some promises made in 2008 were of a one term duration) and thus offer the continuance of the centrist course option.

      • mickysavage 7.3.2

        National ran pretending to be Labour lite but recent events show that they are really adherents to Ruthenasia 2.0

        Labour just needs to run as itself.

  8. “The irony is that it is Lee engaging in racial stereotyping. Lee thinks that because “twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian’ she will get their votes.”

    That is shameless Eddie. Lee said:

    “Twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian, 40 per cent were born overseas. I think I can empathise with them.”

    What part of this is untrue? Melissa Lee said she could empathise with migrants and you accuse her of racial stereotyping and ignorance. Talk about spin.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 8.1

      I was born in Australia, does that make me qualified to empathise with other foreign born people? if she thinks that people will vote based on where you were born she is severely underestimating the voters’ intelligence.

      • bluerag 8.1.1

        I happen to think people who have been through the process of moving to a new country have a shared experience. I also think someone who migrated to New Zealand should, all other factors being equal, be better placed to empathise with other migrants than someone who was not.

        • Zaphod Beeblebrox

          The problem is that we aren’t all equal. Migrating to NZ is an unique experience, but I believe she is overplaying her hand on this one. If she can show how her experience allows her and her party to help newcomers and makes her more qualified for Mt Albert that would be great. Making blanket generalisations about asians or knowing NZ, or being tough on crime (a direct pitch to insecurity minorities feel)in my mind, does not cut the mustard. Her media experience has taught her to be short and straight to the point but she needs to back it up with some policy. To date she hasn’t done that-lets see if she can do that.

  9. Tim Ellis 9

    What Eddie said:

    “The irony is that it is Lee engaging in racial stereotyping. Lee thinks that because “twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian’ she will get their votes. Not only is that premised on people voting on ethnic lines it assumes all Asians are alike.”

    What Lee actually said:

    “Twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian, 40 per cent were born overseas. I think I can empathise with them.”

    I know you’re a staunch Labour Party supporter Eddie, but that is simply shabby. I realise that you might be annoyed that Shearer has got little good press, and Lee has been getting plenty of good coverage, but you really don’t have to treat all your readers as idiots.

    Lee was the producer and presenter of Asia Down Under for many years. It speaks for itself that she knows very well that not all Asians vote or think the same.

    • bluerag 9.1

      I made the same point above. Note how Eddie simply ignores getting called out for her lying?

      • Maynard J 9.1.1

        Do you have a daughter, wife or mother called ‘Eddie’?

        Are you a female called ‘Eddie’?

        Or are you being “funny”?

        • bilbo

          eddie as in eddie and Patsy …..abfab

          • Maynard J

            Girl = eddy

            Guy = eddie

            bluerag = not thinking of abfab.

            “Bubbles, what is it you do here?”

            “Get paid…”

  10. Irascible 10

    Lee & NACT will be taking advice from the Wong-Wang campaign.
    Botany in 2008 was an electorate where the NACT parties acted in concert. Wang’s advertising was designed to boost Wong while her protestations were designed to re-enforce the idea that unless the Chinese/Korean/Indian block voted for her they would be ignored by the European blocs.
    As well NACT appealed to the inherent economic conservatism of the Asian bloc with a campaign that stressed the hard work individualistic work ethic of the Asians over the inherent laziness of the Europeans in the electorate.
    Labour workers came across many Asians who expressed this argument or made statements along the lines that until NZ made the people work by cutting away social support programmes – benefits etc – and made the general electorate aware that they should be more self reliant like we (Asians) are no one would make a profit.
    The sole met the candidates meeting in Botany, held in the Methodist Church Hall, in 2008 took written questions from the audience about the candidates’ policies. There wre NO questions about social policies. Every question was on how the Parties would support business or the individual by removing tax, removing policies that spent money on welfare issues, that would encourage “self reliance” and would smack down hard on crime – especially crime that affected Asians.
    This was the Wong-Wang sub-surface campaign pitched directly to that constituency within Botany.
    NACT will run a similar race based campaign in Mt Albert.
    Because the campaign is an insidious under the surface one it is very difficult to oppose it if you represent a more socially responsible party.

    • Pascal's bookie 10.1

      Interesting. It will be a lot harder to stay under the radar in a by-election though methinks…

  11. I realise that you might be annoyed that Shearer has got little good press . . .

    See, here’s the thing – Shearer has gotten REALLY good press, from the Herald no less.


    I’d argue that this article is far more complimentary towards Shearer than Simon Collins’ is about Lee – but if you’re a party cheerleader you don’t notice such things. Pro-Labour propaganda is merely ‘fair and balanced’ reporting.

    • Eddie 11.1

      Danyl. I would agree that the bit that talks about voters’ views of Shearer is pretty good for him but it’s the choice to focus the article on the racist that’s unsettling.

      Personally I would prefer if the article was reporting the candidates’ views on issues that matter to the people fo Mt Albert, rather than the reactions of people to meeting them.

      • bluerag 11.1.1

        Yeah, who cares what voters think of the candidates?

      • Tim Ellis 11.1.2

        Maybe, Eddie, if the candidates started talking about the issues that matter to the people of Mt Albert, rather than trying to invent the issues and frame the issues for the campaign, then voters might talk more about them. Labour is determined to turn the supercity and waterview into the issues of the campaign. I suspect that the apathetic response of Mt Albert voters to that just shows that they would rather talk about the real issues of local crime, and the economy. It also shows that Labour just isn’t in touch with voters issues.

        • Zaphod Beeblebrox

          I assume the parties have done their focus groups.

        • Maynard J

          What apathetic response, Tim? What are the ‘real’ issues and what research are you basing this factual claim on?

          Please give me a link or two. I’d love to read what you have obviously read, something like a poll that gives numbers of Mt Albert voters’ most important issue. It must have been taken in the last, well the candidates have only been selected for a week now, so it must be a poll that came out yesterday or today.

          Which poll told you that the voters of Mt Albert don’t care about the supercity and the possibility of a road bulldozed through Mt Albert, and that they care much more about crime and the economy, and think that those are the defining issues of the byelection?

          I am staggered that this poll has not appreared in the media yet, Tim, your sources must be great. I will understand if you say that it is currently embargoed information.

          • gobsmacked

            Labour is determined to turn the supercity and waterview into the issues of the campaign.

            Whereas here in the cafes and shops of Auckland, people just want to talk about the one thing they really care about.

            I went for a haircut today.

            “So, the usual trim, is it? And how’ve you been?”

            “Yeah, not bad, shame the weather’s gone bad.”

            “Weather? Who cares? Does that Labour bloke support the possible use of private forces in UN peacekeeping or not? My wife was on at me about it all night. My kids are divided, but my neighbour’s anti. Now, the way I see it …”

        • r0b

          Labour is determined to turn the supercity and waterview into the issues of the campaign. I suspect that the apathetic response of Mt Albert voters to that…

          Just when you thought Tim couldn’t get any more desperate!…

        • mickysavage

          Sorry Tim but having a noisy smelling snarly transport corridor that has a hundred thousand or so car trips per day running down the middle of your community is actually a big issue.

          And for Maioro Road and Tiverton Road residents having nearly as many car trips running down your neighbourhood road is also a really big issue.

          Minimise their concerns at your/the nat’s peril.

      • Scribe 11.1.3


        The focus on the racist pharmacist is what journalists call a news “hook”. It’s an interesting aspect of the story that will draw people in to read it. It’s used all the time, and it’s easily the most interesting part of this particular article.

        You’re right that it’d be nice to see a focus on the issues that matter to Mt Albert — my electorate, by the way — but there’s still 5+ weeks till the election. There are bound to be plenty of these stories, and more delving into the past of the main candidates.

        This fluff is inevitable.

  12. Brett Dale 12

    What type of idiot wont vote for someone who is Asian? Thats almost worst than not letting someone into your coffee shop because they are from Israel, but hey shes from national, so I guess the media is using this huh, I can imagine what you guys would be saying someone wouldn’t vote for a Labour MP because they are Maori, it will be over the standard 24/7.

    • felix 12.1

      Oh look, something hypocritical just happened in Brett’s mind. That’s just awful.

      We can only hope it doesn’t happen in real life too, that could be even worse.

    • Maynard J 12.2

      The main thrust of the article here is that The Herald is focussing on the race issue (and the subject is called an ‘old racist’ – hardly a term of endearment but one which I will now explain at least half applies to you).

      You missed that, and then basically claimed The Standard authors are racist by saying they do not care someone will not vote for an asian but would care if they will not vote for a Maori. Since you are calling people racist, best provide something to support that, or gracefully apologise.

      • gobsmacked 12.2.1

        I can imagine what you guys would be saying someone wouldn’t vote for a Labour MP because they are Maori.

        A racist.

        • Maynard J

          I think Brett Dale has a much worse imaginary scenario going on.

    • Eddie 12.3

      No it wouldn’t be, not if it was just some run of the mill racist. I mean what’s the angle? – “racist nobody says racist stuff?”. We know they exist, unfortunately. We would only spend time talking about someone’s racist comments if they were a person of political importance.

      Which is the point, I suppose, the Herald decided to single out the racist and focus on him even though he was just some guy and not representative of thepeople they interviewed – why?

  13. George Darroch 13

    I know I’m late here. But could it be that there are actual racists in Mt Albert, and that their existence and possible influence on the election is in-fact newsworthy?

  14. George Darroch 14

    Instead of coming out and saying ‘this is awful, Lee should not have to suffer racism, but vote for the better candidate based on who they are’, Eddie and the rest of the Standard regulars are acting as if the fact of having the story about racism printed is the injustice here.

    • Maynard J 14.1

      It is, don’t you think? People fight for media freedoms, there are laws about it and we get served this swill. I sort of disagree with the punch line ‘It’s clearly a dogwhistle “if you don’t vote Melissa Lee, you’re a racist too” but the target, the article, is legit.

      • gobsmacked 14.1.1

        George, have you read the story?

        It is about one man. He could have said he was voting ACT, because the aliens who visit him every night told him to. He could have said any old shit. Sadly, people do.

        If the reporter had found more people saying racist crap, he would have been onto something. Evidently he didn’t.

        A reporter could, at any time in the last 9 years, have walked down the street and found voters giving nasty misogynist or homophobic reasons for not voting for Helen Clark. Within minutes. (Sooner, on certain blogs).

        But I never saw that story beaten up in the Herald. Ever.

        So yes, let’s have real investigation and analysis of the issues of racism and bigotry. This wasn’t it.

  15. Perhaps we are reading too much into this. We are thinking there is a cunning plan to subvert democracy and increase the chances of National winning when maybe it was a tired staffer who thought it might sell more papers?

    Either way the chances of my renewing my long expired Herald subscription are even more remote.

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