Flattering to deceive

Written By: - Date published: 10:21 am, May 28th, 2011 - 23 comments
Categories: brand key, Media, spin - Tags:

Ever noticed how the big political journos will do a scathing attack on one major party then, the next day, one on the other major party? It’s about maintaining access. If you only run attacks on one party, you’ll stop getting stories from them (nearly all political stories come from the opposing party). After this, it was Labour’s turn in Armstrong’s sights today, or is it?

At first glance, the piece certainly seems to be pro-Key (note how it’s Key, not National) and anti-Labour. I’ll admit that when I first read this, I was pissed off at what I thought was another Armstrong hatchet job on Labour but when you dissect it, Armstrong is actually ‘praising’ Key for being an aggressive lair who will do anything to keep power.

Lets look at some of the quotes:

“During one question time this month, Phil Goff asked Key what responsibility he took as Prime Minister for the forecast deficit ballooning out from the original estimate of $2.4 billion to a whopping $16 billion.

For once, Key’s guard dropped. The House got some rare, undiluted passion from the prime minister.

Yes, he took full responsibility. He took full responsibility for helping the people of Christchurch.

He took full responsibility for preserving social programmes that helped people get through the economic recession.

And he took full responsibility for keeping unemployment low, unlike in other countries hit by the global downturn.

What was apparent was that Key had instantly and effortlessly shifted up a gear – one rarely witnessed in public and which left Goff trailing like flotsam in his wake.”

‘Yeah, Key took Goff to school!’ but wait:

“For once, Key’s guard dropped” – the Key we see is actually usually fake.

And then the substance: “Yes, he took full responsibility. He took full responsibility for helping the people of Christchurch. He took full responsibility for preserving social programmes that helped people get through the economic recession. And he took full responsibility for keeping unemployment low, unlike in other countries hit by the global downturn.” – But everyone knows that Key has cut important social programmes, done bugger all for Christchurch, that unemployment is high and climbing. See what Armstrong did there? He brought Key’s lies to public attention without directly criticising them. He damned Key with his own words while apparently praising him.

Another passage:

“Labour should be afraid, very afraid. Behind Key’s affable facade lurks a politician as utterly single-minded, focused and merciless as Clark was and Lange wasn’t.” – the affability is simply a facade. Key is a politician like any other. Not the nice guy of PR.

“Labour’s efforts to look fiscally responsible have been leg-ironed by National resorting to such skulduggery as “banking” the proceeds of its part-privatisation of some state companies in the Government’s accounts before the shares have even been sold.” – See, at first glance, Armstrong’s praising this. But do you praise someone’s actions by calling it skulduggery. Armstrong didn’t have to lay out National’s deceit in asset sales for the unaware public, but he has, while appearing on the surface to praise it.

“Key circled Labour’s congress like a Great White Pointer waiting to strike and chomp Labour off at the knees while Goff was still persuading the public his party was standing on fiscally balanced feet.” – Goff is being portrayed on the surface as at Key’s mercy, but which one of them is Armstrong saying is a responsible leader explaining his policies to the public and which is just interested playing politics? Comparing Key a shark isn’t exactly favourable.

“Delegates had barely wound up last Sunday when the Prime Minister was slamming Goff’s promise to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and reintroduce tax credits for firms with research and development programmes, the latter being funded by bringing agriculture under the emissions trading system in 2013 rather than National’s (now moveable) date of 2015.” – a nice precis of Labour’s policy announcements and a subtle dig at National’s lack of commitment to making farmers pay for their pollution but wrapped up as if Key is doing well. This is clever stuff from Armstrong.

And then there’s wonderful passage where Armstrong shows that Key is all spin and all lies:

“The following morning, the Beehive spin-machine was at full throttle pulling predictions out of Department of Labour documents showing job losses of 4000 to 6000 workers from a $15 minimum wage.

Moreover, incorporating agriculture in the ETS would spark price rises for milk, butter and cheese.

As for the R&D tax credits, Labour’s estimate of the maximum cost for the open-ended scheme of no more than $200 million a year was significantly below the levels Labour itself had budgeted for just before losing office in 2008.

This was classic attack politics. You get in first with your version of events. You paint the worst possible scenario as the inevitable consequence of what your opponent is proposing. You leave the facts behind. You know in a sound-bite democracy, no one remembers your opponent’s rebuttal.

So Key didn’t mention that the Labour Department had told ministers international evidence of the impact on the job market of raising the minimum wage was mixed and that most businesses simply absorbed the cost.

As for dairy prices, Key was swiftly reminded National had insisted they were set by the international market.

Key can’t have it both ways. But that won’t stop him saying prices across other sectors such as transport would have been even higher had National not revised the ETS.

Key was also on weak ground with the R&D tax credits. Two months ago, Science and Innovation Minister Wayne Mapp was hailing Statistics NZ figures showing a “dramatic” increase in spending on R&D since National took power.

In fact, our level of R&D spend remains pitiful – just 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product, below the 2008 OECD average of nearly 2.3 per cent and hopelessly adrift of Finland (3.45 per cent) which New Zealand politicians hold as a role model.

National abolished the tax credits in part to fund its personal tax cuts, finally persuading the Treasury that would do more for economic growth.”

I love how Armstrong lays out Key’s attack lines, explains the dishonesty at the heart of this brand of attack politics, and then details the lies Key has told, all while apparently framing Key as the winner in the exchange. It is a brilliant dismemberment of Brand Key.

There’s been a hell of a lot of criticism of Armstrong on this site over the years, much of it deserved, but I’ll take my hat off to him this time. It’s a cunning journo who can write a story seemingly in praise of a person while, in reality, exposing them as a lair and a fake who is only interested in power for its own sake.

23 comments on “Flattering to deceive”

  1. Salsy 1

    Im wondering if Fran is doing the same . Ive often read her pieces regarding Chinese ownership with interest as she runs a subtle warning message and often outs the govt for private, silent deals – i.e the Wrightson PGA takeover. But this morning, its like Farrar accidently logged in using the wrong name..

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    Armstrong is praising Key for being an “aggressive cave/den”? 😛

  3. Daveski 3

    This anti-Key campaign is working a treat at the polls. Please keep it up.

    • Eddie 3.1

      I’m just reporting on what Armstrong’s saying. Go crying to him if you don’t like it.

      Or, better yet, tell us which of the points is wrong or unfair. Hasn’t Key already included asset sales in his budget? Wasn’t he lying about the ETS’s affect on domestic prices?

  4. Campbell Larsen 4

    Unfortunately the criticism is a little bit too subtle for the average reader of the Herald.
    He is going to have to do better before he gets into my good books.
    Few commentators get the kind of exposure that he gets via his columns. Is it the case that Mr Armstrong realized that an article that is openly critical of Shonky and the Rats would not get published but caring deeply for the nation he secreted his true message in code, or is it that he merely feared for his pay packet and kick backs from the Rats?
    Or feared that he was losing his credibility after writing so many PR puff prices?
    What sort of man are you really Mr Armstrong? If you have an opinion of your own, then let’s hear it, don’t hide behind nuance.

  5. Blue 5

    I think you give Armstrong too much credit. He’s a power junkie, pure and simple. He gets a high out of watching the cut-and-thrust of politics, and his idol is whoever is winning, whatever tactics they are using to do so.

    I wish he could be accused of such a sly attack, but the reality is that he admires Key for this type of behaviour. The facts and the morality of the Key sham is completely lost on him.

    His job is to sit and snigger on the sidelines while the country goes to hell, because Key is still riding high in the polls and he’s completely taken with how Key has managed to pull off such a clever scam.

    In short, he’s the Herald’s Machiavelli.

    • cowbell 5.1

      Blue is right – Armstrong is not that subtle. He doesn’t know/care what is right, he cares about who is winning.

      I thought this blog post was satire at first.

      • Campbell Larsen 5.1.1

        Shonky is not a shark, and winning is not what the Rats are doing, they are ahead in dodgy polls perhaps, but loosing support gradually and most critically, losing the confidence of voters in regards to asset sales management of the economy , jobs etc.

        It is a bit premature to call someone whose game is collapsing early in the 1st quarter the winner

    • Chills 5.2

      I have to agree Blue, he is praising Key for his “skullduggery”, and that is clearly evident in his comparison of Key to Clark and Lange. And it’s been obvious for some time that he gets his thrills observing the machiavellian behaviour of our politicians.

  6. ianmac 6

    Suppose there will be a shift in perception from “a friendly funny smiling bloke” to “an authorative forceful clever has-the-answers” sort of chap. Just what we need they cry. Can then have it both ways.

  7. M 7


    Interesting take on Key, like Campbell I think it’s way too subtle for the average Joe.

    I think it would have been better to maybe phrase something like: Key offers class clown soundbites and Goff offers well reseached and fully costed policies.

    Key’s arrogance reminds me of a Bush clip I saw where Bush skited that he couldn’t believe he’d won (stolen) the election and was taking charge of a country that was in good shape financially and was seemingly OK in most people’s minds and that he was going to change all that – sorry I can’t find a link but I do remember it clear as day because I could not believe the outrageous arrogance, it may be in a Michael Moore flick.

    Btw you’ve written lair instead of liar – sorry, I’m a pedant.

  8. Afewknowthetruth 8

    Of course none of it has any relevance whatsoever, which is why anyone who is awake to the truth doesn’t bother reading the drivel churned out by so-called newspapers.

    1. Industrial societies are primarily concerned with looting resources, preserving the interests of money-lenders, and converting fossil fuels into waste which destroys the environment.

    2. It will make no difference which party is in power, as long as NZ remains trapped in the industrial paradigm, whoever leads will be primarily concerned with looting resources, protecting the interests of money-lenders, and converting fossil fuels into waste which destroys the environment.

    3. So-called newspapers are simply businesses, and their prime purpose is to make profits for the owners. Sensationalism, inconsistency and hypocrisy are basic requirements of modern ‘journalism’. There is no consistent profit to be made from telling the truth in the current industrial paradigm.

    4. Industrial society is inherently unsustainable and is coming to an end. And so are all the silly political games currently being played within the framework of industrial society.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      1.) Not industrial societiescapitalist societies
      2.) It will make no difference which party is in power, as long as NZ and the world remains trapped in the Capitalist Paradigm…
      3.) Private newspapers, radio and TV stations, ergo, the MSM, are there to propagate the Capitalist Paradigm. Our state radio and TV don’t do any better as they’re aping the private media.
      4.) Capitalist society is inherently unsustainable and is coming to an end as it has done numerous times before and for the same reasons – it’s run out of available resources.

  9. deemac 9

    it is certainly true that Gore wiped the floor with Bush in the TV debate but that voters preferred the folksy Bush to the smart alec Gore!

  10. Muzz 10

    What a good article! I’ll take my hat off to you… 😉
    When the journo’s buy into this deceitful rhetoric they sell their souls along with their credibility… Their failure to shed any real light on Key’s irresponsible, neo-liberal agenda shows how little worth they are to democratic society – I thought the media’s role was to protect democracy by questioning this rich and powerful, not helping them pursue their selfish agendas.

    • RedLogix 10.1

      Basically Armstrong’s been a Gallery hack for too long. He sold his soul to stay in the game many years ago.

  11. arants 11

    He is right though that National’s strategists have comprehensively out-thought Labour. This year’s campaign will focus on the credibility of Labour’s leadership team, not just Goff. The front bench committee’s bunker mentality and self-obsession mean effective defence against this is unlikely.

    As Armstrong points out, they are on a timid track to lead Labour into a long period of Opposition, with National skilfully mapping their path.

    • Salsy 11.1

      Dont agree, its all currently being pulled along by the magnetism of Key, there are no manouvers. On the other hand, the drum of the left is getting louder and stronger. Key has peaked way too soon. Look at the comments on Armstrongs article, things are getting nasty toward him. Goff on the other hand is appearing more relaxed affible and genuine. The two leaders are settling into their positions. Key as the leader you can trust to serve foreign interests – Goff the leader you can trust to serve New Zealand.

  12. Anne 12

    Open letter to John Armstrong:

    Dear John,

    Would you like to post a comment and tell us if EDDIE is right? Cos I want to believe it but the doubters have me worried. 🙂


  13. Georgecom 13

    I found this part of the article most interesting
    “You get in first with your version of events. You paint the worst possible scenario as the inevitable consequence of what your opponent is proposing. You leave the facts behind. You know in a sound-bite democracy, no one remembers your opponent’s rebuttal.”

    Seems to me that is where National is also vulnerable. Never mind the ‘mum and dad’ investors, asset sales = ownership control and profits offshore and higher power prices.

    Do you feel better off under National? Of course not.

    It doesn’t matter about the truth, Armstrong has clearly told us. 6 months to get in first and package up the realities of asset sales and the dismal economic position people are in. A vote for National in November = public assets going off shore and 3 more years of rising living costs.

    One thing epople have been telling me recently is ‘what alternative does Labour have’. I expect to see some clearly differentiated policies coming out shortly.

  14. Georgecom 14


    “National is borrowing to pay for the tax cuts. It will soon be selling state assets to pay for the tax cuts.”

    “As your GST and cost of living went up, John Key pockets an extra 25k per year. The government is borrowing to pay for those tax cuts and will soon be selling state assets to pay for them”

    “Bill English is responsible for the recession”

    “Bill English is responsible for the lack of growth in the economy”

    “Bill English has mismanaged the economy”

    All true, just need to be repeated often.

    • Salsy 14.1

      Oh and they are. David Cunliffe is doing an excellent job of busting myths – one of the biggest ones Nat voters just cant accept is that there was a surplus when English took over the books. The reaction is so extreme, that Whale oil even took to finding every link in the universe he could to debunk this. They know when voters start to see cracks in the facade, their in trouble..

  15. RedandBlack 15

    Is it not time to out the dodgy polls that Key relies on to sustain his mojo and also make BBC Hardtalk freely available to the voters?

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