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Misdirection

Written By: - Date published: 11:44 am, June 27th, 2008 - 59 comments
Categories: john key, national, spin - Tags: ,

There’s a technique that sits at the heart of conjuring tricks called misdirection the act of drawing attention away from the trick itself. You all know how it works: the conjurer will flourish a brightly coloured handkerchief in one hand, while the trick is quietly taking place unnoticed in the other.

The same thing happens in spin when a politician wishes to draw attention away from an issue, and National are particularly adept at it. Yesterday’s example of producing a decontextualised quote about the treaty from Cullen in order to draw attention away from Key’s comments was a classic example of misdirection in action, and was very similar to when Key was caught out claiming the Iraq war was over and then tried to claim Labour had said similar things.

But the mother of all misdirections, the one which is probably framed and hanging on Crosby Textor’s office wall of fame, is the ‘stolen emails’ misdirection. Remember that?

Rather than discuss the content of the emails that featured in the Hollow Men, National’s response was to make a huge fuss over the fact that they were ‘stolen’ and make that the story instead. The fact that there has been no evidence produced to prove this and the police believe it was an inside job is irrelevant now because like all of National’s spin their misdirection sits within a greater framework of hit and run PR and they are confident (with considerable reason) that the memory hole will take care of the story if they can get just past it in the short term.

So just remember, when National are making a big song and dance about something it probably pays to watch their other hand.

59 comments on “Misdirection”

  1. vto 1

    funny. pots and kettles and all that.

  2. IrishBill 2

    Is that the best you can do? It’s not even good misdirection.

  3. vto 3

    he he IrishBill. It just made me laugh that’s all. All the politicians do it. Not quite sure why anyone would spend time worrying about it.

  4. Brownie 4

    Hey boys,

    Been a while since I last posted but…….

    Gotta agree that Labour are just as adept, if not more, at this, Irish.

  5. vto provides yet another example of misdirection, as he does every time the Nats are exposed.

  6. brownie, vto. you’re welcome to substantiate your arguments with examples.

    great image, Irish.

  7. monkey-boy 7

    For the love of God IS THAT IT!?! I can’t believe you think your readers are so thick that they need this pointing out, Bill.

  8. Let’s not be misdirected from the signs that National’s policies would give most voters the screaming shits if they found about them.

  9. Brownie 9

    SP,

    Mallard vs Erin Leigh.

    To take the gloss off a terrible situation, Big Trev levels a personal attack then apologises later (sort of). Great misdirection.

    QED

  10. monkey-boy 10

    Stating the claim that the EFB would be rushed into Law was ‘hearsay’ so that the court case over whether it contravened the BoRA would not be heard in good time, then ramming it through on fast-track anyway, thus rendering any discussion about a Law’s relevence to the BoRA redundant.

  11. IrishBill 11

    Monkey-boy, Given the uninformed and frankly stupid comments some from the right make here I though I should lay it out nice and simple.

    Brownie, on the matter of Labour’s misdirection you are welcome to give me three examples if you can but I suspect it will be a bit hard as Labour don’t have a lot of stuff they need to draw attention from. If anything they have a lot of policy they need to draw attention to.

  12. Phil 12

    As emails are the intellectual property of the individual writing them, or the company/organisation/group they are writing on behalf of, by definition they MUST have been stolen.

    Whether or not it was an inside job is irrelevant. Would it not be stealing if someone working at The Warehouse nicked off with the money in the till? That counts as ‘inside job’ too.

    For other misdirection, look no further than the PM’s occasional reference to changing the flag, or NZ becoming a republic.

  13. Brownie 13

    Ib,

    I have just sent a email to Iprent but thought you may know. Are you having any trouble with the Captcha? It won’t allow me to put it in?

    [lprent: Which browser and what version? I thought I’d got them all apart from some really obscure browsers like the KDE one. I’ll check e-mail.]

  14. IrishBill 14

    Brownie, I’m not having any trouble but I’m using the new firefox. I’m sure Lynn will get it sorted.

  15. monkey-boy 15

    Claiming the EFA was ‘To stop people like the Exclusive Brethren and John Key from rorting the electoral process.” When it was really to spike the opposition’s guns because Labour were bankrupt after paying back the $800,000 dollars they ‘misappropriated’ during the election, despite promising the Electoral Commission that they wouldn’t.

    That’s two for the price of one.

  16. monkey-boy 16

    captch works – you have to type out your comment at the bottom, scroll to the top of the page put in the capcha code then scroll down and submit.

    [lprent: Lee: damn – which browser and version?]

  17. monkey-boy 17

    Bill that’s three examples. You owe me a drink. Make it a bottle of Jamiesons and we are quits.

  18. Brownie 18

    Thanks MB and IB.

    Captcha: Pulled dickson. Are they talking about Michael Fay?

  19. IrishBill 19

    MB, each of the points you have made is an argument central to the main point. Misdirection is where something tangential is brought into the mix to distract attention to the main point. To claim the rationale for the EFA is a misdirection from the EFA is like claiming a conjurer should attach the handkerchief to the hand doing the trick.

    You asked earlier in the thread if I though my readers were so thick as to need misdirection explained? Apparently at least one of them is.

  20. Rex Widerstrom 20

    Politicians are allowed to get away with far too much misdirection, by the media – who are too lax to keep their eye on the topic and will happily write a “he said / she said” piece instead – and by the Speaker.

    It pre-dates, however, most of the present National Party leadership. I was certainly using it in the 1990s. If politicians and poliical operatives are allowed to get away with it, of course they will.

    Well done Irish Bill for highlighting the technique. I only hope it’s incresingly recognised for what it is and the politcian practicing it held to account properly.

    Start, perhaps, by suggesting to Michael Cullen that instead of making every third or four answer to a Parliamentary question a coruscating personal or political insult, he provides a straight answer.

  21. higherstandard 21

    The was a brilliant summary of these techniques I was sent some time ago from another blog with examples from politicians over the last couple of decades – it is a very common technique

    [lprent: Probably this one. A politician’s guide to ducking awkward questions by Stephen Price at the Media Law Journal]

  22. Matthew Pilott 22

    Lynn – I’m IE6 and same happens. Been like this for a while, but not a real problem: monkey boy and brownie – if you ‘refresh’ the captcha challenge the box will appear where it should, and not at the top of the comments.

  23. Matthew Pilott 23

    Phil, right or wrong, all it did was to divert from the main issue, thus it was still misdirection. The source is peripheral to the content.

  24. monkey-boy 24

    Bill I thought you were confused as you asked for three examples. There is no need to get al huffy just because I could provide them without breaking a sweat.
    Regarding ‘To claim the rationale for the EFA is a misdirection from the EFA is like claiming a conjurer should attach the handkerchief to the hand doing the trick.’

    … it is evident that you for one, have actually been fooled by the misdirection, so in a way, you have provided us with an excellent working example.
    So in short, I guess ironically in this case it is perhaps the author himself who is so thick that he needs misdirection pointing out to him.
    ps I have some beads, blankets and mirrors at home, do you want to swap them for your house?
    And you owe me a Jamiesons.

  25. Brownie 25

    Easy IB. No need for the insults

    Thanks MP

  26. andy 26

    Brownie

    If you can’t read the captcha, there is a little refresh button (circular arrows like IE7), refresh until you get a readable one.

  27. mike 27

    IB are you saying that policians use spin to promote their side and discredit the opposition? Damn their eyes

  28. Brownie 28

    And Easy MB,

    Lets keep it civil, eh boys. It’s actually a good argument. Lets not get nasty on other just cause we disagree. That is not the definition of “robust debate” after all.

    And the “refresh technique or the scroll to the top style Doesn’t always work. Strange.

  29. Matthew Pilott 29

    monkey-boy, your arrogance astounds. Where does this Jamieson’s thing come from anyway?

    I’m game for one:

    Stating the claim that the EFB would be rushed into Law was ‘hearsay’ so that the court case over whether it contravened the BoRA would not be heard in good time, then ramming it through on fast-track anyway, thus rendering any discussion about a Law’s relevence to the BoRA redundant.

    I’m not going to debate the facts of this point, I’m going to question whether it was misdirection. In fact, for simplicity, I’ll pretend it’s all true. OK?

    Saying something wouldn’t be ‘rushed into law’, and then doing just that, is not misdirection. It is not an example where they have said something tangential to draw attention from the main point. If the main point was the court case about the BoRA, then they simply superceded the process by making the court case irrelevant.

    This is not misdirection, nor is it remotely close to the concept in the slightest. ‘Fraid to say it, monkey boy, but I see IB’s comment as pretty onto it. If a little harsh. But hell, to start flaming and calling ‘points’ when you’re totally wrong is pretty poor behaviour.

  30. monkey-boy 30

    Well, …. he started it…

    Oh for goodness sake Matthew, so to plan to rush it through in the first place, then claim that nothing is further from your mind then having gained an advantage from the original lie, and go back on what you said (as you planned) isn’t misdirection?

    That’s a Tui.

  31. monkey-boy 31

    Well, …. he started it…

    Oh for goodness sake Matthew, so to plan to rush it through in the first place, then claim that nothing is further from your mind then having gained an advantage from the original lie, and go back on what you said (as you planned) isn’t misdirection?

    That’s a Tui you owe me.

    oooh the penny’s just dropped.

    you don’t want to debate ‘misdirection’ because (interestingly) you use misdirection to deflect from the points by referring to it as ‘flaming’. You just want to talk about what a tosser John Key is, (again…)

    Ok,
    I got it now.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding.
    The floor is yours.

  32. Matthew Pilott 32

    How did they gain advantage from the original lie (still pretending that everything you say is true)?

    How is that analogous to saying something to divert attention away from the main issue?

  33. Matthew Pilott 33

    And just to put this in a separate post, so you don’t repeat your earlier mistake (and further demonstrate you don’t know what misdirection is), if I was misdirecting you I’d not have responded to your substantiative points, I’d have simply called you up on the ‘flaming’.

    That’s what misdirection is.

    You have again demonstrated, quite beautifully, your lack of understanding.

    Nice attempt at misdirection with the John Key comment, but since you don’t know what misdirecting is, it’s not surprising it won’t work.

    You see, misdirection has to be tangentially relevant to the original topic – and talking about Key’s qualities is not in any way relevant here.

  34. monkey-boy 34

    because the High Court Judge was obliged to accept the ‘hearsay’ claim, thus did not hear the case with urgency. In the meantime, they rammed the Bill into Law. So by the time the court case came up, it was irrelevant because once a law is passed it cannot be challenged as being in contravention of the BoRA…
    So the main issue was whether the case that the EFA contravened the BoRA should be heard with urgency because the law was going to be rushed in….
    The misdirection was that it was ‘hearsay’ to claim this.
    The original lie was that they intended to rush it through all the tiem…

    Classic misdirection using a legal definition to block your opponent in order to fulfil your own end-game.

  35. monkey-boy 35

    “Nice attempt at misdirection with the John Key comment, but since you don’t know what misdirecting is, it’s not surprising it won’t work.”

    So did I do it on purpose or not?

    What did I say about John Key that wasn’t tangentially relevant, I thought the whole of the blog was dedicated to what a tosser he is?

    How was that ‘flaming’ as you put it?

    Nahhhh only joking!
    Relax Matthew, I’m just f**n with you!
    It’s my breathtaking arrogance rearing its ugly head again…

  36. Matthew Pilott 36

    Why was a court ‘obliged’ to accept anything that was ‘heresay’?

    At least we’re getting somewhere with this, I take it back, you seem to have some idea of the concept, even if you are playing pretty fast and loose with it. So now we’re into the facts.

    Now you have to demonstrate that:

    a) There was always the intention to pass the bill under urgency, and

    b) Someone lied to deliberately trick the high court into not urgently looking at the case, and

    c) that there was a definitive advantage gained.

    And even if you can do that, it’s not misdirection! It’s not raising a tangentially connected point to divert attantion away from the main point. So hopefully you can see why this blog post was necessary, as your original point disputed…

    As for the rest of it, maybe not arrogance raising its ugly head (I don’t want to have to get into another debate over definitions), but suffice to say it’s simply behaving like a pratt.

    Whather you raised that point on purpose is irrelevant – it wasn’t misdirection in the first place.

  37. monkey-boy 37

    Matthew, that’s not very nice, why can’t you follow previous advice and keep it civil?
    you know teh ancient Chinese had a system for solving disputes – they would alow the two people to argue in front of a crowd as much as they liked, and whoever struck the first blow would be deemed to have lost the argument.
    ‘breathtaking arrogance was perhaps a ‘feint to the left’, but ‘pratt’? Well –
    you have struck the first blow, my friend. That indicates to me that you are not as sure of yourself as you would have us believe. Same applied to Bill, by suggesting I’m not very bright..

    I now feel impelled to fine you one Guinness.

  38. Matthew Pilott 38

    Monkey boy, most people who comment on blogs would consider you to have struck the first blow when you started insisting you were right, and demanding drinks as a result. When you behave on the blog worse than I’m sure you do under the depths of intoxication (if you imbibe) it’s rich to claim innocence!

    Might I mention you put words in my mouth along the lines of calling Key a ‘tosser’. Slippery, untrustworthy perhaps, but these are titles he has earned and probably wears with pride. Your crude epithet has no value.

    I’m not ‘very sure of myself’, if I were I’d have no reason to come here and test my ideas and ideology; without wanting to sound like a grumpy old bastard, I can’t be bothered putting up with people trying to start flaming and petty scoring. You might notice how much more productive debate can be without all the extra shenanigans.

    Make mine a Framingham ’06 Select Riesling.

  39. Hoolian 39

    Historian says Key’s comments are accurate

    Press Release by Auckland University of Technology at 3:10 pm, 27 Jun 2008

    AUT University Professor of history Paul Moon has come out in support of National Party leader John Key’s comments about New Zealand being a nation that came together peacefully.

    “If you look at New Zealand’s history during the 1830s and 1840s”, says Professor Moon, “Key’s comments reflect accurately the way in which the country emerged as a nation. It did not take place at the point of a gun, but with the broad consent of the peoples living in the country.”

    Moon has written books detailing the events of both decades, and says those attacking Key may have fallen victim to historical revisionism.

    “Some people have argued New Zealand was conquered by the British in the 1840s, and that deceit and threats of force were relied on to trick Maori into accepting British rule. But this is simply bad history. All the evidence shows an enormous amount of co-operation and mutual goodwill between Maori and Europeans in the period following the signing of the Treaty.”

    Moon believes the criticisms of Key’s comments probably have less to do with historical accuracy and more to do with political point-scoring.

    ENDS

    Ha, stupid Standard.

    [so, now he did mean the words? Because for the last day they’ve been trying to get away from the words and claim his meaning was different. But if one academic says his plain meaning is correct, I guess you’ll take that too. Will you be so accepting of other academic opinions in future? Come to think of it, aren’t you a climate change denier? SP]

  40. pinetree 40

    “…producing a decontextualised quote about the treaty from Cullen in order to draw attention”…

    Do we have access to the full Key quote and context, anyone got a link for it…..?

    ….sounds a strange thing for Key to say…hell, I think I got the jist of NZ history by about age 12….

    Anyhow, nice post Bill, save the (almost) faux-shock that this, or any other technique doesn’t exist day in day out in the fields of PR or corp commuications….

    People in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones…

    …and no, I’m not going to entertain a “provide examples” retort – seriously, no-one expects any different, this is standard armoury for any party, government, civil service and corporate, including Labour….if it weren’t then I suspect there’d be a fair few people out of work in Bowen House/Beehive….

  41. Rex Widerstrom 41

    Good grief, someone lurks in the Halls of Academia and is possessed of an independent, non-socialist viewpoint!

    Quick, chaps, grab your pitchforks! Altogether now… “Burn him… burn him…!”

    😀 (Sorry, it is Friday)

  42. Matthew Pilott 42

    “Burn him burn him !’

    We can’t anymore – carbon emissions and all that.

  43. Daveski 43

    Please don’t tell me that Richie cheats at the breakdown too!

    It’s funny, the same bloggers who complain that the opposition oppose everything the Gummit does (that’s why they’re called the opposition) are the same people who find wrong in everything that Key does.

    Perhaps it all reflects how desperate the left is getting about the fact that the writing is on the wall.

    Rex – I think that’s now two academics who posses an independent, non-socialist viewpoint or at least are willing to challenge revisionist thinking.

  44. Skeptic 44

    He’s not moving away from his words, Steve, and it isn’t honest of you to claim that he is. John Key is sticking by the entirety of his original statement, not the conveniently edited version that you continue to print to propagate your nonsense. John Key was referring to the peaceful way that led to the signing of the treaty of waitangi, and termed it a defining moment in New Zealand’s history, as opposed to the experience of other countries, which were annexed or faced revolution.

  45. Hoolian 45

    Clinton, how can you deny something that isn’t true? Are you a Climate Change make-believer?

    Also, I do follow science, and I object to your pessimism. For your leisure: http://www.climatescience.org.nz

    Cullen and co were very quick to point out the inaccuracies of what Key said, and here is proof that Cullen sucks at his history as much as he does at economics.

    Keep rooting for Labour, Clinton. You’ll make an ounce of difference one day.

  46. lprent 46

    Skeptic: Ah yes – it was peaceful in the aftermath of the total exhaustion of the musket wars. Those were the most terrible wars that had happened in NZ until that time.

    There is a brief synopsis here.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musket_Wars

    Tell me where did the muskets come from? One of the main reasons that Maori were interested in the treaty was to stop the supply of arms to different parties. The crown claimed that they could do that by controlling the European traders.

    Now personally I’d have said that it wasn’t a civil war or a rebellion. However the treaty was not a result of peace – it was a result of arms trafficking by the Europeans. Hardly peaceful.

    I think that both you and JK really need to read some history. Try Belich.

  47. lprent 47

    Ah Hooligan: I see you’re pushing the idiots guide to paleoclimatology.

    From what I remember about the people behind this site (last time I looked) is that there really aren’t people trained in or working in the field. There are chemists, meteorologists, and other unrelated disciplines plus a whole pile of corporate money.

    When I can see some people that work in earth sciences, paleogeology, paleoclimatology, or climatology and I can have a peek at their work rather than bloody press releases for the uninformed. Then I’ll start to treat the site and the people with a bit more respect.

    At present I’d treat it and anyone who tries to use it as an authority with the contempt that it deserves.

    I’d discuss the evidence with you, but I suspect that you have a basaltic brain density of a university wall rather than a science student.

  48. Skeptic 48

    Thank you for the history lesson Lynne. Yes I’ve read Belich, and Orange, and Bassett, and Ward, and Maxwell, and Cowan, and Adams, among others.

    Your point about the musket wars might hold more water if it wasn’t the point that Michael Cullen was making. He pointed to the land wars following the signing of the treaty as evidence that New Zealand did not come together peacefully and without conflict. John Key’s statement specifically referred to his pride in New Zealand negotiating the Treaty in a climate of peaceful and wilful negotiations between Maori and the crown.

    And your argument also doesn’t hold water in light of Michael Cullen’s statement at waitangi day in 2005, when he said New Zealand was “a country with a continuous political tradition unbroken by civil war or revolution for over 150 years – something a bare handful of countries can celebrate”.

    But nice attempt to be pompous Lynne.

  49. But nice attempt to be pompous Lynne.

    Oh – I love it – you adopt a pompous tone in order to criticise someone’s supposed pomposity. Is that like self-referential? Are you like, employing the flat irony of the pastiche? Dude you’re a goddamn postmodern revelation! Can I use you as a case study?

  50. lprent 50

    It is interesting that this thread demonstrates the level of misdirection that the right prefers.

    I don’t think I’ve seen quite the level of crap since the last time I was in a room full of tech salespeople vying for my attention.

  51. Skeptic 51

    Fair point robin it wasn’t necessary and to be fair I probably started it with lynne a while back. There isn’t a need for it and I will try to desist.

  52. lprent 52

    So – what does Cullen’s comment have to do with it?

    Aren’t we discussing Key’s ignorant viewpoint on the history leading up to the Treat in 1840? I mean I’ve heard of people looking at life through rose coloured glasses (Elton John?) – but this is ridiculous.

    Just taking Key’s explanation as stated – he is still bloody wrong. It was the peace settlement after the worst war in NZ history at that point. About 25 years later war erupted again.

    JK’s statements (bearing in mind the populations at the time) are like saying the treaty signed at the end of WW1 was done in a spirit of peace (and not after the needless slaughter of soldiers and civilians).

    The guy is pig ignorant of his countries history. Not good if he is to deal with the reverberations that still come from that bloody history.

  53. insider 53

    Well Lynn

    New Zealand didn’t actually exist as a state. It was more a series of ‘chieftenates’ that would go through intertribal warfare. To even call it a ‘war’ is stretching it as that implies a single conflict between unified or allied forces when it was plainly local power struggles. We call it ‘the musket wars’ for our modern convenience.

    How do you know it was the worst war in NZ history to that date? We know very little about pre European intertribal struggles.

  54. lprent 54

    Skeptic: I really don’t mind, and you can stand up for yourself. It does make you about the safest commentator on the blog from the behavioural instincts. I can’t trust them when I’m arguing with someone.

    I got in the habit of following up on you after being told to stick to being a tech. That is always a bad idea telling a generalist to do that. I have degrees and papers in almost everything.

    FYI: My worst area is tech (which is why I work there). My best areas are management and history – which is why I don’t work there. My first degree was in science – specifically earth sciences. I’m also a voracious reader, and have a 20 year habit of being sarcastic on the nets.

  55. lprent 55

    insider: If you go and read the journals of the missionaries prior to 1840, they recorded quite a lot of the oral histories. There were quite a good selection at the Auckland War Memorial Museum library last time I looked (a couple of decades ago).

    My recollection is that there was a lot of comment about the brutality that the musket wars brought. Also from memory, I seem to remember that the anglicians sent a petition to the crown in the 1830’s about the trading of arms and its effect.

    In any case there is quite a lot of documented evidence that those wars were pretty extreme in the remembered history of the maori oral tradition.

  56. Daveski 56

    The muskets themselves did not cause tribal warfare … it just made the end result far worse.

    A point that is conveniently overlooked is while there was obviously warfare between British and Maori there was also warfare between different Maori tribes which has nothing to do with what Key was saying.

    The point here is that plenty here are trying to blame the “right” for misdirection when anyone would reasonably agree it is politics 101.

    Helen and Michael always tell the truth … yeah, right!

  57. Rex Widerstrom 57

    lprent:

    insider: If you go and read the journals of the missionaries prior to 1840,

    So what you’re saying is you want us to go and study the missionaries’ position?

    *ba-boom… ching!*

    Thank you. Please remember to tip your waitress. But then stand her up again.

  58. vto 58

    Hey Mr Pierson, way up the top you accused me of misdirecting myself and that I do it all the time. Someone else said similar yesterday.

    What it is in fact is that only certain issues interest me and those are the ones I comment on. They are often peripheral to the main post hence the appearance of misdirecting. I am just commenting on the issue that interests me only. I tend to simply not waste time commenting on issues that dont interest me. Good example is this particular matter – I dont care about the main subject but the issue of the pot calling the kettle black does interest me. Misdirecting isnt intended and I usually acknowledge myself that I am going off topic. Anyway enough of my self-defence…

  59. lprent 59

    Rex: rex, rex, rex….

    Personally I think your life is likely to be tormented. I’ve forwarded this to some feminist friends (all ex-waitresses). I do this in the spirit of frivolous fridays…

    Ever read Dante’s Inferno? What ring will you wear? <EVIL Grin>

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