Dirty Politics has resulted in many questions being asked about the quality and reliability of the coverage of politics by the news media and blogs.
Blogs, the Media and Two-Track Politics
Many are trying to claim that left wing blogs are as bad as those that are the focus of Hager’s book. The book focuses on a right wing network focused on attack and smear politics, with Cameron Slater and his Whale Oil blog a central focus.
Remember, the main argument of Dirty Politics is that, since at least 2008, the National Party and its allies have used a two track strategy: one track is the positive public face of John Key as a nice, smiley ordinary Kiwi; the second track is a covert, black ops smear machine involving people like Cameron Slater, Jason Ede, Cathy Odgers and Simon Lusk, who have a strong connection with Judith Collins.
Left blogs like the Standard, have never been involved in that kind of extensively orchestrated black ops. This can bee seen by anyone who spends the time looking at the content of Standard posts over time, and comparing them with whale Oil. For instance, stories have been broken on the latter blog that have been picked up by the mainstream media.
And, surely the journalists on the receiving end of sources from within the blogosphere would have some idea of which blogs/bloggers are feeding attack lines to them?
Mediawatch on Dirty Politics
Last weekend, Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch explore some of the issues. It includes extracts from interviews with TV 3 News chief Mark Jennings, business journalist Patrick Smellie, and ex TV3 political reporter Duncan Garner.
Mediawatch presenter Colin Peakcock provides a summary of Sunday’s Mediawatch on the RNZ website.
In the programme Duncan Garner says that the content of Dirty Politics is significant and serious. It is itneresting that he, like some commenters and authors on The Standard, had, in the past suspected that Jason Ede, Cameron Slater were part of a covert team feeding smear/attack stories to the media.
Garner says that back when he was working for TV3, he had written a blog post about Ede and Slater being involved in some kind of triangle. He had talked to ede about it, and Ede convinced him not to publish the post.
The Mediawatch focuses on the example reported in Dirty Politics, of a letter from David Cunliffe to immigration officials in support of Donghua Liu. [NZ Herald report on the story]. Journalists had been contacted suggesting they ask Cunliffe about his contacts with Liu. Cunliffe, not remembering a form letter from his electorate office several years previously claimed he’d had no contact with liu. Then the journalists produced the letter.
As Peacock says, the letter itself wasn’t damning, it was merely embarrassing when it was produced after a denial had been issued by Cunliffe.
Garner says that sort of thing happens all the time. He also says that he had said on air at the time that Cameron Slater and Jason Ede were probably responsible for breaking the story.
Jennings said that 3 News were involved in breaking that story, and had done their own forensic investigation about the sources. He assures listeners that Slater was not the source: that they had been looking at the story for a while, and had been communicating with other sources.
The Problems are with the Commericalised, Corporatised Media System
The problem though is that journalists and media producers and editors tend to be looking to defend themselves on the technicalities related to the production of individual stories. The problem is much bigger. It has to do with the system. For instance, why are mainstream news organisations putting so much effort into relatively trivial “gotcha” politics? The highly commercialised, corporatised news media encourages such a focus. The need to produce copy, under pressure of time, and in a way that generates ratings, advertising and sales, produces infotainment: dramatic headlines, personality conflicts and beatups.
We need a public service (on and offline) media that is free from such commercial pressures. Jennings expects new blogging networks like the Whale Oil-Ede one, to replace them. But, a stronger, public service media, focused more intensely on significant issues, and thorough research and analysis would provide a context in which such malicious and malevolent smear networks would not thrive.
In his RNZ article Peacock summarises a Horizon Poll that is featured on the Mediawatch programme:
When Horizon Research asked 1752 people if the media act had acted impartially with bloggers offering information, more than half said they had failed to do so.
According to Horizon Research, that means mainstream media’s alleged association with political attack bloggers would be of concern to around one and half million adult New Zealanders.
It is not just that such malevolent networks are operating, it is the way journalists respond to them that is the issue.
Online Media Standards Authority – MSM Dominated
The programme, like many journalists currently, talk up the use of the Online Media Standards Authority as a way to keep bloggers in check. However, this is MSM dominated and part of our role is to hold journalists an media organisations to account with critical op ep posts. Current laws of defamation are already sufficient to keep us in line.
Furthermore, it wasn’t so much what was being posted on Whale Oil and, at time Kiwiblog, that has been the problem. The problem has been that mainstream journalists gave them too much credibility and were too ready to run their lines.
The Dirtiness of Dirty Politics
On top of that, according to Dirty Politics and some related released emails, the Whale Oil network have been allegedly attempting to blackmail and pressure journalists in to doing their bidding.