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Written By: - Date published: 11:33 am, September 26th, 2009 - 80 comments
Categories: brand key, john key - Tags:

The more I think about it, the more Key’s Letterman approach is demeaning both to his office and New Zealand. Sure he did the stand up comedy competently but is that what we want our PM reduced to? A gag to be treated at best as a cute nobody, at worst dismissively, by some variety host?

I mean, sure have a laugh, but there shoudl have been be an interview as well. On the same show, there were interviews with the guy from The Mentalist and same guy playing Mick Jagger in a movie, FFS. Didn’t Key or Letterman think he had anything worthwhile to say? It’s disappointing that Key let himself as our PM be reduced like that.

But, as Fran O’Sullivan notes with some annoyance, the whole tour has been like this:

Many New Zealanders will not care one whit that Barack Obama ostensibly told Key, “He’s got a friend down there. And he says he hears fantastic things about great golf courses, fabulous places for skiing and a great place for kids.”

Or that Bronagh Key said she thought Michelle Obama was “lovely”.

Or that the former foreign currency trader turned PM posed by the Telecom trading desk before ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Or whether or not he mangled his English on David Letterman last night.

When Key first became PM his boyish “aw shucks” approach to meeting the Queen, or even departing US President George W. Bush at Apec, was endearing.

But with nearly a year as PM under his belt he should now be notching up some foreign policy achievements.

Instead our Prime Minister is now on the verge of being seen as a celebrity-obsessive himself, a political groupie of the first order who will not let a chance go to embellish his Rolodex by opportunistically hunting down major stars like Bill Clinton or Tony Blair to learn leadership skills from the masters.

For a former “master of the universe” who has made buckets shoving around the currencies of many of the countries whose leaders he is now pallying up to, it is all a bit cringe-making.

If he wants to win points elsewhere he should put his “smiley face” away and present himself as a political leader we can be proud of.

It’s an example of how trivia-obsessed we have become that when the “coup” leaked the PM’s advisers were plaintively crying “it almost didn’t come off” as they had fits that Letterman might cancel the date.

Speaks volumes.

I think Key’s Letterman rountine and the whole, photo-op plus nothing tour of New York has really epitomised his whole approach to the Prime Ministership. It’s all a show to him.

I’ve heard that his first question when a new intiative is put to him is typically ‘when can I announce this?’ It’s all about enhancing Brand Key. He sees his job as to grin and get the good coverage, while Bill does the actual work – if it’s done at all.

Like we’ve been saying all along: style over substance. And as Fran says, it was cute at first, but the cuteness has worn off.

80 comments on “Trivial”

  1. r0b 1

    There’s an ironic moment early in the Letterman piece where Letterman asks Key – What are you here for? (or words to that effect) and his sidekick has to remind him. Kinda sums up the whole Key experience really.

  2. Tim Ellis 2

    A lot of vitriol here from you eddie.

    I think it is the job of the prime minister to promote New Zealand internationally. As tourism Minister it’s good to get exposure as he did on Letterman. Five minutes in a light-hearted stand-up watched by millions of Americans, where he gets to promote New Zealand, which he did.

    That is hugely valuable to New Zealand in my view.

    As for other publicity stunts, New Zealand had a large inflatable rugby ball in Paris at the last world cup. I understand Ms Clark went to open it. Not everything a prime minister has to do is serious. You might recall that Ms Clark felt it was more important to meet a woolly sheep named Shrek than to meet a large protest march.

    • Stacktwo 2.1

      Since when has a rather rueful disappointment been “vitriol”?

    • Eddie 2.2

      do you have one of those word of the day calendars, Tim? And was vitriol one of them recently? Because you’ve really taken a shine to it.

      Not all criticism is vitriolic and I hardly think this piece is.

    • outofbed 2.3

      Hardly vitriol
      Eddie was just pointing out how crass it was for the PM to demean himself in this way. I can’t believe that you didn’t feel slightly uncomfortable watching it.
      Your examples of similar behaviour of HC seem to be a little bit barrel scraping in my opinion.

    • Yep, bit of a pyrrhic victory for Key being solid on the light, vacuous and frothy but failing at projecting any kind of gravitas.

      Can we have a rel PM please?

      • Daveski 2.4.1

        Can we have a rel PM please?

        You mean like Helen down with the crew at last year’s NZ Music Awards.

        eddie’s post is just more four legs good, two legs bad.

        Anyway, when in NY, do what the NYers do. Just as we don’t get their humour, we don’t necessarily get their politics of personaitlies.

        • Pascal's bookie

          Yeah that Fran O’Sullivan eh?

          Bloody socialist hack.

          Nothing a tory could do would ever please her so if she’s critiquing a National Party PM, just ignore it, nothing to see here…

  3. Ianmac 3

    The greatest irony of course is the passage comes from Fran!!!??? 🙂
    For the Letterman performance I think my new word will be Cringi-titus.

  4. Tim Ellis 4

    Was Mr Obama’s presentation of the top ten list trivial as well when he was promoting himself for the presidential nomination?

    • Eddie 4.1

      I don’t know or care

      • Tim Ellis 4.1.1

        Well Mr Obama didn’t do an interview when he did the top 10 list, and apparently Americans didn’t find it so demeaning as to exclude him from the presidency.

        I think it’s a bit disingenuous Eddie to say that Mr Key has only been doing photo opportunities in New York.

        • BLiP

          Obama was a canditate when he did the Top Ten – not the leader of a Nation pimping the dignity of his office.

          • Tim Ellis

            Sorry BLiP I forgot your Labour Good National Bad theme.

            Have a look at Mr Obama’s top 10. If Mr Key was demeaning the dignity of his office, then so was Mr Obama.

            A lot of sour grapes from you and Eddie this morning.

            • BLiP

              Timmy – you twat – he had no office to demean. Why don’t you take your own advice and have a look at Obama’s Top Ten and then compare it with the one featuring the “Prime Minister of New England”.

            • the sprout

              The difference is, and what makes your comparison fallacious Tim, is that Obama had already established himself on the US and international stages as a man of substance.

              Key on the other hand manages only to present himself as a goofy clown, with no other contextualizing performances (or “preformances” as Mr Key would have it) to suggest otherwise.

              Murray from the Concordes has more mana.

  5. Pat 5

    It’s easy to critcize but it’s difficult to see a downside to the Letterman appearance. Will less Americans come to NZ because of it? Or will more?

    Tourism NZ seem to think it will be more, in which case it was worth it.

    • BLiP 5.1

      If that’s the measure you use then there would be nothing wrong with your Prime Minister walking to and from his hotel wearing a sandwhich board and handing out flyers.

      • Pat 5.1.1

        Not a bad idea…

        • felix

          Cover up the suit I suppose…

          • BLiP

            Just as well he and the whanau are planning on spending up large on a new wardrobe while in New York. It might have been better for the New Zealand economy if he’d done it in Auckland but, no doubt, those foreign suits are far more comfortable for him.

    • Stacktwo 5.2

      He left us stranded “near Tasmania” with a cinnabon!

  6. outofbed 6

    The exchange rate will relate more to the American visitor numbers then any wooden performance of PM doing unfunny standup

  7. Eddie 7

    outofbed. clearly you know nothing about economics – on PM joke on late night TV equals 10 squillion tourist bucks. The relationship is well proven.

    Marty can probably do us a graph

    • outofbed 7.1

      Your probably right Eddie
      An American couple was overhead at Windsor castle opining that it was
      ” such a good place for the castle, so handy for the airport”
      So I guess anything is possible

  8. He did a good job in his promotion, his speech on Letterman, his work with the UN was well received, overall its been a successful trip.

  9. felix 9

    The idea that these antics are somehow fulfilling his role as Minister of Tourism is a little misguided – by a little I mean “totally”. And by misguided I mean “retarded”.

    Should Judith Collins be working night watch at Paremoremo?

    Stephen Joyce coming round to dig up your street?

    Should we send Gerry Brownlee down a coal mine? (actually that one’s not bad)

    A competent Minister of Tourism would have arranged a slot on Letterman not for himself, but for someone who:

    1. already has appeal and recognition in the U.S,

    2. is comfortable and lucid in the setting of a big live TV show.

    Imagine if (just an example) Key had worked behind the scenes to secure a spot for Jermaine and Brett to go on Letterman and talk about visiting New Zealand.

    But no, it’s all about promoting Key to us, not promoting NZ to the yanks.

    • Pat 9.1

      Except the theme this week in New York is all about world leaders. A couple of them appeared on Letterman.

      Anyway, looks like Keys forum address could have equally been written for a Labour PM. I expect everyone here will be happy with that, at least.

      • BLiP 9.1.1

        How many of those world leaders were used to inject a product placement advertisement for “cinnabon” and how many were required to actually lie in the process? Just one. The Goober.

  10. gomango 10

    You guys sound like the fun police. Lighten up. The intention of the Letterman spot was to capture free advertising for destination NZ. On that score very successful. Some of us may or may not cringe at the way that free publicity was gained but by any economic measurement it was a coup. Does anyone really believe the dignity of NZ was fatally wounded by this? Trust me, as a long term watcher of Letterman you wouldn’t want Key getting interviewed.

    Will there be a corresponding cost to NZ because of this? Anyone who reads this blog gets it. You don’t like John and you miss Helen. Got it. How about attacking him for the GA speech overnight. He’s claimed all of Labours ideas……

    This is great tourism advertising: http://www.cbs.com/late_night/late_show/

    • Tim Ellis 10.1

      Apparently gomango, it is okay for Ms Clark to go on Bro’ Town (as this doesn’t demean the office of prime minister and doesn’t get any international coverage) but when Mr Key goes on Letterman (as Mr Obama and countless other politicians have done before, he’s somehow damaging NZ’s reputation.

    • gobsmacked 10.2

      “by any economic measurement it was a coup.”


      Provide any examples – any at all – of increased tourism revenue from politicians of any countries – any at all – doing Letterman or similar.

      Go on.

      Do you seriously believe decisions about visitor expenditure are based on that? If so, why?

      Compare – for just one example – with the current high NZ dollar. Would you say Key’s PR stunt was one thousandth or one millionth as important?

      • Lanthanide 10.2.1

        It’s not like someone says “oh, the prime minister of New Zealand was on telly, why don’t I go to NZ for holiday?”. What they say is “hey, what about that New Zealand place, that sounds interesting”.

        The goal is exposure, and to get people to think about the country to begin with, not to impress them with our slack-jawed PM so that they decide to come visit.

        • gobsmacked

          What did he say about New Zealand then? Why did it sound “interesting”?

          Tourists rave about NZ for many reasons: Fjords, mountains, whales, Maori culture, extreme sports, wine, etc, etc …

          But the New Zealand Prime Minister didn’t mention any of those things. Seriously, use your own logic, and tell us:

          Why would anybody watching this now be more interested in visiting NZ?

          If you can’t work out that the whole idea was to promote John Key to us, not us to the USA, then you are very, very naive.

          • gobsmacked

            Er, on reflection I think I have misread Lanthanide’s post. Humble apologies.

            Too late to edit, sorry.

  11. gobsmacked 11

    Helen Clark flew to Dublin, made a strong presentation to the IRB, and – in the view of our non-Labour supporting rugby officials – clinched the Rugby World Cup hosting rights for New Zealand.

    That is worth many, many millions more than a goofy spot on Letterman. That is the kind of tourist promotion a Prime Minister should be doing.

    But there’s one difference, as Felix points out. Clark was doing her job off-camera, for her country. John Key was performing on camera, for John Key.

    Quick fact check:

    World coverage of Key on Letterman – zero.

    American coverage of Key on Letterman – one mention in the LA Times, and … that’s it. They didn’t notice, and don’t care.

    New Zealand coverage of Key on Letterman – wall to wall.

    Job done. But not for New Zealand.

    • Tim Ellis 11.1

      Nice analysis gs, if not a little convenient. What tourism benefit was there to New Zealand by Ms Clark petting a sheep rather than seeing a protest march? What advantage was there to New Zealand by Ms Clark appearing on Bro’ Town or Shortland Street?

      • gobsmacked 11.1.1

        What claims did Helen Clark and her team make for those events, as revenue earners for NZ, Tim?


      • BLiP 11.1.2

        What benefit to New Zealand was there when John Key lied to the American public as part of a product placement?

      • Jasper 11.1.3

        “Tim Ellis”

        None. Clark was minister of Arts. When did she appear on Shortland Street? Last known PM to appear on Shorties was Shipley IIRC.
        Brotown wasn’t wall to wall with self adoring media groupies having an orgy over her appearance.

        Not to mention that Leno doesn’t even screen in NZ. Top 10 = 4 lies

  12. Gravedodger 12

    Has there ever been anything that the current government has done that is in the opinion of your posters something that gets a neutral or positive post or are the random posts I read when I visit your blog the totally negative rant that I always seem to find. You people should get out more and open your minds to the 80% percent of our nation who at times disagree wit the governments actions but accept that they are the government and not some aberration that will crash as soon as the population come to their senses and agree with your opinions. Do you all beleive that your way is the only way without exception. Good grief even Mr Goff admitted the possibility.

    • felix 12.1

      So when is it acceptable to criticise the govt?

      Can you lay out some guidelines?

    • outofbed 12.2

      it is difficult to find anything they have done as positive apart from not caving in to the badly questioned referendum which they have received much kudos.
      Oh and the bike track is a generally good idea

  13. When we get an increase in American Tourists, or a seat at the security council, I hope people will say sorry to John Key.

    • outofbed 13.1

      Sorry, but if National cared about the UN why did they vote against Kennedy Grahams bill last week ?

      • outofbed 13.1.1

        “In advancing its candidature, New Zealand does so as a state committed to upholding the international rule of law, and to providing a strong and principled Pacific voice on behalf of small states like ourselves with an interest in a fairer and more secure world.”
        In which case they would have voted FOR the bill not AGAINST it

  14. gitmo 14

    Oh look an “I hate John Key” post at the Standard gosh how original.

  15. gobsmacked 15

    Helen Clark’s speech to the UN:

    “As a country with a proud record of promoting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, I was heartened by the expressions of support for a world free of nuclear weapons.

    We must take full advantage of this historic moment to advance the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agenda. We owe it to our generation and to those who follow us to progress our vision for a world free from nuclear weapons.

    As a proudly nuclear-free nation, and as a country that has been at the forefront of this debate since the 1970s, New Zealand stands ready to play its part.”

    Delivered by John Key.

    (Don Brash and the National Party could not be reached for comment).

  16. JD 16

    Too true Gitmo. If Key repaints his house I will expect there will be a post here criticizing the choice of colour.

    Clearly a slow day at the standard if its reduced to this kind of banality.

  17. gomango 17

    The problem is that Key is a populist. That may (or may not) mean he flames out at some stage, although plenty of populist politicians don’t. Labour has for a decade been incredibly earnest, for much of that time appreciated but never loved. Along comes John Key and the wider population falls in love with him. Labour insiders say”what about us, we did this, we did that”, the population gives them the big don’t care. This is not about who is more efficient or who is more effective, its about who do we like. And people like Key – despite his 50 bucks, they see someone like themselves – ordinary beginnings, hard working parent(s), started with no unnatural advantages, made good, has a family, makes mistakes, is self deprecating. Shallow, trivial – of course. It’s called politics. Every attack made on Key is something that 1% of the population cares about – that 1% who like to flatter themselves as political insiders. The rest of us don’t care. And until a real wider societal issue comes along that makes us care, we won’t.

    Lets be really honest – any government – red or blue – doesn’t actually do anything positive for about 80% of the population. If they are really good at governing they will have only a small effect on our lives.

    What the last few years of the labour government showed was that the wider NZ population is aspirational in nature. We want better lives for ourselves and our families. Hard work should be rewarded. Self reliance is a good thing. Parents know best about their children. Bludgers shouldn’t get rewarded. Labour forgot and still has forgotten many of those things. And yes, Labour was unfairly tagged with stuff but thats what happens when people don’t love you. If they love you, those silly foibles get overlooked. At some point National will probably forget these issues too and then the love affair is over, but until then get used to Teflon John. Believe me, most of NZ will have lapped up Letterman, carping on about dignity, goobers and a biased press will merely be seen as partisan sour grapes by the very few people who actually hear your message.

    • gitmo 17.1

      Careful sensible commentary like that is anathema on these “I hate JK” threads

      • trademark 17.1.1

        There is no hate in this post. The first half of gomango’s comment is reflected in the post’s ‘style over substance’ theme. In fact, the title of this very post, “Trivial”, is reflected in gomango’s statement that “This is not about who is more efficient or who is more effective, its about who do we like”.

        Maybe you yourself, gitmo, could do better and provide “careful sensible commentary” rather than just saying “Oh look an “I hate John Key’ post at the Standard gosh how original”, which is neither careful nor sensible.

    • BLiP 17.2

      You’re right. It is about “love” and “aspirations” and emotions generally. The conscious mind has left the building. If you want to know how this happened, you can start to check it out here. Its fascinating. and frightening.

      • trademark 17.2.1

        There’s not a lot of love in this post either :P, but cheers for the link, I’ve watched the first part, and I’ll have a look at the others as well – very interesting.

    • Ianmac 17.3

      gomango. There is a lot of truth in what you say. Interesting read.
      We are partisan by nature. Aussie v All Blacks. Lab V National. As such we do see what we want to see. And it is true that a huge part of the population is not interested in the details. Talking to a few individuals often draws a completely blank response. So we are left with the images coloured by partisanship. Does it matter?
      Yes it does because of the vigilance and persistence of the partisans here and elsewhere (and with the other parties), will wear away the gilt of the imagery. Then maybe “our” side will “win.”
      The other option is to be indifferent/passive. Democracy needs the eternal vigilance in order to survive until someone thinks of a better way.

  18. JD 18

    “Democracy needs the eternal vigilance in order to survive until someone thinks of a better way.”

    I totally agree but such noble words should be applied to criticizing the Electoral Finance Act or the Foreshore and Seabed Act rather than the appearance of the PM on a late night talk show.

    • r0b 18.1

      Is this the same Foreshore and Seabed Act that the Iwi / Kiwi National party National criticised as conceding too much to Maori? Just checking…

      • burt 18.1.1

        So are you saying such a law would be good when passed under Labour but bad when passed under National? Just checking…

        • r0b

          Actually, the exact opposite. It was a poor attempt from Labour, but had National been government and passed it it would have been a good attempt from them (as in much better than their divisive and destructive rhetoric).

          Whatever its faults, Nats who criticise the F&S Act as anti-democratic have rather short memories.

  19. What I would like to know is did Armstrong and O’Sullivan both really heavily criticise National’s leadership on the same day? These are strange times!

  20. Key was just embarrassing – David Lange – Oxford ….John Key – Letterman. A contrast that speaks volumes.

  21. outofbed 21

    Lange would have cleaned up on letterman
    And would have made a damn sight better speech at the UN but as Key
    delivered the same message I will let him off

  22. aj 22

    I haven’t time to check if anyone has pointed this out – would Rudd have allowed himself to be treated like this?
    Michael Campbell was by far and away better than this.

  23. Swampy 23

    Your comments completely ignore all the other stuff he has been to, like the UN. It is cheap politicking to take aim at Letterman show and others

  24. Victpr 24

    I have asked US friends who watched the show. These are all D.C / NY finance types who are involved in US politics on both sides . ..

    Conclusion; Letterman treated John Key like a third rate mayor. The lack of a chat was a big putdown. That this did nothing to advance or further NZ interests.

    This was cringemaking. Swampy and Tim Ellis you guys have no idea how foreign policy works.

    John Key’s trip was a big loss for NZ. O’Sullivan has it right. She has tapped into the reaction here in the US . .. .

  25. JD 25

    “Whatever its faults, Nats who criticise the F&S Act as anti-democratic have rather short memories.”

    Unfortunately for Labour the Maori have rather long memories.

    When you say ‘whatever its faults’ I’m assuming you don’t actually know what you’re talking about.

  26. Anne 26


    Thanks for that. Your US friends know what they are talking about. They’re spot on.

    There was an attempt on Q&A this morning to portray John Key’s Letterman Show performance as a great success both for him and New Zealand. Jesus wept! How much longer are sections of the NZ media going to delude themselves over this man. At least some media commentators are starting to get it right.

  27. JD 27

    “These are all D.C / NY finance types who are involved in US politics on both sides .”

    You mean those heavily engaged in elitist beltway and PAC lobbyist politics?

  28. gomango 28

    victpr. That was a very self serving survey you did. Imagine that, you surveyed a whole bunch of movers and shakers and they all agree with you. Lets leave aside the obvious made up bit – “D.C Finance types”. Right. Of course they are. Is that the comic or the district?

    You guys are all missing the point. The only people who care about the alleged dignity fail are a handful of labour party activists. No one else cares. By any metric his appearance did what Tourism NZ wanted – publicity for destination NZ at no cost in our second most important tourism market. NZ is not a global laughing stock on the back of a Top 10 appearance which was scripted by the Late Show.

    Guess what. I just surveyed a whole bunch of NY and Boston finance types I know. Guess what else. Every one of them watched Letterman. Guess what else. They all thought John Key was really good. Guess what else. Within the next month they are all coning to Auckland for a donut and a pick up at the airport by John Key.

  29. outofbed 29

    In the real world the exchange rate……………

  30. Adders 30

    Number one reason to visit NZ: “Unlike most of the world, we still like Americans.’

    Could that attract tourists or terrorists?

    (Key’s accent notwithstanding.)

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