Why is there a media honeymoon?

Written By: - Date published: 2:53 pm, November 25th, 2008 - 41 comments
Categories: labour, Media, national/act government - Tags:

Why do new leaders get honeymoons? When you think about it, there’s no objective reason why a leader should get an easy run at first, not be asked the hard questions, be served lavish praise. So why does it happen?

Well, I asked around a few people who’d been there and done that, and the only credible answer I got was that it’s because the press gallery and the new leader are building relationships. It works like this: gallery journos need access, that means they have to get the new leader and his ministers to trust them, and that means no critical articles. To protect their ability to gain information for writing stories, the media have to only write nice stories. The new government has the power to shut them out, so they’ve got to protect their own arses. The new leaders are also building relationships. Flush with victory they are in an open, welcoming mood and with the media being so nice to them, they are minded to be even more open and friendly toward them. When you’re getting to be friends with people, and when your job prospects depend on good relations with them, it’s easy to have a honeymoon.

It’s not until one of the half-dozen people who essentially control our political discourse starts writing critical articles and others follow them that the honeymoon ends. That never really happened to Key during his time in opposition. Sure the political editors all got in their pro forma critical pieces but all were afraid of getting offside with someone they were certain would soon be PM. Moreover, some of them have a career change to consider. Watch over the next few weeks for at least one, possibly more, of the top political journos to join Key’s office.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – ‘this sucks, the people meant to hold our politicians to account are too busy trying to keep their jobs or get new ones’. Yeah, it does suck but there’s no changing the lay of the land. Instead, the Left, and Labour in particular, needs to do a much better job working with the media than they have done.

There is a tendency for the Left to view the media as an enemy to be fought, which is a big mistake. While the old media still control how the public perceives politics, Labour needs to work with them. In particular, they need to turn away from this paralysing ‘risk avoidance’ model and, instead, work on building personal relationships with the media.

The journos are just people, treat them with distrust and they’ll treat you badly back; be friendly and they’ll be nice back. And it’s not hard – they’re, most of them, genuinely nice people in person – just make friends. That’s something smiling John and National know all too well. It’s something Labour needs to learn, and quick.

41 comments on “Why is there a media honeymoon?”

  1. Well of course Steve but then you get pricks like Hooton who are so blinded by their own ideology that they wouldn’t say a nice thing if Clark somehow managed to save the world.

    CAPTCHA: Nothing critical

  2. Tane 2

    tiger, I think Steve was referring more to the gallery journos proper. Hooton’s more of a freelance dickhead and muckraker.

  3. insider 3

    It’s also a practical recognition that because they have yet to properly take the reins of power a story like today’s increase in emigration to Aus cannot be reasonably laid at the feet of the new govt. Once they introduce their policies and those start causing ripples, stories will flow. The story today on tree planting being hit by the ETS review is an example. And of course Labour will be able to seed bad news because they will know where bodies are buried.

    Yes of course Duncan Garner and Fran Mold were soooo scared of getting offside they never ran anything negative on Key and his party.

    [the fact that you can only list two journos who have done embarrassing stories on Key’s National says it all. SP]

  4. Tane 4

    Exhibit A, today’s article by Audrey Young:

    John Key’s extraordinary first week as Prime Minister continues today with a visit to London where he will meet for the first time an older half-brother – just before his meeting with the Queen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown…


  5. bobo 5

    It’s all a bit too chummy for my liking and if the media are just there to be a PR firm for either party the public is the loser. As they say never do business with friends and I would think that keeping a professional objective relationship is hard enough with NZ being a tiny country where everyone knows everyone. The MSM acts in an adversarial way swinging from friend to foe at the expense of well researched journalism reporting the actual news of the day.

  6. Steve, as a lefty my biggest gripe with the media is that they are not impartial and lean heavily towards the right, when they have a duty to represent both sides fairly. While I realise that no news service can be truely impartial the current state is unacceptable.

    It feels like the media have too much power and influence over voters which is undemocratic. If we work to get them onside arent we just giving them more power and influence?

  7. Lukas 7

    “…but then you get pricks like Hooton who are so blinded by their own ideology that they wouldn’t say a nice thing if Clark somehow managed to save the world.”

    You could easily substitute Hooten for SP and Clark for Key into that sentence too… I love it how both the Left and the Right on the blogosphere claim that the media is biased against their particular view… often the truth lies somewhere in the middle. One would imagine it would be a proverbial cold day in hell before SP said something nice about Key though.

  8. Jem 8

    Remember too what happened to Rod Oram when he wrote a piece critical of Don Brash he was forbidden to interview the leader ever again. And then exactly the same thing happened with John Key during the election campaign. Rod was effectively blacklisted.

    I wonder if Smiley Happy John will keep up the ban on one of the country’s most respected economic journos.

  9. Pascal's bookie 9

    My biggest gripe with the media is that HS Thompson is dead, and so is Molly Ivins. And Exiled is broken again. Though those aren’t local problems… and we do have GC at Scoop, who is above the bs.

    The honeymoon is as SP says, about establishing access, and working out a narrative and generally being polite, like Americans doing that ‘dating’ thing.

    Edit: Lukas, let me know when SP gets the same access to journalistic real estate that Hooten gets, and I’ll agree there’s equivalence.

  10. gingercrush 10

    What a load of tripe. Anyone thinking the mass media has an obvious right bias are kidding themselves. How strange to see the right believing there is a left bias and the left believing there is a right bias. Neither is true. There are some where that bias is clear. That being NBR or something like that. I’ll even hand you the NZ Herald. But you cannot claim the whole media has a right bias. Especially when every media for five years plus were rather pathetic in their total admiration for Helen Clark. Not to mention for years the Sunday Star Times had a clear left bias. Radio New Zealand has always carried a rather bias to the left. TVNZ for years showed a real lack of bias towards the right and pushed to the left. TV3 has largely showed a left wing bias.

    You want real bias. Move to the United States. Otherwise treat the media in New Zealand as rooting for winners and losers. When National was a bunch of losers and Labour was riding high in the polls aka 1999-2003/4 they backed Labour. When that changed and National got some momentum the media changed and became more or less balanced. With the media being critical of both the left and right. Since Brash went and Key went into office.The media has on the whole been rooting for Key. Though there’s been many critical articles etc as well.

    Blatantly right wing bias? lol hardly. More just the media backing someone who right now is a winner. Things change and watch that same media back Labour again sometime in the future.

  11. higherstandard 11

    Meanwhile on the right leaning blogs commenters were seen to be screeching about the left wing media.

  12. Ianmac 12

    Insider:”a story like today’s increase in emigration to Aus cannot be reasonably laid at the feet of the new govt. ”
    I don’t think that that is so. Since the popular belief for the last year or so has been that Labour was going to be evicted, and that National would be the boss and would clean things up, you could reasonably expect that from a year or more ago, there would be an arrest of the outflow and indeed a flood back into NZ. It fact the rate has increased????
    Of course the flow may have nothing at all to do with who is in power, but the National spin is that it was Labour’s fault. (Nat spin might have actually put ideas in people’s heads!) So! How will our Nats deal with future outflows??

  13. Scribe 13


    So you wouldn’t characterise John Key’s first week as PM as “extraordinary”? I would. How many New Zealand PMs have met the leaders of the UK, US and China — as well as countless other world leaders — in their first week in office?

    Answer: One.

  14. Tim Ellis 14

    I very much doubt John Key will have the extraordinary five-year honeymoon that Helen Clark had. As for the motives, I very much doubt it is about getting a job: the Labour Government tripled the number of press people in ministerial offices over its nine years. Yes, a bunch of media ended up in ministerial offices, but I’d say of the senior media–the six or seven who “control” the media now as you say–wanted a higher paying job in a ministerial office they would have made the jump long ago.

    I think there’s an element to building good relationships when journalists write their copy, but Helen Clark was a master at keeping in contact with media. Senior gallery journalists used to boast of getting phone calls and texts from her to talk through issues of the day. Goff is no slouch on media matters either.

    Of course there’s a honeymoon. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just a feature of democratic political systems everywhere. Whenever the public have clearly expressed their voice, there’s an element of celebration that a new government representing the public will is in power. I think part of the role of the fourth estate is to ensure that the public will is being adequately expressed by government. A lot of the anti-government media positions that have been taken in the past–from Palmer 1989-1990, Shipley from 1997-1999, and Clark from 2007-2008 seem to be when an old, tired government has taken the public for granted.

  15. Righties – there’s a lot of the media themselves talking about the honeymoon period –


    But what would the media know about what the media think??? Damn the Standard and it’s partisan belief in a slanted media!!!

  16. Aunty Helen had a none year honeymoon with TVNZ.

    [lprent: Hey Brett – is re-edit not working for you? I’m absolutely sure that wasn’t what you meant to say??]

  17. Opps that should be NINE year honeymoon.

    [lprent: ok – same question though. I pushed re-edit out to 8 minutes a few weeks ago. You should have been able to edit that bo bo in place.]

  18. gingercrush 18

    Yes we know there’s a honeymoon period it always happens. It happened with Labour and as Tim Ellis pointed out, that one lasted five years. Whats your point. That doesn’t make the media bias. That means the media is giving John Key and his government a honeymoon. You can talk about bias when that honeymoon ends up two years or more.

  19. Scribe thats just good timing.

  20. Scribe 20


    Yes, and good timing can make for an extraordinary week. Audrey Young calling it extraordinary is not evidence of a media honeymoon, which is what Tane suggested.

  21. As far as the NZ Herald is concerned, National’s ‘media honeymoon’ began in 2004 and never ended.

  22. Scribe 22

    If The Herald was so in love with National in 2005, why was the Exclusive Brethren story on page one and the Taito Phillip Field story, which broke on basically the same day, on page five (or thereabouts)?

    Allegations of bribery and corruption are a pretty big deal — far more important than a group telling the truth about Labour and the Greens, albeit with a fake address on the information.

    And the recent study on the media coverage leading into the election from Victoria University (?) shows that Labour got a better deal from the media than National.

  23. QoT 23

    Seriously, Lukas? When SP gets to sit next to John Campbell on election night and tell provable lies about That Nice Mr Key, then your comment might be slightly plausible.

  24. Ag 24

    Half the problem is that being bland and brainless seems to be mandatory for New Zealand political journalists. It would be nice if they could occasionally say something outside of the tired and incoherent narratives that pass for political commonsense in our country.

    But then again, the point of political journalism is no longer to inform voters of necessary information, but to confirm their pre-existing prejudices. Who cares if the Emperor has no clothes.

  25. Oli 25

    Hooton is no worse than Trotter or Bryan Edwards.

  26. scribe,
    So you wouldn’t characterise John Key’s first week as PM as “extraordinary’? I would. How many New Zealand PMs have met the leaders of the UK, US and China — as well as countless other world leaders — in their first week in office?

    How about trick of the calendar..?

    Else we might assume that the writer of ‘I would’ above holds coincidence to be by intelligent design ro some other fanciful phenomena..

  27. Ian Llewellyn 27

    It is interesting how both the left and right wing blogs see the media (and in particular the gallery) as part of some organised movement out to get their side.

    I think this is probably due to the fact that those who care for a cause with a passion, tend to stew over stories they don’t like or perceive are not being written and forget the ones they agree with.

    A couple of points… I think the honeymoon idea is a more a nice turn of phrase than an active concept.

    The idea put forward by the writer that the gallery don’t attack ministers of an incoming government for a period in order to build contacts does not stand up..

    One of the dynamics between the gallery and politicians when the opposition moves into the treasury benches is that they have had years of building contacts.

    Being the opposition there tends to be a less formal relationship and it takes a little while for the walls to go up.

    In 1999 when Labour came in I was able to to talk directly to Clark, Cullen, Goff etc for some time, but over time ministers withdraw from direct contact.

    So the building contacts theory is just not true.

    Also last week some in National were very unhappy with the reporting of the ETS, they did not feel like they were in a honey moon period.

    There is also the fact that while it may seem a long time ago, the election was quite recent. The Beehive is a picture of chaos at the moment and ministers are still being briefed on portfolios… any answers to questions at the moment are referrals back to the election policy or “not been briefed”.

    You might also notice that there have been little or no attacks by Labour (and the ones they have made seem to be instantly regretted) as there is little point politically.

    Also many gallery journalists are taking stacked up leave from the last year. I am about to get six weeks off (does that count as a honeymoon)

    Just one more little point, there seems to have become this idea that Labour under went years of a honeymoon.

    I do not recall it being like that. They were very active in the first months and came in for both negative and positive reporting and I also recall a host of bad headlines around the “winter of discontent” though I can’t remember if that was 2000 or 2001.

    But anyway I am certain that both right and left blogs will be equally delighted and disgusted when the gallery journalists write stories in 2009, because actually that is the point, most journalists just like good stories

    That’s my 10 cents worth anyway

  28. mike 28

    “There is a tendency for the Left to view the media as an enemy to be fought”

    Much the way an arogant and out of touch labour govt saw the mainstream public as an ememy to be fought eh SP.

    Also – did you not see the research into political media coverage that had National copping by far the most of the bad press?

  29. lprent 29

    mike: Who did the research? What was the methodology? Where is the link?

    captcha: polls bored

  30. RT 31

    A lot of that bad press came from leaked tapes of Bill English and co. John Key pushed it as a Labour dirty tricks campaign, all the time knowing Labour had nothing to do with it.
    It worked I suppose. Make yourself out to be the victim. Yeah right

  31. Carol 32

    Ian, seeing the MSM as leaning to the right does not mean we all see this as the product of an organised movement or conspiracy. IMO, this bias exists, but is partly due to the shoddy state of our news journalism: focused more or ratings/sales and entertaining, than on providing news that informs people of the main sides of significant political issues. The lean to the right is a dominant tendency, but is not cut and dried. There is more tendency to lean to the right in the most popular news media, the NZ Herald (which is probably a bit concious on the part of the NZH editor/s), and TVNZ (probably less conscious). And there is more of a tendency for some journos to lean right than others (eg Guyon Espiner).

    As this tendency is not total, or always concious, I think maybe journalists, editors etc may not be able to objectively assess how biased their news is.

    The fact that both left and right claim a bias against their POVs, is not necessarily evidence that the news is in fact fairly balanced. For instance, in the US during most of Bush Jr’s presidency, it has been fairly widely thought that the US MSM has leaned towards supporting and promoting the Bush government’s views and policies. Meanwhile, the right/Republicans have claimed that the US MSM is too biased towards liberal perspectives. I think you may be right that this discrepance has to do with the particular items or aspects of items that people from each political perspective pay attention to. But it is not evidence of a balanced news media.

    In NZ, even with a tendency for some media to lean right, they also produce some items/articles that take a more left perspective, esecially in the comments section. It is in the most visible items (top of the news hour, front page headlines) that there tends to be the strongest right bias. And these are the items that a large section of the population take as their main news source, without thinking too deeply or critically about it. There is also a tendency for a right bias in the selection of issues and events that the media highlight most strongly. This is not asily quantifiable by counting the number of items taking a left or right perspective or presenting parties in a positive or negative way.

    I stopped going to the NZ Herlad site regularly a while back because I got sick of its blatant skewing of the news to the right and/or against Labour (and also often the Greens). This week I switched from mainly watching TVNZ 6pm news, to TV3. I am particularly fed up with the tendency for a right bias from Guyon Espiner, and his superficial analysis. There are other political reporters who do a better job at TVNZ IMO (most of them women). When Guyon leaves, I may consider going back to watching TVNZ news. I have always supported the idea of a state broadcaster, and do think TVNZ produces some good reports.

    As I said above, I think the shift towards infotainment and commercialisation of news has had a big influence on the tendency for the MSM news coverage being skewed to the right. I think National’s consultants (Crosby Textor) have become very skilled in exploiting this in favour of the parties they support (think how the babies overboard story helped Howard during his election campaign a few years back).

  32. Scribe 33

    How about trick of the calendar..?

    Northpaw (et al.),

    I’m starting to wonder if you know the meaning of “extraordinary”. Timing worked in his favour, but a a first week as PM with so much packed into it — including meeting a couple of dozen world leaders and a half-brother he’d never met — is without a doubt “extraordinary”.

    captcha: end praising

  33. lukas 34

    mike: Who did the research? What was the methodology? Where is the link?

    It was done by a team at Canterbury Uni from memory…the full data should be released next month. I’ve seen some of it in the December edition of Investigate.

    [lprent: Oh hell. That does explain why I haven’t heard of it.

    That means that regardless of the actual quality and results of the research, it is probably useless for any debate. Wishart has touched it and it will have gone through with a fine proof comb looking for a couple of quotes to support his pre-determined argument. Then all of the jerk-off trolls will keep saying the same crap over and over again on all of the blog sites when you can guarantee that it is wrong. They will troll over any debate.

    Frankly anything that Wishart/Investigate touch invariably turns to absolute crap for debate. Frankly the guy should be jailed as being a blogosphere public nuisance.]

  34. Chris G 35

    In the tug-of-war over who the media is bias towards I’ve only got this tidbit of interesting info.

    Dom Post Today:

    “New Zealand Herald political reporter Paula Oliver, who was confirmed yesterday as joining Prime Minister John Key’s office.

    Mr Key’s chief press secretary is another former Herald staffer, Kevin Taylor.

    Former TV3 political reporter Stephen Parker is also being lined up as Gerry Brownlee’s press secretary”

    That could mean very little, as it would seem sensible to hire press secretaries with journo backgrounds. I just thought it was a bit of a laugh that 2 herald staffers and the supposed Left Wing TV3 landed a press secretary. I wouldnt want to be a press secretary of a party I didnt like, unless I was of course performing an insane mole maneuver. Props if they are, but its very doubtful.

    I will agree in part, however, with ginger saying that the media in general supports the winners and goes with the pendulum. Plus if the right keep saying the medias so left wing and we say the opposite, I can only think the medias doing a Reasonable job.

    exception: Herald and Dom Posts continued reference to Richard Long as an objective editor. Bah!

  35. gobsmacked 36

    Open bias doesn’t bother me. Editorials, commentators etc generally make it clear where they’re coming from. No, it’s the hidden bias that damages the reputation of a “free and frank” media, a vital part of our democracy.

    Paula Oliver’s last story for the Herald was on Friday. Now she’s on John Key’s team. It’s inconceivable that her new job came out of the blue, without talks, “feelers” from Key’s office (probably Taylor), while she was still reporting on John Key.

    Ditto the documented previous conflicts of interest for Paul Holmes, Bill Ralston, etc. They arrogantly claim the right to privacy while having an influential role in framing the political debate. Sorry, but the public interest comes first.

    Full disclosure should be mandatory – it’s basic professionalism. But if you wonder why the journos’ employers don’t insist on it – well, guess where their political leanings are.

    (My disclosure of interest: I have none. But I could do with a nice fat bribe before Xmas, if anyone’s offering … )

  36. Jum 37

    Wasn’t Paula Oliver one of the 3 reporters who gave us the steamy past of Key – not.

  37. lukas 38

    Iprent… given the research is independent I don’t think Ian can take too much of the blame that the left will no doubt throw at him for this article.

    Yes his editorial base is right wing, but he does write stories about National also… from memory just before the 05 election he wrote a story that was not at all flattering to the Nats. When any of the authors of The Standard write a piece speaking out against something Labour or the Greens have done you might have a leg to stand on in the bias debate.

    [Tane: Lukas, we’ve criticised both Labour and the Greens in the past. Speaking of legs to stand on, you might want to do your research before mouthing off.]

  38. scribe,

    quit wondering, start thinking… the only likely ‘extra’ to make your term of “extraordinary” was the personal aspect.. half-brother (like long lost son) and family and political preferences as the case may be.. the rest belonged as I said to another’s organised calendar.

    If such things are to find acclaim by and among the new PM’s adherents and supporters then how on earth can folks discern the fellow’s merits.. as and when they come to light.

    Or maybe that’s the idea—a barrage of triviality to blot out serious interest/s and observation..?

  39. gobsmacked 40

    The contest for Idiotic Analogy of the Day is always fiercely contested on teh internet discussings, but Lukas has made a strong bid there..

    We must stand firm against Idiotic Analogies, like we did against Hitler.

  40. Matthew 41

    I wonder if there couldn’t be a more sensible reason for a media honeymoon ( and this applies whether the government is left or right). Its simply this, that we shouldn’t be quick to criticise and condemn another, rather we should wait to see what they do and even if they don’t rise to the occasion immediately give them some chance to before one gets excessively critical.

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