A journalist on the “Dirty Politics” book

The e-mail below was written by a current journalist who has worked in radio and print for over seven years.

Several years ago I received a tip-off from an anonymous email address alleging that a police car had run three consecutive red lights, with their lights and siren blaring, and then pulled into a KFC drive-through. They were then seen eating chicken in their car just around the corner. I phoned the KFC but no one on duty was willing to talk to me. The manager wasn’t there. I called the police and spoke to the duty sergeant who confirmed two policemen had indeed been at KFC at the time alleged. He didn’t have the details but would endeavour to find out why they were there. He didn’t get back to me before deadline. I didn’t file.

I had more justification to write that story than did to write his book. But if I had, I would have been rightly destroyed by the police, as it turned out the two policemen were responding to an alleged assault inside KFC. As it transpired, it was just a push and shove and the blokes involved had left by the time they arrived. So while there, the two cops got some dinner.

Two parts of the tip-off were accurate. It looked bad, but it was entirely legitimate. So as a journalist, I look at what Hager has done with this book and am dismayed. Not just that, but the wider reaction of the media, with a few exceptions, has been woeful. As an industry, we have always been loathe to hold ourselves to account. That needs to change. We shouldn’t accept that Hager can use the cloak of journalism to run, what is effectively, a political attack.

Dirty Politics is not journalism.

As a journalist, the most basic principle we must uphold is that of fairness. That is not to say that what we write or broadcast is always fair, but that whomever we are challenging on an issue is given the opportunity to respond. Some choose not to comment. But they are at least given that choice.

Hager did not corroborate a single accusation in his book. He did not seek comment on the accusations. He did not give his targets a chance to defend themselves, provide context or refute his allegations. Had he, he knew the courts would have likely granted an injunction and the book would not have been published.

Is that a reasonable excuse? In the event the material he had proved categorically illegal behaviour had been undertaken or was being undertaken, yes it would be. But it doesn’t. At worst, it could cost Judith Collins her future in Cabinet for passing on Simon Pleasants name to Slater. The rest is all either old news, gossip, or the blowhard ravings of a blogger and his pals who seriously over-estimate their importance.

I admit I was fascinated to learn Slater gets paid for a lot of what “he” writes by corporates. It explains why he has written so vociferously on several issues, including attacking Simon Bridges over Part 6A and his obsession with plain packaging for cigarettes. I think the public deserve to know corporates pay for his vitriol. But it still doesn’t justify rushing a book out in the manner Hager has pre-election.

Yes, Slater’s blog is nasty and vindictive. So is Martyn Bradbury. So is The Standard. If you think they’re not fed gossip by Labour/Mana-Internet/Greens you’re dreaming. Typically in their case it’s about destroying their own team so no one cares.

What concerns me most is how my colleagues have reported on this so breathlessly. They have repeatedly used the term ‘hacking’ to describe Jason Ede accessing an open website. And accepted without question this idea that it’s like walking through the unlocked door of a private house. It’s not. It’s more like a young Nat heading to the Labour Party’s booth at a university political rally, scanning through their leaflets and finding a clear file stashed in the back marked ‘donors’. Clearly it’s not meant to be there but, well it is. So they read it, take some snaps on their iPhone and humiliate Labour with it, rather than just quietly telling them about the mistake. Politics. 

But what is most disturbing about this, is that the majority of media think it’s acceptable to hack Slater’s email and Facebook, for no reason other than that we hate him. Hager even justified the break-in of Mark Mitchell’s office as just how leaks happen. He is an MP. It is unbelievable that anyone can think it’s acceptable, simply because they have opposing politics.

Hager doesn’t want to know where this material has come from. He believes the hacker’s motives aren’t political. For a smart man, at best he is being willingly ignorant. There is no doubt in my mind that Hager is being played. The problem is he doesn’t care. A real journalist would.

We get tipped off all the time to stories. We have PR people pointing us in directions and press secretaries running lines daily. But we always know what their agenda is. We don’t report blindly. Mostly we try to counter it.

Slater is adamant Dotcom is behind this. That it’s a play to buy/screw an election. If he is, he’ll get away with it. I don’t have the skills needed to nail him, or whoever it is, and the majority of media don’t have the inclination. 

Sure, I expect the ‘left’ will dismiss this column as just part of the broad campaign to destroy Hager’s credibility. In reality, anyone with half a brain can see he’s done that to himself. Dirty Politics isn’t journalism. It’s political activism, enabled by crime. We have to question it.

I would point out that I’m not aware of comments by Hager on the break in at Mark Mitchell’s office.

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