I meant to cover this story on Wednesday, but there has been so much on. NewstalkZB reported:
Meanwhile the Labour leader is also maintaining there has been no misleading of media over the allegations.
Mr Goff confirms he’s known about the matter for two weeks. However when Newstalk ZB approached the Labour Party about allegations on Monday, Mr Goff’s staff denied a Labour MP was involved and claimed Mr Goff knew nothing about it.
Phil Goff says his staff hadn’t checked with him.
“I think the person that told you that told you it in good faith, she was not aware of it,” he told Newstalk ZB today
Okay so you have a situation where the media were told something false by one of Phil Goff’s press secretaries. There are broadly three possible scenarios to explain this.
- The press secretary knew the information was false and deliberately lied to the media
- The press secretary didn’t bother to check if the allegation was correct, and gave a response withotu checking
- The press secretary did check and the press secretary was lied to, so they would give out false information unwittingly to the media
All three scenarios are bad, but to different degrees.
I personally think scenario 1 is highly unlkely. Press secretaries know it is fatal to lie to the media, especially if they have been media themselves. You can be obtuse, even a bit deceptive. You can omit relevant stuff. You can give a non helpful response. You can refuse to comment. But it is a cardinal rule that you can not and do not say something that you know to be untrue – it means the media will never trust you again. And personally I don’t think the press secretary in question would – I think they are an honest person.
Scenario 2 is also pretty unlikely, because it means you’re totally incompetent. I just can not imagine a scenario where a press secretary is asked about whether an MP is under a criminal investigation, and you do not check with someone before responding. When the truth comes out you look like an idiot. Note Goff only said that the staff did not check with him – it does not mean they did not check with someone else.
That leaves scenario 3, where the press secretary did check, and someone lied to them and told them there was no Labour MP under investigation and that Goff knew nothing about any such allegation. It may not be an MP who lied to the press secretary – it may be a more senior staffer who did know and lied to them.
If scenario 3 is what happened, this is very very unfair to the press secretary, because they end up having misled the media, and it still undermines them in their effectiveness. Sure they may not have knowingly lied (which is worse), but the media will then wonder next time they ask a question, can they rely on the press secretary to know the truth? How do they know her boss and/or colleagues won’t lie to him or her again in order to get a denial out to the media?
I don’t know which scenario is correct, but scenario 3 is most likely, and if so then the press secretary in question is owed a huge apology by whomever lied to them, so they gave out false information.
The way the issue was dealt with by the Goffice, reminds me of a quote from a book by Harvey McQueen who worked for both David Lange and Phil Goff as Education Ministers:
“With Phil it was always the department’s or its officers’ or another Minister’s or the PM’s or someone else’s fault when things went wrong…” (p.212)
Finally in terms, of who did know, NewstalkZB also said:
Phil Goff says he had been keeping the information to himself and hadn’t shared it with his caucus.
Not telling Caucus is one thing, but what staggers me is that Goff did not tell Party President Andrew Little. I’d be very pissed off if I was Andrew, at being kept in the dark for two weeks.