Been meaning to comment on this post by Danyl at Dim Post for a while, as I would hate anyone to think Danyl is actually correct with his assertion than I regularly con and play journalists – something insulting to me as much as to them. First of all let’s take the article which prompted his post – a profile of Grant Robertson in the Herald quoting me saying:
Kiwiblogger and right-wing commentator David Farrar believes Robertson will be at the forefront of a leadership challenge within the next two terms . . .
Now in Danyl’s world, my comments were part of a cunning plot by National to undermine Phil Goff, and not my honest belief. He should have checked the timing of when I made the comments, and what I actually said.
When Phil Goff did his reshuffle in early Feb I said:
The Robertson move is the best part of the reshuffle. Tony Ryall will have a more challenging time with Grant against him. Health is traditionally a strong area for Labour, and the fact they have performed so dismally in this area has to change, for them to be competitive. It also marks the high regard Robertson is held in, to get it in just two years. He is a future Labour Prime Minister in my opinion.
The next day I blogged:
I’ve long said that I think Grant will become Labour Leader, and indeed probably even a Labour Prime Minister.
I don’t think he will be the next leader, but the one after that. He is young enough to be able to wait his time.
So my initial blogs were praising Goff for Robertson’s promotion, and explicitly saying that I do not think he will be the next leader but maybe the one after that. Several times I have said that I do not think Grant would be a contender until after 2014 election.
It was shortly after that the Herald rang me as they were doing a profile on Grant, and wanted my comments on why I rate him. Now this was in early to mid February – weeks before the Darren Hughes affair occured and before there was any talk at all of a challenge to Goff.
So Danyl has it 100% wrong when he insinuates that my comments were designed to undermine Goff, and that I conned Derek into running them. Goff’s leadership was not an issue when I made my comments and further more I explicitly said that Grant would not be the next leader.
This is unless Danyl thinks I knew in advance that Darren Hughes would go home with an 18 year old who would flee naked from his home, and that Goff would take no action over it, hence creating leadership speculation.
The other thing Danyl doesn’t realise is that far from my praise of Grant being a cunning National Party plot, it generally results in a flurry of angry phone calls and e-mails from National Party people. I am a member of Wellington Central National Party, a former campaign chair for the seat, and a mate of the just selected candidate. Let me assure you that local Nats get very unhappy when I say good things about Grant. And so do a few Nats at 1 Molesworth Street.
Danyl’s fantasy of this all being some cunning plan of the 9th floor is hilarious, if he could tap my phone. I get some seriously pissed off people calling.
The only thing that makes up for the hostility my comments on Grant’s abilities generate for me from Nats, is the knowledge that they probably generate equally hostile comments to Grant from his Labour activists
So having dealt with the specific, let’s turn to the more general:
Describing DPF as ‘Kiwiblogger and right-wing commentator’ is an improvement on outlets like TV3 and NewsTalkZB that just describe him as ‘blogger and commentator’ but it does elide his most significant role in the political process namely that he’s THE NATIONAL PARTY POLLSTER. Quoting him in a story about an opposition MP is a little like citing ‘former TVNZ journalist Fran Mold’ or ‘astute political observer Kevin Taylor’. (There is a slight difference, in that they’re directly employed by their parties, while DPF is the director of a company that the National Party contracts.)
I have disclosed on my blog my extensive background with National, and this is pretty well known. But that does not mean I am an uncritical supporter or obliged to say things only helpful to National. I compare it to sports. National is the team I support, and I want my team to win. But that doesn’t mean I won’t criticise the coach, captan and players when they stuff up. And it doesn’t mean I won’t praise other teams when they perform well.
As for the fact that National may have a relationship with Curia. Well off hand I would say that most of the organisations Curia has done work for, I have also criticised at some stage on my blog. Any relationship Curia has with National didn’t stop me doing the post the week before last criticising the Government on use of urgency. That post resulted in numerous critical news stories, and a NZ Herald editorial. I also did around five radio and one TV interview repeating my views.
Yes it is difficult criticising people or organisations you have relationships with. But it is hardly something new to me. In my roles with InternetNZ I had a good working relationship with David Cunliffe who was ICT Minister. And in the last few weeks I’ve actually had a number of meetings with Labour, Green and ACT MPs, where I’ve encouraged them to pressure the Government to make some changes to its telecommunications legislation. Again, it doesn’t always generate undying gratitude from within National.
DPF is the most successful at getting journalists to accept him as an independent and trustworthy commentator, presumably because he’s so genial and likeable and, unassuming.
I don’t believe journalists ask me for comment because I am genial or likeable (and many would dispute that). I assume it it because I give intelligent analysis, and am willing to praise the “other team” and criticise my own team.
Danyl seems to think my blog was invented by National as a cunning social media tool. In fact I’ve been debating politics online since 1996 – because I enjoy it. I did this through Usenet from 1996 to 2003 and then discovered blogs and after gettign addicted to reading them set up my own. This was not done at the request of National, or even with their support, permission or knowledge. I just did it. And in fact in its first year of operations, there was at least one caucus meeting where a number of National MPs complained about things I said on it and asked if the then leadership could stop me blogging.
No one likes to think they’ve been played by the penguin, even though he repeatedly plays many political journalists for suckers on a regular basis.
Again I find this really insulting (apart from Danyl trying to emulate Trevor Mallard with use of an insulting nickname) – to both sides. He presumably think all the journalists except his wife are really stupid, and that I not only know they are stupid but take advantage of their stupidity to con and play them. That is not how I regard journalists, and Danyl is attributing motives quite maliciously.
It is very very rarely that I will ring a journalist up to push a story – maybe once every six months if even that. And if journalists ring me up, I give them my opinion. Absolutely that is from someone with a pro-National world-view, but that is known.
At the risk of being immodest, I would suggest the reason some journalists do call me and ask for my views and analysis, is because I used to talk candidly to them in the days before blogging. I was never a press secretary but during my eight years in Parliament I had strong relationships with many in the gallery – and I often chatted off the record to them on my take of how things are going. I wouldn’t betray professional confidences, but I would happily admit over a beer that National had terribly fucked up that week. I was rather proud of the fact that when then TVNZ Political Editor Linda Clark retired from the gallery, that I was the only 9th floor staffer to attend her farewell (as she was under a fatwa from the then PM). That was not because I was genial or likeable, but because I would never ever bullshit her and would always talk to her (even if sometimes all I could say is I can’t comment).
This seems a very lengthy and some would say “thou protest too much” response to Danyl’s blog post. And it possibly is. But Danyl is now the most read and I would say powerful left wing blog, so I respond to stuff he says which I wouldn’t on other blogs. Also it is useful to get this out there, so it can be referred to in future.