Tarred and feathered by The Spinoff

Yesterday The Spinoff published an article on the battle over Auckland Council’s budget. At the centre of the story was an allegation (actually they reported it as a fact) that the Taxpayers’ union had been sending white feathers to Councillors who might vote for Goff’s budget, accusing them of cowardice.

This get a few on Twitter into their normal lynch mob mentality, including Russell Brown who added (now deleted) that we had been nailing the white feathers to the doors of Councillors homes.

Most people would agree such acts are pretty despicable.

The story had a large picture of me (and two others) on it, and I started to get calls asking why had I done or authorised such a awful thing.

Of course I hadn’t, and neither had the NZTU or ARA. The Spinoff has now said:

An earlier version of this story attributed the distribution of white feathers to The Taxpayers’ Union, a charge the organisation has since vigourously denied. The Spinoff has since been told that the feathers were in fact distributed anonymously, and accepts that The Taxpayers’ Union had no role in the distribution of the feathers. The story has now been updated to reflect this. The Spinoff apologises to the Taxpayers’ Union, Jordan Williams, David Farrar and Jo Holmes for the error.

I appreciate the apology and I should say I have generally been a fan of The Spinoff’s writings, and especially Simon Wilson’s. But I am angry over what they did. They published a story that was highly damaging to me and others, without even checking. If they had checked in advance of publication we would have all told them we know nothing about this, and they would have presumably checked back with their sources (who may have misled them) and determined the truth.

I presume as well as not checking with us (which is a gross breach of Press Council principles) they never asked for any proof of the allegations. Instead they ran a story based on anonymous sources, did no verification and gave no opportunity for comment in advance of publication. That’s pretty shoddy.

To add to the irony we have someone (Russell Brown) who has spent over a decade producing shows about media ethics who jumped on the bandwagon and implied we hadn’t just e-mailed white feathers to Councillors but had stalked them at home and nailed them to front doors. And again no verification before publishing – he just threw it out there on Twitter to enrage the lynch mob.

It is true the ARA has been vocal in reminding Councillors who pledged to vote for no more than a 2% rates increase that if they break their pledge, voters will be reminded of it. Most people regard holding elected officials to their words to be a good thing.

My suspicion is that this story was planted by a staff member or Councillor of Auckland Council to try and smear us. The timing is no coincidence, that it is the week of key votes on the bed tax which is on the verge of not getting the numbers. There is no journalist protection of sources when they have lied to you, so I hope The Spinoff reveals who told them NZTU were behind the white feathers.

The Spinoff notes:

The Spinoff Auckland is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.

Heart of the City is of course an organisation almost fully funded by the Auckland Council. I’d like to think commercial motivations were not part of this story, but you wonder why else did The Spinoff so flagrantly breach Press Council standards and run a defamatory story without even seeking comment from the people named in it. Because the sad thing is that despite their retraction, the damage is already done.

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