It’s all about the brand

A brand is a powerful thing in politics. It is a sentence that sums you up. Politicians work very hard on their brand. It’s like the TLDR version of your CV. Some examples are:

  • John Key – raised by a solo mum in a state house, made a fortune overseas
  • David Shearer – worked for UN in war zones
  • Jacinda Ardern – raised as a small town girl in Morrinsville
  • Rodney Hide – perk buster

Golriz Ghahraman’s brand was the refugee who put heads of states in three continents on trial for war crimes. It was a powerful attractive brand. I believed the brand, as did almost everyone. It is a much much more sexy brand than career defence lawyer.

It’s not that one job is good and the other is evil. That is what her defenders want the argument to be. It is about misrepresentation – deliberate fudging of her career so that she would benefit from the more glamorous brand.

Now it was no accident that the brand was someone who put heads of states on trial for war crimes. It was a story that almost everyone who followed politics believed.

Now I’m going to detail here how often Ghahraman had wrong or misleading details published, and how she never ever did anything to correct them.

First you need to understand candidates and MPs read the stories written about them. They do so religiously. Most have Google Alerts on their names. It is implausible in the extreme that she never read any of the stories on her that were inaccurate. In one case she didn;t even correct the interviewer.

Now some MPs take issues of accuracy very importantly when it comes to their background. As an example I know one MP who once had a profile of them appear in the Herald and there was a very minor mistake in it – the profile said the MP had a double degree but in fact they had one paper to go on their second degree. Not exactly a major thing but still inaccurate. The mistake was entirely the newspaper’s who had just assumed. But despite that, this MP e-mailed the reporter and pointed out the inaccuracy.  That is what conscientious MPs do.

Now let’s look at all the times that the wrong information has been published, and nothing at all was said.

In chronological order:

  1. Nov 16 – Green newsletter. Says “worked as a lawyer for the UN, putting on trial politicians and military leaders accused of committing human rights atrocities.” (no mention of defence work, implies prosecution only)
  2. Unknown date. Lush. “She went on to work as a lawyer for the United Nations in Tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Cambodia, trying those accused of committing human rights atrocities.” (trying those clearly implies prosecuting)
  3. Jan 17 – Herald story on her just announced candidacy says “She worked as a prosecutor at United Nations tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, where heads of state were on trial for mass atrocities. After getting her masters degree in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University she also worked on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia.” (totally false and never corrected)
  4. Jan 17 – Stuff story says “After graduating and working as a prosecutor for the United Nations in Cambodia and in tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia Ghahraman returned to New Zealand in 2012” (very clear impression she prosecuted in all three)
  5. Jan 17 – Wikipedia says “She worked as a United Nations prosecutor, who worked on tribunals in Rwanda, Cambodia, and at The Hague” (wrong and only corrected after election in September)
  6. Feb 17 – Impolitikal article written by Ghahraman “Eventually, that nine-year-old refugee girl ended up prosecuting heads of state for the United Nations.” (no mention of defence work, use of heads of state implies prosecutions in multiple countries. There was one head of state tried in Cambodia but not clear if she even worked in that case). UPDATE: Appears she did.
  7. April 17 – her confidential CV to Green members doing list ranking said “my work as a lawyer for the UN and in NZ have focused on enforcing human rights and holding governments to account. I have lived and worked in Africa, The Hague and Cambodia.” (misleading, as most people will read that as having prosecuted the governments in Africa and The Hague, not defended them)
  8. May 17 – James Shaw to NZIAAGolriz is now a human rights lawyer who
    worked as a prosecutor at the United Nations tribunals for  and the
    former Yugoslavia. She also worked on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia. (totally wrong)
  9. 31 May 2017 – Radio NZ “has worked at the United Nations’ various ad-hoc tribunals “putting world leaders on trial for misusing their powers“. (she put no world leaders on trial. She defended some, and helped prosecute some Khmer Rouge officials)
  10. 1 July – James Shaw in a second published speech said “Golriz Ghahraman … who puts war criminals on trial at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.” (totally wrong – she was defence team at the Hague)
  11. Mid 2017 – The Villainesse – question to Golriz was “You already have a very impressive resume – an Oxford grad, human rights lawyer and prosecuting for the United Nations including working on the tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Cambodia. Was getting into politics just the next step?” (Ghahraman never corrects the question to point out she was not a prosecutor for two of those. Also in an Orwellian move The Villainesse has edited the story to remove reference to prosecuting)
  12. 24 August 17 – Stuff “Ghahraman, a human rights expert and constitutional lawyer, has appeared as a lawyer at genocide and mass human rights violation trials in Tanzania, Yugoslavia and Cambodia … If elected, Ghahraman hopes to continue holding leaders accountable” (probably the least significant of her fudges – but still clearly leaves impression she was only a prosecutor)
  13. Sep/Oct – Radio NZ has a story with a photo of her at the Rwanda Tribunal which they label as “Golzriz prosecuting at the Rwanda Tribunal
  14. Oct 17 – Guardian said “representing the UN in tribunals prosecuting some of the world’s worst war criminals, including perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide.” (total opposite of the truth)
  15. Nov 17 – maiden speech said : “I saw that at the Rwanda Tribunal, at The Hague and when I prosecuted the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Holding politicians and armies to account for breaching their powers. Giving voice to women, and minorities who are most viciously targeted by abusers.” (misleading as implies she was holding the politicians and armies in Rwanda to account, rather than defending them)

Now maybe the mistake happening once or twice could be a genuine mistake. But only the most demented people could look at this and not conclude there was a deliberate effort to leave the impression she was a prosecutor, not defender in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

She even let her own party leader twice make false speeches about her background and never ever went to him and said “Hey that isn’t correct”. Instead James is left to take the blame, as is some anonymous staffer for the Greens website (MPs always approve their party’s online CVs in my experience).

Not once before the election was anything published in a significant forum that informed people she was not a prosecutor in all three cases. Only after the election did this information appear.

It seems the only information out there which accurately portrayed her was the very bottom of her Linked In profile. But how many people proactively check out a linked in profile of a candidate and compare that to the numerous media stories that ran with the inaccurate profile.

What has made it worse, in my opinion, is the total lack of contrition. She’s damaged her own leader, she’s damaged the Greens, and she’s still blaming everyone but herself. She even defends the smiling selfie taken with the convicted genocide inciter.

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