Guest Post: Clarke Gayford – “genius”, “top bloke”, “first man” – or just engaged to the Prime Minister?

A guest post by Neil Miller:

Clearly, Labour has had a bad time politically over their Car Tax policy – sorry, Clean Car Discount – with tens of thousands signing petitions against the move, and thousands more buying bumper stickers to make their displeasure known to anyone behind them.

It certainly did not help their narrative when people quickly shared dozens of images of Labour MPs beaming next to or even in their party branded utes. This is despite politicians not working in primary industries or the trades. To use the Prime Minister’s own words, they were not “legitimate users” of a vehicle type that many New Zealanders choose to buy.

A distraction was needed. His name is Clarke Gayford, and the media was only too happy to oblige with two quick puff pieces. On reflection, that is unfair. These articles did not reach the journalistic standards of being a puff piece. I have read advertorials about vacuum cleaners with more journalistic integrity.

Audrey Young penned a piece titled “New Zealand’s Top Bloke’s – how does Clarke Gayford measure up?” She looks at Burton Shipley and Peter Davis, both married to a Prime Minister, and Clarke Gayford who is engaged to the current Prime Minister. Unsurprisingly, she rates him very highly indeed.

It is however surprising to read this line: “Gayford would not be interviewed about his role supporting Ardern as Prime Minister. He tends to reserve his media opportunities to publicise his television show and associated pursuits.”

That would be convincing if it was not published on exactly the same news webpage as a full article titled:  “’Genius’ Clarke Gayford wows with movie-themed cake for Neve’s third birthday.” This news piece includes a video, three photos, and a twitter post with another video embedded. The source of the ‘genius’ appellation was bestowed on him by an unnamed social media user. That is apparently all it takes to make the headline of the Herald these days.

You get the feeling that if Judith Collins baked a cake and donated it to orphaned puppies the headlines would read “Collins’ feeds animal obesity epidemic.”

This type of article, and it is by no means the only one, does not suggest a person reserving media opportunities. It screams embracing them. Clarke Gayford is not famous as a part-time DJ or presenting a fishing show that few people watched. He is famous for being engaged to Jacinda Ardern and is using that status to highlight his personal brand as a “top bloke” or a “genius” when he can.

More broadly, the media need to get over calling him “New Zealand’s first man”. A simple Google search recently revealed seven New Zealand media outlets referring to Gayford as the “first man”. The UK Telegraph could not quite even get that right calling him the “first bloke”.

To be blunt – there is not and never has been in New Zealand the role of “first man”. Burton Shipley was Jenny Shipley’s husband. Peter Davis was Helen Clark’s husband. They both did work for their causes, but generally behind the scenes and out of the media eye.

Similarly, Dame Thea Muldoon was not the “first lady”. She was Sir Rob Muldoon’s wife who did enormous work for charity but actively avoided – indeed despised – any media coverage outside official engagements which she barely tolerated.

America has an official role for a “first lady”, and pretty soon we might be seeing the first “first man” (looking at you Doug Emhoff who is already the first “second man” of the United States.)

New Zealand does not have that role. Dear media, please cut it out and focus on issues like housing, taxation, health, and pandemics, rather than clever cakes allegedly baked by a fiancée.

Post-script – When the negative news continued, 3-year-old Neve apparently watched the television news, had instant empathy with kids she did not know, and volunteered to send them some of her own toys. The media were again all over it with no hard questions asked. Seriously? How many toddlers watch the news? Have you ever tried to take a toy off a 3-year-old?

This is the politics of distraction – and, sadly, it is working.

Neil Miller is a writer and commentator. He works at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union as an analyst.

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