Thursday, May 7, 2009

Raising their colours

I decided quite early on in the life of EtH to try and avoid talking party politics. It seems that there are plenty of blogs from New Zealand about whether National or Labour's policies are rubbish; another one seems superfluous. So I try to keep the posts related to bad journalism, editing and publishing. Sometimes, however, they seem to overlap. Everyone, of course, thinks that the media are biased in the opposite direction, so you have to be sceptical of your own reaction, and thus wary of going on about it. Occasionally, though, it seems blatant enough that it's hard to ignore.

I talk, in case you were wondering, about the ongoing coverage in the Herald of the Mt Albert beyelection. I've talked before about the sensationalist reporting of splits on the left and Labour Party controversies. Perhaps naively, I assumed that the focus on Labour was just because the National Party hadn't done anything yet, and that the coverage would balance out when they did. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to have happened.

Tuesday's paper ran an article on Ms Lee stealing - sorry, sealing - the nomination from 'grassroots toiler' and last year's candidate Ravi Musuku is, shall we say, glowing.
Of her Labour opponent, David Shearer, she said: "He has been flown in from Baghdad to Balmoral - I know about New Zealand a little better than he does."
Sorry to take the 'bloody immigrants' angle, but that's a pretty bold statement for someone who moved here in 1988. I know that's a long time and it shouldn't matter anyway, but she's made the claim - now let's see David Shearer's response to this ridiculous claim:

Oh, it's not here.

The other interesting story that should have been brought up but hasn't is the question of just how Lee secured the nomination. The favourite of the party hierarchy beat out Musuku, who took on the unforgiving task of opposing Helen Clark in the last two elections, increasing his share of the vote. Apparently the favourite of the local organisation, Musuku seems to have lost out due to central politics. Now, I'm not complaining about this - for one thing, Labour seem to have done it as well. I'm complaining about how, when Labour (allegedly) did it, the Herald were all over them. This article appeared on Monday afternoon, alleging that National knew before time that the candidate would be Lee but, rather than forming the core of an article, is dismissed in two paragraphs at the end of the article.

Today's article on Mt Albert is even more bizarre. "Mt Albert voters run up their colours" says the headline; despite this, the article seems to be less about spontaneous shows of support for the candidates, and more about wandering down the road with Lee and asking people who they would vote for:
But Tony Follaoi, an author, was wary. "I'd have to find out more to actually put my vote that way," he said.
You've certainly nailed your colours to the mast, Tony. Don't be too rash.

Aside from the that, the article is notable for that classic election journalism gambit of the candidate talking to a racist:

White-haired Mt Albert pharmacist David Baird met his first living, breathing politician yesterday - and gave her an earful.

"Hi, I'm Melissa Lee, National candidate for Mt Albert," said the politician.

"Well you won't be getting my vote because I don't think we need any Asians in Parliament," the pharmacist shot back tartly.

Korean-born Ms Lee, a former journalist who has been in New Zealand for 21 years, asked brightly, "Why not?"

Mr Baird said he had his reasons. "They are very difficult people to deal with. They don't spend any money. I don't see that they bring any money into the country. Another problem is their English is very bad.

"You're all right," he told the candidate later. "You are almost 100 per cent. But, seriously, we find it difficult, particularly old people. We have Titus [his Asian assistant] here to talk to them."

That's a good reason not to vote for someone - they don't spend any money. Anyway, if you read the article, and if your thought processes are anything like mine, you start to see a weird correspondence in the talk about colours: are they talking about political colours (red, blue) or skin colours (white, non-white)? Mr Baird talks about Lee's ethnicity, then about how his wife is "red". The article goes on about the immigrant community in Mt Albert; David Shearer is described as a "grey UN bureaucrat" in comparison to Lee. In a final paragraph too perfect to be a coincidence, the article ends:
And a Pakeha mother who declined to be named turned out to be as "red" as Mr Baird's wife. Her simple verdict: "I'm going to vote for him - he's the right colour."
You heard it right here, folks. David Shearer is grey, and Labour voters are racist.


  1. Melissa Lee = MILF...

    What a sec...does she have kids???

    If not I'm totally there!

    Totally MILF

  2. I thought the article was pretty weird too, but didn't come to the same conclusion. I thought it was amazing that it was seen as appropriate to put a large picture of the smiling pharmacist in next to an article where he is outed as a raging racist??

    I dont think the implication was that Labour voters are racist - the pharmacist implied he normally a national voter who would be turned on the issue of race.

    It is a pretty sad reflection of NZ society that this is ok to be reported as a normal opinion. The guy is a pharmacist, ie part of the public health service.

  3. 2 things: the headline and russell norman.

    The headline is misleading... they talked to people while they dropped their kids at school... presumably not flying Act flags from their windows, wearing David Shearer pins or flaunting Melissa Lee gang patches.

    Mysteriously no one suggested they were going to vote for russell norman... I thought he was splitting the left? maybe the greens are lying dormant and using a "surge" tactic to steal votes on a wave just before the election? Maybe we're just stupid and have forgotten all the coverage? Or perhaps the green voters were still in bed after a wake-n-bake?

    There is no way this journalist simply forgot, that has been the core story about the Mt Albert election so far.
    It is a calculated omission.

  4. You may have missed it but the Herald's gallery reporter Patrick Gower did a story last week focussing on discontent withing the local electorate organisation about Lee being put in at Musuku's expense.

  5. "Mysteriously no one suggested they were going to vote for russell norman... [...] It is a calculated omission."

    I dunno. I find the Herald about as calculating as a calculator with no batteries, or a brick, or a section of 2-ply toilet paper.

    As someone once said: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

  6. According to the internet, it seem that quote came from Robert J. Hanlon. Great quote.

  7. Long comment, sorry:

    like a good herald journalist I don't want to make up a story when there isn't one... but....
    This story took up a reasonable % of the paper, it had a big picture etc... Quite a lot of people would have to forget about what they worked on a few days ago in order for it to be stupidity.

    Stupidity would presumably be random... I reckon I'd get much better than random odds if you asked me a series of questions like:
    Will the Herald,
    A. Acknowledge their big coverage of a topic was inaccurate (and more subtly that they pretty much made it up)
    B. Consciously ignore it, and hope you do as well.

    If stupidity is not random then a bigger and more complex story needs to be told about how "the system" guides them to make these decisions unwittingly. I find that harder than just calling them liars.

    I think it is easy to turn a blind eye and collect your paycheck... justify it to yourself somehow and get on with your life. I also think.... fair enough. But that is different from stupidity.
    They are motivated to keep people reading, whatever the cost. They might be generally stupid, some of them definitely are, but when it comes to selling papers they know what they are doing.


  8. One thing that has escaped your news rage in this story, James, is the fact that the Herald starts reporting as fact something that only two days earlier it had reported as a quote from Russel What's-his-Name. The description of David as being a "grey" man of the machine originated from Russel Norman sans proof of any sort. But the fact that the Herald printed it earlier in the week suddnely transforms this from a misguided slur by his political opponent (and ad hominem attack) to fact. Perhaps the Herald has been taking lessons from that Minister they revere so much, Crusher Collins, in believing their own press.

  9. Captain James T. Kirk (Coe)May 8, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    I thought it was the funniest story in a long time. The outright racism (at least the guy was honest about it) was so casually reported as to make it seem like a perfectly normal exchange in the multicultural cauldron that is the Mt Albert electorate. Hehe and the guy usually voted NZ First, which would make any good octogenarian smile.

    But I disagree with your assessment of the Herald's reporting, young Te Coesy. As already pointed out, they have provided balance in the reporting on Shearer as well as the Lee-Musuku selection controversy, while Shearer, an old school chum of Goff and long-time non-resident of New Zealand has literally been flown in for a "safe" seat. Real awesome rejuvination there, Labour.

    If anything, the Herald's habit of stretching out a story over several days (ultimately providing the "balance") is what gives the illusion of bias (from both right and left).

    Finally, it was great to see you at the 12.01am (Thursday) screening of the latest Star Trek film, Te Coesy. How long had you lined up for? To be honest I was quite surprised, given the bootlegged copies you'd spent downloading at your Mum's place the past few weeks. Isn't Kirk dreamy? Or are you more of a Spock man? I think we both know the answer to that you Star Trek manwich-loving fiend!!

  10. I think the problem is the amnesia.

    Anyway not sure what you're talking about star trek for but I recommend this:

  11. Captain James T. Kirk/CoeMay 8, 2009 at 3:49 PM

    Oh you didn't know? Te Coesy is a grade A, first-class, top notch Trekkie. Or is it "Trekker"? So hard to tell these days!