Thursday, May 21, 2009

Smelling blood

I don't often feel sorry for politicians. In fact, I generally feel that they're a sorry bunch of bastards who will stop at nothing to jack up expenses, fling petty insults in the debating chamber and tell people whatever they want to hear to stay in power.

But some small, as-yet-unidentified part of me feels sorry for Melissa Lee today - she's had a horror week and the media won't let her forget about it. The contrast between coverage of her run in the herald at the start of the campaign and the articles on her over the last two days is quite astounding. Yesterday's article, "Campaign stresses going to Lee's head", was accompanied by a series of pictures of Lee "looking flustered and holding her head"; the whole thing is not-so-vaguely reminiscent of celebrity meltdown articles, except with Melissa Lee instead of Britney Spears, and a campaign mess rather than cutting all her hair off.

Today's article, "Lee faces protest from students", reports on the campaign meeting held in the University of Auckland quad yesterday. It is accompanied by a large photo of what can only be a student, holding a cutout of Lee's face with 'RACIST' written on the forehead and a Hitler moustache on her lip - just the kind of biting satire one would expect from a first-year politics student. Reporter Lincoln Tan has obviously never been at a student meeting before, as he excitedly reports what happened next:
Students at the debate passed a resolution calling Ms Lee a racist [...]
Lincoln, students - the couple of hundred who turned up out of tens of thousands - sitting in the quad will vote for anything. More beer, topless women, higher taxes, lower taxes. Don't worry Melissa, it's not a binding resolution and you won't find yourself legally obliged to make more racist remarks because of it. I spoke to a couple of people who were at the debate and who told me that it was actually largely good-humoured; the confrontational atmosphere implied by the Herald report and the television news was largely a beat-up that reported the nastiness out of context and the constructive debate not at all.

I imagine that this is all because the media smell blood. The source is increasingly the unfortunate Lee who, for a journalist, seems less-than-media-savvy. It's hard to sympathise with her, given that, like all - ok, almost all - politicians, she is after the 'baubles of office'. But that doesn't mean that we have to like the reporting, which cannot long tolerate civilised debate and so has to ensure that, like the 'War on P', there are both protagonists and antagonists. With a couple of naive, stupid remarks, Lee has ended up in the firing line. David Shearer would do well to count his lucky stars.


  1. Excellent post. I thought it was another Lincoln Tan classic.

  2. I just saw the the following on AUSA presidents' Facebook page (where people seem to be discussing yesterdays events):

    Person X posted:
    "From Twitter: AliIkram: I think Auckland Uni students maybe 'racist'as they don't understand 'South Aucklanders' aren't a 'race'"

    Person Y posted:
    Because when someone thinks South Auckland criminal they think clean cut white guy.

    Person X:
    So it is stereotypical assumption with no concrete proof whatsoever

    Person Y:
    Yes that's what Melissa Lee's South Auckland statement was yes

    It's no 'Your Views', but the term 'missing the point' comes to mind

  3. Your Views: Is a conviction appropriate for punching a child?

    I'm not sure about that one. What about punching politicians?

  4. Party On, Garth?

  5. I was at the debate, I thought labelling her a racist was a bit fucking dumb and gives students a bad name but hey, what are you going to do?
    The media reports on this were full of shit too, they should have been reporting about what everyone said on waterview and transport issues which was the whole point of the debate. It was arranged by the organisers of ecofest so that people could hear what the candidates had to say on it and get some constructive discourse, and you turn on the news to find some dumbshit blow by blow account of Melissa Lee and her routine fuck ups, and one thing about Shearer talking about the uberstadt, which was one question from the floor, out of context to the actual debate.
    Not only that but the two other candidates are completely ignored.

  6. I think I agree with you, James. Melissa has been hard done by.

    There is obviously a salient difference between the blogger who takes it upon himself to keep a newspaper in check ONLY to ensure that the newspaper maintains its integrity, and the newspaper that takes it upon itself to keep a politician in check ONLY to sell newspapers.

    Poor Melissa.

  7. I actually live in the electorate and can honestly say I am amazed at the whole “anti-Lee” campaign. People are being bused in from outside the area to wave banners and stand in groups at street corners. It’s bloody scary to watch, and I can’t see how intimidation can be productive.

  8. Yeah the sea of red billboards blocking the footpath in Kingsland every weekend is getting on my nerves... as are the people driving by shouting "Vote Labour" out the side of their 4WDs.

    The two ladies who came door-knocking were very nice though.

    Don't get me started on first year politics students, 18 year olds are way too young to vote. I voted Greens the first time around entirely for their legalise cannabis policy. Nuff said.

  9. I also sympathise with Lee, but she did herself no favours when she attacked the crowd for not watching TV, and when she mentioned that one of the student leaders had been drinking the last time she spoke to him.

    I don't think Lee's a bad person, and her line about South Aucklanders, however stupid and offensive, does not prove conclusively that she is a racist. She's clearly badly out of her depth, and the news media are following her every move now because they know they'll catch her out again.

    She may get quite a few sympathy votes out of this.

  10. So James writes a blog post criticising the Herald for reporting what happened at a public forum.

    The replies all seem to discuss whether Lee has lost it, not whether the Herald got it wrong.

    Poor choice of target.

  11. To 'Anonymous' above: Um... that's not entirely true, is it? I mean, a fair few of these comments are about the reporting.

  12. Also to 'anonymous' above, above. My argument was also about the reporting, but I guess it could have been framed better.

    The point I was trying to make is that the campaign against Lee is fairly unpresidented for a by-election. From the initial atempted smear campaign (the jack up over NZ on air funding for NAT's ad's) to the rent-a-croud camped out in Kingsland and Sandringham scareing the locals.

    I would have thought that there was a good story in highlighting this PR campaign, but instead the media (especially TV3 and The Herald)have been either complicit or supportive.

    Having said that, the "South Auckland" comment was a complete own goal and deserved the reporting it got (although the carefully scripted heckles and "questions" at the Waterview meeting would also be worth a mention).

  13. 'Lee Expects to Come Second in Mt Albert'

    See that article yet? Someone better tell her there is no second place

  14. "Someone better tell her there is no second place"

    Don't deny the woman a silver medal - considering the fortnight she's had, she deserves something.

  15. She hasn't had a PR campaign! Key told her she was stupid days after the nomination.

    Someone should look back at what happens to the MPs who come off 'the list' to do some actual work. I'd wager they stuff it up, proving what an elitist and undemocratic system we have.

  16. Just because someone isn't skilled in playing the media/PR game doesn't necessarily mean that they are unskilled as a politician.

    Claims that list MPs do no work and that New Zealand's system is undemocratic seem just ever so slightly extreme and unfounded don't you think..?