Friday, August 7, 2009

Stop the press!

As you'll no doubt be aware, the Herald runs a 'corrections' column where they clear up any inaccuracies that have been in the paper in the last day or so. Like that time when a Korean exchange student stabbed a teacher at Avondale College and they put a photo of a different Korean student on the front page. Oh well - they all look the same to us, right??

But I digress. Today's column features the following:

"Sir Roger Douglas no longer receives his Government pension, as stated in Garth George's column yesterday. He forfeited it in he re-entered Parliament. Sir Roger's air travel expenses of $44,000 [!] included work-related flights as well as personal overseas travel."
Oh, I get it. Garth George can write whatever baseless trash week after week and get published without correction: women would have to eat 11 slices of bread a day to get their necessary folate under the proposed mandatory regime; section 59 of the Crimes Act had "never caused the least concern"; fast food contains nothing but "legitimate, nutritious ingredients".

But the moment some concerned private citizen - let's call him 'RD' - calls in to clear up a claim which, although false, is hardly greatly misleading in the context, the Herald rushes to publish a correction. I wonder if it's anything to do with the fact that, as Monday's editorial pointed out, Sir Rog "has probably done most to earn the country's lasting appreciation... He was in Parliament [in the 1980s] for a purpose larger than a personal career, as he is again."

But I digress. I hereby encourage you all to be much more proactive in complaining to the Herald about factual errors in Garth's column in particular. Let's see if we can't get a weekly column of our own - about 1000 words or so just going dispassionately through the errors of the previous day.

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On a related note, I got a fascinating email from an EtH reader today. He was infuriated in general by the Herald's reporting, but the straw that broke the camel's back was a particular reference to EtH favourite and media rent-a-quote Bob McCoskrie, of the 'Family First Trust' . He somehow got together the gumption to bang his head against a brick wall and emailed the Herald with his complaint:

Dear Herald Journalists,

You keep referring to "Family First director Bob McCoskrie."

Family First IS Bob McCoskrie. You can’t join Family First. From his website:

"How do I join?

We don’t have an official membership. However, by registering to receive our updates, and offering support (financial, goods/services, prayer), this all helps us provide a strong voice for families."


If everytime there was a social issue you went to "bloke down the road" for an opinion, your readers might not take him quite so seriously. Please stop giving this man the credence he doesn't deserve just because he uses an authoritative-sounding name rather than just his own.

Yours,
Society for Informed Debate director [insert name of secretive, possibly celebrity, correspondent here]

It's true enough - here's the website. Intriguingly, one of Mr McCoskrie's 'qualifications' is "engaging with the issues of the day on talkback radio" - the issues of pretty much every day on talkback radio being, as far as I know, "Maoris", dole bludgers, immigrants and why the All Blacks can't win (it's because they eat too much pasta and not enough meat). But I digress. To be fair, Family First is not just Mr McCoskrie; there is a 'Board of Reference' as well. The page isn't clear on what exactly the function of this board is, but it does contain a number of luminaries: Jim Hickey, the man who got stood down (as far as my hazy memory goes) from the TV weather for saying "cumburger" live on air; former rugby player Michael Jones; former What Now! 'star' Anthony Samuels; and the Rev Tavake Tupou, a Tongan community and church leader. According to their blurb, Rev Tupou and his wife "have 4 children and have lost count of the number of grandchildren!" This clear negligence towards their grandchildren certainly does not shout 'family first' to me.

This story really gets interesting when you see the reply that came in response to this email:

Dear Mr [???],
Thanks very much for your email. You're right, of course, he's a one-man lobby group, but it's one of the treasures of our small democracy that ordinary citizens can speak out and have an effect. Please feel free to send me press releases from the Society for Informed Debate!
With best wishes,
[Reporter X]

[Reporter X], Social Issues Reporter, New Zealand Herald
My correspondent didn't really know what to think about this reply, and nor do I. The original criticism was two-fold: that a large, well-resourced newspaper relied for comment on an 'organisation' that was just... a dude, and that the description of him as 'Family First director Bob McCoskrie' (cf. Bishop Brian Tamaki) rather than 'Bob McCoskrie, guy who likes families' gave him rather more mana and authority than he perhaps deserves. Perhaps you'll agree with me that, not only does this reply not clear up either of these issues, it also adds a couple of new ones:
  • If "ordinary citizens can speak out and have an effect", why bother with the 'Family First Trust' nonsense?
  • And why just stick with one "ordinary citizen" for every article about families? That doesn't seem very democratic.
  • Was he really encouraging press releases from the newly founded 'Society for Informed Debate'?
I found the sequence of events rather bizarre - but I don't have the time to sit around worrying about this. I'm no longer James Coe, guy who writes a blog; I'm James Coe, Executive Director (Blogging Services), Editing the Herald Foundation for Transparency in Media. I'm off to get some business cards made up...

15 comments:

  1. Oh, lordy. Excellent stuff.

    I've sent you an email about some other less serious but still perturbing crap in today's paper. Would be interested in your feedback!

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  2. Bryan Spondre can probably help you out with those business cards.

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  3. Actually, I think, given the free pass members of the "Society for Informed Debate" have just been given that we must rise to the occasion and form said society. I'd like to be the 'Member concerned with Conspiracy Theories;' you just call me the Conspiracy Theory Theorist.

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  4. "...it's one of the treasures of our small democracy that ordinary citizens can speak out and have an effect".

    Um, yeah. On 'talkback', maybe.

    But should this be one of the functions of 'New Zealand's Paper of Record' (tm) - to provide a platform for every individual with an opinion?

    Or, alternatively, (and colour me crazy), should they be getting on with some proper, genuine reporting? Y'know, providing the facts of a story, sifting the details, and providing balanced opiion from indiviuals who actually know what they're talking about, and not meddlesome individuals with big gobs.

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  5. 2006: Family First announces its Board of Reference

    Perhaps we could all get together and claim every major variation on "family"- and "children"-related lobby group names to hamper future wingnuts.

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  6. hang on... I thought this was about First Family, a lobby group that shares an oval shaped office with some other worthless organisation.

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  7. I bags "Family Fist"!

    I will now be writing in to correct Garth George every week as the director of Family Fist.

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  8. There is a lot of room for confusion.

    Don't get it mixed up with Family FIRTH:

    http://genealogy.links.org/links-cgi/family?/home/ben/camilla-genealogy/current+*Firth+2-2-0-1

    Or Family Second:

    http://www.familysecond.org/

    In other news, Family First is an anagram of 'My First Fail'. Telling.

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  9. EDITORIAL CRACKPIPEAugust 7, 2009 at 2:38 PM

    Go to http://www.familyfist.org.nz

    Seems I can't bags it for myself....

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  10. Fair enough, but this guy is a little bit more organised than a 'bloke down the street', and clearly devotes a lot of time to his cause.

    I don't agree with him, I think he's a shrieking, scaremongering idiot BUT he has profile.

    If any of you were to do as much as McCroskie on a given newsworthy subject, I'm sure you'd get some play in our very tiny, no news democracy.

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  11. Perhaps we should be encouraging the Herald to take a further step and wonder, in print if they so desire, how Bob McCoskrie has the time and money to build such a profile.

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  12. it would be nice to see a list of donors

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  13. Check out the Weekend Herald's so-called exclusive on the front page, apparently a scoop for Jared Savage, on Judge Mance QC scratching his neighbour's car.
    The Sunday News wrote about that - also exclusively - about three weeks ago. Only then the Truth wrote that it actually got the story first a whole seven weeks before that.
    What is an exclusive these days I wonder?
    Or was the exclusive part the fact that the guy is now being charged for it? Lame, lame lame, lame

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  14. Ha Ha, Family Fist. Gold!

    On www.familyfist.org.nz

    "If I did not reserve this domain name (www.familyfist.org.nz) some sad person would take it and use it to slander the good name of Family First"

    Whatever gave them that idea? I wouldn't worry though, I expect Family Fist should be run as a 'for profit' business anyway, charity and fists don't mix. And www.familyfist.co.nz is a go.

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  15. Start participating in the "debate" as Family Fist - see how long it would take for anyone to notice that you're not Family FIRST. You could further help those wily journalists by giving yourself a title below that of "Director" - I suggest Advocacy Manager.

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