Pauline Wetton: Dirty Politics - with friends like these ...


Politicians, media are giving life to bloggers who deal in degradation and obscenity, writes Pauline Wetton

The Prime Minister and others should disassociate themselves from commentators such as Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater. Picture / APN
The Prime Minister and others should disassociate themselves from commentators such as Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater. Picture / APN

I am a 74-year-old student of politics at the University of Auckland, so I am not uninformed or naive about politics and politicians. In spite of my distaste for the attitudes expressed, I have occasionally checked out the Whale Oil blog as part of my studies. In spite of this, a lot of the material quoted in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics made me feel literally sick. It was not so much the dirty politics that affected me - even though that was pretty disgusting at times - it was the tone of the conversations on Facebook and in the emails that really struck home.

Seldom can a group of political "activists" - although that gives activists a bad name - have displayed such sniggering callousness and cynicism. The quotations Hager included revealed the frequent use of sexual obscenities and innuendo - at times in every second or third word. The overall effect is to degrade the idea of the poor and anyone who opposes the policies they espouse. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Nixon tapes in which obscenities were equally frequent and equally offensive.

But the section I found most difficult to read included the comments about Christchurch after the earthquake, in which people's pain and misery were held up to scorn. It should be beyond any comprehension that in a time of national tragedy, these "activists" were prepared to use politically biased invective against the very people who were suffering the most. Calling those who lived in the worst-affected areas scum, and saying National should let them rot, shows an appalling lack of empathy or any feelings not based firmly in self-interest that are typical of many of the quoted passages.

My father, when I was growing up in Taranaki in the 1940s and 50s, used to repeat what he saw as useful sayings to help us discriminate between good and bad behaviours. "You made your bed, now you lie in it" meant that we must take responsibility for our actions; but the two that come to mind as being particularly relevant were "Birds of a feather flock together" - meaning that people with poor attitudes or behaviours would stick together and should be avoided by any sensible person. The second meaning was, I think, biblical, stating we are judged to a large extent by the people we choose as friends so we should be careful about the types of people we mix with.

I feel all of these hold a good message for John Key and many in the media. If the media take advantage of so-called "leaks" and use them without adequate factual checking they are as guilty as the originators of the leaks and "smear". Each time programmes such as the Panel from 4pm to 5pm on Radio NZ National give them airtime they are helping give these people the very public profiles they need to cover their more covert activities.

John Key is the Prime Minister of New Zealand - not of a particular advocacy group - and he should disassociate himself from such people and their activities by publicly cutting them loose. He must also now be aware that Slater told a friend/friends that the Prime Minister rang him to commiserate over the uproar that followed the "feral" comment in Slater's blog - although I cannot believe Key actually used the invective dressed in obscenity that Slater attributed to him. If we are to be judged by the sorts of people we associate with, such relationships would not be desirable for him to continue with.

Birds of a feather do flock together - feathering their own nests to the detriment of the political life of our democracy. What is more important? Winning the political game? Or playing it with at least a modicum of honesty and integrity?

In nature, flocks of birds are things of beauty, but the "flock" recently the focus of our news is anything but.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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