Deborah Coddington: Witch hunts show Kiwis keen to stick the boot in

Peter Jackson is a victim of envy politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Peter Jackson is a victim of envy politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell

This country is really good at witch-hunts. Oh, how we love to whip up a frenzy of moral outrage which far outweighs the misdemeanours allegedly committed by those targeted for a metaphorical burning at the stake.

The first great witch-hunt I recall is 1984, when the late, great playwright and theatre director Mervyn Thompson was kidnapped by a marauding bunch of feminists, stripped near naked and tied to a tree.

They terrified half the life out of him by threatening to cut off his penis, then left him with a sign attached that called him a rapist.

His crime? Thompson admitted to having a consensual affair with a student. No one was charged over this ugly incident but, until his early death from throat cancer eight years later, his plays were picketed by demonstrators.

Then came persecution of male doctors, particularly gynaecologists and obstetricians.

Not that they weren't controversial, but the outrage far outweighed their so-called crimes.

First was Herbert Green, doctor at the centre of the Cartwright Inquiry, alleged to have experimented on women at National Women's Hospital who had cervical cancer.

It was not safe to mention the words "unfortunate experiment" at polite dinner parties unless you wished to clear the room, such was the polarising effect of this topic.

The subject is so touchy that 23 years after Metro magazine published Sandra Coney's first article on the matter, the Press Council only recently dismissed a complaint of biased reporting against the NZ Listener for publishing an article on this "Cancer scandal".

After Green there followed a witch-hunt against Whangarei gynaecologist Graham Parry and there was no shortage of women queuing to put the boot in. About that time, GPs who did obstetrics were becoming thin on the ground as domiciliary midwives were mandated to move on to their territory.

The fight became political when a leader of the midwifery movement stated men went into specialist obstetrics to have power over women at the most vulnerable moment of their lives.

Then we moved from medics to media. Paul Holmes copped it for his "cheekie darkie" comment. Tony Veitch certainly paid the price for mishandling a bust-up with his girlfriend, and everything's been said about Paul Henry.

Poor old Sir Peter Jackson's crime, it seems, is to be incredibly talented and make a pile of money. The witch-hunt in the letters pages is despicable and nothing to do with Actors' Equity's stated aim of just wanting fair and equitable conditions.

Roy Billing, an expat luvvie, penned a catty missive from Sydney, damning Jackson with faint praise for adapting "other people's famous books and classic films", then said Kiwi actors getting the same deal as Australians wouldn't stop Jackson "being able to pay the fuel bills for his Lear jet".

Another letter cut straight to the chase and called Jackson a "greedy rich punter seeking to exploit the low-paid and vulnerable".

We're not just good at witch-hunts - we also excel at envy politics. And can't Actors' Equity see that getting Peter Jackson, instead of screen producers' organisation Spada, to set their pay rates is like the PPTA going to the principal of King's College to settle a pay dispute instead of the Minister of Education?

So what will become of Hon Justice William Wilson, sent to the judicial conduct commissioner, who recommended a judicial conduct panel, which was quashed by the High Court, only to be sent back to the judicial conduct commissioner for another go?

A legal process, which was supposed to be confidential until the judge appeared before the panel, was thwarted and turned into a witch-hunt by retired judge and complainant Sir Edmund Thomas, who leaked information. Will this man, too, be hounded from office, even if it takes many months of legal appeals?

Finally, one thing puzzles me. This week there was virtually no adverse comment when Chris Kahui calmly told the coroner that yes, he would have called a vet if his puppy wasn't breathing but didn't do the same for his babies.

That the tiny boys weren't fed for 24 hours but he lied to police to look like a good father. And when he admitted, under oath, that he gave one story at his trial and another at the inquest.

Why no frothing, moral outrage here, do you think?

- Herald on Sunday

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