Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Henry should live by his maxim

The former breakfast television host's interview in New Idea sounds whining and self-pitying. Photo / Supplied
The former breakfast television host's interview in New Idea sounds whining and self-pitying. Photo / Supplied

If television peacocks like Paul Henry can pay off the Perrier water accounts by selling their latest grey hair to a women's magazine, good luck to them.

But the disgraced breakfast television host's whiney, self-pitying spread in the latest New Idea is rather loathsome. What won't this man do for money? And the chance to get his face up in lights again?

Less than two months ago, the state television shock jock resigned after one gratuitous insult too many. His bosses were happy to see him go - mainly, it seems, because advertisers were getting twitchy.

Sweetening the leave-taking was a golden handshake variously estimated to be in the $150,000 to $500,000 range, He went with the old "I'm sorry if you're upset" excuse for an apology on his lips.

But now the real Paul Henry has crawled back to the surface, and it ain't a pretty sight.

They made me do it, bleats the once proud, self-made man, still blindly unaware of his sins and sounding like the sex offender who shuffles off to prison insisting the child led him on.

Mr Henry is a tireless preacher of the virtues of personal responsibility. He was, after all, an unsuccessful candidate for the National Party, which make this a core tenet of its political creed.

But the moment he has to step up and admit it was he and he alone that made racist and derogatory comments about a string of people, including the Governor-General and a a senior Indian politician, he's trying to hide behind his ex-boss's skirts.

He's not even owning up to collective guilt. He says he has "nothing to feel sorry about at all".

The guilty parties are his former masters at Television New Zealand.

"They did capitalise on me," he told New Idea.

"There was an acceptance of the entertainment value derived from the way I performed. I was the performing snake with the sting in its tail. The better the performance, the greater the encouragement. Then, when I turned around and bit someone's head off, they were happy to see the demise of the snake."

Admitting to "biting a head off" is as close as he comes to accepting he went too far. But the victim, it emerges, is not the person who lost their head, but the poor in-house reptile, who'd been let off the leash by his keepers and was just doing, it seems, what snakes do.

"I don't think it [TVNZ's treatment of him] was reasonable. I was surprised with the speed with which the mood changed."

This bleating is in sharp contrast to the bragging just over a year before in an interview with Kim Knight in the Sunday Star Times. She asked the "self-described 'famous A-lister"' if anyone held him "in check".

He replied, "No one really. And perhaps ... that is where I come perilously close to a lack of professionalism. It's that whole taking guidance thing, I think I know better than the people that guide me. Actually, if I was entirely honest with you, I know better than the people that guide me."

He then went on to claim that "everyone is a racist. It's just a question of degrees."

When asked about the 13 complaints filed against him to the Broadcasting Standards Authority in the previous two years he said, "I don't know if anyone else has achieved that, but I'll tell you what, I wear that as a badge of honour."

In other words, it was all his own work and he was bloody proud of it. But now this badge has lost its sheen, he can't get rid it fast enough. They made me do it. I'm innocent.

He also witters on about being the victim of the Government's apology for his comments to the Indian Government.

"We are apologising for one person in the country exercising their right to freedom of speech. I think that's an outrage."

Every journalist, except, it seems Mr Henry, knows they have no open licence to, among other things, defame, libel, yell fire in a crowded theatre or make racist "jokes".

In the case of state broadcasters, there is also the Broadcasting Standards Authority's free-to-air television code, and more importantly, TVNZ's charter requirement to, amongst other things, "promote understanding of the diversity of cultures making up the New Zealand population".

In trying to dump all responsibility for his comments on to the shoulders of the state broadcaster, Mr Henry has got it about half right.

It did untie the reptile's leash and rubbed its hands together in delight as audiences and advertising revenue grew.

It egged him on. Indeed, even after the insult that proved terminal, his request to the Prime Minister that the next Governor- General be "more like a New Zealander," TVNZ's publicist rushed to his defence saying Mr Henry was "prepared to say the things we quietly think but are too scared to say out loud".

Only when the advertisers got restless was the rug finally pulled.

Mr Henry says TVNZ led him on, and it did, but so what? Personal responsibility means just that.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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