Toby Manhire 's Opinion

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Nothing to see in dirty politics

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Nicky Hager, at the launch of his latest book, Dirty Politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nicky Hager, at the launch of his latest book, Dirty Politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell

What a beat-up. A song and dance. A palaver, a froufrou, a fuss. Dirty Politics, he calls it - how attack politics is poisoning New Zealand's political environment. Probably already you've nodded off. Move along.

As political analyst John Key pointed out even before the subject of the book was known, Nikki Hagger, or whatever it is he calls himself, is a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist.

You may note that New Zealand's most experienced investigative journalists regard him, as one put it this week, as "a bloody good journalist". You may note his work has been lauded by everyone from David Lange to Seymour Hersh. You may indeed, because this is just the sort of thing a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist apologist would do.

Frankly, you're all making a mountain out of a blowhole. Think about it. Heger calls his screed Dirty Politics but he himself is dirty-politicking. Sure, the digital correspondence he publishes paints a picture of a squalid extension of the prime ministerial spin machine in the form of a senior staffer called Jason Ede who colludes with attack blogger Cameron Slater to launch ethically reprehensible salvoes against political opponents.

Indeed, reading the contents of the book may cause you to vomit a little and despair about political culture in New Zealand.

It could do that. But when you peel yourself from the floor, consider what really matters: how did Hogor get hold of these exchanges? By his own admission, the Slater papers handed to him had been hacked. Yes, he explains the public interest justification for publication, pointing out that "the materials raise very serious matters of political accountability", noting that he has not included "a considerable amount of very personal information about relationships and other subjects, where the right to privacy outweighs any public interest", and adding: "The fact that Slater and his associates have made a career of exposing the very private details of other people's lives does not make it right to do that to them." But, you know, hacking plus cynical timing equals dirty. Yet he accuses them of dirtiness! Potato, potahto. Let's call the whole thing off.

Beyond the beltway, ordinary hardworking New Zealanders will be saying: enough, let's talk hardcore policy. They don't want baseless, leftist innuendo and gossip. Tittle and tattle. Scuttle and butt. Not a word of it is true. Unless it is true, in which case - duh! - surprised face! About as shocking as wind in Wellington. Everyone's at it, always have been. Perfectly normal. Nature of politics. The right do it, the left do it, even educated fleas do it. You're probably doing it now, you dirty little tyke.

As anyone can see, Higgor has published an inverted pyramid of piffle. What reasonable person would get excited about correspondence that suggest the PM's longest-serving press guy may have collaborated with Slater in probing unattended Labour party membership databases, about claims the man a couple of doors down from the PM on the Beehive's ninth floor was complicit in arranging an Official Information request for material from the SIS that would embarrass the Labour leader?

So what if there is material that invites suspicion Slater called in a favour to have a prisoner transferred? Who really cares about attempts by Slater and his hunting pal Simon Lusk ("the biggest buzz I get is when I wreck someone," he's quoted as saying) to skew the National candidate selection process through smear campaigns, especially given the importance of the game in Sydney tomorrow night?

Your shoulders will ache from all the shrugging. Is it such a big deal if a prime minister who deplores "News of the World-style tactics" and "bottom-feeders" consorts with a venomous blogger who, according to Dirty Politics, receives the lion's share of his income courtesy of the tobacco industry? Does it truly matter if the minister of justice and frontrunner for next leader is close friend, confidant and informant to someone who has mocked a dead baby, called a victim of a car crash a "feral" who did the "world a favour" by dying and, according to an exchange published by Hager describes Christchurch tenants displaced from their homes by the 2011 earthquake as "scum"? Call him what you like; she calls him "better informed and better read than any other news outlet or social media".

And in any case, when the dust settles, none of it will make the slightest difference to the polls. Because as everyone knows polls don't read books. Polls are inanimate objects.

If you remain bothered by the threads connecting the PM's office and the gutter blogging of Whale Oil, there's no helping you, you're a troll, a hater at the trough.

Anyone who thinks John Key needs to sort out the behaviour in his own office is probably a knucklehead, bitter that the PM never calls them. And by the way, Kim Dotcom needs to answer questions about the decision to pick Smith over Dagg at fullback.

To conclude. It didn't happen, we all knows it happens, everyone does it, and Nocky Hoggard is a crackpot. And if you cover your ears and shut your eyes and roar like a tiger into the sky, there is nothing at all to see here.

Debate on this article is now closed. Readers are reminded to keep their comments to a publishable standard.

- NZ Herald

Toby Manhire

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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