Steve Braunias: Craig v Slater - Great comedy, but no one laughed

Cameron Slater, left, and Colin Craig. Photos / File
Cameron Slater, left, and Colin Craig. Photos / File

One of the greatest comedy stand-up routines ever heard in New Zealand was performed at the Colin Craig vs Cameron Slater defamation trial in courtroom 14 at the High Court of Auckland today.

It went on, and on, and on, ever more wild and fanciful, and the humour was so shocking that no one actually laughed.

Was it even comedy? It was definitely stand-up, because that's how Cameron Slater appeared in the witness stand, on his feet, facing Craig in cross-examination.

Craig is defending himself in the counter-claim libel case. Each claim the other has published defamatory comments. Slater's case opened yesterday, when he read out a fairly dry opening statement. He saved his best material for cross-exam.

Slater wished to impress upon the court that he was, in fact, the greatest journalist who ever lived. His lengthy rambling answers affirmed that he was a titan of the fourth estate, a fearless investigative journalist who was deeply and widely respected, and had the ear of every politician, every editor, every thinking New Zealander.

It was humbling to sit with the other inky gentlemen of the press and listen to Slater's ravings. We were minnows. He was the Whale, and he rocked on his feet as he told his long, mad tale.

"I have a legion of followers...My blog is better than every other blog...In a few short months my figures will skyrocket. They will double...I busted Len Brown...I break a lot of stories...I'm respected for my political views.

"I know what most politicians are up to. There's plenty of them playing around...They can't keep secrets...I get things right...I talk to parties across the political spectrum...I told someone from John Key's office to get stuffed once."

He mentioned he was "a multi award-winning journalist". Craig asked him about this multitude of honours. Slater said something called Net Guide had twice named Whaleoil as best blog, and he also won a Canon media award for his Len Brown scoop.

"Three," said Craig. As a qualified accountant, he is an expert in addition.

"Well," Slater retorted, "my stats show I'm a winner!"

One of his best quips was, "I'm the same as any other media organisation. But in many respects, I'm better."

Craig asked how many contributors regularly wrote for Whaleoil. Well, said Slater, there was himself, his wife, and someone called Pete.

"Three," said Craig, once again deadly with numbers.

Justice Kit Toogood is presiding over the judge-alone trial. He leaned back, way back, as Slater delivered his monologues. One can only speculate, because a court report is no place for fearless investigation, but it seemed that His Honour regarded Slater with an expression that ran the not especially long gamut from horror to disbelief, then back again; by the time lunch was called, he looked tired, beat.

"There is no short answer," as Slater had said. He talked the door off a barn. He talked like a talk-back caller who you couldn't cut off.

"Left-wing ratbags...I gave [former Green MP] Kevin Hague a good hiding...I make people laugh."

Quite. At one point, he bragged that he was an in-demand political commentator. The proof was his regular appearances talking about politics on Channel 83.

"I've been on every show bar one," he announced.

Channel 83! What the blazes is that? Can someone send out a search party? Craig should have asked - he's good at numbers - but Slater had moved on.

Supporters, possibly including his wife and someone called Pete, smiled from the public gallery. He had their ear.

- NZ Herald

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