Rodney Hide: Real facts buried under the twitterings of idiots

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What's politically hard is any attempt to fire up the country's economic cylinders. Or to fix the desperately broken welfare system. Or to ensure teachers teach. Photo / Mark Mitchell
What's politically hard is any attempt to fire up the country's economic cylinders. Or to fix the desperately broken welfare system. Or to ensure teachers teach. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Croatian taxi driver asked: "Politics! Easier now? Or harder?"

"Harder," I replied. "Much harder."

"Yes. Christchurch. Earthquake."

"And media."

"Yes. Media. This much opinion. That much news." His hands illustrate 90 per cent opinion. Ten per cent news.

"And faster," I add.

Political news now is tweeted, blogged and updated on news sites instantaneously. By the time it appears in print, and on radio and TV, it's old news.

But that instant reporting is journalist opinion. News is reported fast but there's no time for analysis or reflection. And as the news cycle develops, the reporting doesn't deepen, just more opinion is piled on.

The Croatian taxi driver described it perfectly.

"What I care journalist's opinion? I got opinion. Everyone got opinion. I want to know news. What happening."

And there it was. An immigrant to New Zealand explaining what it took me 15 years in Parliament to figure out.

Political reporting is opinion dished up as news. And the opinion is based on nothing but what others think. The critical 'others' being other reporters. There's a pack mentality in New Zealand's political reporting. We must be right, because all other reporters agree!

There's a logic to all of this. Who can be bothered with a boring report? Just give us the headline. And those dishing up the news in headlines want to be right and the best way to be right is to agree with every other headline.

In one way our "bread and circus" politics has made the politician's job easier.

The key for success is simple: Be Popular. Stay Popular. There's no need to think 10 years out or to make tough policy trade-offs. Far better that you don't.

What's politically hard is any attempt to fire up the country's economic cylinders. Or to fix the desperately broken welfare system. Or to ensure teachers teach.

Brutal decisions can still be made. Politicians had no trouble taxing everyone's fuel and power in a vain attempt to stop the planet cooking.

That's because there was consensus.

The UN had declared the science settled. Everyone that mattered agreed.

The hard thing was in opposing the tax.

The opinion that informs our news doesn't shift easy. Five years ago, the British Met Office was busy along with everyone else scaring the pants off us all. It had a "new system" to predict future weather using "world-class science".

The "world-class" science showed that the planet by now would be much hotter and getting hotter still. The Met Office trumpeted the scary result in a glossy brochure.

Five years on the Met Office now admits that there's been no statistically significant warming in 16 years. And that there will be none over the next five years. That's despite greenhouse gas emissions increasing at a rate faster than the gloomiest of gloomy forecasts of just five years ago.

There were no trumpets blaring for this result. There was no glossy brochure. No great headlines. The Met Office quietly slipped the "no change in world temperature" results onto its web page on Christmas Eve. There's no better time to drop facts that you don't want reported. There are no newspapers on Christmas Day and little news reporting.

The Met Office went out of its way to ensure that a 20-year hiatus in global warming went unreported. The facts can't be allowed to shake opinion or kill off a good story. There's no chance the political reporting here will now change or that the dopey Emissions Trading Tax will be dropped.

Opinion is against all that.

My Croatian taxi driver told me he had given up on the news. "Why read idiot opinion?"

And then, as if to prove his point, he asked, "Off to Parliament tomorrow?"

I had to explain that for me that was a lifetime ago. I'm with the Croatian. What care I for idiot opinion?

- Herald on Sunday

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