By ALAN PERROTT
Charlotte Dawson's birth mother has come out swinging over The Great Debate, screened on TVOne.
Carole Warner wrote to the Herald after the show was broadcast on Wednesday to complain that she was "tired of the Charlotte Dawson-bashing".
"For the past year I have been forming a relationship with Charlotte, one which I have been wishing and hoping for for over 38 years. It has been very emotional and, at times, difficult for both of us.
"There are other people's feelings involved too - those of her new family and her adoptive family. Is it too much to ask 'give it a rest?' "
Speaking last night, Ms Warner said the attacks had been hard on her family. "My 12-year-old son, her brother, heard those comments and they really hurt. He said, 'Mum, she's not that bad is she?'
"I tried to explain to him about the media and how they say nasty things about each other. And Charlotte has a new grandmother who heard it as well. She met her a couple of times and loves her to bits.
"Everybody thinks she [Charlotte] is a toughie and can wear it, but there's so much judging going on, there's a lot of jealousy and really it's pathetic. These people were trying so hard for their satire but they were ended up hurting people."
The Great Debate asked whether New Zealand was a nation of idols or an idle nation and, according to ACNielsen, was the highest rating show for its time slot that night, attracting about 36 per cent of all viewers watching at the time.
Actor and television presenter Oliver Driver threw the first low blow. He wore a little black dress he claimed Dawson had ripped off after a few drinks so she could dance on a table.
The Lord of the Rings actor Craig Parker then poked a fistful of knives into the fresh wound: "Whereas Edmund Hillary would climb a mountain for publicity, unkind scribes would suggest Charlotte would just climb the publicist ... as we do for Sir Edmund, allow Charlotte and us some simple dignity. After all, in later life it's surely better to be known for opening hospitals than for having a hospitable opening."
There was no mercy from radio personality Kerre Woodham who, after noting this country's enthusiasm for four-legged celebrities like Shrek the sheep, suggested it was "no wonder Charlotte thought it would be easy to make it in this funny little country, and she's right.
"But I don't want to shag odious oiks and be filmed doing it wearing nothing but thigh-high boots and a dyed-blonde racing stripe where any honest woman's growler should be."
Paul Holmes appeared to offer Dawson a sympathetic hand up, but finished with a kick to the shins.
"There have been a lot of references to Charlotte tonight and they are often denigratory ... [But it's] not my fault that she's fallen in with a bad, ugly crowd."
Celebrities have to be able to laugh at themselves said Nicky Pellegrino, editor of the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, but Dawson would need the hide of a rhinoceros not to be hurt by the show's attacks.
"I guess she's an easy target."
An Auckland University popular culture expert, associate professor Nick Perry, said such vicious attacks created the controversy and excess that television networks used to keep viewers watching.
By ALAN PERROTT