It is common in election years for political parties under pressure to attempt to shoot the messenger. In 2005, the Herald was stridently criticised and accused of bias by National supporters for our reportage of Dr Don Brash and the Exclusive Brethren. In 2008 it was the turn of Winston Peters and his New Zealand First people to call for resignations of the editor and political editor for the inconvenient revelation of funding from millionaire Owen Glenn, despite his "No" sign. Last election it was National partisans again, livid at the Herald on Sunday and Herald for John Key and John Banks talking openly before a microphone accidentally left on their "cup of tea" table in a cafe.
This year it is the turn of Labour and its leader, David Cunliffe, incensed at reporting on the donations to the party and its MPs by the controversial Chinese migrant Donghua Liu -- and that party's connections to him. Mr Cunliffe is considering unspecified legal options against the Herald. Party supporters have weighed in with accusations of political bias and complicated right-wing conspiracies.
The noise obscures the validity of the Herald's reporting. Investigations editor Jared Savage began his reports in March on Donghua Liu and the circumstances of his being granted citizenship. The focus then was on Liu's donations to National after his citizenship was approved by a National minister against official advice. Savage then revealed Liu had been charged with domestic violence, followed by the revelation that National's Maurice Williamson intervened in Liu's case by contacting the police -- which led to Williamson's resignation as minister and criticism from some in National of the Herald's story.
Savage then learned Liu had made donations to Labour as well in 2007, the party claiming no record of such funding. Next we revealed Mr Cunliffe, a day after denying any advocacy for Liu during his residency application, had, in fact, sent a letter to the Immigration Service outlining Liu's investment intentions and giving them a hurry-up in making a decision.
This was all very inconvenient for National and then Labour but pertinent to the public interest in an election year.
At the weekend, the Herald on Sunday reported from a signed statement by Liu in which he appeared to claim he spent $100,000 on wine at a Labour fundraiser and $50,000-$60,000 hosting former Labour MP Rick Barker in China. The paper verified the document was from Liu and put its claims to Mr Cunliffe and the Labour Party.
On Wednesday, Liu provided the Herald with another statement, after being pressed for more detail, in which he corrected his previous implication that $100,000 was paid for a bottle of wine and limited his total spend on Labour and its MPs when it was in power to "close to $100,000".
The Herald immediately published his clarification, with prominence on our website, where it remains, and amended the Herald on Sunday story online. The Sunday paper will publish a clarification this weekend.
Liu's mis-statement, however, has been grasped as proof of Herald complicity in a plot against Labour. The claim is risible, across the range of political coverage but also explicitly over the Herald's investigation of National and Labour and their damaging cosiness with Donghua Liu.
We regret having reported inflated and conflated dollar figures.
The core issue remains, however: At a minimum, removing Mr Barker's China trip and a donation to a rowing club the MP's daughter belonged to, Labour faces Liu's claim that he made $38,000 in donations to the party and anonymously through MPs.
We make no apology for seeking the truth behind political parties' donations and possible cronyism. Inevitably, that hits raw nerves in election year.
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