Looking back, Ian Wishart thinks maybe God had a hand in his first big break in journalism. The late convert to evangelical Christianity has made a name for himself over the years, chasing stories no one else would.

When no one else would publish them he set up his own company, putting out a string of books and launching the controversial Investigate magazine, where he can publish whatever he likes, written by whoever he likes, including many articles by himself.

Many are controversial - for example, he claims a connection between abortion and breast cancer - and others show his dislike of the Government's so-called social agenda.

Or, as a proponent of "intelligent design", he might enter the Creation debate and write off evolution.

It was through his magazine that he hit the mainstream headlines again, but the latest controversy has less to do with Wishart's crusading zeal and more to do with a politician who said too much.

Wishart printed comments made by embattled Labour MP John Tamihere over a lunch meeting and Tamihere has defended himself by saying he did not know he was being taped.

Wishart says this is nonsense, that Tamihere knew exactly what he was doing.

He says Tamihere has, in fact, won the day by keeping his job and setting himself apart as a tough Maori MP in the battle with the Maori Party for the Tamaki Makaurau electorate in the upcoming election.

He has managed to establish himself as not being part of Labour's politically correct brigade which was, says Wishart, a clever branding statement by Tamihere.

In his view, the trouble-prone MP has not only increased his public profile tenfold but has made the Labour administration look weak.

Wishart, too, has had a successful week. His 7000-plus circulation magazine ($7.50 a copy) has pretty much sold out.

The reporter's public profile, too, has increased tenfold and it has been great for business. Interesting, too, say some media commentators, that a lot of Tamihere's comments, the ones on Labour's social agenda at least, seem to be in line with Wishart's own views as indicated in his sometimes editorialising and Christian moralistic magazine.

The reporter has become the news.

Wishart is probably still best known for the Winebox. The Winebox became his mission and he made a respected TVNZ documentary for the old Frontline programme, which is credited with bringing big business tax dodges to the masses in an understandable format.

Some say it was this which gave the long-running Winebox Inquiry traction before Winston Peters jumped in.

Later, Wishart had more television exposure as a face when he fronted a reality show Real TV, drubbed by Herald television critic Greg Dixon who suggested Wishart might like to jump off a building himself.

Wishart took it in good humour, though, writing to Dixon and saying, "It was a rare pleasure to be savaged with wit."

Those who know Wishart speak highly of his good humour. He is a likeable fellow, easy to get along with and a bit cheeky and mischievous.

He is also driven, complex and obsessive. Former colleagues say he lives and breathes journalism and is a damn good journalist, albeit one prone to go off the deep end chasing conspiracy theories. None say he is devious.

Wishart began his career straight from school. He did a journalism course at the then Wellington Polytechnic and was thrilled when he was sent to Radio Windy for work experience.

It just so happened that when the rookie arrived for work one May holiday there was a chemical spill at the Wellington Railway Station and a hostage drama unfolding in the central city.

It was mana from heaven. Wishart was in his element, out and about in a Radio Windy car, with a lightning bolt news symbol on the side, driving from emergency to emergency.

He tells the Herald: "I managed to get a carpark basically 50m away from this building and I could see through the window where this guy was holding people hostage with a knife and I think a gun as well and there was this enormous stand off, the area had been cordoned off and I was just giving blow-by-blow descriptions of police entering the room and grabbing the guy and on the strength of that Windy said 'nah, we'll have you ... "'

He loved it. Back then, Wishart, now 40, had no particular belief in God. He may once have laughed at what he is about to say of that day which kick-started his career.

"As a Christian I'd look back in hindsight and say, yeah, it was God's purpose for me."

Former colleagues were a little surprised when Wishart found God about five years ago but none are surprised at how much he has found God. It is very him, they say. He's a boots-and-all kind of guy.

He told the Herald how it happened. He had already come to a private belief in God but when he attended a baptism ceremony to support his wife, Heidi, he was struck by God himself.

"It was exactly like a lightning bolt," he recalls. There was a blinding flash of white and he was conscious of an absolute presence which filled him.

This former "supernatural sceptic" was paralysed for 15 to 20 minutes, not able to talk or walk.

"I guess that was God's way of breaking through the various intellectual barriers I would have to it and saying 'Well, okay, I can get at you and I can show you in a way you're not ready for . . '."

National Business Review editor-in-chief Nevil Gibson was Wishart's first boss at Radio Windy. "He was a real go-getter, no question about that," he says. "Loved doing the police work, always chasing ambulances as we say."

He was a rare journalist with an incredible amount of zeal, both for the story and for seeking out what was behind the story.

NBR serialised his book The Paradise Conspiracy. After Wishart had a parting of the ways with TVNZ, for criticising in the book delays by the television network before the Frontline documentary finally went to air, he went on to write a weekly wrap-up of the Winebox inquiry for NBR.

But his connections with NBR have decreased since the launch of Investigate. Why ? "How can I put this?" says Gibson, pointing to Wishart's swing to a fundamentalist line, particularly on issues such as the Creation.

Gibson still respects Wishart's journalism and ability to get out there "but someone who undergoes such a shift in ideas usually turns their journalism to suit those ideas, shall we say".

He agrees with others who believe Wishart was trying to undermine Labour with the recent Tamihere interview.

Wishart, Gibson says, has had an anti-Labour agenda towards the Helen Clark-led Government and a 2003 article was "what you might call a classic hatchet job on Helen Clark".

THE story was an examination of Helen Clark's psyche and sexuality which Wishart concluded were leading Labour on the path to social reform, such as civil unions, which he does not like.

He called the article "The Seige of Helengrad" but told the Herald he was not anti-gay or out to get Labour, or Helen Clark as an individual.

"We came out and said that she had those beliefs, that effectively that she was, from what we had gleaned, gay but not practising ... "

He has no interest, he claims, in what Helen Clark does in bed. What he is interested in is fair, open and honest debate and sees Investigate as providing some of the checks and balances needed.

Media commentator Russell Brown says while he admires Wishart, as he admires anyone in independent publishing, he finds Wishart's claim he is not interested in what Helen Clark does in bed "amusing - given that he has previously seemed somewhat obsessed with the belief that Clark is a covert lesbian".

As for his religious beliefs, Brown says he's entitled to them but they do damage some of the more serious stories in the magazine.

And some of it gets a bit sinister, Brown says, as in the claim of a connection between abortion and breast cancer. It is a claim Brown says is not supported by the evidence "and clearly derived from material from the American religious right, as is his touting of 'intelligent design"'.

"The effect is to demonstrate that at least some of the time Wishart has an agenda that overwhelms reason."

Independent managing editor Jenni McManus, one of the key players in breaking the Winebox story back in the early 1990s, says Wishart is no joke and that religious conversions can "happen in the best-regulated households".

His Frontline documentary was a "stunning piece of work - without him it would have remained an arcane piece of tax interpretation".

She always found him to be straight, ethical, a good writer - and courageous. "Yes, he's a conspiracy theorist but all the other stuff makes up for it."

Old friend and former boss Steve Bloxham was chief-of-staff when TV3 was set up and Wishart was hired as part of the original news team. Bloxham remembers first clapping eyes on Wishart at a Winebox press conference when he still worked for radio.

"This whirlwind burst through the door, radio reporter with his tape recorder and microphone in his hand and skidded, sort of half falling like a rugby tackle across the floor into the corner, holding up his microphone as he did it."

The entrance pretty much summed up the man, he says: "Flat tack, full on and lives journalism. When his eyes are open he's reporting."

While other journalists were filing daily news reports Wishart was not just doing that but also working on projects, going off in his trenchcoat to clandestine meetings.

"He did things like he'd arrive at my place at home with a [television] crew at night with somebody involved with a story that he sort of smuggled into the house and did the interview in my lounge - this sort of stuff - even way back then."

In Bloxham's opinion, New Zealand does not have enough Wisharts.

He agrees with others who say Wishart needs to be reined in and kept on track and maybe three out of four conspiracy theories remain conspiracy theories.

"But when you hit that fourth, it's a big story. I mean, Watergate was once a conspiracy - that's probably what I'm saying."

- Additional reporting by Janet McAllister

Revealing the Wishart style

One of Ian Wishart's interests is known as "intelligent design", which he describes as a midway point between the extremes of creation and evolution. His explanation reveals the Wishart style.

"ID scientists have been looking at the molecular similarity between different species and finding there's a lot of differences and also, significantly, that they're finding things within the cell."

The cell, Wishart says, is the smallest living organism and within it is the world's smallest rotary engine.

"They open up a cell with electromicroscopes and they can now see tiny little engines with little outboards almost exactly the way that we would design them. Because those individual components are not alive themselves, they cannot have evolved ... they can't have naturally selected themselves and bred.

" If it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, if it waddles like a duck it probably is a duck. What the scientists are saying is, 'Look, if we keep an open mind about this ... there's a lot of stuff we don't know,' and if perhaps this stuff was intelligently designed the big question is then: who by? Of course I've got my theory it's God, but other people could say aliens.

"Everyone's looking at the same evidence and evolutionists are saying we think it means this and ID scientists are saying we think it means this, but you're not required to go back to the Bible to prove the point, it's purely using the brain and saying okay, ... obviously it's an engine, well who put it there?"