It was a night to remember and publican Leo Molloy had organised special cocktails, all named for various people in the media. First on the list was Softc**k Simon Says, featuring anonymous “spirits” and “liqueur”.
“Harmless fun in a good cause,” he’d told this reporter earlier. There was also Alison Mau’s Bitter and Twisted.
Mau used to run Stuff’s #MeToo project when she worked there. She was not present.
The event was the Dame Marie Quinn Memorial Debate, a celebrity affair hosted by Molloy on Tuesday night in his Viaduct bar HQ. The good cause was the Auckland Mayoral Relief Fund.
The moot was “That all media are drongos”, a reference to a WhatsApp message by Mayor Wayne Brown during this year’s anniversary weekend storm. He told his tennis group he couldn’t play because he had to “deal with media drongos over the flooding”.
The lineup of debaters included Brown, former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, former and would-be-again politician Shane Jones, comedian Guy Williams, politician Judith Collins and radio presenter Sean Plunket.
Molloy was also on the panel, along with a young Labour Party activist, Jacques Maitland.
As is usual in celebrity debates, the participants were free with their language. The following is presented without comment.
Molloy invited the Herald to attend the debate and wanted it to be written up. The participants knew this and the Herald talked to most of them before it started.
Plunket led for the affirmative, with a list of apologies for people he said couldn’t be there. Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau was absent, he said, because “she’s on the piss”.
Then he said, “She might be here but we wouldn’t recognise her because she wouldn’t have her makeup on.”
Veteran NewstalkZB journalist Barry Soper, also absent, had sent a note saying, “I’m at the maternity ward, awaiting the birth of my next wife.”
Soper and his wife Heather du Plessis-Allan welcomed the birth of their son last year.
Introducing Maitland, he said, “He’s an urban planner. I know a lot of you hear that and think a***hole. But he’s not ... He’s a member of the Labour Party. Any other members of the Labour Party here tonight? No? Not one.”
Henry, he said, was “not the sort of guy who would breakdance after an All Blacks victory”.
Brown interjected, “He breaks wind!”
Plunket said he could say all media are drongos because he has “transitioned” from being one himself. He is now a “social media influencer”. He joked that the audience for his radio station the Platform is “incredibly diverse”. It’s “full of 50-plus farmers from Southland who hate co-governance and will vote Act”.
He wound up declaring, “The media are clearly all drongos, which is why I left. How do we stop them? Don’t read them, don’t listen to them.”
Brown led for the negative. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, hello darlings, sl*ts and whores, drongos, dickheads, family, friends, f***wits,” he said. “And the occasional intelligent person who shouldn’t be here.”
Arguing for the negative was hard, he said, because “everyone knows in their hearts the media are drongos”. The only thing he could think of that would be harder was “arguing in favour of the Greens’ financial policy”.
He told the crowd, “I have two stalkers, who are not drongos.” One was Stuff journalist Todd Niall, the other was “Simon Bloody Wilson, the well-known urinal decorator who is rather obsessed with me. He’s been rubbishing me for 18 months … Nevertheless, Simon is a good person.”
Maitland argued the media were intent on “destroying the lives of politicians”.
Molloy suggested three things divide us as a nation: “Jacinda Ardern, Cook Strait and Ted F***ing Henry for giving Ian Foster the job after him.”
He described Williams’ parents as being “brother and sister” and said Williams was born in the country, he’s got six fingers, he’s not to be bred from”. Williams’ father was in the room, as Molloy knew, and seemed to take it in good grace.
Molloy’s beef with the media was that the value of Auckland’s waterfront land isn’t being exploited with a new stadium and other public uses. Media should do something about that, he declared.
Henry followed him. He said he had agreed to do the debate only because it was for a good cause.
“That little guy,” he said, pointing to Molloy, “has always been a good talker but he doesn’t do the business. I’ve been talking to some of his ladies and they say the same. All talk, can’t do the business.”
Then Henry introduced himself.
“I’m a humble guy, so it’s hard for me to tell you this. But we won 87.5 per cent of our games. We won three Grand Slams and five Tri-Nations series. I’m feeling bloody embarrassed about this, but I won the IRB World Coach of the Year award five times. So I’ve got some credibility. The mayor over there has ‘We Get Sh** Done” on his cap, but he hasn’t done it.”
Then he turned to the debate topic itself. “The All Blacks are the best team of any sport in the world but the media treat them like sh**.”
He said the media drove Wayne Smith out of the ABs coaching job by “influencing the board”, but “I got him back”. The media, he added, “tried to make sure Smith, Henry and [Steve] Hansen weren’t reappointed” after the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal loss. “Thank Christ those drongos didn’t get their way.”
He finished up with a plea. “What we want is for the media to be positive, to support this country instead of knocking it, to help with making it great again.”
Then it was the turn of Guy Williams. “What the f*** is going on here?” he demanded, before complaining the room was full of old people.
Last year, Williams famously interviewed Molloy when he was standing for Auckland mayor.
“I regret that interview,” said Williams, “because after Leo withdrew we got f***ing Wayne Brown.” He complained that Brown had done little as mayor.
“What do you want me to do?” shouted Brown.
“Organise the f***ing council, Wayne,” Williams responded. “You’re the f***ing mayor!”
Williams jokingly hailed the “diverse range of people in the room, from the right to the far right”, which was met with groans. Someone threw a napkin at him.
Then he turned to Collins. “I thought Judith got a hard rap,” he said. “Then I met her. They got it spot on.”
In his view, Collins was “a robot invented by Labour to bring down the Nats”.
When Collins spoke, she started with the mayor. “Wayne Brown is a good mate. Mainly because he will always say something worse than I will.”
As for Jones, she said from time to time in their careers they had been close.
“Were you watching blue movies together?” interjected Brown.
She was interested to hear Plunket call himself an ex-journalist: “It’s a bit like being an ex-parrot.”
She also revealed that before she came to the debate, people asked if she was worried she would be “the only flower of femininity” in the room. “But I told them, ‘No, I’m used to it. I’m in the National Party’.”
All media are definitely drongos, she argued, “because if they weren’t they’d be MPs”.
Law professor David Round, who was moderating the debate, told her, “You’re a force of nature and we’re going to name the next cyclone after you.”
Shane Jones said he’d asked his team leader, the mayor, what he should talk about, and Brown had said, “Just tell Māori jokes from the North.”
“Drongo,” Jones said, “is close to the Māori word rongo, which can mean medicine.” So it wasn’t an insult, not really.
“I’m defending the media,” he said, “because they never give up. You spend one night with the blue movies.”
This was a reference to Jones having been caught out as a Cabinet minister charging hotel porn to his ministerial expenses. The incident came up frequently.
Then it was time for the rights of reply. Brown said he wasn’t sure if his side had proved the media are not all drongos, but “we’ve certainly found the other side are all clowns”.
He referred to the “former prime minister, whatshername, who f***ed the country”, before saying that in the coming election “we’ve got a choice between cancer and polio”.
He reminded the audience he had promised to “decide who’s going to be the Government. They’ve both done bugger all for Auckland and later in the election campaign I’ll tell you who to vote for.”
“The media are not all drongos,” he added, “but it would be nice if they did their job.” He seemed to mean they should report on the world more in line with how he saw it.
Sean Plunket used his reply to suggest the media are drongos because, when the anniversary weekend storm broke, they focused on calling Brown “a w**ker”.
It wasn’t clear who won, or even who was on what side, and nobody appeared to care anyway. Brown was presented with a miniature road cone, to remind him to fulfil his promise to do something about them.
“Thanks very much for this little cone,” he said. “It’s not quite big enough to shove up someone’s bottom.”
After the formalities, Brown got up to sing. He started with “Hit the road, Goff, better f*** off, right now, right now, right now, right now.” He had verses in the same vein.
After a bit of that, Megan Alatini joined him. The former True Bliss singer is a friend of Molloy and had introduced the evening. “I’m not going to go there,” she said about Brown’s lyrics, and instead sang the original words: “Hit the road, Jack …”
Brown stopped swearing about Goff and sang the proper chorus with her.
Asked about his comments the next day, the office of the mayor said, “The debate event was a light-hearted evening which raised $13,000 for Auckland flood relief.
“In the spirit of the evening, the mayor’s comments were not serious, intentionally self-deprecating and a deliberate self-conscious exaggeration of the media’s perception of the mayor and other speakers.”
Upstairs in the men’s toilets, Molloy had arranged for images of media companies to be stuck to the urinals, where they could be urinated on. Yes, pictures of this reporter were included.
Brown might still be making the urinal joke, but the Herald is not aware he has actually ever acted on it.
Simon Wilson is a senior writer covering politics, the climate crisis, transport, housing, urban design and social issues, with a focus on Auckland. He joined the Herald in 2018.