Have we ever seen a more stunning election result? Watching the campaign it was hard to believe the attack on the character of John Key would have no effect.

Even when polls showed the public unmoved by the hatchet book and the news frenzy that followed, it seemed hardly possible that none of the muck would stick.

People who don't read carefully could have assumed the worst. At the very least, we could have seen a low turn-out. But it wasn't so bad. More eligible voters went to a polling booth this time than last.

When the country speaks its common sense can be profound. It wasn't just the endorsement of a good and decent man, the election result made nonsense of the conventional political wisdom that a single party cannot win an MMP majority.


It also delivered a decisive verdict on Dotcom and those who took his money. It decided, narrowly, not to put child-smacking conservatism in Parliament. Best of all, it denied Winston Peters another chance to play his old game.

If this was the ending to a political novel it would be criticised as too good to be true. All the villains have been vanquished.

The country has not seen an election campaign quite like it before. A few weeks ago I compared some of its excesses to the disruption of Holyoake's speeches in the Vietnam era but that was not as personal as the criticism directed at John Key.

It is hard to think of an attempted character assassination on the same scale. The nearest precedent is probably the "Citizens for Rowling" campaign against Muldoon in 1975 but its tone was civilised by comparison.

The worthy Citizens for Rowling got very little media support, unlike Dirty Politics which was lionised by newspapers and television for a fortnight. Night after night, the TV channels opened their bulletins with the book on the screen and breathless reports that it was dominating the news. Campbell Live erected boards outside bookshops with extracts printed large and wanted to know if passers-by were shocked.

The vote last Saturday was a resounding reminder that people make up their own minds. They are not always persuaded by a barrage of headlines and talking heads on television.

When media become an echo chamber for the coverage of their chosen story, people sense it.

Nor are most people easily duped. The great mistake of the left is to insult people's intelligence, as Nicky Hager did again after the election. "What we saw in the results was National won, Labour was pretty discredited and piles of people didn't vote - that's what my book was about," he told the Herald. "It shows their tricks and smears and the systematic abuse of power I wrote about has a damaging effect." That is how Hager works. He constructs a narrative in which he cannot be wrong. The book contended that Key deliberately and systematically uses right-wing blogs to damage opponents. The fact that Hager had little hard evidence of it was put forward as proof of how devious Key is.


Books like that can do your head in but their reasoning does not work in honest journalism. News coverage that went to the substance of the subject were about dealings you could expect between a Prime Minister's press secretary and a partisan but well-read blog. The voters obviously worked it out.

If Dirty Politics has given us anything to worry about it is not politics, it is journalism. The incident that led Key to sack Judith Collins, which was not in the book, was most revealing about how "new media" may be financed. A site as lively and widely read as Whale Oil, can charge to run the point of view of those who can afford to pay them.

Some say this is not journalism, let alone honourable journalism, but it may be the only journalism the internet can sustain. It is no secret that printed and broadcast media are struggling to maintain their news gathering ranks on the revenue they now have to earn in competition with the internet's interactive advertising and free content.

News companies around the world have by no means given up the task of finding new ways to sustain an independent, credible supply of public information but it is worth pondering what will happen if they cannot. The demand for news and commentary will not disappear. Thanks to the internet that demand is more voracious than ever.

In the absence of independent news services the demand could be met by self-selected feeds of raw information from governments, corporate public relations, political parties, local bodies and any other organisation that can afford to distribute information they want the public to know.

Only information they want the public to know. That is a discussion for another day.