Monday, May 01, 2006

The New Crusaders

Recently, my HK-based nemesis Cactus Kate put up a list of her favourite journalists. I don’t know what’s going on in that girl’s head since she started writing for Fairfax, but that assortment of pinko sops is not my idea of a good read. Helen Bain? Temperamental cow. Chris Trotter? Socialist! That other blogging pinko? Nothing more to be said. Shame on CK for appeasing them with mild praise.

Following this post, there was much commentary over at kiwiblog as to what constitutes a journalist. Some carnally self-sufficient cretin objected that a paid writer practicing as a lawyer in an overseas jurisdiction should be allowed to make any judgement on the quality of New Zealand journalists.

Subsequent to that, again at kiwiblog, DPF highlighted the mini-war of words being fought between Ian Wishart and Fran O’Sullivan. I made a comment to the effect that Wishart is a clown, and that I’d back Fran’s serious writing any day of the week. That public address guy then pitched in, quoting and supporting something I had written, attacking Wishart. Shocked and appalled at this recent development, I should clarify my view of Wishart’s work.

There are few quality journalists in this country. The reasons for this escape me. There is certainly no shortage of journalism graduates emerging from tertiary institutions—in fact, there is a vast oversupply of budding Woodwards and Bernsteins. Despite occasional strikes by one of the Labour Party’s funding channels, journalists are pretty well paid. Sure, they do not earn as much as international counterparts, but they’re not paid on performance here, either. Of course, there isn’t a great degree of competition in the New Zealand media marketplace, which doesn’t help, but that alone doesn’t account for media-ocrity.

I am not one of those right-wingers who suggests that New Zealand journalists, as a whole, are captured by liberalism and socialism. I don’t believe that at journalism school, aspiring reporters are put through an ideological washing machine, and emerge as card-carrying advocates for Helengrad. There may well be a washing machine, but that’s no excuse for journalists to capitulate on their personal values and give in to the communists.

And that is the key point. Every person has a degree of bias. The role of a journalist, like that of a judge, is to make an honest appraisal of the facts of a case, and draw conclusions accordingly. The journalist sets out with a relatively open mind. There are rules around what evidence is admissible, with respect to treating subjects fairly, aiming to get a balance of testimony, and making judgements at the end.

Those judgements will inevitably be enriched by bias. That bias makes the reading interesting. Nobody wants to ingest a strict diet of facts without judgement. That’s the difference between Barry Soper and Colin James: the former lists off the facts and draws banal conclusions that are of no value to anybody, whereas the latter lucidly analyses the facts, to the benefit of the reader.

Most New Zealand journalists do not have considerable outward bias. They simply do not draw conclusions. Again, I’m not sure why this is. They might come up with the excuse that they are cynical--but they are presumably not so cynical as to not vote. I believe that they're simply lazy. It would also explain why, for much of the last six years, they consume, without question, the spin that comes from the Prime Minister’s office. Comparatively, the Government’s spin machine has overwhelming resources, designed purely to influence the Press Gallery. The Government’s message is all that most press gallery reporters get. A lazy reporter can get by, quite comfortably, simply recycling the government message.

Of course, there are New Zealand journalists with considerable socialist bias. Chris Trotter is one. Finlay McDonald is another. Oliver Driver—not a journalist, but prominent in the media, is particularly extreme.

On the conservative side, the pickings are much more slim. I’m struggling to think of a single New Zealand journalist with considerable right-wing bias. I suspect that Rob Hosking leans to the right, but that suspicion probably has more to do with him being a GC, and since I loathe all socialists, he must not be one. But enough of syllogisms.

The outcome is that without serious right-wing journalists in New Zealand, with a smattering of left-wingers, and an under-resourced, mediocre core of writers who are dominated by a liberal, socialist establishment, there is very little effective balance in the New Zealand media.

That is why, in theory, Ian Wishart’s Investigate is a good thing. It is useful to have a right-wing journal that critically examines New Zealand government and society, and draws conclusions albeit with a mostly right-wing bias. It gives readers choice. If you want to read about how the world is run by conservative old men who oppress women and minorities through their manipulation of truth, read The Listener. It’s mostly staffed my middle-class, liberal white men with small penises and guilt complexes, and happens to be owned by conservative old men who apparently don’t have any problem with publishing liberal clap-trap, but that’s another story.

Likewise, if you want to read about life from a conservative perspective, Investigate should offer that.

Except it doesn’t. In the Benson-Pope affair, Ian Wishart overstepped the line. He didn’t go seeking the facts. He started with a conclusion, and chose the facts to support the conclusion. That is no longer playing the role of judge-inquisitor. That is stepping down to a role of prosecutor, without regard for the facts. In Benson-Pope’s case, a reasonable conclusion may have been that Benson-Pope was a bully. He probably intimidated his students. Many students disliked him. He probably engaged in the kind of behaviour that would no longer be acceptable in today’s classroom. Sure, it’s appalling that somebody of Benson-Pope’s dubious character should be in Cabinet. Benson-Pope almost certainly misled the House when he stated that he knew of no other complaints against him as a teacher. That would have been a reasonable judgement. But the evidence does not support Wishart’s claims that Benson-Pope was lecherous or a pervert.

Likewise, when Wishart did an exposé on Helen Clark, he went way too far. It would have been reasonable to conclude that Aunty Helen has held a long-term ambition to change New Zealand society. It would have been equally reasonable, from a conservative perspective, to conclude that the Labour Party has spun its way through office, manipulating the media while it makes subtle changes to social policy that fit its outlook on the world, through stealth. That is a fair belief. While it’s amusing to ascribe dubious evidence that the Prime Minister is a closet lesbian with major psychological problems stemming from her alleged confusion over her sexuality, that’s also pretty nutty. Ian Wishart must be out of his tree if thinks that’s a rational argument. It’s not. The conservative reality is that Helen Clark has a liberal agenda because she’s a liberal socialist. Any other speculation from loungechair psychobabblers damages the serious message of serious journalism.

There is nothing wrong with taking on the crusader’s role. I consider myself a right-wing crusader. David Farrar does an excellent job as the pre-eminent right-wing blogging prosecutor in New Zealand. Jordan Carter does a reasonable job as the Labour Party’s defence lawyer on-line. Chris Trotter, a pinko of long-standing, manages to mix the crusader’s role with providing what is often very clever and compelling analysis. But unlike Ian Wishart, none of them put up the pretense of being balanced or neutral. They honestly say: “This is my perspective. Here is the evidence that supports that perspective.”

The only redeeming quality in Wishart’s campaign is that it’s not a socialist campaign. As a campaigner, he is very effective. He’s had one very successful government scalp so far, and a major contribution to the public humiliation of two other ministers. But let’s not kid ourselves that he’s out to seek the truth. He’s there to present his argument. The reader should judge his argument accordingly.

Public Address is also a de facto extension of the government spin machine. They are (mostly) socialists, and crusaders for the filthy garbage that will ruin this country if they continue in government (again, my bias showing through). Keith Ng and Damian Christie are fair and amusing respectively. But that's only a small part of that site. If Public Address also puts up the pretense of being neutral and balanced—or make claims about being serious journalists, as opposed to crusaders for their cause—then they are being dishonest with everybody.

Then again, unlike Public Address, Investigate's heart is in the right place, even if its crusades are sometimes a little extreme, obsessive, and crazy.

The blogosphere has a reasonable balance of socialist and right-wing crusaders. New Zealand media is short on journalists with a right-wing bias (who have a harder job, given the government-controlled flow of information, and have much better career options outside journalism, given that right-wingers are professionally overwhelmingly more talented than socialists). But what we don't need is crusaders masquerading as serious journalists. The Left has enough of those already.

25 comments:

Berend de Boer said...

Colin James must have improved considerably since they put him behind the NZ firewall. Before that he was usually a joke...

sagenz said...

Excellent post. Why is it so many of the right wing bloggers feel the need to post under pseudonyms. consequences not there for the left?

wishart writes colourfully and for attention. he is selling an investigative newspaper with a tabloid style of writing and needs to be read in such light.

Anonymous said...

right wing bloggers post under pseudonyms because they have jobs outside the civil service. Unlike left wing ones.

Anonymous said...

Is this Mark Stein a Jew by any chance?

It would explain a great deal.

Stephen Stratford said...

If you are referring to Mark Steyn, no he isn't. Not that it matters.

Insolent Prick said...

I cannot possibly fathom where, Anonymous, Mark Steyn comes into the discussion, or that you might suggest that he's Jewish.

Of all the crap that comes out of Canada, Steyn redeems it all.

Bruno said...

Come on, Anonymous - why do you ask? As Insolent Prick says, you introduced Steyn out of nowhere, but what difference would it make if he were Jewish? Or that he isn't?

Insolent Prick said...

Bruno,

The reference to Mark Steyn is an in-joke. Anon emailed me recently commenting on Mark Steyn, when s/he meant somebody else. I answered along the lines of: "Why do you mention Mark Steyn? Is that because he's Jewish?"

Damian Christie said...

Aside from the compliment (cheers), I'm interested in clarification on something you wrote IP, about Public Address's heart not being in the right place (as compared with Investigate).

Is that by definition, in that a socialist can never have his heart in the right place, or because you think the PA bloggers' intention is malevolent?

The first I can vaguely understand - even if I don't agree with you - but I can't see how you could claim we have some malevolent purpose.

It's the same with MPs, as much as I might disagree with their politics (or consider them cerebrally-deficient wankers), I still believe most of them have their heart in the right place, i.e. they're doing what they think is best for the country, regardless of how misguided they might be. Maybe I'm naive...

DC

Insolent Prick said...

Damian,

The short answer is that all socialists are evil. Do they all set out to be evil? Perhaps not. I don't know if the socialists in power believe they're doing the right thing.

I think that before we start shooting dogs that bite children, we should line up a few pinkos first.

Rob's Blockhead Blog said...

IP,

I hesitate to ask this, but what's a GC? the only GC I know is George Cross, and I know I've never been awarded one of those.

I'm sure I'd remember. Well reasonably sure.

Russell Brown said...

Your problem is that like most right-wingers who write blogs, you seem to believe that everyone should - nay, *must* - all times display an identifying ideological tattoo on their forehead. Thus, the starting point for discussion is not what someone might actually say, but the fact that they're a dirty socialist. (At least that nice Ms Odgers had the decency to note that I appreciate cricket.)

So recent discussion (oh, alright, paranoid frothing) on Sir Humphreys, with respect to a column I wrote for a business magazine, could *only* conclude yet again that I am a filthy pinko aplogist, even though the column itself dwelt largely on the redemptive and democratising power of commerce. Hope this helps.

But yup, Wishart's posturiing as a disinterested seeker of the truth is one of his more irritating habits.

Cheers,
RB

Insolent Prick said...

Russell,

I'm not sure what some crappy article you wrote for a business magazine has to do with this post. I don't approve of people promoting themselves on my blog like that. Please desist from such activity, or else I will consider every further comment you write to be SPAM, and delete accordingly.

I did not say that every writer needs to have a strong ideological position. I actually said that most journalists don't have a strong ideological position, but that of those who do, the pinkos far outweigh the right-wingers, and that it is good and fair, particularly when the socialists are in charge of such vast taxpayer-funded resources, that we have a few more right-wingers.

Insolent Prick said...

Rob,

FYI (or, "For Your Information"), a GC is a good cunt.

Rob's Blockhead Blog said...

Ah.

My favourite kind.

Russell Brown said...

I'm not sure what some crappy article you wrote for a business magazine has to do with this post. I don't approve of people promoting themselves on my blog like that. Please desist from such activity, or else I will consider every further comment you write to be SPAM, and delete accordingly.

(Giggle ...)

So does merely appearing on our site make one a socialist? In which case, does this mean there is effectively a socialist position on test cricket?

Or is it a cumulative process of ideological corruption? In which case, how many more posts do I have get Deborah Hill Cone to do before we have taken over her mind?

Cheers,
RB

Insolent Prick said...

Rob,

For some reason, you are the only person who is able to make comments without that comment showing up on the comments box on the main page. GC-ness aside, that makes you a weirdo.

Russell,

Clearly, Deborah Hill-Cone is not a socialist. Nor is Damian, by all accounts. But with all due respect, you are a limp-wristed commie. That alone disqualifies you from having a respectable view on cricket.

I don't know what Deborah is thinking when she agrees to write for your blog. Then again, who would choose to make the names "Hill" and "Cone" double-barrelled?

Lucyna said...

I'm not surprised Russell has taken yet another opportunity to kick Sir Humphreys on other blogs. It seems to be becoming habitual. The article he mentions contained another "kick". We must really be rubbing him up the wrong way.

I happen to disagree with you, IP, on your disagreement with crusaders masquerading as serious journalists. I don't think they have to be mutually exclusive. If we had a few more crusaders in NZ, maybe the political landscape would be very different.

Antarctic Lemur said...

Brown doesn't appreciate us providing a public forum for those he attacks or criticises, thus he seeks out other public forums on which to attack us.

Ironic really.

Anyway, sorry for this thread going O/T Prick.

Cactus Kate said...

"Or is it a cumulative process of ideological corruption? In which case, how many more posts do I have get Deborah Hill Cone to do before we have taken over her mind?"

One by my count.

We run on a three strikes and you are out kind of broken window policy here...she's already had two.

Cactus Kate said...

Prick

Your blog is like so.....out dated man.

Cactus Kate said...

And you don't even have a caricature.

Fuck you.

iiq374 said...

Sagenz - The irony of someone using a pseudonym asking why people use pseudonyms is killing me ;-)

Of course for some of us its because its almost a way of forcing someone to refer to you as "sir" - the familiarity bred by someone you have never met using your actual name can be somewhat disquieting.
It would be rather easy for someone to find out my actual name from my Pseudo anyway so the obfuscation really isnt the point...

ZenTiger said...

iiq374, in case Phil Sage does not return, I'd like to point out that his handle is basically made up from his surname and his location, so you may be slightly off the mark.

And I personally use a handle because my work and my views don't mix. I find it easy to keep them separate, but many others do not.

Nice post IP. Ian Wishart may get a bit keen, but perhaps it is the stimulus? When Mallard and Clark can both say "National policy written in America", for example, you just get to the point where you need to shout just for people to take notice.

llew said...

"right wing bloggers post under pseudonyms because they have jobs outside the civil service"

Au contraire, I'd have thought that most bloggers, regardless of leanings, working in the public service would use a pseudonym. There is that pesky "code of conduct".

Whereas those in the private sector can afford the luxury of revealing their real names.

cheers

andrew llewellyn