I am not a newcomer to the world of politics or of blogging so I can’t say I was shocked by the revelations in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’. I had already been disgusted by the obvious smears that had been mounted against Labour this year.
The one that stands out was the attempt to divert attention from the events that led to Maurice Williamson’s resignation by matching his intervention on behalf of Mr Liu with allegations of corruption by Labour by similar assistance given to him. It was clear that someone had searched for such a match. What they came up with, among other flim-flam, was a ten-year-old form letter signed by David Cunliffe at his constituency office asking a government department what had happened to a request from Mr Liu.
That political operators had unearthed this letter was of no great moment. What disgusted me was that television and the newspapers leapt upon it and other innocent matters such as the presence of a Labour MP on a boat trip in China, making them into lead news items that equated with, even surpassed in culpability, Mr Williamson’s ill-judged phone call.
And that is the problem. The media have dirt on their hands. They have been found in the position of the group of flatterers who surround a schoolyard bully as he goes about his business, applauding him and using his dominance to bolster their own positions.
The media have been caught out peddling attack lines and participating in smear tactics sourced from one end of the political spectrum. What has been their response?
Some journalists, to their credit, are now singing their mea culpas or at least reining in their enthusiasm. Others are saying this is the way politics and journalism is done. Some take pride in believing they are simply being ‘hard-nosed’ in a hard world. But what is hard-nosed about ruining blameless reputations and subverting democracy?
There is no doubt that the government will defend itself and are already doing so with three main lines. First, to attack the credibility of ‘Dirty Politics’ and its author. Second, to shrug the shoulders. Third, to support the idea that each political party is as bad as the other by finding some item that, no matter how harmless, can be put to a supposedly compliant media and supposedly gullible public as equally dirty.
It remains to be seen how supportive of any or all of these postures the public is. Is this the way we want to conduct politics in this country? Is this the legacy we wish to leave our children?