I find myself getting impatient with the endless chatter about the legal and technical minutiae of some aspects of Hager's book because the essence of it is abuse of trust and betrayal of democracy. These are issues that, if not resolved properly, will further polarise the country - into rich and poor, left and right, north and south.
It has definitely polarised journalists. Any media person who wants to be taken seriously (by anyone with intellect and integrity) should have demanded National take these allegations on board and investigate them - and dug deeper into many of them. Anything less is a complete abrogation of everything a journalist is supposed to be.
Talking heads like Hoskings and Henry are so light weight and so transparently right wing I expect nothing more from them. I expect nothing better from ex-Radio NZ journalist turned Radio Live host, Sean Plunket, who has slipped into his role as a lightweight, rightwing gap filler between noisome advertisements as if it had been tailor-made for him.
But Radio NZ is a different matter - it has to be ethical high ground of broadcasting. We expect intelligent, informed, hard hitting but scrupulously even-handed journalism. Guyon Espiner's interview of David Cunliffe on Morning Report on August 14th was a shameful breach of that trust especially as he had just given National politician Stephen Joyce an easy ride. RNZ staff are now being more measured in tone and manner and are taking great care to carefully spell out the political allegiances of all people they interview but August 26th's interview suggests that Espiner is incapable of interviewing Cunliffe without falling into a hectoring and personalised style.
One question I ask myself - and all journalists worthy of the name should be asking - is why didn't Key do the statesmanlike thing and say something along the lines of : "we dispute these allegations obviously but we take them seriously and will investigate them thoroughly because we want to prove to all New Zealanders that they can trust us, that we are above this sort of dirty politicking'.
Another question I ask myself is how would this be playing out if the political shoe was on the other foot?
The answer to the first is pretty obvious - National has been engaging in the two-track strategy that Hager describes and can't own up to the dirty tricks element of it without scuppering the squeaky clean 'President Key' element. It might also be that, having given the likes of Slater, Collins and Lusk the approval to engage in filthy politicking, Key has unleashed something he can't control.
The answer to the second is that those sections of the mainstream media, which are turning themselves inside out to deny, divert and deflect the issue away from Team Key and back onto Hager and the Left, no longer try to maintain even the pretence of journalistic integrity. They spin innocuous and tangential issues into controversies to embarrass, confuse and divide the Left - and to whip up moral panics amongst voters with hair-trigger responses to certain issues.
The double standard that has been operating more and more overtly in the media is now so glaringly obvious that even a dumbed down / cowed / bribed / confused / disheartened populace must surely realise it's beyond time to wake up and take sides.
You either side with the Right on this issue and argue all that matters is winning, even if the race is a complete sham, or you stand up for those core values all Kiwis are supposed to hold dear - egalitarianism, natural justice and common decency.
I know that these took a terrible beating when the neo-libs hi-jacked Labour and took over the economy in the 1980s and bought the Kiwi soul for a handful of baubles with built in obsolescence - but some vestiges are still there.
I grew up with them but when I came back here after 25 years away I was horrified at the shallow, brittle selfishness of so many Kiwis. It didn't feel like my country any more. I would rather be that slightly shabby, socially awkward, shy but decent and honest to the core nation which is the idealised image I have of the NZ I grew up in - than this polarised, unfair, mercenary little shit hole it is fast becoming. I know old NZ had its ugly side but why haven't we dispensed with that and kept the decent bits - instead of the other way round?
This episode has made me ashamed for the second time in my life to be a New Zealander. The first was when I read the disgusting attacks on Helen Clark in the lead up to the 2008 election. I was critical of her policies and politics for many reasons but the viciousness and cruelty of the attacks on her shocked me to the core - and I'm no shrinking violet.
NZ has become a country where the term 'do-gooder' is used as a pejorative. People who care about and try to protect animals, forests, rivers and the ocean, are mocked and detested and labelled as more dangerous to the common good than callous and heedless exploiters and despoilers.
Kind, empathetic people are derided as 'bleeding heart liberals'.
The singularity of the individual people who make up the 'poor' is masked by the irremovable label of 'benefit bludger'.
Popular commentators can call poor people the 'feral underclass' and make public calls for their sterilisation and be feted for it.
A conspiracy to influence candidate selection in the National Party to take it further to the far-Right is uncovered and it is almost completely ignored.
An unscrupulous bully makes a most cruelly insensitive comment about a personal tragedy and is given a media award. Many of his fan base thought his ugly comment was funny.
The same person is shown to have engaged in filthy politics and a large number of Kiwis including members of the government and the Prime Minister can happily live with that and excuse it as just the normal rough and tumble of political life.
It is not. It is all corrosive and destructive; it harms people and it dissolves the glue that binds us together as a society. It is unacceptable on every level and by every civilised standard.
The issues raised in Dirty Politics won't go away.