I was on holidays when the latest “Get Hager” campaign began after the Wellington-based independent journalist Nicky Hager wrote recently about the National Party’s continuing relationship with Australian political spin-meisters the Crosby/Textor group. The story appeared in the Sunday Star Times and seems to be a detailed rundown of C/T’s activities behind the scenes in the Nationals’ election strategy for 2008.
But Key has not been disclosing an important secret about his leadership: that each step of his campaign to become prime minister has been overseen and directed by the same professional manipulators used (and also kept secret) by his predecessor, Don Brash. They are the Australian political tacticians, Crosby/Textor. Their role advising Key is known to National Party staff, including some who are uneasy about Crosby/Textor’s involvement, but has been kept secret from the public.
From time to time Nicky comes under fire for his strong views, persistent digging and the exposure of political spin for what it is. I’m not surprised that the National apparatchiks and politicians despise him and try to discredit him at every turn.
However, I was surprised to read an attack on Hager’s credibility by Fran O’Sullivan in Saturday’s (13 July) New Zealand Herald. The Herald is published by the SST‘s rival newspaper company, so perhaps there’s a commercial agenda in play here. But I suspect it’s more than that. O’Sullivan refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of Hager’s journalistic credentials; instead she calls him an “activist”, though I know that Hager is careful not to be involved upfront in political campaigning today.
I seriously had trouble following Fran’s arguments in this piece. The sense and sentences seemed to jump around in uncharacteristic disorganisation. Take this sequence:
But instead of examining whether New Zealand’s incumbent Prime Minister also employs such tactics, Hager trots out the line that National’s continued employment of Australian political strategy firm Crosby/Textor (just one of the consultants the party has hired) is proof positive that aspiring PM John Key is little more than a political puppet for “foreign” ventriloquists who feed him all his lines.
On Planet Nicky, NZ political journalists are nothing more than ready dupes who unknowingly parrot the lines conjured up by the real power brokers who, ipso facto, must be irredeemably evil.
This is patronising nonsense. In Australia it’s long been recognised that political parties of both Labor and Liberal hue resort to what used to be called “machine men” politics.
What’s the link between these two ideas? where’s the tie-in between Hager’s oft-voiced concern about the lack of real independence in some Press Gallery journalists and the “machine men” of Australian politics? It seems to me that Fran has perhaps not read Nicky’s piece in the SST. It does document C/T’s involvement in National strategy and planning and it seems that some of the same National Party sources who helped Hager with the Hollow Men might also be giving him material now.
I was pleased to see that the Fairfax press seems willing to continue pushing this story – it is not yet fully in the pockets of the Nats, unlike some at the Herald it would seem. Ruth Laugesen followed up the Hager piece on July 6. [How National’s spin doctors operate]
National loyalists continue to give Hager material because they trust him. He has never revealed his sources and his very careful to ensure they are not compromised by his journalism. Nicky is a very principled person and has excellent ethical values. Whenever he talks to my students they are impressed with his attitude, sincerity, openess and intelligence.
And yet O’sullivan says that Hager is “thin skinned” because he responded a week ago to another round of spurious allegations that he “stole” some emails from Don Brash to compile material for the irritatingly successful Hollow Men.
The row erupted when conservative consultant and commentator Matthew Hooten raised the theft allegations again in an interview with Kathryn Ryan; according to O’Sullivan:
[Hager] became rather exercised over some excitable comments made by right-wing columnist Matthew Hooten on Kathryn Ryan’s radio show last week.
This week Radio NZ ran the following: “We accept Nicky Hager’s continued assurances that he did not steal the emails which were published in his book The Hollow Men … Radio New Zealand apologises to Nicky Hager for comments which asserted the position was otherwise.”
But Brash – who came to Hooten’s defence – is now asserting the police failed to properly investigate his complaint over the emails theft.
Inerstingly O’Sullivan does not bother to speak to Hager for this piece. The police have investigated the theft allegations and Nicky Hager is not under suspicion, but nevertheless it is a useful distraction for the Nationals and their supporters. It is a neat way of moving attention from the story of the day to questions that tend to discredit Nicky’s reporting and suggest he’s somehow involved in illegal activity, at least around the Hollow Men book.
The same “stolen email” line was used a few days earlier in another Herald column, this time by John Roughan who describes Hager as a former anti-nuclear activist:
Nicky Hager, the cunning anti-nuclear campaigner of yesteryear, seems to be carving out a new career in disingenuous political naivete…Brash is still smouldering at the theft of his private messages – understandably since personal stuff that Hager did not publish led to his downfall – but email, I think, is fair game.
There is no link between Nicky Hager and the theft of the Brash emails. This was disclosed in a police report in April 2008. Interestingly it was covered intensively in the Sunday Star Times, but not in other media:
Mr Hager has always maintained the emails were leaked to him by National Party sources and said those who claimed they were gained by theft should apologise to him.
He would not tell police the source of the emails but the National Party has rejected a mole in its ranks and still believes the emails were stolen, probably by someone who hacked into Dr Brash’s email system.
Mr Hager told Radio New Zealand this morning that he continued to get material from National and other parties, but he had no plans for another book.
“I am still regularly getting information from the National Party as I do from other parties.”
He said some of the sources were still in the National Party and he had recently been in contact with the people who leaked him information.
“They’re happy and I am happy (that their identities would not be revealed). I couldn’t do my job and reasonably expect people to give me information if the police could find out. I am very happy with the result.”
The National Party is frustrated that the police inquiry failed to find who took emails from Brash.
Leader John Key believes a hacker did it, despite police ruling out a breach of the parliamentary computer system.
Wellington police district crime services manager Detective Inspector Harry Quinn yesterday said the investigation into the theft had ended without identifying who was responsible.
“How the thefts occurred still largely remains a mystery,” Mr Quinn said.
The investigation established that emails created between October 2003 and November 2005 had been stolen from Dr Brash, but found no evidence of thefts since November 2005.
Mr Quinn said there was “no evidence” the thefts were perpetrated by someone involved in the administration of the computer systems, and police had eliminated the suggestion “an external computer hacker had breached the computer security within Parliament”.
“There are strong indications that the emails were in printed form at the time of the theft, but with the thefts perhaps happening at any time over the two-year period it is very likely that they were stolen during several incidents,” he said.
“The file is closed until someone comes forward with some compelling evidence.”
The suggestion that somehow Nicky Hager had something to do with stealing the emails – or that he at least knew they were stolen, continues to surface from time to time. It doesn’t appear to slow him down and I’m pleased about that. Unlike Fran O’Sullivan, I think that Nicky is actually quite thick skinned. Certainly he’s advised me to be that way when attacked by conservative bloggers. Nothing seems to upset Nicky; he’s usually very calm. He needs to be as he has plenty of enemies. Some of them (see below) are quite vicious and in some cases unhinged.
The story in the SST about Brash and CrosbyTextor did get some mileage, most of it aimed at discrediting Hager, rather than asking questions of John Key about Crosby/Textor’s role in their campaign. These insinuations included a comment from conservative consultant Matthew Hooten on National Radio that led to a bit of a heated exchange and which has since been taken down from the network’s website. If you’re inclined you can follow the recent dicussions about Crosby/Textor, John Key and Nicky Hager in the blogosphere, under this rock, near, far, here, there, hive and everywhere.
It’s quite interesting how the dribblejaws always fall slobbering on this stuff. They’re greedy little suckers and feed quite well at the National tit.