Naive DimPost editorialist up in arms …Who rights [sic] this drivel?

This post deserves a subtitle:

“Kick’em when they’re up; kick’em when they’re down” Don Henley (see below)

My concern this evening is a weird little editorial in today’s Dominion Post concerning the reportorial credentialing of one N Hager Esq.

To wit, in evidence I copy and paste the following:

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

What? Can I just take a moment to let this sink in.

Nicky Hager’s not a journalist, at least as you [DomPost editorialist 13.9.2011] choose to define it.

How do you define it by the way?

Nicky’s not a journalist, but he might be an author though.

Is that good or bad?

Is that what you’re saying here?

I must have missed something, run that par by me again…

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

I don’t think “ferreter” is a word in the context you’re trying to shoehorn it into.

But, leaving aside your poor composition skills, what you’re trying to say is that Nicky Hager is good at his job — ferreting out information that some people would wish to keep secret — but that’s not journalism as you define it. How do you define journalism by the way? That last bit sounds suspiciously like what journalism is. Or at least, what it should be.

I must be stupid, but I still don’t get it…tell me more.

The flaw in Hager’s modus operandi is that he amasses what he has learned and then presents it to the public through the prism that best suits his world view, without allowing for the possibility that there might be a plausible explanation for what he has “uncovered”. The case he builds is thus rarely troubled by opposing opinions and inconvenient facts, realities that journalists in the mainstream media are morally obliged to take into account, and present.

[Seeing Afghanistan through naive prism]

Excuse me, even the headline on this piece doesn’t stand up to lexical scrutiny.

OK, you can call me a media studies poser if you like. You won’t be the first. The fact remains, we have to deconstruct this argument to make sense of the DomPo’s position.

First of all, a disclaimer. I know and admire Nicky Hager. I consider him a friend and I’ve defended him before here at EM on similar charges from Fran O’sullivan.

I haven’t yet read Nicky’s latest book Other People’s Wars — the centre of this controversy — but I am told by reliable sources that it is brilliant and you should all read it. I’m picking up my copy from Unity Books in the morning and will read it on the plane home this weekend.

I think his work in Hollow Men is exemplary investigative journalism, despite this mean-spirited and misleading line in the DumPoo’s rite [sic] of reply.

Take his earlier book, The Hollow Men, for example, which – though not news to political junkies – made uncomfortable reading for some associated with the Don Brash-led National Party.

Not even faint praise in this damning dismissal from the Dismal Poke.

Speaking of definitions of journalism didn’t Lord Harmsworth once say that it was about “afflicting the comfortable”?

Like many a determined investigator, some of whom have worked at the DomPost and done brilliant work of journalism, Nicky takes excellent care of his sources and his facts. He does, in other words, exactly what those imbued with, and accountable to, the spirit of excellence in reporting, should do.

The sputtering [sic] rage of the Dim’s editorialist — whether real or feigned for 13 sovereigns — is best expressed in this nonsense:

In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not.

Did that make your eyes water? Ferfucksake! Is this grammatic and syntactic outrage the result of outsourced subbing? Is there nobody in the office to tell the editorialist they’ve written gibberish; up with which we will not put.

[Ahhem, so to speak]

Can we just look, for a brief indulgent moment, at the definition of a journalist that is common today.

Actually, we might need a few, here’s one to be going on with.

“Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.”

That’s from Marguerite Duras, it is echoed by many; including George Orwell. Regular readers of EM will know my line Orwell and Trotsky.

I’ll be back. In the meantime…

Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but it can–and must–pursue it in a practical sense. This “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further investigation. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built–context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum. As citizens encounter an ever greater flow of data, they have more need–not less–for identifiable sources dedicated to verifying that information and putting it in context.

[Project for Excellence in Journalism / Committee of Concerned Journalists Principles 1997]

Or as Don Henley says, this is for Rupert (and all those who inhabit his pants).

I highly recommend you play this next track in the background while you read on

Like George Orwell, Marguerite Duras was different. Like Orwell too, Duras was a journalist and a communist. This is, as I know well, an interesting combination.

Duras and Orwell share a commitment to telling the truth and to doing so with a clear moral purpose.

Political clarity and honesty is also important in their work.  Whatever the politics. a commitment to truth and the public good are the qualities  that must motivate all good reportage and investigation into matters of public interest.

I can honestly say I know Nicky Hager is not a communist like Orwell or Duras. They were both politically active in hardcore leftwing politics for most of their adult lives.

Duras was aligned with the French Resistance and Orwell was shot in the neck while on active duty against Franco’s fascists in Spain. They were very different times and there is no direct link to Nicky Hager; but I do know that Nicky takes the public interest and speaking truth to power very seriously.

In other words he has an emotional attitude to the world, as Orwell observed: all writers do. Motivated by vanity, a sense of historical purpose, or purely for monetary reward all writers and journalists write from a particular viewpoint.

There is bias in all of us. For Orwell, the honesty of acknowledging this is an important virtue in being able to approach the truth.

I have heard Nicky Hager defend his methods in great detail to receptive and excited audiences of journalism students; he is eloquent in interviews and the Dom Post’s sister paper The Sunday Star Times features Nicky’s work on a regular basis. Nicky regularly breaks important intelligence stories and he is well respected by most journalists for his meticulous approach.

Nicky regularly gives up his time to address interested audiences. He is very public about his emotional attitude. Nicky’s motivation is the public interest.

The charge against Nicky Hager in the Dom Post editorial is that he must be “naive” to think that the presence of US intelligence officers on the key New Zealand base is anything to write home about.

Well actually, it is the first most of us have heard of this and as a public we have the right to know what they are doing there in our name. It is in the public interest that reporters and authors like Hager (he is both) ask the hard questions and challenge us to think differently about what we’re seeing in the news agenda.

We know that the government won’t necessarily tell us all the truth, all the time. We know that governments regularly lie at least some of the time.

And we know that governments promote an emotional line about national interest. Leaders drape themselves in flags and mutter hollow secular prayers for the dead. Not to heal, but to maintain a sense of alert. The memorialising of 9/11 on the 10th anniversary has been one of fear-mongering and war-justification masquerading as mourning, rememberance and resilience in the face of an unknowable, irrational enemy “terrorism”.

The real truth ($30 billion dollars worth in Australia this week) is often hidden in budgets and parliamentary committees.  Like the outcry about outing Willie Apiata, there are distractions and propaganda.

What passes for “normal” to many in ranks of political reporters is exposed as anything but normal thanks to the tireless efforts of public interest journalists like Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

The DomPost editorialist (anonymous, like all such attacks) adopts a simple and neutral-sounding commonsense explanation for the presence of US agents at the Bamiyan base is an unquestioned “factoid”: it is to keep the Kiwi soldiers safe…

they must trade information with their US counterparts in order to keep themselves as safe as possible

What an innocuous phrase meant to throw us off any further questioning. The question of how this process actually works and what information is traded with what consequences for the troops and the local population is ignored in favour of this:

American presence is to be expected. It is naive in the extreme to have thought otherwise.

Expected to do what?

Well the answers are forthcoming in Nicky’s work and also that of Jon Stephenson. Both have reported extensively on the war that has been hidden from the New Zealand public for too long. Both afflict the comfortable when it comes to public policy towards ongoing war in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Hager, Jon has been attacked and vilified by other journalists and news organisations — often motivated or at least encouraged by their close relationships with defence officials and government spinmeisters.

Jon Stephenson, Public Enemy [according to the spin doctors]

Jon Stephenson - PMC Auckland

One of the main features of the post-Cabinet press conference yesterday was the PM’s extraordinary ad hominem attack on journalist Jon Stephenson, of Metro magazine. Recently, Stephenson wrote an article in Metro alleging that New Zealand was not meeting its Geneva Convention obligations in its handling of prisoners captured in the course of SAS operations in Afghanistan. [Gordon Campbell, Scoop]

That was in May this year and it wasn’t the first time Jon had been vilified by politicians through the media. I know Jon Stephenson is also a committed and brave correspondent. He also takes his craft and his responsibilities as a reporter very seriously.

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson both deserve to be supported and defended for their excellent journalism and their outspoken views.

They are doing a great job. I didn’t see their double act on Media 7 last week, but I heard a lot about it. I will be watching it tomorrow afternoon.

In the meantime, it’s been a long day.

Can I leave you with this.

Revealing Uncomfortable Truths

As an investigative project Other People’s Wars reveals details about the military and its political agenda that have otherwise been concealed through ambiguous phraseology and recourse to unqualified assertions of necessary secrecy. Through a careful critical attention to deciphering and demystifying the jargon and euphemism of international military activity, Hager demonstrates how ambiguity of purpose can serve the very specific goals of vested interest and simultaneously help conceal those goals from scrutiny by presenting them as natural consequences of engaging in military activity.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011, 10:15 pm
Opinion: Mark P. Williams – Scoop

That sounds like journalism to me, by any common definition.

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