Page 117 is as far as I can stomach to read of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics before writing this review. The emotional arc of the shit rainbow painted so vividly and irrefutably in this book began with wet anticipation – and went through stages of wonderment, scepticism, alarm,
fascination, horror and dismay – to this point of dry retching. I really don’t want to read any more of it. It is at a depressing point in the chronology. It is essentially a voyeuristic shame-read I have binged upon and now a threshold has been reached. Should I even bother reading further since at this point, with not much more than a week to the election, events have overtaken the book and the whale dump/raw shark hacker has dropped the personal bombs via social media that Hager – cloaked in the aura of print and preaching deeply and profoundly under a halo of journalistic credibility – could not. The National Party have even taken to leaking personal and confidential correspondence post-publication, including half an email which was used to force the Justice Minister’s resignation from Cabinet. The incontent internet has strange bedfellows.
The difference between a crisis and stability in New Zealand politics is a Nicky Hager book of barely 150 pages. It has been this way for some time. Everything is nice and orderly and relaxed on the 9th floor, pleasantly predictable calmness prevails at party HQ and then Hager hijacks a tanker full of their sewage and tips it out behind a jet engine to create a shit storm of epic proportions that no-one involved can walk away from without some level, some percentage coverage, of shit. There is so damn much of it that some of it will stick. In the aftermath of the shit storm everyone smells like shit, whether it’s one fleck or one bucket.
The tale is gritty and enthralling and explosive. The malevolent fantasist blogger, his media stooges, and his circle of hard right cronies forever trying to take over the National Party – like one demented episode of ‘Pinky and the Brain’ or ‘Ren and Stimpy’ after another – has turned into a soap opera from hell: performed by professionals, paid for by businessmen and corporations, produced on the National Party back lot, and directed by their loyal but uncontrollable son, Cameron Slater with a crew of prostitutes, hacks and hangers on. But big picture ambitions for the Birth of the Nation have been recut from the out-takes and it looks more like Rocky Horror meets All the Presidents Men when it is read on the page.
All of the activity uncovered has been unethical, all of it disturbing, most of it sinister, some of it absurd, and some of it likely constituting criminal offences. The corrupt practices within and between the bloggers, the media, the PR consultants and the politicians are laid bare – some of it in unflinching minutae. Some of it was executed entirely under the radar, escaping detection and identification at the time; and some of it was known, but the detail elusive; and some of it – as with the Ports of Auckland strike-breaking collusion – barely needed any lines drawn between dots to finish the obvious picture for those who followed that particularly toxic campaign.
The overall impression is a hackers version of Watergate has gone on, but with the PM kept at a distance of deniability so he can’t get pinged the way Nixon did when his tapes were released.
There may be smoking guns, but John Key and his people have provided nothing that definitively shows that Key’s hand was on any of those guns. But all around is on fire. Ablaze. Judith Collins for example – combustible and brittle at the best of times – was fully aflame. She had counted on riding into the next Cabinet on Key’s coat-tails despite the hit on his personal support she was causing him. It was an open secret, or presumed stratagem, that she also intended to roll him for the leadership in the next term. She found herself fired. Some form of justice at least for the Justice Minister who indulged in Slater’s network running deceptive, clandestine operations that freely mixed intimidation and blackmail.
As I understand it from other reviews: if you keep reading to the end of this book – gazing at the open sewer pipe Hager has exposed – you come to be motivated into action. If you’re on the left that is. If you are on the right however it is a different story: a demotivational revulsion at what the National Party primarily, and politics in general, has become. That is certainly the impression I have got from the door-knocking underway. The gruff, mumbling, cynical National-voting men (tradesmen and pensioners in particular) are saying they won’t vote. These are core National supporters and they would rather stay home on polling day than endorse a party and a system that Hager has demonstrated is sick, sleazy and malfunctioning.
For me, as a blogger who stands to the side of this particular stage with a view between the curtains and a glimpse of what ropes are being pulled behind the sets, I see the performance slightly differently. Perhaps I have been walking the path next to the sewer for so long I have got used to the reeking stench? My initial reaction to much of the nefarious and noxious escapades was: and, so what? But things were worse than I ever imagined as the pages turned. The activity was beyond anything I had known to have happened on the left. The extraordinary extension from political hits to going about the business of procuring an actual hit by irate Chinese on Hager himself – in Cathy Odger’s “chop chop” email – was spectacular; but there are just too many instances of repellant plotting to recall them all in this review. The footnotes make for grim reading in themselves as Hager’s style devolves the more personal items out of the main text.
The smell of the sewer was normal, it came with the territory – bloggers aren’t journalists and blogs aren’t newspapers – so what do you expect… the truth? accuracy? impartiality? robust declarations of interest? journalistic standards and legal protection? This is unrealistic and consequently the reason I have such low expectations from the medium; but Slater thinks these incompatible and contradictory modes are viable – or at least arguable in court – to cover his malicious harassment. Clearly they are not.
At page 117 the story descends to what could charitably be described as farce. In the midst of Hager’s inquest of Len Brown’s Mayoral career (following the Slater-engineered sex scandal) there is mention of Slater receiving a Canon Media Award for Whaleoil blog. The mainstream media – in this case the Newspaper Publishers’ Association – had bestowed this achievement on a person who was already known to be dealing, dabbling and dredging in the gutter. This honour was conferred by a right wing commentator to one of a very small group of desperate bloggers whose misplaced craving for professional legitimacy had led them to seek approval of the old boys’ club. $150 and a dinner jacket may purchase access to the network of potential employers these bloggers feel they need, but it cannot buy any credibility in the blogosphere. Indeed the co-option by the corporate news and the credulous ingratiation of these bloggers to the corporate news may be the shit pot at the end of this tremendous shit rainbow. It is revolting. Time to stop reading and start campaigning.