Are Walker and Boag National’s (and the Media’s) Designated Villains?

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THIS LATEST SCANDAL will be the making of Todd Muller. The news media, up to its armpits in Hamish Walker’s and Michelle Boag’s leaking of confidential medical information, will do everything possible to deflect its impact. Radio NZ, Stuff and NZME, the outlets that received the leaked information all have a powerful interest in moving the story on.

Fortunately for them, this will not be difficult. The villains of the piece have conveniently identified themselves. Muller has ended Walker’s political career, and the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust is in the process of dealing with/to Boag. As a news story, the scandal has lost its “legs”.

Over the next few days we should expect to see the mainstream media pivot away from National’s bad behaviour and begin praising Muller for his decisive cauterisation of the Walker-Boag wound. The right-wing commentariat will already be bashing-out commentary pieces for the weekend papers celebrating the “fact” that, at last, National has put the era of “dirty politics” behind it.

Todd Muller will be hailed for seizing the moment and driving the National Party in a new direction. The Right will be encouraged to rally around its new, ethical, leader. Walker’s and Boag’s indiscretions will be presented as having given National’s leader his moment to shine.

As I noted in my last posting, a malign symbiosis exists between the mainstream news media and the parliamentary opposition. The passing-on of information – from MPs to journalists – constitutes a crucial stage in the production of major news stories. Journalists mask the highly tendentious nature of this exchange by invoking their core professional obligation to “protect one’s sources”.

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No matter that this obligation originated from the need to protect the relatively powerless providers of information from the excessively powerful institutional players committed to its suppression. Under the current interpretation of source protection, even a National Party MP, determined to disprove the charges of racism levelled against him by breaching patient confidentially, is deemed to possess the same expectation of anonymity as a genuine whistle-blower. From an ethical perspective, however, such an expectation is outrageous. To facilitate an already powerful politician’s absurd quest for personal vindication, by concealing his betrayal of powerless Covid-19 sufferers beneath the cloak of anonymity, is morally and professionally indefensible.

Just consider the likely sequence of events in this latest case. A journalist is contacted by an Opposition MP claiming to be able to prove that his racially-charged allegations are backed by official information. Before viewing this information, however, the MP extracts from the journalist a promise that both his identity and the nature of the proof will be kept under wraps. Rather than demanding to know what he’s insisting she keep hidden from the public, the journalist gives the MP her promise – and he hands over the confidential medical records of citizens who have tested positive for Covid-19.

At this point the journalist finds herself horribly compromised. She has in her hands clear proof that not only is a National MP guilty of an appalling breach of the public’s trust, but also that someone within the Ministry of Health is passing highly sensitive information to a person or persons closely associated with the National Party. The clear public interest in her revealing these facts is obvious, but she can’t – not without “revealing her source”.

Inevitably, somebody further up the chain of command called “bullshit” on this insanely conflicted situation. The leak of information identifying Covid-19-positive patients was made public – but not the identity of the leaker. Entirely predictably, the release of this information immediately sparked yet another round of harsh National Party criticism. Once again, the Leader of the Opposition, Todd Muller, and his Health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, castigated the Government’s “shambolic” handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

Just think about this for a moment. The mainstream news media was willing to print and broadcast these criticisms of the Government, even though they knew that the source of the leaked information was a National Party MP. Even though, by pushing the story up towards the top of every news bulletin they were stealing oxygen from the Prime Minister’s keynote address to the Labour Party Congress. It’s a very strange kind of journalism that keeps more information hidden from the public than it reveals!

It would be nice to think that Hamish Walker and Michelle Boag “came clean” because of a belated attack of common decency. More likely, however, their confessions were driven by fear of the official inquiry into the leak ordered by Minister of Health, Chris Hipkins. The powers given to Michael Heron QC, the man charged with undertaking the investigation, were certainly comprehensive enough to inspire such fear. He had the ability to subpoena witnesses and extract testimony under oath. Scary stuff.

Will Mr Heron, knowing the identity of the leakers, be content to deliver a pro forma report to Minister Hipkins? The mainstream media will be hoping so. They have nothing at all to gain from someone asking too many searching questions about the way this story was handled. The poor, misinformed public, however, has every reason to hope that Mr Heron goes hard and goes early to lock down all the elements of this scandal.

Was there, for example, some sort of quid pro quo arrangement by which the National Party was encouraged to offer up Walker and Boag in return for the mainstream media pivoting swiftly towards Muller’s “decisive handling” of the crisis? Certainly, that would take the spotlight off the implications of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust’s insistence that Boag could not possibly have obtained the Covid-19-positive patient’s details from them. If National, as seems increasingly likely, has a “Deep Throat” located in the heart of the Ministry of Health, or, even worse, in the Prime Minister’s Office, it will not want such a useful informant dislodged – and neither will the media!

I am not optimistic, however, that these sorts of questions will be asked or answered. With the General Election less than three months away, it is most unlikely that anything like the entirety of this scandal’s moving parts will be examined too closely – by anyone. The voters need to be able to believe that New Zealand’s major political parties conduct themselves ethically and responsibly at all times. Bad behaviour must always be presented as the product of “bad apples”. That National’s whole apple tree might be blighted and diseased is not a conclusion which this country’s political establishment will ever allow to pass unchallenged.

19 COMMENTS

  1. This is what I think about Michelle Boag in particular:
    Hold on Boag. You claim the Ministry of Health ‘sent you’ this information and so therefore you are stupidly pointing the blame game finger at the Minister of Health and not holding YOURSELF accountable for the privacy breach???!!!!

    You knowingly and deliberately passed that information onto a National MP for the purpose of political point scoring!!!!????

    You breached the rights to privacy of NZers but you didn’t care about them(the NZers).

    You cared more about scoring points for National!!!!!?????

    You ONLY HAVE YOURSELF to blame for what happened because you deemed yourself a superior person and it’s time you fell upon your sword and admit your behaviour is unacceptable.

    But here is a question. You were CEO of the ARHT and perhaps it’s time we as NZers asked how much the pay packet and perks of the job(other than flying a passport from Waiheke Island to AIA) is costing Aucklanders and NZers???!!!! Because if much of the donations from Aucklanders are actually been part of your pay packet and perks of the job then questions really need to be asked!!!!!!!!!!!………

    • ARHT will suffer by receiving less public donations, which is terrible for those in need of its service.
      However, who is to blame? The idiots on the board that hired Boag? They have shown a TERRIBLE sense of character judgement and need to ALL RESIGN. Otherwise they’ll be seen to have chosen Boag for political reasons and thus are basically an extension of the National party. A sort of ‘pay back’ for services to the party when your time is up.
      I fear those in need of the AHRT service will suffer needlessly due to the National party and all its cronies. Shame on the AHRT board of directors. Name and shame them also.

      • I think I read somewhere that Boag reimbursed the ARHT $4000 for the cost of flying her passport from Waiheke Island to the Auckland International Airport.

        Now did she make that payment of $4000 a ‘donation’ which she could claim back in tax?

        Boag usually doesn’t do something unless she thinks she can get something out of it for herself. She comes across as someone who only cares about herself and of course the NZ National Party.

        She lacks a conscience and any iota of humanity. And in fact I think both Satan and the NZ National Party would be thoroughly proud of her for not possessing those two qualities that normal humans have.

    • Looks like the new owner is happy to continue publishing Nat Party propaganda.
      Utterly unable/unwilling to hold the Natz to account.

      And to think she has the gall to ask for donations for that crap. She’s dreaming.

  2. This article of yours , Chris,… its pretty dark. But it shows the truth regards this subterfuge. This Dirty / Filthy Politics, is revealed for what it is. And it is Filthy,… it really is.

    The scary thing is that it shows a collusion between major media outlets and the far right wing element among the National party,…really, really grodie, filthy operators. Both of them.

    Let those who take offense at that term take offense.

    GRODIE.

    adjective, gro·di·er, gro·di·est. Slang. repulsive; disgusting; nauseating. inferior in character or quality; seedy; sleazy: They lived for a month in a grody little shack without lights or running water.

    Grodie
    Another way to say gross.
    You just ate your own shit. That’s totally grodie

    • BOAG (buug-uh)
      n. 1. A person prone to self-serving narcissism. 2. Cruel. 3. Incompetent. 4. Marmorated stink bug found in Auckland.
      v. 1. To steal or receive personal medical records illegally and attempt to use them for personal gain e.g. “Patient A had their files Boaged by Hamish because Hamish somehow thought Boaging would cover for his racist outburst”

  3. The duo must have been made aware that their arrangement was about to be exposed. They would never have gone into it unless they felt safe from being identified. So the most likely direction for the bad news to have come from is the enquiry itself.
    Indeed the priority would be now to protect the original source of Michelle’s emails of this information which she has said she receives (was receiving) on an ongoing basis.
    This might be so obvious to everyone that a proper completion of the enquiry can’t be avoided.
    Let’s hope.
    D J S

  4. So many blog pieces come and go, but this one deserves to be printed, framed, and hung on walls all over NZ, particularly those spaces occupied by pundits, writers, social media know it alls, and media executives.

    On RNZ Checkpoint last night for instance, the leak story was sandwiched between two much longer bites at the quarantine wanderer story. There is respectful space for Mr Muller in interviews, rather than the usual gotcha/talk over hi-pressure style employed on Govt. spokespeople. The bias is so obvious. The Nats and establishment want the Covid privacy breach story fenced off, confined to Boag and “whites only” Walker.

    Whether Mr Heron keeps digging will likely be the “Dirty Politics” story of the 2020 General Election. Maybe with the existential virus angle, some more New Zealanders will give one about it this time. The Nats are a filthy rotten organisation and culture throughout New Zealand that needs properly exposing.

    • Totally agree with your final sentence.
      If anyone has any doubt, just have a look (but don’t stay too long, it’s toxic) at the BDF story entitled ‘Grief Queen…’. Then read the comments below the story. I did and was very saddened, sickened even that some of my country men and women could stoop to such low levels of pettiness, hatred, lies and slander within just a few short sentences.
      BDF has ’10 commandments’ that apparently apply to any comments – clearly no one checks contributors’ comments against these ‘commandments’. TDB commentators and comments are so wholesome in comparison.
      The Natz and their fellow-traveling right wingers of this country are truly, truly are awful They are gutter-scum – and that’s praising them.

  5. Chris – what an excellent article and @Jase, yes well said too.

    On the TV 1 News at 6:00 pm last night the emphasis was clearly on the “quarantine wanderer” (great phrase) story rather than on the privacy breach story, which also featured. I guess we have to assume that Mr Heron will dig as far as he can but will he get to the bottom of it and even if he does will he be silenced by the “establishment” which does not want its beloved Nats further exposed? Either way, you can be assured that the marketing arm of the National Party otherwise known as the media will do their level best to protect Muller and the National Party. We are seeing it already with media comments like Muller has moved “quickly”/”decisively” to deal with the issue. These nobody reporters (they are not journalists) have obviously received their orders from above – “get this off our front pages as “quickly and decisively” as you can and kill the story.

  6. Next time I get any requests for a donation for anything, I will be asking them if Michelle Boag has any connection with them.
    If she has, or they won’t say – they won’t be getting any of my money.

  7. I’m thinking of a long-legged heron poaching goldfish from a private pool. That can happen. Smart people put mesh over to protect the denizens of the pool from incursions like that. It is usually effective in keeping prying birds at a distance. In this case the owners of the goldfish, have all that money can buy in experienced professional advisors and facilities. It’s a bit David and Goliath but the less well endowed can sometimes win – I liked reading the background to that battle in history in Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath:
    Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

  8. And this is why I don’t read either Granny Herald or Stuff anymore. They’re infested with partisan shits and they’re more opinion than fact, and what facts are to be found are usually skewed. It’s just depressing and I can’t be arsed anymore.

  9. Hamish thanked Michelle for her mentoring when he first entered parliament and what a great mentor she was. Yep, mentored him in through the front door and right out the back door. What a foul, rotten pair they proved to be. By their deeds shall ye know them.

  10. I have switched off the MSM swamp having become disillusioned by, and with politics. Oh so pathetically predicable… RNZ getting infected too…

  11. How many times did the news media let the key government off the hook the second someone was sin binned, and left to cool off for a few months.. ? These people are getting veeery repetitive indeed… i think a case could be made for a full on rewriting of the rules of ownership of our fourth estate…. This behavior has gone past disloyal, and is reaching into subversion…

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