Journalists think they’re our moral arbiters and secular priests – Laws

It seems Whaleoil readers aren’t the only ones fed up with the Prima Donnas in the Old Media.  Michael Laws takes a sober look at what is going on:

One of the great dichotomies of democracy is that we don’t trust those that we elect to lead us. This does not stop us getting very passionate and involved every electoral cycle. We have one of the highest electoral turnouts in the Western world.

The same point might be made of the relationship between the New Zealand news media and the public. We are avid consumers of news – we just don’t trust the people charged with managing that information.

There’s good reason for this. Politicians have acquired an unenviable reputation for promising sunshine and delivering rain. Journalists, for reporting the rain as snow. Charged with delivering the truth, they deliver their own version. It’s the final scene of Orwell’s Animal Farm made post-modern.

The best example of this is the parliamentary press gallery – a gaggle of competing egos, and any number suffering a God complex. TV3’s Patrick Gower was a perfect example last week, claiming that his job “is to hold the Government accountable . . . we’re the eyes and ears of the public”.

No, it isn’t. And no, he’s not. His job is not to act as judge and jury – it is to relay the facts and let us make up our own minds. That’s the fatal misstep that so many journalists make: they really do believe that they’re our moral arbiters and secular priests.

The problem is that many news rooms are trying to achieve an outcome.  Let’s “get him”, let’s “tell this story”, let’s “pay him/her back” for some transgression.

They are over-sensitive to any criticism or to having the same principles applied to them. Gower’s employers, for example, wanted me sacked from my job as a radio talkback host, because I had the temerity to contribute a column in this newspaper, criticising their news staff objectivity over the John Key-John Banks “teagate” affair.

Indeed the problem with the whole parliamentary press gallery last week was that they refuse to have the same principles applied to them as they sought to apply to others.

That much is clear.  The sanctimony could be sliced with a knife it was so thick.  Heavens!

A couple of years ago, fellow Sunday Star-Times columnist Andrea Vance wrote a fascinating account of her time as a News of the World reporter. She described the high pressure tactics and threats that were routine in trying to prise information from reluctant members of the public.

In the past five years, I’ve both witnessed and experienced similar tactics here. And they clearly win those practitioners media awards – such as the New Zealand Herald’s David Fisher, the current Canon Media Awards reporter of the year.

Yep.  Going to funerals to take photos to run a hit on a Minister.  Or continuing to refer to someone John Key had in the same classroom in his youth as “a childhood friend”.  The constant repetition of slanted ideas and twisted truths are employed to sell more papers or get more eyeballs.

And I’m OK with that.

But what I can’t stand is that they pretend to be better, more moral, above the dirty tricks.

They are a bunch of manipulative liars…and have been shown up for it this week.

And I’m OK with that.

If it wasn’t for the fact that they pretend they are direct progeny in the mould of Walter Cronkite or David Frost, they would self destruct in their own lack of logic.

The reality here is that they’ve inserted themselves as victims and the public aren’t buying.

The funny thing is this, the media used to hide behind their bylines if they ever used one, the advent of social media has thrust them, un-prepared and ill equipped, into the public eye. This is something they are used to inflicting on people but are only just now experiencing push back.

I didn’t coin the phrase, someone else did but I thin that there is definitely now a Fifth Estate and boy they don’t like it. The sanctimonious squealing coming from the former protected classes is something to behold. it would be righteous indignation if only they were righteous.

The way I see it the more squealing the better, means we are on the money.


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  • johnbronkhorst

    So that’s it:…..The MSM are just like the teachers, except their audience are adults and teacher’s audience are children.
    Teachers try to teach children WHAT to think, instead of HOW to think.
    Journalists attempt the same thing with adults!

    • Orange

      I think that’s a generalisation. Indeed, one of the problems nowadays in education is they don’t teach you anything but only focus on the how. There’s a time and place for everything but I assure you, it is very very bad to eat mercury and the children need to know that specific fact rather than the broad “how.”

  • JeffW2

    I’m not as OK with some things as you might be, WO. I would hope that the media would see themselves as helping to create a better NZ. Instead, their left wing ideology is a major factor in our weak economic performance and societal breakdown.

  • Blue Tim

    I’m surprised that Laws wasn’t sent back to his key oars to writer another column

  • Blue Tim

    Bl00dy know all computer. …key board…

  • Rex Widerstrom

    TV3′s Patrick Gower was a perfect example last week, claiming that his job “is to hold the Government accountable . . . we’re the eyes and ears of the public”.

    No, it isn’t. And no, he’s not. His job is not to act as judge and jury – it is to relay the facts and let us make up our own minds

    Really? With no contextualisation whatsoever? What complete and utter self-serving nonsense. And hypocrisy, given he’s more than happy to accept money to pollute the print and radio media with unsubstantiated, splenetic nonsense.

    So the opinion of Laws, a politician who disgraced himself at both local and national level, belongs in a newspaper but Gower’s, an experienced observer of politics, does not?

    Or should the media opinion spots be reserved only for those people with whose opinions the authors of this blog agree?

    If the media simply report uncontextualised verified fact then they’re not doin their job.

    To pull an example from the blogosphere – this blog’s ongoing questioning about who writes for The Standard is both right and a vital function of its position as a leading part of the Fifth Estate.

    Why? Because the identity of the author of a piece contextualises that piece. Just as the motives, connections, pressures upon, ambitions of and shifting loyalties of politicians – the stuff journalists speculate upon upon in their opinion pieces – contextualises the bare facts of their actions.

    Laws has never worked as a journalist and has no idea how to run a newsroom. I’d suggest he stick to writing about what he is an expert in, but based on every public utterance and column to date, that appears to be Michael Laws.

    • Bunswalla

      I don’t have a problem with contextualisation, although I confess I don’t really understand what you mean by it in this case. What I object to, which I think is what Laws and many others have commented on, is when the messenger’s political views and determination to throw mud at another party infects their reporting of the news.

      By all means have an opinion, and Gower, Dann, Soper, Garner etc have doubtless got a much better idea of the workings of politics and government than the average person. But a lot of the drivel reported as News is in fact Opinion and should be labelled as such.

      Classic example in the SST this morning, a ridiculous graphic with an old picture of John Key wearing 3D glasses and a headline about “Temperature rising…on Planet Key” – this was on Page A5 in the News section, with references to Brainfade and Blame game etc. – complete bullshit.

      If anyone wants to have a go at Key or anyone else, go ahead and be my guest, but start a blog or host a talkback show or something – don’t pretend you’re a serious reporter delivering the news or writing news articles when what they really are is just one person’s opinion.

      • Rex Widerstrom

        Contextualisation in this instance is saying (to take a blindingly obvious example which wouldn’t, in reality, need to be said, so as not to divert the thread with a more contentious example…) “Kevin Rudd says he disagrees with Julia Gillards policy on asylum seekers [the fact] but then he would most likely say that no matter what the policy because she brutally knifed him in the back [the context]”.

        The readers / listeners need to know the context in order to judge the validity of Rudd’s position. But the journalist is speculating / commentating in saying so.

        The same need applies to lesser known contexts. And I have no problem with journalists speculating provided they’re fair to all sides.

        I think the fairness is debateable, but that it is unquestionably the role of a journalist to apply their superior knowledge to add context and even make predictions.

    • Random Punter

      “Or should the media opinion spots be reserved only for those people with whose opinions the authors of this blog agree?”
      Isn’t that the problem, RW? Gower and too many of his colleagues do not sufficiently preserve the distinction between fact and comment. If his reports were clearly labelled as opinion, fine. But too often they’re opinions presented as if they were fact.

      • Rex Widerstrom

        I agree wholeheartedly with you there.

        But the blurring of lines between opinion – cheap to produce – and real reporting – much more expensive – is the fault of the journalists’ proprietors.

        As is the blurring between reproducing press releases and reports of sponsored junkets and product trials – also cheap from the proprietors’ perspective – and real news.

        If the TV, radio & newspaper proprietors had their way, Key, Shearer and a handful of others (young female MPs, mainly, and maybe a token non-white) would be made to live 24/7 in a house and forced to play stupid parlour games to see what legislation got passed.

        Then they’d just have to point unmanned cameras at the debacle and pocket the proceeds.

        Failing that, perhaps a cook-off to see who gets to be PM…

    • opusx

      Actually Rex, neither of their opinions matter in the big scheme of things. From what I have observed over all of this I have come to the following conclusion: the whole outfit that makes up the goings on in that oddly shaped building, the pollies, the press, the support staff et al are a bunch of pretty frock wearing school kids with fragile egos, with the inability to differentiate truth from fantasy, who cry when they don’t get picked for the team straight away, who curl up in a corner and suck their thumb while calling out for their mummy…heck Barney the dinosaur runs a better shop than this lot.

      But boy, is it entertaining :-).

      • Rex Widerstrom

        Also agreed. What flabbergasts me is that the primping, preening newspaper columnist takes umbrage at all the primping, preening TV reporters.

        Poor Michael, he can’t have been asked by them for his opinion lately.

  • Bryan

    the thing that has really rocked the press gallery is how easy if was for Parliamentary Services to track their movements around parliament and also the their communications

    they now know the whole landscape in which they operate has just changed and they cannot no longer move around without be made accountable as to why they were in a certain location at a certain time and that’s freaking them out

  • Bryan

    any chance of someone digging up that Sunday times article that vance wrote two years ago could make interesting reading in light of recent events here to see how they operated and see if there are any similarities

  • luminz

    Congratulations. For my first time ever, I have found something here with which I am in total agreement.
    It may be he is on the outer already..