du Fresne on Hager

A real journalist points out why Hager has never been one.

He insists on calling himself a journalist, but all the journalists I’ve worked with made it their business, before bursting into print with damaging allegations against anyone, to seek a response from the person or persons accused.

This is called balance, and although it has become unfashionable in certain quarters it remains a fundamental principle of fair journalism.

Hager doesn’t bother with balance. He and co-author Jon Stephenson didn’t approach the Defence Force for its side of the story before publishing Hit and Run.

This is consistent with Hager’s previous modus operandi. I don’t think he gave Cameron Slater a chance to respond to the claims made in Dirty Politics either, or Don Brash when he published The Hollow Men.

He likes to get in first with a king hit. It’s much harder for someone to fight back when they’re sprawled on the canvas with the wind temporarily knocked out of them.

Hager would probably argue that the reason he doesn’t approach the subjects of his books is that it would give them an opportunity to obstruct publication, possibly with legal action.

But newspapers take that risk every time they run a potentially damaging story about someone. It doesn’t stop them seeking comment from the people or organisation they’re about to take a whack at.

Certainly there’s the danger of an injunction against publication, but I believe there are other reasons Hager why doesn’t give his subjects a right of reply.

The first is that his story would be undermined if there turns out to be a compelling counter-narrative. Better not to take the chance.

Another is that by publishing before his subjects have a chance to respond, and getting saturation media coverage (as he routinely does), he establishes a huge psychological advantage. His victims are immediately in the position of having to come from behind.

Is Hager’s tactic of launching his books just in time to make the TV news, thus allowing no time for journalists to seek contradictory comment (and this after tantalising the media with high expectations of a scandal), part of this strategy?

Very likely, although it should be pointed out that early evening is the standard time for book launches. In any case, you could say it’s just clever marketing. Perhaps there’s a bit of shrewd capitalist lurking in the crusading left-wing author.

My other reason for not trusting Hager is that he has an agenda. I’m suspicious of people with agendas, because they tend to frame their narratives to align with their agenda.

To put it another way, there’s a danger that the agenda, rather than the facts, will dictate the narrative, and that any facts that don’t conform to the agenda will be ignored.

In Hager’s case, the agenda can’t be neatly summarised, but it’s there. It can be broadly categorised as an antipathy toward “the establishment”, capitalism and authority in general.

He seems convinced that people in power are constantly plotting to deceive and mislead the people. That theme runs through all his work. I’m not sure that such a pessimistic mindset leads to reliable conclusions.

Had I been contacted by Hager, I would have made a few corrections, and I would have requested he omit some people who were really just minor players and didn’t deserve the glare of the media for three months.

But I would not have gone for an injunction.

 

– Karl du Fresne,┬áThe Dominion Post

 


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