The point of Dirty Politics isn't (just) about what happens in September. Or, what Danyl Mclauchlan said, with more quotes.

I've made my way through Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics over the weekend. Danyl Mclauchlan's already pretty much expressed what it made me feel:

Whatever the wider implications, the book has had a profound effect on me, personally. Something that doesn’t come across in the news coverage about Dirty Politics, and Cameron Slater, Jason Ede, Jordan Williams, Simon Lusk et al is just how fucking awful these people are. They spend their lives trying to poison and contaminate our politics. They enjoy seeing people suffer. They get excited by the idea of breaking up the marriages of their political enemies and ruining their lives.

If you haven't read the book, that sounds a bit over the top. But it isn't. It really isn't. Because it is hard to identify what is the worst, most awful example of plain dispicable conduct in the text.

I'm not going to take you through the cast of this tragedy in any detail, or explain exactly how they all fit together. The book does that for you. All I want to do here is give those of you who haven't managed (or won't be bothered) to read it some indication of why it matters beyond the specific questions of whether accessing a left-open computer system is a crime, or if Judith Collins was "just helping" when she gave a public servants name up for public humiliation, or if John Key's office expedited the release of some SIS information to someone ahead of someone else. Because I want to talk about the sorts of people who this book reveals for who they are, and what their participation in our politics means.

Doing so first requires that I show you just how bad things are. So, is the worst moment in the book when Simon Lusk is discussing with Cameron Slater how they want to use some alleged texts sent by Rodney Hide to "some girl" to pressure Hide to resign as ACT leader:

[Tell Hide we have the texts] and will leak them if he doesn't resign by friday, and how will the new mrs hide react to that. [This is] straight out of my personal playbook, upset the missus, cause strife at home. (p. 69)

Or is it when this same Simon Lusk states:

I'm just motivated to cut throats. Unfortunately the biggest buzz I get is when I wreck someone, only done it three times, but I was on a massive high. (p. 65-6)

Or is it when Jordan Williams, the Executive Director of the "Taxpayers' Union" – a role he holds while also still ghost-writing posts on Whale Oil using Taxpayers' Union material to attack the Labour Party (p. 104, f/n 30) – and an admitted barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand, enquires of Cameron Slater:

Any convicted child rapists among that labour party membership list [that Slater had taken from Labour's website, knowing it to be private material]? Let's start googling. (p. 72)

Or is it when this same Jordan Williams responds to the news in July 2011 (less than six months after some 185 people died in Christchurch) that one of the members of his anti-MMP group has resigned by stating:

[A]n earthquake right now would be good. (p. 72)

Or is it when Cathy Odgers, also an admitted barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand and so subject to the New Zealand Law Society's ethical obligations, ghostwrites a post on Slater's blogsite that attacks Nicky Hager for writing an article on the use of tax havens, and then contacts her friends:

It would be a disaster if [Chinese people who use these havens] knew where he lived. He may even need police protection. I've spent all day telling clients it is not our company but have asked a few how they would react if they knew a bit about the people publishing the material. I was delighted to assist with the full details for Mr Hager. Those Chinese can be very vicious when they lose face. ... Chop chop for Nicky. Shame Russians don't seem affected but our Chinese friends need a helping hand. (p. 92)

[She is then provided Nicky Hager's address by both Matthew Hooten and Cameron Slater.]

Or is it when Cameron Slater asks an ex-prostitute friend:

Boscawen. Any dirt on what, who, when and how would be good before 10am ... especially how he likes it and where he buys it from. (pp. 113-114)

Or when he asks the same person:

[D]o you have any sleaze on Duncan Garner. ... Scratch around please ... he is being a cock ... and it is never wise to piss off the whale. (p. 114)

Or is it when Cameron Slater tells a friend in the wake of the February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake:

What i can't believe ... is how we have to bail out those useless pricks in the sth island, again. ... Those [Christchurch] suburbs are hard core Labour ... the owners will be Nat voters though and the voters tenants, so the houses are gone and the scum are gone too, and so they should get nothing. (p. 27)

Or is it when Slater discusses a friend's (seriously – this is a friend he's talking about) failure to win selection as a National candidate:

What a loser, he couldn't even win WITH daddy's money, you think Zac Goldsmith would have ever stood in a seat he couldn't win. Rich people don't lose selections unless they are fucking hopeless or fucking stupid. He lost to a maori and that is even funnier. (p. 57)

Or is it when Slater is talking with another blogger, "Barnsley Bill", about the response to a post Slater wrote describing the death of a West Coast man in a car accident as that of a "feral" who had "done the world a favour".

Why would I apologise to that slut [the dead man's mother]? ... J[ohn] K[ey] rang me ... [and said she] was the same feral fucking bitch that screams at him when he goes to pike river meetings. (p. 133)

Terrible as all this is, for me the very worst bit lies in an exchange Slater has with a woman who sought his help to have a prisoner (the father of her daughter) moved to another city. Slater apparently was able to do so, whereupon the woman informs him that the prisoner has attempted suicide. To which Slater replies:

Send him a message to tell him to try harder next time. What a loser, can't even kill himself properly. He is a c**t. Hopefully his move to a Sth Island prison might teach him who is [in] control of his life. (p.145)

Now, I've beaten you over the head with this detail for a reason, not simply as an exercise in eliciting vicarious shock at how terrible some human beings can be. There are two possible responses to it that I want to dispute.

The first is that this behaviour and language is somehow "just what politics is". No. It isn't. Politics can be bruising. It can be hurtful. But it's the way that we manage our differences, deal with our conflicts, and work out ways to live together (and, just perhaps, do so in a way that makes everything a little bit better). That is a noble and honourable thing, one that attracts a lot of people to want to take part in it. I see it in a lot of the students I teach – they are inspired to try and make a difference in lots of different ways, to lots of different ends.

What the people in Dirty Politics are trying to do is kill the good in politics and turn it into something completely toxic that destroys any hope of meaningful debate, discussion and conciliation, all so that their side can "win". If that sounds melodramatic and over the top, it isn't. You can read them saying that this is what they want in their own words. And that is a terrible, terrible thing to seek to do. Because if they win – if the way we conduct our politics and manage our differences and decide our common path becomes their vision of how "the game" should be played – then we all lose something very valuable. Basically, we lose our future.

The second is that this post isn't simply an attack on "the Right". It's not even an attack on "the National Party". There's plenty of good people involved on the right side of politics who are worthy of respect and engagement. You even see some of them in the book's pages – Hamish Price (p. 112-113), for example, who defended Bevan Chuang when she fell out of favour with those involved in the Len Brown "hit". And there's in all likelihood some people on the left side of politics who are just as nasty and sociopathic as the ones in this book (the difference being, they don't have anything like the influence or public profile of the folks we're seeing here).

Rather, my post is about a choice. John Key was on Radio NZ tonight saying:

Cameron Slater is a force unto himself, there's no question that people talk to him, we talk to lots of bloggers and actually that's the social media world that we live in.

That's just rubbish. Cameron Slater isn't a hurricane or flood that you can't avoid. He's a thoroughly nasty human being who thrives on being seen in a particular way and being enabled by attention. So he's set up a way of getting that attention, worked with a bunch of other like-minded people to build a network of influence, and tried to use this to his own ends.

Now John Key, or any other politician, is free to decide whether or not he wants to play this game. Those choices then partly define them. So, for instance, you can't credibly claim to have high ethical standards for your administration if you take advantage of Cameron Slater's complete absence of any in order to release information you want spread out into the world. You just can't – as Slater himself loves to say, if you roll around with pigs, you will get muddy.

By the same token, you can't be outraged at the alleged "News of the World tactics" of a newspaper taping your conversation when you're using a form of information distribution that does things that make the UK tabloid industry look like the New York Times. Either you think journalistic ethics mean something and ought to be a filter on how public discourse occurs, or else you're fair game for anything (as long as it wins the fight).

So that's all I really want to say. Nicky Hager actually says it better (and more pithily) than me:

[T]he book is not about the inevitability of expedient and unprincipled politics. Understanding what is wrong means things do not have to remain that way. Exposing dirty politics is an essential step in allowing reasonable people to understand and to choose other approaches. There is no need to follow those who are least principled down into the pit. (p. 15)

Comments (50)

by mikesh on August 18, 2014
mikesh

What a wonderful post. If was addressed to parliament, I beieve it would be regarded as churchillian.

by Steve F on August 18, 2014
Steve F

Andrew,
A compelling but disturbing summary.
Parliament is the highest court of the land. It is where the law is made, repealed and dabbled with. It is supreme and it it the place where our elected representatives do their civic duty and ensure our democracy prevails. What saddens me more than anything in this sickly soup of cretins, scumbags and lowlifes, is that the smiling assassin is seemingly ignoring  there is a systemic problem within his administration. He's probably been advised, by the same soup igredients above, or at least their close relatives, that it's the only way to spin it at this late stage and limit the damage. He's gambling on the masses not reading the book and having an opinion that will only be influenced by the main stream media headlines and soundbites. So indirectly, or some may say directly, he's condoning an attack on the very fabric of our democracy.
I doubt it will affect his chances much of forming a new government. If he dosen't step in and stop the rot I can see the history of other far less tolerant states being imported to our shores and that precarious line in the sand being crossed with Sicilian ruthlessness. There will be no turning back if that line is crossed.

by Scott Chris on August 18, 2014
Scott Chris

If you haven't read the book, that sounds a bit over the top. But it isn't. It really isn't. Because it is hard to identify what is the worst, most awful example of plain dispicable conduct in the text.

Yes Slater and his cronies are a bunch of vindictive narcissistic fuckwits but I think Farrar makes a reasonable point that if any of us had had our email library subjectively parsed, many of us could have been portrayed as less than the well-meaners we really are. 

by Andrew Geddis on August 18, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Scott,

I'm prepared to accept that to a point. And I also accept that email lacks "tone", so that you often can't identify the (say) ironically meant interchange between two people who mean the opposite of what they appear to be saying. So, if this were just about a few quotes from six-or-so years of correspondence, then OK. But it isn't - I've put in the worst, but there's more (with context) in the book.

Also, the counter to "anyone's emails can look bad" is that it's only in people's private talk that you see the real person. Whether that private talk ought to then be seen by the rest of the world is a question of journalistic ethics - and I think Nicky Hager does a pretty good job of explaining why this was an important story that needs to be told.

Also, I think it's pretty shameful that, when given the chance on National Radio this morning to condemn Slater's views, John Key refused to do so. Completely shameful. (Not so much in response to you, Scott, but more because I was typing anyway).

by Katharine Moody on August 18, 2014
Katharine Moody

@Scott - no, that comment by Farrar is just plain wrong. Pathological narcissism only affects 1% of the population at most, and far, far fewer exhibit/practice this form of collective or group narcissism which has a very ethnocentric focus. So, no, I would suspect there are not that many people at all whose private emails would reveal this sort of personality trait. In fact I would hazard a guess and suggest that even David Farrar himself is not so pathologically affected. It's a shame for him that he attempts to normalise this type of behaviour and hence implicate himself.

by Fentex on August 18, 2014
Fentex

I think Farrar makes a reasonable point that if any of us had had our email library subjectively parsed, many of us could have been portrayed as less than the well-meaners we really are. 

As Richelieu put it..?

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

Thing is you don't have to search in these peoples emails for an ungaurded error or out of context statement to torture into misinterpretation. Read on their face these are the opinions of awful people.

And more to that, even if one could forgive and forget rash and unfiltered speech these are actors in our politics - they do things, not just speak among themselves in anger with insult of others, and those acts reveal their character more than words they hope pass unnoticed.

by Katharine Moody on August 18, 2014
Katharine Moody

And now we have this analogy from Key;

"The point is, if the Wallabies left up on their public site their starting 15 on Tuesday, would the All Black management go and have a look?"

Someone should go and ask the All Blacks management whether they like their brand being used to legitimise this less than morally upstanding behaviour. He should keep the icons of our national pride out of it. 

by Thomas Beagle on August 18, 2014
Thomas Beagle

Scott Chris - actually, no.

You would not find any messages like that in my email or online chat history. I don't think like that and I don't write like that.

I suspect that I'm in the majority on that one and that Lusk, Slater, Williams and so on are in a very small minority.

by Mark Derby on August 18, 2014
Mark Derby

A point Mr Hager has made repeatedly, in his new book and in interviews, is that he selected the email traffic he chose to quote from. Not, as has been alleged, to distort its meaning, but to eliminate personal information of insufficient public interest. Which suggests that even more disgusting exchanges took place between the unlovely characters quoted above, but not about matters of major public interest. Hager's selection process may well have actually done them a few favours in that respect.

by Alan Johnstone on August 18, 2014
Alan Johnstone

The tar black souls of those involved has been shown to everyone.

by ShanghaiSue on August 18, 2014
ShanghaiSue

John Key is a brand.  His image is that of  `regular guy' beloved of marketers.  Friendly, honest, one of us.  No different in his essence to The Warehouse, ASB Bank or Toyota cars.  No true regular guy is ever going to make it to Prime Minister.  True regular guys want to fit in, be one of the crowd, not stand out from it and lead from the front.  So, how did he do it.  Well now we know. 

Insiders may have known that planned attacks like these are an accepted strategy, but I did not.  I follow politics because who leads us is important but don't obsess over politics on a daily basis.  This is shocking.   It could have got a lot worse, going after politicians families for example or following through on their threats.  Nicky Hagar is a hero to me now for having exposed two track politics.  He has done our country an immense service.

by Gilbert on August 18, 2014
Gilbert

Bravo Andrew! - right on the button. It would be helpful to hear the response of Mr Key & his bands response to your (Nicky's) last para from p15. Fortunately for them there are no sanctions on ad hominem attacks - they seem to have no other ammunition. They havent used a single rational or ethical  argument in defense of their grubby involvement in the revelations so far. Even Matthew Hooton is turning on them now. 

 

by Max Ritchie on August 18, 2014
Max Ritchie

Slater's comments are no worse than dozens of bloggers, the outrage on this page is just because he's an enemy of the left. I've complained for years about the likes of Bomber Bradbury and others - and that's on National Radio, not some tucked away Web site! Of course Slater is extreme but I'll join you in your complaints when I see some balance. Hager received stolen emails. That is a crime. Using intemperate language on your own Web site is not. All those of us who find these blogs repulsive have to do is to avoid them. Hager on the other hand is on the media I (and others) are paying for and is unavoidable. He is no more an investigative journalist than Whaleoil.

by Pete George on August 18, 2014
Pete George

Also, I think it's pretty shameful that, when given the chance on National Radio this morning to condemn Slater's views, John Key refused to do so. Completely shameful.

That's by far my biggest disapointment. I pretty much knew what Slater et were like. It's not very nice reading but not surprising.

But if ever we needed a principled stand against this by a Prime Minister it's now, and Key has failed badly. Is it recoverable? Possibly, but it's not looking likely Key gets it. I don't know if that's misplaced political instincts or he's a part of it. 

Last week Slater re-quoted:

Politics is a dirty, disgusting, despicable game. And it involves dirty, disgusting, despicable people at all levels.

That Key is still associated with that because he refuses to properly condemn and distance himself could well be his downfall.

by Max Ritchie on August 18, 2014
Max Ritchie

I know John Key. He detests the dirty, despicable and disgusting side of politics. But if he says anything more, egged on by Guyon Espiner etc, then that becomes the story, a new story, and the feeding frenzy continues. I am quite sure that John Key is offended by many of the things that Whaleoil and other bloggers - from both ends of the political spectrum - think and say. For heaven's sake, one of his opponents posted an obscene video about him. Perhaps, Pete George, and for that matter Andrew, could steer me to your criticism of this and the ringlet billboards etc.

by Andrew Geddis on August 18, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Max,

I abhor, detest and condemn the anti-semetic defacing of National's billboards and hope that if anyone is caught doing so they are not just charged with criminal damage, but also under the Human Rights Act for inciting racial hate. ANYONE.

I also reject your false equivalence between what we see in this book and "the Left" blogs you name ... Bomber is a wind-bag who is a clown and franky could do with some shutting of his mouth, but he's not Cameron Slater, et al. He just isn't. And to equate Hager's work with Slater - sorry, that saps you of any credibility.

Finally, I don't know John Key. But I know people who have worked closely with him who like and respect him (and whose judgment I trust). So I don't think he's a bad person - but he's making some bad choices. And it's our choices that count.

by Pete George on August 18, 2014
Pete George

@Max

http://yournz.org/2014/08/13/why-has-overt-anti-semitism-surfaced/

http://yournz.org/2014/08/07/internet-party-party-or-dotcom-cult/

I think that generally Key has been a good person and a good Prime Minister, but I think he's misjudging badly on this, presuming he's not being blackmailed with threats of embarrassing information - that's how low this has become. As leader he needs to step above the fray, not shrug it away.

 

by stuart munro on August 18, 2014
stuart munro

I think you may be being unduly charitable to Key. He's maintained this facade of bonhomie without blushing in the face of some pretty determined questioning. It's not easy for most people to lie like that.

Perhaps you go for a scenario whereby Key was parachuted into a very toxic environment and has just struggled to get on in spite of it. But TV appearances notwithstanding, he's not a stupid man.

The simplest explanation for most of the activities chronicled in the book is that Key was fully informed and complicit. Ede was his agent. Whaleoil was his confederate. This may not be true - but this time let's construct the narrative from factual information rather than from supposition based on a folksy George W Bush type superficial appeal. Because the quality of the PM's character does matter, it influences the actions of his ministers and government.

by Lee Churchman on August 18, 2014
Lee Churchman

I abhor, detest and condemn the anti-semetic defacing of National's billboards

Given what's emerged about the Machiaveillian depths the right are prepared to go to, there's a probability somewhat greater than zero that at least some of this is a false flag op.

by Megan Pledger on August 18, 2014
Megan Pledger

@Lee Churchman

I agree, it's impossible to knows what's true anymore.   And I think that shows how hopeless the MSM has become.  They are the ones meant to get at the truth.

by Lee Churchman on August 18, 2014
Lee Churchman

I've seen false flag anti-semitism in person before, so I know it happens. 

Other than a few in the mold of Kyle Chapman, NZ doesn't have much in the way of this sort of problem. Part of that is that religion is a very private matter in NZ, and we just don't have the kind of ethno-religious identity politics you find elsewhere. I already thought that there was something odd about those billboards – but of course there's no way of knowing.

by stuart munro on August 18, 2014
stuart munro

@Lee - I imagine the mods of the defaced National billboards page can shed some light on it. They have a no-antisemitism policy - if they've never had to use it that would tend to frame the anti-semitic posters as Gnat squirrels - like the sudden rash of 'burglaries'.

Key really has two options now, he can own the negative campaign - full arch villain exposition is optional - or he can distance himself from it and show himself to be the kind of weak and compromised leader that his attack bloggers and MSM fanbois have spent so much time critiquing Cunliffe as. As Hooten notes, either way he's lost.

by Stephen Judd on August 18, 2014
Stephen Judd

"NZ doesn't have much in the way of this sort of problem."

I disagree. As a member of NZ's Jewish community I can attest that there is a steady stream of petty vandalism, whether by actual neo-nazis or skins or by people who have a weak grasp on geopolitics. Especially given the uptick in antisemitism stimulated by recent events in Gaza, I see no reason to attribute the hoarding defacement to anything other than straightforward actions by the usual suspects.

by Rich on August 18, 2014
Rich

Many of these people are lawyers, ffs. They will have had it dinned into them that you don't trash talk in email, right?

Also, Andrew, would all these mails be admissible in a disciplinary tribunal hearing, or does their interception prevent that?

by barry on August 18, 2014
barry

@Scott:

"I think Farrar makes a reasonable point that if any of us had had our email library subjectively parsed, many of us could have been portrayed as less than the well-meaners we really are. "

Actually we have seen large drops of people's private emails before (particularly the "climategate" emails).  Although they may display a side that the senders may not have wanted made public they didn't display anywhere near that level of pathology that we see from Slater.

I would be very surprised if you could find anything like that in my emails, and if you and Farrar have such skeletons in your closets, please enlighten us.

 

by Stephen on August 18, 2014
Stephen
I have read the book. I can't quite understand how any of my countrymen or women can do other than feel as I did; sick and ashamed. And as much, I was forced to wonder if my decision to become a lawyer 45 years or more ago was justified; the behaviour and language of admitted members exposed by the book the bar is sordid. And then I read your column, and saw again the cleansing power of a trained legal mind with it's morality fully engaged. My pride in my country is seeping back. To be discouraged rather than to show courage is after all the express design of these unprincipled curs.
by Ian MacKay on August 18, 2014
Ian MacKay

Whaleoil gets great attendance and access to advertising revenue because he is the most popular blogger. But wait. Kim Dotcom has analysed WO traffic.

42% is from unidentifiable sources from outside NZ. No country. No ID. I think the term is fed by bots. Not people. And average presence is 13 seconds.

Found on a few posts down on https://twitter.com/hashtag/hagerbook?src=hash

I imagine that the apparent cheating will upset those who used his site because of the great "exposure."

by Mamari on August 18, 2014
Mamari

Thanks so much Andrew, you have put into words that roiling, sickly feeling that has been in the pit of my stomach for days now. I don't think I'm a total naif, and I know we, all of us, fall short of being truly decent human beings most of the time. But I have felt a little overwhelmed by the seeping sewerage of the last week. I remember an interview with a surgeon with Medicins Sans Frontiers interviewed on RNZ a few years back. I remember Kim Hill asking this bloke if he was glad that he could make a difference in the world becuse of the lives he has saved. He replied that if he really wanted to make a difference he would have gone into politics. Politicians, he said, really can change the world. What he did, in comparison, was so little, in a lasting sense. He's right. Just every so often, politicians really can change things for the better. Not that you'd know it from the past couple of weeks.

And I hold no truck with the Left that maintains that what we have been seeing is the natural results of right-wing thinking. Bullshit. There is nothing politically inevitable about such awfulness. It is the proximity to, or the hunger for, power that release the poison, not the colour of the rosette.

So what I have been feeling has been an uneasy mixture of fear (for what all this crap means for our political future) nausea (for obvious reasons), and loathing. I know I live in a glass house, and throwing moral stones is unadvisable. But geez, these people are awful. And so, because these are also my people, my compatriots, I am also whakamā. I think I need some good politicians to come to my rescue, please. Lucky there are some, then.

by Red Tussock on August 18, 2014
Red Tussock

Good work .. 

A lot of Nicky Hagers work is messy in its construction, in the past I have always sub conciously ended up asking the author (Nicky) where is the proof of context, I find he is inclined to construct his own at times.

Slater is a buffoon of the worst kind .... for some reason our politicans saw him as something or someone to do the dirty business with. IMHO I believe for balance Nicky needs to release all the emails ...  there will I imagine be a long list of names from all spectrums of the political arena come to the fore.

I also see a construct in that Nicky has an agenda in his book, and so uses only the emails that suit his agenda. 

As a boring old fart I have little respect for any person that would use correspondence not intended for them to read; to then build a story and make money, it seems to me it is just as dirty.  I would go so far as to say they should be locked up.

If they worked for the post office and were to read mail and use it to write a book, they would end up in jail ...  why should they have any imunity from the same cosequence.

 

by Bruce Thorpe on August 18, 2014
Bruce Thorpe

Thanks, Andrew. Thank you very much.

Nicky Hager has made a critical contribution to our political culture with this book.

We are now talking about an enormously important political subject. The moral tone of government.

We all feel a gratitude tlo those in public life who challenge us to be better, and insist on a dialogue on what needs to change.

 

Nicky Hager brings the best out of us, we are all listening, thinking and talking  about standards of conduct.

And in my 76 years, I have learned to value those who bring out our best qualities, gives us proud memories.

 

And this is becoming a truly important election campaign for our society. Things are coming to a head over the social divisions, the need to respect all layers of society.We might not be the first country to consider a new morality in our politics and society generally, Uruguay's president and our Argentinian pope already seem well down such a path.   

 

by Peter Clareburt on August 18, 2014
Peter Clareburt

I think there is a whole new paradigm here; if you read all the readers responses on all the paper columns, people seem to becoming much more vicious online. You see responses from people on a range of politicians calling them this and that – abuse, lies, personal attacks, general attacks on people who obviously have different opinions. This has become steadily worse over time. I think I have read Slater’s blog maybe once or twice when directed there from some link – perhaps Bryce Edwards who has great summaries linking to a range of opinion on multiple topics i.e. balance. I am not sure how Slater became so popular. I think people are becoming desensitised when using online media on a range of things, look at face book what some people post. People will say things in digital form that they will never say or do in public.

I am 22% through the book – had to buy it on Kindle, no pages just locations and percentages and these people do seem horrible. I do however get the impression that they talk about things more than they actually deliver – kind of a nasty type of pub talk bravado.  

However for a person (Hagar) who states this is not a political attack it does seem to have all the hallmarks of one and I am partially disappointed in the narrow focus and target of what could be a wider more balanced topic to give an insight into the activities of the wider online atcivities.

Whenever my wife catches me out on omitting all or being selective about information I get accused of lying by omission which is apparently worse than a straight out lie. I feel Hagar is guilty here of that sin.  

by Julie Fairey on August 18, 2014
Julie Fairey

Thanks for this Andrew, for articulating it in a way that gets across the chill I feel.  I haven't read all the comments above, just wanted to add that for me this is quite personal - my partner is one of the people who is mentioned in the book as being targeted for a "sting" and given the stuff about how much Slater et al enjoy wrecking marriages etc I feel we had a close escape - not because I think my partner would have fallen for such a sting but because Slater would have lied about it in a way that made family life very difficult for us.  I've had several run-ins with Slater myself - most recently when he published absolute lies about a local issue in the area of Auckland that I represent in Auckland Council politics, and would not correct even when the falsehoods were made baldly clear.  Earlier this year a political colleague threatened to leak some emails of mine to Slater (which I was not worried about because I am always very careful about emails and stood by the content).  This stuff is incredibly unhealthy for our democracy, but also has the deleterious effect of running out of political life the very people who want to partake in it with integrity.  

by Ben Thomas on August 18, 2014
Ben Thomas

I do find myself in a quandary.  I have always thought Slater a somewhat unpleasant individual.  His comments regarding Christchurch  earthquake victims are beyond the pale and that together with some other statements has made me realise that unpleasant is an understatement.  No political party should associate with such an individual.

Then I look at the other side and see a man who  has used his wealth to subvert democracy for his own selfish ends.  I see people who are prepared to deal with a man who is as objectionable in his way as Slater. In some ways they are worse because they have sold their souls to the devil.

If I vote National I vote for a party that has dealings with Slater.  If I vote Labour I may help bring in a government partly made up of people who are prepared to ditch any principle in return for tainted money, that support obscene abuse, who refuse to condemn anti-Semitic vandalism and who for all I know have made a secret deal to corrupt any legal process which might lead to extradition.

NZ politics is corrupt and dirty on both sides of the political spectrum.  The only hope is that the Labour and Green parties can garner enough support so that they are not defiled having to deal KDC's minions.

by Lee Churchman on August 18, 2014
Lee Churchman

The Kim Dotcom conspiracy theories are stupid. Stop blaming the victim. The guy is supposedly guilty of enabling people to download televison shows illegally, a "crime" committed by most New Zealanders at one time or another (and almost universal among my students), and which should be a civil and not a criminal issue. Anyone under the age of 30 understands that the whole thing is silly and pointless.

Yet Dotcom is put under illegal surveillance and his home is attacked by militarised police. If he wants to spend money getting his own back on the people responsible for this disproportionate and ridiculous misuse of the justice system, then more power to him. 

by Frank Macskasy on August 19, 2014
Frank Macskasy

Scott Cris - "Yes Slater and his cronies are a bunch of vindictive narcissistic fuckwits but I think Farrar makes a reasonable point that if any of us had had our email library subjectively parsed, many of us could have been portrayed as less than the well-meaners we really are. "

Actually, Chris, no. There is no way in the wide world you'd find anything like that amongst my emails.

Max Ritchie - "Slater's comments are no worse than dozens of bloggers..."

No Max, and I challenge you to find similar actions by any other bloggers. Especially from the left. You can't, because it doersn't exist.

In reality what you are attempting to achieve is to legitamise anti-social behaviour be saying "everyone else does it". That doesn't work in a Court of Law, it doesn't work in society. If it did, a burglar could breakl into your home and jusdtify it by saying that 40,000 other acts of burglary were no different.

Your other posts do you credit as a loyal supporter of the PM.

Ben Thomas - "Then I look at the other side and see a man who  has used his wealth to subvert democracy for his own selfish ends."

If you're referring to Kim Dotcom, then that's a long bow to draw. KDC may be funding Mana-Internet, but it doesn't guarantee a single extra vote. It does level the playing field with the likes of National who have several millionaire donors. (I notice you don't accuse the Nats or Key for  "trying to subvert democracy for his own selfish ends"? Funny how the Right think that wealkthy donors are ok for their parties, but wealthy donors for the left are "trying to subvert democracy". Is different currency being used in the process?)

Peter Clareburt -  "However for a person (Hagar) who states this is not a political attack it does seem to have all the hallmarks of one and I am partially disappointed in the narrow focus and target of what could be a wider more balanced topic to give an insight into the activities of the wider online atcivities."

Peter, you may have forgotten, but Hager did write a book on Labour's machinations, back in 2002. I refer you to "Seeds of Distrust". So accusing him of lack of "balance" is unwarranted - especially when that book nearly cost Labour the election that year.


Andrew Geddis - well written.

by Jane Beezle on August 19, 2014
Jane Beezle

Top stuff, Andrew.

I think there's something else that deserves a separate post from you.

When a Minister of Justice abandons all due process and hands over the name of a public servant to a feral blogger, there is something deeply wrong.

It's not enough, as the PM has been saying, to let the public decide whether Judith Collins' actions regarding Simon Pleasant pass muster.  Her actions need to be held accountable to the high standard that should be expected of a Minister of the Crown.

If a leak is suspected, by all means hold a proper inquiry.   But for a Minister of Justice to act as judge, jury and executioner in this way is a real low for our system of government.  It also flies in the face of the principles of justice which she, as Minister, should uphold and set the bar for.

 

by Ben Thomas on August 19, 2014
Ben Thomas

Frank there is a difference in The method of funding.  The Nats do indeed have wealthy donors but their ties to the NP are as well understood as the ties of Union donors to the LP.

Whose KDC we have someone whose wealth has somewhat dubious origins, who is motivated by revenge and a desire to avoid extradition and has nothing in more in common with Harre than a desire to evict JK.

You say that his funding does not guarantee a single extra vote.  So why are donations made to the NP and LP?  They are made because it enable parties to fund an election campaign and to garner support.  Do you think KDC would give a cent if he did not believe money translated into votes.

If MIP do achieve their goal and assuming KDC gets to stay in NZ I will be very interested to see at the next election whether his largesse will be continue to be directed to the left.  The man is a danger to NZ democracy in the same way that other demagogues have been dangers to democracy.

by Ben Thomas on August 19, 2014
Ben Thomas

Frank there is a difference in The method of funding.  The Nats do indeed have wealthy donors but their ties to the NP are as well understood as the ties of Union donors to the LP.

Whose KDC we have someone whose wealth has somewhat dubious origins, who is motivated by revenge and a desire to avoid extradition and has nothing in more in common with Harre than a desire to evict JK.

You say that his funding does not guarantee a single extra vote.  So why are donations made to the NP and LP?  They are made because it enable parties to fund an election campaign and to garner support.  Do you think KDC would give a cent if he did not believe money translated into votes.

If MIP do achieve their goal and assuming KDC gets to stay in NZ I will be very interested to see at the next election whether his largesse will be continue to be directed to the left.  The man is a danger to NZ democracy in the same way that other demagogues have been dangers to democracy.

by Max Ritchie on August 19, 2014
Max Ritchie

Frank

I'm actually not a loyal supporter of John Key (I'm a Ritchie NB) but I do recognise excellence when I see it  And unlike you, I do know him and can safely say what I said. And I am not justifying Cameron Slater's actions but anyone who reads blogs can find foul language and evil thoughts expressed. Since lefty blogs and comments outweigh the right by a magnitude - lefties have comfy academic or government jobs, those on the right haev to eran a living - I can testify that "Slater's comments are no worse than dozens of bloggers" and most of them are of the left. Have a look at Andrew's latest post and the "rot in hell" addresssed to David Farrar by Siena as a readily accessible example. In my initial post, my contention was that the outrage on this page is because Slater is of the right. I have found no post by Andrew or you for that matter about the kosher bill boards for example which in my opinion is just as bad.

by Max Ritchie on August 19, 2014
Max Ritchie

Have to earn. Where's the Spell check when yuo need it?

by Max Ritchie on August 19, 2014
Max Ritchie

My apology. You. But at least not "semeti".

by Matthew Whitehead on August 19, 2014
Matthew Whitehead

Max - if you think having an academic job gives you MORE time to post things to the internet, you really don't know anyone seriously involved in academia. The time demands involved are extreme. What you do find is people blogging about the things they're already working on because it's part of their work, and calling that "free time to blog" is somewhat like saying social marketers have lots of free time to post things to twitter and facebook.

Your counterexamples are in no way as offensive as Slater's comments. Maybe people should be less heated, but you'll notice that your "go to hell" seems to be more of a "I hate you, go away" when parsed, where as Slater's emails do literally parse down to "You deserve unpleasant things to happen to you." There is a huge qualitative difference between those two types of messages, and I would contest that you will find very little of the latter among lefty bloggers, and the closest you get is "I wish you would be exposed to the public as the person you clearly are when researched," which surprise surprise, is now happening for Slater, because honestly, he's left himself wide-open to a PR attack.

The National Party can and should clean up its act. It doesn't need dross like Slater, Lusk, Ede, and Collins. It should dump them like so much garbage, and embrace its more ethical members as leaders. A general cleaning of house is the only way to respond to this issue that will work. Otherwise I hope they enjoy their time in opposition, and trying to win elections without John Key, who has clearly said he'll resign.

As to Hager's motivations- having met the man I can confirm he takes his journalistic principles seriously. If he is witholding information it's not about painting a particular picture, it will be about what is relevant to the story, and he may be witholding things that make some of the figures involved look bad because it doesn't have to do with the public interest in any way. That is perfectly reasonable. As for selling the book? Perfectly fine. The man is a journalist and deserves to be paid for his work. Given that "newspapers" largely don't do research journalism anymore, only option is for him to get paid directly, which is fair enough.

Finally, I would like to point out to detractors that:

1) you can't steal emails, you can only compromise an email account. Stealing implies removing an original copy which is not how the digital world works. This sounds like nitpicking but it's actually really important because stealing implies a loss that compromising an email account doesn't cause- it's more like someone broke into your house and took photos of every page in all your books and notes.
2) Receiving compromised emails is perfectly legitimate journalism, many leaks might technically be illegal were they not leaks in the public interest, and we should start viewing hacking in a similar light. The test needs to be: is there a legitimate public interest in this information? If so it can be made public. If not it should be deleted and not used for personal gain.

by Andrew Geddis on August 19, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Matthew,

... we should start viewing hacking in a similar light. The test needs to be: is there a legitimate public interest in this information? If so it can be made public. If not it should be deleted and not used for personal gain.

I'm somewhat nervous about this suggestion. On its face, it seems to say that it's OK to go hunting through peoples computer systems so long as you either (i) find something incriminating, or (ii) delete what you find there. Isn't that an open invitation to go on fishing expeditions ? Is it then really a case of "no harm, no foul" if that expedition doesn't result in any information being made "public"? There's still been someone rummaging through my shit!

To take an analogy, we'd never say that people should have carte blanche to burgle people's homes to look for evidence that they are up to no good, as long as they don't take anything that isn't evidence. So ... is that a good analogy, or am I just an old fuddy-duddy who doesn't get what the internetz is all about?

(NB: I'm talking about the act of hacking, not the separate question of what should be done by others (like Hager) with the information gained through hacking. I'm perfectly OK with him relying on it to publish this book, for the reasons he himself gives in the first chapter.)

by Matthew Whitehead on August 20, 2014
Matthew Whitehead

I'd agree that it's not okay to go fishing, but that's very different from saying (for instance) that Nicky Hager was "receiving stolen property", which is complete rubbish.

I was more talking about using information gained from hacking afterwards, at a second- or third-party remove. The cat is already out of the bag at that point, somebody will have access they aren't supposed to.

To go with your analogy, breaking in is wrong, it is always wrong, and people should not go on fishing (or phishing) expeditions. But if someone breaks in and DOES copy a bunch of incriminating evidence, it's total ridiculousness to claim that receiving copied evidence obtained in a break-in is illegal or immoral when that evidence is of public import and the person receiving it is a journalist.

Perhaps the only way to expose someone who is clearly (but rarely demonstrably) a consummate liar like the Prime Minister is such fishing expeditions for sensitive data. I wouldn't know. It still doesn't justify the initial act of compromising people's emails. But once it's already happened, and someone has already read them instead of deleting them, and forwarded them onto second- or third-parties, that's the point at which we should start considering whether publishing is in the public interest.

by Matthew Whitehead on August 20, 2014
Matthew Whitehead

I should add that one of the important reasons we distinguish compromising emails from stealing them is this:

If someone copies all of your emails and does a really good job of it, (either through physical access or being a really great hacker) you will most likely never even know it happened. (The nats have been in that boat for both of Hager's recent books regarding them) If that person then doesn't use the information for personal gain, and deletes it without passing it on further, literally the only harm done is in violating your digital space. There is not the same sense of damage and loss involved with a regular break-in, because there is no inherent need to damage or remove something digital in order to take a copy with you.

It's still bad, but it's of a very different character to breaking into someone's house and stealing something, so I think it's some very clever spin for detractors to use the word "stolen," hyping up people in a way that's fundamentally not true. Most hacks "run silent" the way I have described above, you still have all your information, you probably don't know you've been hacked, and the worst side-effect is likely to be that the hacker hasn't re-secured your site for you afterwards, which would be the equivalent of not rupgrading you a door that's resistant to having its locks picked.

by Andrew Geddis on August 20, 2014
Andrew Geddis

I was more talking about using information gained from hacking afterwards, at a second- or third-party remove. The cat is already out of the bag at that point, somebody will have access they aren't supposed to.

Ah! OK - I think we're pretty much on the same page, then. I misunderstood.

If someone copies all of your emails and does a really good job of it, (either through physical access or being a really great hacker) you will most likely never even know it happened.

True - but equally, a skilled B&E expert could be in your house, have gone through your underwear draw, photographed your diary, and be out the window without leaving a trace. I'm not sure the fact "if I'm innocent, I never will know it happened" makes that in any way OK!

It's an interesting ethical issue, but. When does the end justify the means? It got me thinking of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones - there's a bit in there where the sister of a murdered girl breaks into a neighbour's house whom she suspects of being the murderer to look for evidence of his guilt (which she then finds). I don't think there were many readers/viewers of that scene who were thinking "tut, tut ... she's committing the offence of burglary ... who is the real victim here?" Which makes me think that at least in some situations it is OK to ignore what the law says in order to try and uncover a greater wrong. But ... which? And who decides? Thems the tricky questions.

by Chris Webster on August 20, 2014
Chris Webster

Andrew .. 'them's the trick questions'

I had no truck (or questions) with what was written/published by Nicky Hager .. because of Steven Price .. we all know this book would not have made it to the front door had Steven (GBHS) not ok'ed it.

As I read  .. my questions arose - I then turned to Pundit & Dim Post & Public Address - to find similar concerns & outrage  .. & like a ball of wool that falls on the floor & keeps unravelling .. as will this ... & for all our sakes we need to keep asking these tricky questions & in public fora .. such as this ..

Thanks for your analysis.

by Penny Bright on August 20, 2014
Penny Bright
Concerned about the following comments allegedly made by  Cathy Odgers, ('Cactus Kate') as exposed in Nicky Hager's 'Dirty Politics'? (Pg 91 - 92)  In 2013 I helped to research and write an international study about people using tax havens, an industry in which Cathy Odgers is a lawyer.  She wrote an attack post about it for the Whale Oil blog and sent the following e-mail to David Farrar, Cameron Slater and Mathew Hooton.            To Farrar, Slater, Hooton:  Make sure when Cam finds it             that you subtly repost where Hager lives.  I've done a post             for Saturday on whale blog as can't run myself as too close             to work.  The leaks he is involved with include tens of            thousands of rich Chinese.  Mainland and HK.

It would be a disaster if they all knew where he lived. He may even need police protection. I've spent all day telling clients it is not our company but have asked a few how they would react if they knew a bit about the people publishing the material. I was delighted to assist with the full details for Mr Hager. Those Chinese can be very vicious when they lose face. ... Chop chop for Nicky. Shame Russians don't seem affected but our Chinese friends need a helping hand. 19

19 Cathy Odgers, 'Hager,' email to David Farrar, Cameron Slater and Mathew Hooton, 5 April 2013.

_________________________________________________ 
A) Evidence Cathy Odgers is  a lawyer [Ed: I don't care if this is publicly discoverable information - I don't feel comfortable having it posted here, given the current climate of discussion on the issues involved.]

 _______________________________________________

 B) Laws covering NZ lawyers http://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2008/0214/latest/DLM1437811.html?search=ts_regulation_lawyers Chapter 2
Rule of law and administration of justice2A lawyer is obliged to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice.Threats
  • 2.7A lawyer must not threaten, expressly or by implication, to make any accusation against a person or to disclose something about any person for any improper purpose.

  • ______________________________

 WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE 'CONDUCT' OF CATHY ODGERS? 3)  How to make a complaint to the Law Society about the conduct of a lawyer: 

http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-community/lawyers-complaints-service

Contact the Lawyers Complaints Service: The Lawyers Complaints Service will provide you with assistance and information in relation to complaints. This includes information about your rights and options if you are unsure whether you have grounds for making a complaint. You can contact the Lawyers Complaints service on 0800 261 801 or by emailing complaints@lawsociety.org.nz.

Advise us of your concern: use the online Concerns Form, and a Legal Standards Officer will ring to talk to you.

Lawyers Complaint Service brochure: Download the brochure (PDF) or you can request a copy by phoning 0800 261 801 or emailing us oncomplaints@lawsociety.org.nz.

Complaint Form: If you decide to make a complaint, you can download the Complaint Form (PDF). You can also request a copy by phoning 0800 261 801 or emailing us oncomplaints@lawsociety.org.nz.

 ______________________________________________________

 Penny Bright'Anti-corruption /anti-privatisation Public Watchdog'  
by Steve F on August 20, 2014
Steve F

Andrew,

In the light of all the commentary above, are you able to expand on the sentence below

"People also have no right to keep secret communications which reveal wrongdoing."


I've pasted the passage below in which the sentence occurs to give it some context. From Dr Nicole Moreham, Associate Professor of Law at VUW in her Public Address post last Friday

“......so the question is: was Hager entitled to publish the emails he published?.........The answer is yes, as long as the public interest in the emails outweighs the competing rights of those who wrote them. So how do we work that out? There is a pretty good argument that material in Dirty Politics is in the public interest. The public interest is particularly strong where information relates to the behaviour of elected politicians. Dirty Politics is making some serious allegations about that behaviour and it’s arguable that the public should hear them.

People also have no right to keep secret communications which reveal wrongdoing. This “iniquity” defence could justify many of Hager’s disclosures including, for example, the alleged exchange in which Slater and political commentator, Matthew Hooton, provide details of Hager’s address to lawyer, Cathy Ogders, who wants it made available to “vicious” individuals whom she appears to believe will have it in for him....."

by Andrew Geddis on August 20, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@SteveF,

It's in relation to a very particular legal issue - can Nicky Hager be sued for "breach of confidence" in relation to his book (i.e. by those involved whose emails/messages were revealed, when they intended these to be confidential). And what Nicole is saying is that in order to bring such an action, you have to convince a court that you ought to have been able to keep your correspondence confidential. Which, if that correspondence is about (say) setting up Nicky Hager to face retribution from angry Chinese people, you won't be able to do - a court will say "you have no interest/right to expect that this sort of thing remains a secret, so we (the courts) won't help you now that it's out in the open".

But I'd be cautious against taking her comments any further - certainly, there's no general defence against criminal prosecution that you were just trying to reveal wrongdoing.

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