Not all blogs are the same. Not all bloggers are bad. David Farrar hasn't done anything wrong.

My last post was a bit of a heartfelt reaction to what I saw in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book. In it, I gave examples of what I regarded to be quite reprehensible statements by a number of the individuals discussed in the text. One individual notable by his absence was David Farrar. With hindsight, I should have made it clear in my post that this absence was not accidental - not everyone discussed in the book is equally culpable (in my eyes).

David has now written:

I don’t believe that the book shows me having acted in any way inappropriately. I have  gone out of my way to be open about my background and leanings and relationships, and I follow my own views when I blog – hence why I campaigned against the Government last year on the copper tax (despite being a Chorus shareholder!). I never have taken any form of money or kind for blog posts, and disclose even the mist minor gifts.

I agree. I don't think that there's anything revealed in Dirty Politics that should cause David to feel particularly ashamed or concerned about. He may have friendly relationships with some people who strike me as particularly nasty individuals, but that really is no business of mine (or anyone else). I accept that we can never really know the map of the human heart. So it's fine for any private individual (and that is, in the end, what David is) to choose whoever they want as their mates. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, however ... not so much.

That being said, should David have even been discussed in the book? Should information about his business (Curia Research) have been obtained from an (ex?) employee in order to write it? 

I suspect he'll strongly disagree with me, but I think that it was OK to do so. This was a book about the way in which a new form of information sharing - the blogosphere - is being used by a political party to further its political messaging. David has established himself as the most read blogger in New Zealand (I discount the stats that Slater reports, as there's very good reason to suspect that they've been gamed), while also having a central role in that party (a role that is, it must be remembered, ultimately funded through the public purse). In turn, his success as a blogger has led to high demand as an "old" media commentator. With that level of public profile comes a level of scrutiny. You don't get to sit in the public eye without the risk of having that gaze peer into places you might prefer it didn't go.

(A quick side note. I also blog. I also talk in the media a fair bit. Granted, I'm nowhere near as good at it as David, and my topics tend to be things I know about because of my day job rather than general political commentary. But does my role mean that I think it would be OK for my work activities to be subject to similar scrutiny using similar covert methods - for instance, a student in my classes being convinced to record my lectures in order to uncover evidence of "extreme left-wing bias" in my teaching? Well ... I guess it does, provided it's in the context of gathering information for some story that it really is in the public interest to have told.) 

Now, if the story Nicky Hager was looking at simply was that Kiwiblog - a site that David has built up with a lot of hard work and application of some serious smarts - is influential and run by a guy with strong National Party links (which, sure, he hardly trumpets but also doesn't deny) who may on occassion get a helping hand from that party to generate content, then that's not revealing anything that I think needs to be told. It's not a story worth invading privacy for. It's simply a challenge to everyone else on the political spectrum to try and build up something similar. Which they have done - The Standard and The Daily Blog are (let's be honest) attempts to match Kiwiblog's reach and influence.

However, that wasn't simply the story being researched. National hasn't confined itself to helping David out on the odd occasion with material for his site.  It (or, rather, some within it) have decided that Cameron Slater is a useful and worthy addition to their media strategy, which is a morally repugnant step to take. In turn, Slater and his cohort have been active participants in the internal processes of the National Party. There is a nexus there that can't be denied (however hard John Key tries to do so) and which does not reflect well on that Party. 

Having said that, and I suspect Nicky Hager will disagree with me, I think the book's analysis of David's role is somewhat flawed. Portraying him simply as the "good cop" to Slater's "bad cop" does his blog and him as a person a disservice. There's far more nuance than that. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I think the book should have held Kiwiblog up as an example of what political blogging can offer, as compared with the cesspool that National went diving into. Not all "blogs" are the same, and we run the risk of denigrating what actually is a useful and valuable addition to public discussion if we tar them all with the same brush.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that David has decided he's going to keep blogging on political matters (although, if he's anything like me and the other people I know who blog, it's a lot like smoking ... a lot easier to say you'll quit than to actually do it). I also think he's doing the right thing with the changes he's proposing for the future. If nothing else, I think Dirty Tricks has made those of us who dabble in on-line writing and care about who we are take a look at what it is we do. And if we can make that better, then that's all to the good.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Disclosure statement: I would not regard David as a "friend", more a civil acquaintance. I've met him a few times in person, and had a drink with him on a couple of those, over about a 10 year period. We've had some email communications over matters a handful of times, and online in the comments section of Kiwiblog a few more. We link to one-another's posts. I once sent him some information that I had worked on but didn't feel comfortable publishing under my own name, which he then posted on Kiwiblog (clearly identified as coming from "a reader"). 

Last year, I sent him a copy of my Election Law in New Zealand book, which he promised to review. He still hasn't. The bastard.

Comments (31)

by Eszett on August 19, 2014
Eszett

Good post, Andrew. Couldn't agree more.

It's a good thing that David will keep kiwiblog going.

 

 

 

by Siena Denton on August 19, 2014
Siena Denton

All I will say in response to David Farrar and the Likud Party I hope you rot in hell!

#ProPalestinianBabies

You can ban me if you like Mr Geddes from commenting in your blog...Be my guest.

 

by Liam Hehir on August 19, 2014
Liam Hehir

Good post. My review of the book was published today and I also noted that the analysis in the chapter on Farrar only held up if you had no idea about who the man is, how he operates, or how he conducts himself in the media.

The Gell-Mann Amnesia effect tells us that that should at least consider that when appraising the rest of the work.

by Nick Gibbs on August 19, 2014
Nick Gibbs

A fair post. DPF hasn't done anything wrong, surely there can't be many people who read political blogs who weren't aware for his connections to National.

On the other hand the PM's dealings with Whaleoil reveal a huge laspe in judgement. And I think National's in for a rough ride in the election period with only Key and Collin's to blame. Collin's behaviour in naming Simon Pleasant is utterly indefensible.

by Lee Churchman on August 19, 2014
Lee Churchman

It would have been wise to have waited until all the emails were out before posting this.

by Nick Gibbs on August 19, 2014
Nick Gibbs

It would have been wise to have waited until all the emails were out before posting this.

You'll never get all the emails. Just the ones that suit the thief's narrative.



by Andrew Geddis on August 19, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Lee,

Maybe. And if I'm proven wrong, then I'll have been wrong. But I didn't wait to see "all the emails" before posting my previous thoughts. So I don't see why I shouldn't react to what David Farrar wrote on Kiwiblog based on what I can see now.

by Alan Johnstone on August 19, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Kiwiblog has in general been a good informative site. It certainly doesn't have the evilness of the other place.

Sure it's jumped the shark a bit in the last 3 months with relentless anti labour / green scare stories but I put this down to election year madness and expect it'll come right later.

I think it's correct to defend it, you can't compare DPF with the other person.

 

by Matthew Percival on August 19, 2014
Matthew Percival

Kiwiblog largely takes the emotion out and that for me is why I rank it #1. Whale Oil, The Daily Bog and The Stranded are all far too emotional for their own good. They are all what I would describe as sensationalist blogs as opposed to more fact based blogs such as Kiwiblog, Pundit and Public Address.

 

by Lee Churchman on August 19, 2014
Lee Churchman

But I didn't wait to see "all the emails" before posting my previous thoughts. So I don't see why I shouldn't react to what David Farrar wrote on Kiwiblog based on what I can see now.

Well, the difference is that it would be hard to imagine future emails exculpating those incriminated in the emails that have already been released or used in Hager's book due to their awful content, but it is easy to imagine future emails that might have similarly incriminating content that extends to other people. But YMMV.

 

by Anne on August 19, 2014
Anne

You may well be right Andrew Geddis, but in my view David Farrar has just  blotted his copy book?

Facebook quote by David Farrar:

“For reasons I’ll make clear tomorrow, but should not be hard to guess, I need to do a security check of my home and office. I need to check for bugs, implanted software and the like.

Does anyone know of a good but reasonably priced firm that can both check for physical bugs, but also check laptops, computers, phones etc for any electronic nasties?

I’m rather sad and angry that I have to do this, but it seems it is necessary.” - David Farrar, Facebook, 14 August 2014

Hat tip to Frank Macskasy.

I'm inclined to question what perception David Farrar is attempting to create by going public about his proposed security checks - especially when such checks are commonplace in all sorts of situations and by all manner of people. As Macskasy says... he won't be thinking of the GCSB, SIS or NSA. So, who does he suspect? The "left wing conspiracy theorist" hackers working out of... oh I don't know... shall we say David Cunliffe's office? (sarc)

by Megan Pledger on August 19, 2014
Megan Pledger

There have been so many pro-alcohol posts on kiwiblog that it's hard to believe that it's not orchestrated.  And there have been lots of comment responses disparaging Doug Sellman that have gone unchecked that it's hard to believe it's not a smear campaign. 

In 2010, it became so obvious that  a poster wrote in the comments...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MikeG (390 comments) says:
September 21st, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I think that it’s time for a disclosure of interests from DPF:
1. What shares do you (or your companies/trusts) hold in the alcohol/hospitality industry?
2. What freebies have you (or your companies/trusts) received from the alcohol/hospitality industry in the last couple of years?
3. What clients does Curia have that are working in the alcohol/hospitality industry?

I’m sure he’ll tell me to mind my own business, but it’s worth asking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pulled out of google cache as the direct link caused a security exception,

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Rg-oIySabT8J:https:...

So, I think if DPF wants to appear clean, he needs to state his vested interets at all times  Before he might have been given the benefit of the doubt but after all these revelation I think he's left himself no room but to be anything but straight as a die in all his actions.

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 19, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Megan,

The alternative explanation is that David Farrar holds fairly libertarian views generally and doesn't like "nanny state" policies (unless they apply to criminals in prison), whilst also enjoying drinking quite a lot (albeit not so much since he's made a determined effort to slim down).

I'm not a million miles away from that position myself (in respect of alcohol, anyway), and I don't own any shares in anything.

by Fentex on August 19, 2014
Fentex

There have been so many pro-alcohol posts on kiwiblog that it's hard to believe that it's not orchestrated.

I comment regularly on Kiwiblog and usually at odds with David but being someone who enjoys a drink I happen to mostly agree with him and also resent apparent wowsers determined efforts to impose their abstinence on others. Harumph.

by Matthew Whitehead on August 19, 2014
Matthew Whitehead

David should possibly re-evaluate his associates, but that's really the biggest disagreement you can have with the man. The bad part of kiwiblog is the comments, and no blogger has full control over that, so it can be excused to some degree. (although some actual moderation of the constant hate and eliminationism rhetoric would be great, I can totally accept not having the time to do that as a reasonable excuse)

It's definitely worth reminding people who aren't following the actual contents of what's going on that Farrar is a relatively innocent bystander in all of this.

by Megan Pledger on August 20, 2014
Megan Pledger

Who are the "wowsers"?   Public health researchers, health advocates and  Sir Geoffrey Palmer and the law commission.  

Don't you see how the discussion about alcohol has been poisoned?  Belittle and write off the opponents with derogatory terms so you don't have to deal with their credentials and arguments. 

@Andrew - perhaps you can encourage DPF to make a similar delaration (on all three questions).

 

 

 

by Fentex on August 20, 2014
Fentex

Who are the "wowsers"?   Public health researchers, health advocates and  Sir Geoffrey Palmer and the law commission.  

If you say so. Their particular identities are of little interest to me, identity does not an argument make. Nor does qualification or reputation and the specific arguments in use I do not find compelling.

by Jane Beezle on August 20, 2014
Jane Beezle

For those interested in a complete rebuttal of the "he's making stuff up" argument, see this excellent article by Nicky Hager's lawyer, Steven Price.

http://www.medialawjournal.co.nz/?p=635

by stuart munro on August 20, 2014
stuart munro

Not sure about giving DPF a pass, because there are two sides to the Gnat dirty tricks campaign - obtaining and disseminating information. If, as seems likely, DPF was a conduit for releasing material obtained improperly from Labour's computers, then although he is much more palatable than a certain decaying cetacean, he is still not quite as scrupulous as might be hoped.

Much depends on his efforts in mitigation - is he disposed to clean up National's act or wallow ever deeper in the slough created by incontinent ambition? Someone else must judge - kiwiblog and whaleoil are too gamey for my taste.

by Megan Pledger on August 20, 2014
Megan Pledger

Who people are does matter but only in the sense that it connects them to their scholarship and practical skill.   When Sir Geoffrey Palmer comments on alcohol policy then it is actually useful to know that he spent some time putting together a rather large volume about his policies and the evidence for them (together with the law commission) It does actually matter that he ia an acadenic lawyer and practising lawyer (I think still), it does actually matter that he has worked in govt at the highest levels and knows how policy is put together and how it is used practically.

All these things matter when evaluating his opinions about alcohol policy against some  random person on the internet.   

 

 

 

by Anne on August 20, 2014
Anne

stuart munro, I think your assessment of David Farrar is correct. When one compares him to the repulsive "cetacean" and his shoddy friends then yes, he does shine through like a beacon in the dark. But to describe him as an innocent bystander is going too far. Bystander maybe, but innocent?  No.

by Ian MacKay on August 20, 2014
Ian MacKay

David Farrar set up the "nonpolitical" NZ Taxpayers Union NZTU in 2013. Jordan Williams is the "neutral" frontman but of course his aim is to damage the left with selective publishing of "facts." Jordan Williams has certainly been named as an unsavoury player in the book. Since David Farrar has organised and run this NZTU, to me, this is cause to doubt his fair play.

by Richard on August 20, 2014
Richard

DPF might be more circumspect than Slater, but he is still a part of the same spin machine.

It is also hard to imagine that posts like these below are produced without some influence by the interested parties.

http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2013/09/a_cheeseburger_pizza.html

http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2011/05/the_kfc_double_down.html

http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2014/02/food_police_want_to_ban_the_milky_bar_kid.html

by Andin on August 20, 2014
Andin

"David Farrar holds fairly libertarian views "

Oh Dear! Some people never grow up.

by Lesley Ford on August 21, 2014
Lesley Ford

The problem with Farrar is that he has not distanced himself in any way, nor conceded that what has been done is not acceptable (except of course in relation to the material Hager received). Even Matthew Hooten, whom I had always lumped to gether with Farrar, has come out a strongly criticised the shennanigans. So tacitly at least, Farrar is complicit and not one of the good guys, except in the eyes of the old boys clubs.

by Megan Pledger on August 23, 2014
Megan Pledger

On page 114, Slater himself says that David "is the keeper of the dirt" and combined with his roll as a pollster (collecting anonymous views) which appears to be more like a canvasser (connect people's names with their views and saving them for future use) begins to look rather unpleasant..

 

 

 

 

by Katharine Moody on August 23, 2014
Katharine Moody

This from Naked Capitalism;

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/08/new-zealand-prime-minister-john-k...

... might send a few chills up your spine.

The author links to this defence of Cathy Odgers by David Farrar;

https://archive.today/ZttGC

 

by John Hurley on August 25, 2014
John Hurley

I think the banning on Frogblog and the Standard shows.

by Katharine Moody on August 25, 2014
Katharine Moody

And now another mea culpa;

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11313962

Lots of journalistic soul searching going on - which can only be in the public interest.

by John Hurley on August 25, 2014
John Hurley
Parker nails English on economic policy

http://thestandard.org.nz/parker-nails-english-on-economic-policy/

....

They talked about house prices but none of the trio mentioned the elephant in the room (Voldemort). No one mentions V on the Standard either, so it is full of non Voldemort mentioners (all going around in circles). Kiwiblog lets you mention Voldemort.

by rob on September 25, 2014
rob

Hi Andrew- hoping you might be able to help. I' gather the electoral finance act and amendments etc cover election advertising during a 3-month period. But I'm just not sure what's limited and/or what has to be reported. In particular: does this cover the cost of making the ads, or just running them in paying media? And in the background, there's huge cost in employing PR consultants, focus-groups, and polling companies like Curia. (In thatnking David on election night, the PM said he hoped the cost wouldn't go  up ... I presume it's not cheap, though possibly there's mate's rates from this supplier.) Is there anything in the electoral finance legislation relating to these expenses? Or is it simply open slather, and the biggest pockets get the advantage?

 

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.