There have been very polarised views on Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics, from lauding him for exposing some of the dirtiest politics being practiced (including me with some reservations) to condemning him for playing as dirty as those he exposes using illegally obtained information (including me to an extent).
Some have strongly defended and praised Hager, like Sacha at Public Address, endorsed by Sofie Bribiesca :
…an internationally-respected investigative journalist who has never had a single fact in any of his books successfully challenged.
Hager may be internationally respected as a journalist in some circles but this book was very shoddy journalism at best.
It was pointed out be me and others that Dirty Politics was also factually shoddy – there were few facts, it comprised mostly of a selected collection of online conversations.
A number of errors or contestable claims were cited. This resulted in what is common on blogs, they gave up their argument and turned to attacking the messenger. Dirty politics, albeirt on a different scale to Whale Oil but also clearly intended to intimidate, bully and shut up.
Sacha also said in the same comment quoted above:
Why else do you think people like the PM go straight to personal attacks on Hager (which when repeated often enough may result in people who do not do their homework forming an impression of a ‘controversial reputation’, exactly as intended)?
That’s rather ironic. Sacha was one of the ones who joined in the personal attacks.
One of the main criticisms of Hager’s book is his non-journalistic method of stitching together conversations to make damaging insinuations – David Farrar points out one example in How Hager got it wrong on The Princess Party and concludes:
If Mr Hager is doing reprints of his book, I would appreciate it if he could make the appropriate corrections.
And perhaps this is a lesson to everyone out there, not to take everything in the book at face value. If he has got this wrong, what else has he got wrong? Again this is what happens when you don’t verify anything or give people a chance to respond.
‘Toad’ commented on that:
If Hager had interviewed anybody, word would have got around and he would have been injuncted to prevent publication.
Yes, that may cause some inferences to be drawn from the emails that are based on hearsay and therefore not entirely accurate.
Real journalists make sure they have investigated properly and checked both sides of their stories so injunctions won’t be unnecessary.’Nookin’ responded to toad.
Hager is on record as saying that journalists have a non-negotiable obligation to be accurate and fair and to protect their sources. See the link to his article on the thread about Goff. Are you saying that non-negotiable must be read “subject to the proviso that timing is everything and accuracy and fairness must succumb to the over-riding goal of kicking National in the slats”?
The link is to “Where are you, ethically?” A speech to the to the Records Management Association of Australasia conference, 10 September 2007 on Hager’s website. In this he says:
I was given the speech topic “Where are you, ethically?” and asked to challenge all of you to think about the ethical issues involved in your work. It feels presumptuous to launch into challenging other people about their ethics, so I thought it might be good to start off as an example by talking about the kinds of ethical issues and decisions that come up in my work. I will be trying to show the way that we all face ethical decisions in our work.
My work involves researching difficult subjects such as military operations, intelligence agencies, PR companies and the less open sides of politics. My research involves writing freedom of information requests, conducting fieldwork, reading archives, locating specialist or lateral sources of public information and interviewing people. For subjects that are very secret, I sometimes have to seek people inside organisations who will talk to me unofficially and sometimes leak information to me. There are lots of challenging ethical issues involved in this.
There are lots of interesting ethical issues involved that are at the heart of understanding which records the public has a legitimate right to see and which it does not.
The first issue is about privacy. I am well known for being an advocate for people’s rights to privacy. My first book revolved around those issues. So what am I doing publishing someone’s private communications? Where am I, ethically?
The answer lies in the meaning of ‘privacy’. ‘Private e-mails’ can mean two very different things. ‘Private’, in the sense of personal privacy, refers to people’s families, personal relationships, health information and so on. I believe there has to be a very, very strong reason before anyone has a right to intrude on other people’s privacy and accordingly I included no such information in my book on the National Party. There were no private e-mails in that sense.
I hope you agree that respecting and protecting people’s privacy is a fundamental ethical and professional issue for anyone in your profession. I think some organisations are too blase or careless about the protection of the personal private information that they hold.
However the other meaning of private e-mails is completely different. This is ‘private’ in the sense of something being kept confidential, as in ‘private ministerial meeting’ or ‘private diplomatic talks’. It is secrecy, not privacy. I regularly obtain and use private documents in this sense of the word. I couldn’t do my job properly if I didn’t. The National Party book contained hundreds and hundreds of this sort of private document.
This is interesting, because the email and Facebook conversations used by Hager in Dirty Politics were private, they were not ‘secret’ or confidential ministerial or Government records. They were from private individuals.
Some people would say, ‘if it’s a good story, just publish it’. Publish and be damned. But I believe that wherever our action or decision — or inaction or avoidance of a decision — might affect other people, we have a responsibility to think carefully and do what we think is best.
There’s justifiable claims that Hager just published this – perhaps under too much time pressure. David Fisher writes in Tidal wave of dirt that could swamp election:
“I heard a rumour about someone who had some stuff,” says Hager, whose books on spies have generated contacts in IT circles. “He already had a plan in his mind to set up a Twitter account and splash it all out there.”
Hager says he spent weeks talking the person into letting him see the material and use it to build the narrative which became Dirty Politics.
The hacker, says Hager, gave him everything. “I’ve seen everything. I’m 100 per cent sure.” The hacker then expressed a desire to keep back some material for himself. “We kind of negotiated how much,” he says. “I said ‘can I have all the political stuff’.” Hager got what he asked for and so, the book was written.
So Hager published his book ‘ethically’ removing personal details – even that’s debatable, he revealed identities and made damaging insinuations that were far from a journalistic standard – knowing full well that the whole contents would be revealed soon afterwards anyway.
Hager knew that his book was just a part of a greater degree of private revelations, but he chose to take part anyway.
Not only do the excuses for Hager not stack up, Hager’s own ethics are severely challenged by his involvement in this.