On John Armstrong – insightful and spiteful

There’s been many tributes to John Armstrong on his retirement from regular column writing due to illness – here are many of them: Twitter tributes to John Armstrong

There’s been a number of blog posts as well. Here are two contrasting views on Armstrong – one from Lynn Prentice at The Standard and the other from Danyl McLauchlan at Dim Post.

retweeted Prentice’s post saying:

An honest piece by Lynn – insightful.

The post: John Armstrong – a person worth disagreeing with

In the pages of The Standard there is one journalist who has generated or been referenced in more posts than any other. Today John Armstrong published his swansong at the NZ Herald. He is losing his long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Like most things that John wrote, it is worth reading.

I come in this post not to praise him as a person, for I barely knew him outside of a few brief encounters at recent party conferences. I come to condemn him for being  the type of political journalist who made it hard for us to shove in a little box.

John Armstrong is an obnoxiously valuable analyst providing documentation of our local political world over the whole 8 years of this sites life. It made it hard to take the easy route, to pin a label on him and then forever to deal with him as we do with lightweight entertainers masquerading as opinion makers.

More than 500 posts out of our 17,000+ published posts have referenced John Armstrong. They were written by almost every author who has ever written at The Standard. No other journalist or opinion maker comes close.

The whole post is worth reading – it shows how it’s possible to be critical without being pissy-minded.

Prentice sums up:

But back to my reference post. Like other authors since, Steve had to revise his opinion. In fact, Steve just had to add this addendum to his post on the same day.

[Update: all that notwithstanding, Armstrong’s piece today critiquing the Treasury briefing to English is good

For me that sums up John Armstrong. You might disagree with his conclusions and his overall conservative viewpoint. But it was damn hard to disagree with him when he had one of those breath taking insights into the politics of this country – at all levels.

It is going to be missed in the coming years when he is no longer able to offer it.

In contrast McLauchlan sounds more spiteful than insightful because he sees Armstrong as a supporter of the incumbent government and of the political establishment. He has just posted Notes on John Armstrong’s final column, and in it says things like:

  • His columns generally defended powerful establishment figures and attacked and mocked their critics, and because he’s a fine writer and deftly articulated elite conventional wisdom this made him very respected in those same establishment circles. It’s not a form of journalism I admire. I think it’s the opposite of everything journalists should aspire to.
  • In his final column he articulates his belief that politics is a game and he enjoys seeing how it is played, which is a fair summary of his approach to the subject. Facts never had a place in his work. His view of politics is one in which substance is nothing and style is everything.
  • This indifference to truth and enthusiastic celebration of spin and distortion is also, I think, the opposite of everything political commentary is supposed to be about. Governments have enormous resources to spin and obfuscate. Under Key this is mainly what the government does. If the press gallery isn’t there to debunk all of the propaganda and spin then it has no purpose.
  • There’s no obvious replacement for Armstrong’s role in the political media ecosystem. Key prefers to communicate directly with voters through soft media outlets where his messaging is even less challenged than in Armstrong’s columns. This propaganda model is so effective his heirs will all do the same. Lying to a large number of voters more effectively is the kind of ‘playing the game’ that Armstrong has always celebrated, so I think he’d have to admire this change.

I suppose Prentice has been involved in establishment politics for many years, including providing assistance to Helen Clark.

McLauchlan seems more inclined to wanting a markedly different type of politics and journalism to what Armstrong has been a significant part of for the last thirty years.

He presumably prefers the Green way and anything that is different or praises anything different is seen as not just the wrong way, but a way to be despised. Therefore anyone who is a part of the wrong way should also be despised. Like John Armstrong.

It would be interesting to know what sort of  journalists McLauchlan might approve of.

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Danyl has added to his dissing via comments. He had said:

    If the press gallery isn’t there to debunk all of the propaganda and spin then it has no purpose.

    Tinakori:

    No, I don’t think so. It’s main role is to report on the propaganda and spin, sometimes with approval and sometimes not.

    Danyl:

    That’s true of the reporters. Armstrong was a political commentator though. There’s a Heather du Plessis-Allan column in the Herald today debunking the spin around the Key-Turnbill meeting and it contains more wisdom about politics than the last ten years of Armstrong’s columns put together.

    That sounds harsh, or bitter, or both.

    Here’s Heather du Plessis-Allan: Dear Malcolm Turnbull

    Reply
  2. I find that the height of dark humour when Danyl accuses someone else of propaganda……. the Greens are so pristine, truthful and virtuous….. its like no one is allow a dissenting opinion [hmmm sounds familiar where have we seen that before…]

    Reply
  3. In the comments section Danyl rates Matthew Hooten as the best current commentator on politics. Certainly Hooten’s latest shot across Little’s bows is worth reading (and weeping over if you’re a Lab supporter).

    Reply
  4. Danyl finally explains what his real beef with Armstrong is.

    One of the reasons I dislike Armstrong is that I’m a Green supporter and he loathed the Greens, but he was never as upfront as Hooton. It was all hidden behind stock weasel phrases: ‘Some say,’ or ‘Voters will think.’

    Reply
    • traveller

       /  19th October 2015

      Whatever his excuse his commentary was pithy. It was unexpected and I was disappointed to see Danyl’s partisanship is so blinding he was unable to bring himself to acknowledg one of our finest political savants fulsomely. Knowing his bias is so acute will influence the way I read him from now on.

      Reply

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