Hager on the impact of ‘Dirty Politics’

It’s three years since Nicky Hager launched his ‘Dirty Politics’ book. He looks back on what it exposed and what the effects of it have been.

The Spinoff:  Sunlight did what sunlight does: Nicky Hager on Dirty Politics, three years on

Dirty Politics landed like a bombshell in the NZ election campaign of 2014. It may not have affected that outcome, but that was never the ambition. It has, however, made a big impact on our politics, argues Nicky Hager

Three long years ago, during the last election campaign, the book Dirty Politics revealed a political dirty tricks campaign being run out of John Key’s Beehive office. It was an ugly operation, jarringly contradicting the friendly, BBQ-guy image cultivated by Key. If you don’t know the details, it is still well worth reading the whole grubby story.

He must have a bit of stock left. Most people have moved on. The only person who keeps banging on about it is Cameron Slater.

Quite a lot of people wondered at the time whether the book might change the outcome of the election. It didn’t and some concluded that the book had had no effect. But my aims were different.

It’s hard to believe that timed a few weeks out from an election there were hopes of an impact – if not from Hager, there were certainly hopes on the left that it would be a game changer. It did nothing to make David Cunliffe electable.

The book has had an effect far beyond what I could reasonably have hoped for.

Here is my assessment of what has changed as a result and what hasn’t.

Exposing and considerably closing down the dirty tricks campaign

Before the book, the dirty politics brigade was having a huge influence over New Zealand politics. Personal attacks were cooked up in the prime minister’s office and elsewhere, drafted into nasty, drip-fed blog posts and sent out into the world through two National Party-aligned blogs: Whale Oil and Kiwiblog. An embarrassing number of journalists reprinted these attacks and came to use the bloggers, Cameron Slater and David Farrar, as regular sources for tip offs and news. The journalists were aware that the bloggers had close links to John Key and his government, and this further enhanced their status and influence.

There was some nasty stuff going on, mainly centred on Whale Oil but with the complicity of the Prime Minister’s office and mainstream media.

The most important effect of the book is that this dirty tricks campaign was exposed and largely stopped. The dirty tricks coordinator in John Key’s office, Jason Ede, was hastily removed from his job and has never been seen again. There is hardly a single journalist left who would take stories off the dirty politics bloggers. Cameron Slater and the Whale Oil blog still exist, but they have shrunk back to the margins of politics.

That particular source of dirty politics has been severely curtailed, but there’s still quite a bit of more subtle dirt mongering. The people and aims of the Todd Barclay issue still have a mucky look, aided and abetted by some media.

Revealing the attack machine to its other countless victims

Numerous people have been attacked over the years by the Whale Oil or Kiwiblog sites: politicians, journalists, academics, a public servant handing out political leaflets in his lunch hour, almost anyone doing something effective on the left side of politics. Some attacks were to help the National Party; some were commercial operations attacking private people on behalf of undeclared paying clients. The important thing that has changed is that now these people know what was going on.

Quite a few people new quite a bit about what was going on. While there were grubby details in ‘Dirty Politics’ there wasn’t a lot overall that surprised me. A lot of it was blatantly obvious.

Hager confronted it and forced change – in particular he forced Key’s office to tidy up their act and he forced the media to be more responsible too .

By understanding the game, people have been able to fight back. On page 95 of the book Dirty Politics, for instance, there is mention of an attack job done for money by Cameron Slater and his PR industry collaborator Carrick Graham against a school principal who was in a matrimonial dispute.

The person who paid Slater and Graham for the attacks was a lawyer and she has since been taken to a legal tribunal for improper behaviour. Just this month the tribunal decision was published, revealing the whole operation. It makes interesting reading.

The dirt at Whale Oil was much wider than the Prime Ministers office. The above case, recently revealed through a court decision, was not political at all, it was a presumably privately funded domestic smear job.

Revealing corporate smears for cash operations

The book revealed that one of Slater and Graham’s most lucrative freelance attack campaigns targeted public health professionals – on behalf, apparently, of unlovely corporate clients such as the tobacco industry. The public health professionals were trying to save people’s lives from tobacco, alcohol and obesity harms. The attacks seem to have been an effort to protect profits from these meddlers.

Even after these activities were exposed in the book, Graham and Slater appeared to continue the attacks. Eventually some of the health professionals took action. In June last year they launched defamation action against Slater and Graham

I presume this action is still progressing.

Diminishing the influence of the dirty tricks operatives

On this point, the results are more mixed. Slater and the Whale Oil blog, the heart of the dirty politics system, are certainly diminished. It now seems hard to believe that not long ago they were so influential. But some others have continued to be a problem.

Slater’s political attack collaborator, Simon Lusk, was seen in last year’s local government elections when he assisted with attack tactics for some mayoral candidates. His campaigns faced a backlash in some towns when people realised that a dirty politics practitioner was involved in the election campaign.

There seems to be still a market for dirty political campaigners.

Slater’s fellow attack blogger, David Farrar, is still used as a commentator by some news media, including being introduced just as a “blogger”.

I think Farrar was rocked personally far more than Slater and has been more subdued on Kiwiblog, but still uses his blog for political activism.

Williams even won a defamation case against former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, after Craig accused Williams of being involved in dirty politics against him. Record defamation damages were awarded to Williams.

But then in April this year the presiding judge, Justice Katz, took the unusual step of setting aside the verdict, saying it would be a miscarriage of justice. She said Craig’s actions “must be viewed in the broader context that his own character and reputation were under sustained attack from Mr Williams”. The judge’s carefully argued judgement is a pleasure to read (there are extracts here).

That legal action is also presumably still progressing.

…as the list above shows, plenty has changed already. The trouble with using dirty tactics is the risk of being found out and the tactics blowing up in your face. Bit by bit, the triumphant manipulators of the 2011 and 2014 elections have been getting their comeuppance; and other people have hopefully been deciding that there are better ways to do politics than following them down that dismal road.

While ‘Dirty Politics’ has had a significant impact it takes more than one book to tidy up decades if not centuries of political skulduggery.

36 Comments

  1. duperez

     /  August 16, 2017

    What are the chances that some of those most fervent supporters of Jason Ede, David Farrar and Cameron Slater were also most fervid this week in their condemnation of Chris Hipkins and wanting him dealt to for evil works? 🙃

    • I think it’s quite likely the most dirty are also amongst the most critical when someone else does the dirty work. It’s part of the dirty activist game.

    • Corky

       /  August 16, 2017

      But of course. I believe Hagers new book will be titled.-” Machinations of the Filfy Witch”

      Meanwhile, as one star fades, another rises….arise Sir John.

      • Gezza

         /  August 16, 2017

        😮 You think it’s going to be about Gareth Morgan?? 😳

  2. alloytoo

     /  August 16, 2017

    Hager’s book was by his own admission one sided.

    Of Hager’s own ethics leave a lot to be desired, like Turei he feels he’s above the laws of us petty mortals.

    • Yeah, I had very mixed feelings about his book and how the content was sourced. Hacking communications and using that against others is itself dirty. I got slammed on Public Address and The Standard for suggesting the dirtiness wasn’t all one sided.

      But Ede/Slater et al deserved exposure.

      • PDB

         /  August 16, 2017

        The real story about ‘Dirty Politics’ would be the far more interesting one – for instance what MSM journo’s involved did Hager say he wouldn’t name? How coincidental was Labour’s ‘vote positive’ slogan just prior to the books release? Who was Rawshark? What information regarding Slater’s left-wing contacts did Hager deliberately ignore? How involved was Hager with the hacking, considering his story changed from receiving the information in his letterbox and never meeting Rawshark to then meeting Rawshark in various park meetings?

        • Yes, there’s a lot of unanswered aspects.

          Slater promised a tell-all book but that hasn’t happened yet -= and I have no confidence it wouldn’t be anything other than seriously slanted and ‘poor me’.

          • PDB

             /  August 16, 2017

            I suspect all would only be revealed if Rawshark wrote a non-political tell-all.

      • alloytoo

         /  August 17, 2017

        “But Ede/Slater et al deserved exposure.”

        Perhaps, but Hager’s defence that his own illegal actions were justified as he was acting in public interest rings extremely hollow.

        A real journalist would have published as soon as possible and as completely as possible.

        Hager editorialize and sanitized what the public saw published at a time designed for maximum effect. He’s as guilty of dirty politics as Slater is.

    • Blazer

       /  August 17, 2017

      shooting the messenger to assuage guilt about the…message..you mean.

  3. PDB

     /  August 16, 2017

    Apart from having some communications with Slater what ‘dirty politics’ was Farrar ever proven of being part of? From what I can see he was thrown in with the rest of them simply because he is a right-wing blogger that does polling for National & he got mentioned in a few emails by the full of s**t Slater who was/still is prone to overstating his political influence (re. Judith Collins).

    Hager’s book did do something – his one-sided political hit job (the irony of the book was that by publishing it Hager was the ultimate master of ‘dirty politics’) it ensured National romped into govt again.

  4. Blazer

     /  August 16, 2017

    Dirty politics shone the light on exactly what some..’filth’ will do for…money…and ..influence too I guess.

  5. Tipene

     /  August 16, 2017

    What bugs Slater el al most is that they STILL have no idea of the identity of Rawshark.

    Rawshark is hiding in plain site – they are all just too dim to see it.

  6. The article you quote Pete is FULL to the brim of excuses, veiled attacks and self justification.

    Hager took a very one side approach. His “I gave some journalists a chance and didn’t name them” smacks of a little blackmail, in my opinion. Name them all Nicky – but you never will.

    And the give away about the HUGE frustration the Left feel still, after 3 years of reflection is in the bold statement above “It may not have affected that outcome, but that was never the ambition”. It was ENTIRELY intended to affect the outcome. Saying the exact opposite just gives the whole anger and frustration of failure away

    The Left indulged in the dirtiest type of Political Data Hacking and then paraded information around using that hoary old excuse “In the Public Interest”.

    Nothing the Left say or do now regarding dirty politics rings true – they have always swum deep in it, always complained when others do it as well or better than them, then they strap on the old sanctimony armour and pretend to be pure as the driven snow while wailing about the inhumanity of it all.

    • Blazer

       /  August 17, 2017

      2 wrongs don’t make things…right..Dave.It was a great expose on the lengths team Key were prepared to…go.

      • PDB

         /  August 17, 2017

        Though Hager was at pains to try and directly link Key to ‘Dirty Politics’ in his book he failed miserably with Ede looking more like a loose unit and mate of Slater’s. No smoking gun and added to other failures by Hager in his book to link Judith Collins and Rodney Hide to any dodgy dealings. The bulk of the general public could see that and Key/Nationals election campaign was unaffected.

        • Blazer

           /  August 17, 2017

          directly linking Key to Ede!!Perish the thought.Just because Ede’s office was 2 doors down from Keys on the 9th….doesn’t mean….anything…um…um..

          • PDB

             /  August 17, 2017

            No smoking gun, no proof and only insinuation. Anybody could go rogue.

            For instance the Greens had Russel Norman’s executive assistant utilising green party resources to organize with her partner mass defacing of National billboards by Greens supporters during the 2011 election campaign and Russel Norman said he was unaware of anything taking place.

            Funny the left-wing were quite happy to believe that……..

      • Key did nothing.

        • Blazer

           /  August 17, 2017

          that was how it had to appear…all done in the best possible taste….naturellement.

      • No it was a one sided political attack which left out way more than it included to give an impression that was not truthful, in my opinion of course, all masquerading as Journalism….

  7. phantom snowflake

     /  August 17, 2017

    Nicky Hager has often been demonized, including by many who comment on this blog. The interview below, though perhaps a little lightweight, succeeds at giving him a human face.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11316298

    • Human face? His efforts at destabilising successive governments have shown a complete disregard for balance. He’s essentially dishonest. I’m sure he’s an absolute riot at a party, I’m certainly not seeing him as the bloke that rushes to look after the Aunties or was last seen dashing out the door to collect for Daffodil Day after he’d mowed old Mr Smith’s lawn next door.

      His last tome has been roundly condemned s fiction and his Dirty Politics was written using carefully edited and curated stolen emails. With him, the means are justified by the end and the means he employs for pecuniary interest verge on the criminal imho.

      He and his mate Dotcom are ghastly creatures and NZ would be fra more pleasant place without them.

      • phantom snowflake

         /  August 17, 2017

        I rest my case lol…

        • Blazer

           /  August 17, 2017

          typical reaction from right wingers.Ignore the unpalatable truth and demonise the messenger….never deviates.

          • PDB

             /  August 17, 2017

            You are wrong again – Hager wasn’t simply a ‘messenger’ he was a major part of the ‘dirty politics’ story being a far-left writer with a set agenda actively trying to influence a general election using selective stolen emails to publish a book for both political & financial gain.

            Slater and Hager are simply two sides of the same coin except one admits/is proud he deals in so-called ‘dirty politics’ whilst the other pretends (maybe in righteous denial) that he is above such dealings.

        • You never presented a case. You linked to an article.

          Tell me what he’s actually contributed to NZ society for all his noise. So breathless were the media and left wing shilling of his mediocre book, I’d go as far as crediting them all with being a big part of the reason Key and co were returned. People saw Dirty Poltics alright they just saw it in the stealing of private mail, hacking into Facebook and other messaging systems and taking what they wanted to craft a load of bollix.

          • P.S. I can’t abide Slater, but I abhor thieves

          • phantom snowflake

             /  August 17, 2017

            “Tell me what..” *sigh* I never agreed to a debate with you. As I understand it, this is not purely a debating site. I believe that dissent serves a valuable purpose both here and elsewhere; often I will drop in a comment which flows against the prevailing narrative in order to provide contrast, balance and provoke thought. Echo chambers suck; dissent rocks.

            • So you cannot tell me how he’s actually enhanced our society. He’s been a lightning rod for leftist dissent and attacking governments, but beggared if I can see what he’s achieved to enhance our lives. Politicians and activists are inevitably judged on their achievements. Without consigning the man to an early grave – what’s his legacy. I know all about dirty politics, I learnt it when I was in the Labour Party. .

            • phantom snowflake

               /  August 17, 2017

              Your writing is impressive but I’m not going to let you dictate in what form my response to you should be. You seem quite adversarial; sure, you’re in the middle of an election campaign and obviously I wouldn’t support what you have previously described as “my party” but no, I’m not agreeing to be your enemy. I’ve never been a fan of the Labour Party by the way.

            • Hi Ben

  8. Blazer

     /  August 17, 2017

    I abhor dirty politics…and liars.