Newsroom review: Whale Oil

Finlay Macdonald has a very good review of the Maggie Thomson written book on Matt Blomfield book, Whale Oil – Where only trolls and the spiritually misshapen go

Many readers will feel like a shower after a session with this book, and Thomson is to be applauded for her willingness to go where only trolls and the spiritually misshapen could feel at home. As she explains early on, her book was born from a footnote to Nicky Hager’s 2014 bestseller Dirty Politics, arguably the book that marked the beginning of the end for Slater by laying bare his methods and the scabrous demi-monde he inhabited.

Calling their vendetta “Operation Bumslide” (a lexicon of vulgar and puerile Slaterisms would make a short book in its own right), these detractors harnessed the then-popular Whale Oil machine to depict Blomfield as a fraudster, a thief, a liar, a pornographer and a lunatic. Strange and sinister things happened along the way, including a violent home invasion and assault, which was at the very least worthy of far greater scrutiny in the context of Blomfield’s other travails than the police gave it.

Being from the same publisher and with an admiring foreword by Hager, you could be forgiven for thinking Whale Oil might represent one dip too many into the same dank well of character assassination, paid hit jobs and vicious mockery of undeserving victims. It’s not. Rather, Thomson has constructed an elegant psychological study of both main protagonists, equally obsessional in their own ways, locked in a kind of death-embrace from which only one can emerge the winner, but which will leave neither unscathed.

The term Kafkaesque is over-used and mis-used, but Blomfield’s predicament surely meets the criteria. Defamed, denigrated and physically attacked, he was nevertheless incapable of defending himself through any normal channel. The police, the courts, the media, the bureaucracy all live down to Kafka’s vision of a system designed to serve only itself and its own absurd purpose. The more Blomfield struggles to extricate himself from this web of perfidy and stupidity, the more he appears fixated and vexatious to indifferent observers. The more he professes his sanity, the more insane he appears.

It really is a wonder that Blomfield didn’t go completely raving mad – or just give up, as so many of Slater’s targets did.

I think that many of Slater’s targets will be grateful that Blomfield had the determination and tenacity to see this through, as far as it has come at least – a successful defamation after over six years of delays and attempts at avoidance by Slater, and of course the book detailing it all.

But this shouldn’t be the end of it. It would be worth following through with more holding to account. There are serious unanswered questions about inaction by the police on a number of occasions, including doing nothing about attack death treats that came very close to a murder being committed.

And accomplices of Slater should be nervous about being held to account for their actions too.

When truth finally does arrive, albeit on crutches and with a bandaged head, it’s almost an anticlimax. Having gamed the courts for years, delaying and prevaricating (for much of the time continuing to gleefully defame and otherwise harass Blomfield), Slater has nothing to offer; no proof whatsoever that anything he posted was true, fair or reasonable. So he loses. But the outcome is less than our aforementioned primitive instincts for story might demand. Slater is a bankrupted wretch, those who conspired with him are untouched by the verdict.

Some are untouched, like Warren Powell, who (the book claims) probably paid Slater at least in part for the protracted attacks on Blomfield, and also Amanda Easterbrook, who has kept a low profile.

Others have been affected to an extent. Dermot Nottingham is now bankrupt as a result of court costs incurred after multiple unsuccessful private prosecutions, some related to the Blomfield saga. He is also currently serving a home detention sentence which includes a ban on him using the internet, but remarkably Blomfield wasn’t included in the prosecution of him on five charges of criminal harassment.

Marc Spring has been at least as involved in abuse, false claims, defamation and harassment as Slater and so far has avoided court action against him – more due to police inaction than anything. He continues to attack Blomfield, although his major online options are now limited. He conducted sustained attacks against Blomfield in 2015-2016 when Blomfield had a restraining order against him, but the police decided not to take action.

But Spring has been affected. His credibility, his employment, his business affairs and his family have all been victims of his obsession with trying to destroy others, this has become more a self destruction.

What animates the likes of Slater and the haters he attracts remains a mystery, other than that they lack normal empathy and a sense of decency.

This whole affair is bad enough on it’s own, but there are very important wider issues.

That they are enabled by the failings in our systems and our souls is more the point, and this necessary but unpleasant book should be required reading for anyone interested in reforming the media-legal nexus for the realities of the attention economy. That will be too late for Matt Blomfield, but at least he’s finally out of the shit, while those he wrestled are still in it.

Blomfield’s long fight has finally managed to prove his attackers were malicious and almost totally wrong, and he himself has won back some of what was taken from him. The book has resulted in almost universal sympathy, admiration and respect – as far as I have seen the only exception being a small number of Slater apologists at Kiwiblog (I was accused of hate speech there yesterday for being critical of Slater and his accomplices).

Things should get better now for Blomfield. He will never get back everything that was taken from him, he and his family will bear the scars of vicious attacks online and physically,

The same can’t be said for the trolls and the spiritually misshapen, who still claim to be victims (as bullies do when someone stands up to them), have shown no remorse, and show no sign of recovering from their self inflicted miserable situations.

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11 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  2nd June 2019

    great summation by MacDonald.

    Reply
  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  2nd June 2019

    McDonald carries his own political hatreds which he is indulging with some glee here. The greatest scandal is that those who should be neutral did nothing for so long to stop the abuse.

    Reply
  3. Kitty Catkin

     /  2nd June 2019

    How can someone be stopped from using the internet ?

    Reply
    • From sentencing notes:

      You are not to possess or use any electronic device capable ofaccessing
      the Internet for capturing, storing, accessing or distributing images
      (including without limitation any personal computers, notebooks,
      tablets or cellphones) without prior written approval from a probation
      officer.

      Obviously like any home detention or bail conditions they can be breached, but there are consequences for that if caught.

      Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  2nd June 2019

      With difficulty and expense. I was reading an article yesterday on the human monitoring and device reporting technologies it requires.

      Reply

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