Alasdair Thompson is wrong... but also, um, right

Yeah, he's a dinosaur and all that. Yes, it's given good fodder for comics, talkback and office wags. But Alasdair Thompson has a few points in his favour. And I've got a few questions about the media coverage

You know what? Alasdair Thompson needs to figure out when to stop talking, because his array of apologies and explanations over the past 24 hours has only offended more and more people. But the man has a point. Or two.

No, not about the periods. If menstruation is making any sort of substantial difference to productivity in this country, then I'll be a monkey's uncle. And I hate monkeys. (Long story).

And having watched the excruciating raw footage Campbell Live has posted on its website -- the full 27 minutes and 57 seconds -- the man only made things worse. Let me get this out of my system first. It was a dumb comment to start with. And what he chose to say in interviews with the likes of Campbell Live's Mihingarangi Forbes only made things worse.

For a start, he had no evidence to substantiate his claim that women take more leave. What subsequent interviews have made clear is that he was extrapolating from personal experience -- something commonly done in this country and which always leads down a blind alley. It seems that at the Employers' Chamber of Commerce in Auckland, women take more leave than men. We know this because the woman who handles the leave forms has told Thompson as much.

Sadly, Thompson has taken that as evidence that all women take more leave than men. Which ain't smart. What's more, this woman at Thompson's office has said some it's down to other women having their periods. So Thompson has assumed that all women... You get the picture.

Not satisfied with pissing off women all over the country, he went on to insult men by saying that most women, from his experience, are more productive than most men. Yep, that's what he told TV3. Over the whole of life, women are more productive.

Which is as ridiculous a generalisation as the first, and I'm a little disappointed men haven't risen up with the same ferocity as women did yesterday to express their pique at such a lazy, unsubstantiated slur on our characters and work ethic.

Yeah, the gender generalisations shout "dinosaur", including the assumption that only women take time off to look after their kids. And so does the way that he tries to control the media. His patrician manner has come across as, well, exactly what you'd expect from the sort of person who makes such statements.

But watching that raw footage, a few other things came clear to me. First, Forbes could hardly get a question in. Thompson was determined to talk his way through the pickle he'd got himself in, as if by talking about it to reporters, he could find a consistent line of thought that held true to his initial point and didn't make him look like a dick.

He failed.

But where he's right, is that part of the reason for women earning less than men over their careers is the time many take to have and care for children. Step out of the workforce for a few years and you'll take a hit to your pocket as you miss a few potential opportunities to climb that old ladder.

The men who make the same choice experience the same thing. And it's not sexist or oppressive. Anyone of either gender who opts out of their career for a year or five will suffer the same. Even if they only step out, as I have a couple of times, to travel and work overseas. And yes, that does affect productivity.

As Sarah Trotman said today: “Mr Thompson did not say taking time off makes women unproductive. He said this is why women tend to get stalled in their careers. Very unsubtle difference!"

But that "stalling" can also a good thing. A parent choosing to take time out of the rat race to care for their child should be a person we esteem. I'm not saying it's a sin for a mother or father to go back to work after three weeks if that's their choice or economic necessity. But unpaid parents are not given the praise they deserve.

Thompson's also right that his critics are going after him for political reasons. He's been a champion of the bosses for a generation. Of course they're gleefully sticking the knife in. He'd be doing the same to them. That's class warfare for you.

His fault, while revealing an outdated world view and giving everyone a laugh for a few days, was really little more than a slip of the tongue. And as intimate as he is with this government (Social Credit, Simon Power? Really? You abandon your friends that quickly?), he's not a public representative. He only has to answer to employers in Auckland, not to the rest of us.

That was a point Forbes didn't seem to comprehend as she criticised him for not representing her as a woman. I somewhat shocked she'd have let that piece of stupidity be revealed to the country. The man is paid by companies to represent employers; he owes Forbes nothing.

The footage doesn't show either journalist or source in a great light, but does show some of the horse-trading that goes on behind the scenes, the fragile negotiations as to what's on and off record, and the lame jokes used to try to put interviewer and guest at ease.

I have a little sympathy for Thompson that all this footage would be put on the website. It's an interesting choice by the Campbell team; I hope they gave it serious thought.

First, it makes one of their reporters look dumb. She didn't understand who she was interviewing and her answers were waffly to say the least. The second point implies that the interview was intended to be clipped up and used in segments. Hence, Thompson was trying to find the write soundbite, rather than put together a coherent argument. It seems a little unfair to conduct one type of interview and then present it to the public as another type.

Second, it shows Thompson (the first time) say 'I'm going off the record", discuss his reasoning, then declare 'I'm back on now'. Now it was a patronising assumption by Thompson that he can turn a reporter on and off like that. Forbes never agreed that he was off the record, but neither did she tell him otherwise, which would have been the decent thing. That bit could have been edited out.

Third, Forbes personalises the issue, making it about her as a woman. She even prompts Thomson to apologise to her personally. I see no reason why she needed to put herself in the story like that. It's not about what she thinks.

I guess the TV3 folk would argue it shows the cut of the man's jib, and that justifies the other sins. Perhaps. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So lordy, lordy, I almost have some sympathy for Thompson. Is he out of touch? Yes. Should he resign? No. If you get nothing else from the Forbes interview, it's that he isn't a provocateur or a bully, he just doesn't get it. Isn't it time to move on?