What an interesting online and social media fuss there's been about the 3rd Degree piece on Shane Jones this week. To me it just seems like a misguided argument based on the tired olf 'journalists are so awful' meme

Wednesday night's episode of 3rd Degree revealed a fascinating insight the Labour leadership contest, one which for me showed how the party risks not making the most of its primary season, but for others suggested intrusion and even talk of "endorsements".

Now of course I'm close to this – producing The Vote I'm part of the 3rd Degree hapu, even though I don't work for the programme itself. So take what I say with as much salt as you like (though I haven't talked to co-hosts Guyon Espiner or Duncan Garner about this post). But here's the back story: In this week's programme, Guyon went north to Shane Jones' home to profile the man on his own turf. It was a 'get to know you' piece shot quickly over the weekend.

There's been a wee bit of debate about it in the aftermath, which is always good. One of the good things about seeing politics on primetime is the discussion generated. But it's led to weird suggestions of intrigue and conspiracies by people I usually admire, and more so, those commenting on their blogs.

Danyl at Dim-Post has gone so far as to say:

Oddest thing about this leadership contest: TV3′s endorsement of one of the candidates. In some ways it makes sense: Jones is friends with the journalists who are promoting him and running negative campaigns against his opponents (it would all be an outrageous breach of ethics if their mate had any chance of winning)...

Meanwhile Russell Brown on Twitter initially suggested the track included a faked phone call – something later retracted when he received assurances to the contrary – but went on to blog that the wanna-be PMs have a right to privacy and Guyon and co-presenter Duncan Garner have "taken up the torch for Jones".

In the track, Jones returns a call to David Cunliffe. Cunliffe is asking Jones to say no to doing the 3rd Degree piece, as he and Robertson were declining to speak to 3rd Degree and they wanted a united front. Jones explains that the camera's already there (but not that it's rolling) and it's all too late.

Russell's line – expanded on by those in the comments – is that Guyon and Duncan Garner have "swung in behind" Jones and that perhaps some things were being stage-managed to Jones' advantage. He's critical of Guyon and Duncan's criticism of the Labour hopefuls who turned down the chance to be on the programme, saying they're doing lots of media and aren't obliged to let people into their homes.

Fair enough. No-one's obliged to do media that goes behind the politics to chat to the human being; that's optional. Maybe you agree that potential Prime Ministers have the right to keep their families out of the public eye.

I think that's naive in a 24/7 news world, but more than it's just dumb politics by Labour.

For a start, one of the reasons the party wanted the primary was to get Labour back in the public eye, re-boot the party's narrative and show a different, more vibrant and empathetic side to the party. Surely what anyone auditioning to be Prime Minister needs to do is to introduce themselves to the public and show a glimpse of their character, as well as their policies. Like it or not, politics works on narrative and people vote on likeability as much as plans for the current account deficit.

David Cunliffe might argue he's well known, but he's been out of the ministerial spotlight for years and presumably would want to remind people of the cut of his jib. Grant Robertson is less known, and for me missed a huge opportunity. His home life is of course his own. But if you want to lead the country in the 21st century, you've got to open up and let people get to know you. Remember Helen Clark and Peter Davis cooking curry for Pual Holmes? They might not have liked it, but they did it because it was a chance to show how normal they were, when voters were asking if they weren't a bit odd.

Here was a pretty soft piece handed to them on a plate and they spurned the chance.

Russell was obviously ticked off that Duncan and Guyon had suggested on Twitter the other two candidates had something to hide. Those aren't the words I'd use either, but the contenders made strategic or personal decisions not to open their homes up to one of the biggest audiences (and the longest TV time) they'll get this campaign. Why didn't they want to open their doors? I doubt it's down to privacy concerns alone.

Do we think that Cunliffe simply didn't want people to see how flash his home is and so undermine his new-left, union-friendly credentials? It seems plausible.

Was Robertson uncomfortable opening his home to the public because he fears a focus on his sexuality? Again, quite possible.

If those considerations did influence the decisions, they were bad strategic choices. It suggests those candidates haven't learnt the lesson that John Key understood pretty darned quick. You have to address any perceived weakness early and up front. Worth $50 million? 'Sure, here's the house, here's my back story, there's nothing wrong with being successful and doesn't it show I know a thing or two?' Boom.

Yes, it's easier for National to tell that story, but being Labour shouldn't mean being ashamed of success or being in a minority. But who knows why they opted out?

The point I really want to make to those reading some hidden plot into Guyon's piece is to simply realise that all three candidates were offered the same type of piece with senior journalists; indeed all three were repeatedly urged to accept the offer. Two declined. But how on earth does the decision to go ahead with the Jones track – which was already being shot when the other two, after much delay, finally said no – amount to an endorsement or swinging in behind one candidate over the others?

That's right, the others didn't say no until the Jones piece was being shot. Jones had said yes right away, so it was arranged. The other two dithered – or at least didn't reply – for days. I know this from being in the same office, but you know this because it was showed on the telly. Often journalists get criticised for leaving out the context or for self-censoring. This time some context was left in, the curtain lifted... and it's perceived as journalistic bias and petulance. The comments on the linked-to blogs bang on about all kind of mischief and conspiracy. You can't win! Any journalist would just be happy the camera was rolling to capture that bit, so he or she could show the behind-the-scenes strategising that goes on.

Isn't Cunliffe and Robertson working together part of the story? Make of it what you will – team work, media manipulation, honest protection of their privacy – but it's a telling picture of how a campaign works.

Wouldn't these same nongs be moaning if it was later revealed something telling about one or more of the candidates was edited out? 'Typical MSM!' But isn't the whole point of this primary to get the debate out of the backrooms and into the public? To hear policy and to see the new faces of Labour?

What niggles me the most is the insinuation that Duncan and Guyon are backing Jones. Sure, they've got a rare place in the political sphere (the knowledge of political editors, but with the freedom to share more given they no longer do that job). But they're observers and hardly have a dog in this fight. Saying 'Jones is who the Nats fear most' and 'Jones connects with mainstream voters better' is not an endorsement, it's commentary. Sheesh, that's hardly a complex distinction. Saying someone has a certain talent isn't the same as saying you like or support them.

Russell, Danyl or I might offer exactly that sort of analysis in our blogs. What's more, similar insights would certainly have been offered about the other two contenders, had they gone on camera. It staggers me that people can sit at their computers, ignore years of balanced work by journalists and bash out accusations of bias, endorsements and neo-liberal conspiracies.

Would the criticisms have been the same if the tweets had said 'the Nats fear Robertson' or 'Cunliffe connects with the centre vote'? I've got no idea whether Russell or Danyl have a dog in this fight (yes, I'm enjoying the chance to use that phrase), but perhaps those commenting on their blogs do and simply don't like that Jones is being taken seriously as a contender. Hey, aren't journalists often criticised for writing people or parties off and deciding in advance who will win? Again, sometimes you just can't win.

Anyway, that's my observation from the sideline. I haven't read it yet, but here's Guyon's response to some of the criticism.

Comments (43)

by Richard Aston on September 06, 2013
Richard Aston

It would have been a really interesting piece if all three candidates agreed to show , the contrasts between the three would have been really useful . While its unfortunate we didn't get to see the contrasts it was at least good to see a bit more of Jones. For me the more I see of him like this the less I like him , but thats just me.

It does look like a promo piece for Jones but who cares , its a leadership primary , I don't remember one of these happening before and I guess we are making up the rules as we go. I reckon its ok for two journos to do a biased piece like this just because it was so observably biased.

Maybe the challenge is for another current affairs show to do contrasting pieces on the other two.

A minor point that showed the bias ; Here is a direct quote from someone who was at the marae where Jones looked so impressively at ease,

Yes – Jones is at home on a marae . I was there, and that aspect was good to observe. What was not so good – Jones and his TV entourage did not stay for the actual business of the hui. They did the powhiri, had cuppa tea and chat, and left. The business presentation was about future economic development for the north – a subject Jones as regional development spokesperson for Labour, should have been interested in. Not a good look.

That little detail would have been good to know , I noticed Hone was in the background as well , wonder if he stayed for the whole hui. 


by Alan Johnstone on September 06, 2013
Alan Johnstone

I watched the show and didn't even consider it as being an endorsement of Jones until I read this post.

It was a fairly soft background piece on someone that isn't going to be Labour leader. I didn't see the harm.

by Tim Watkin on September 06, 2013
Tim Watkin

Richard, while it was soft I'm not sure why you call it biased. Because the others weren't on? But the point is that they get the chance and say no, that's not really bias. But agree all sorts of ways of looking at this race are useful and it would have been good to have seen them all. And interesting note about the hui, thanks. A bit of citizen journalism there, with direct quote!

Alan, yeah, we agree. I don't get why some people see it as biased or endorsing etc (as Jones would say)

by Nick Gibbs on September 06, 2013
Nick Gibbs

Jones has had a lot positive media attention. It has the feeling of an endorsement, even if it entirely unintentional. Certainly if I was Cunliffe or robertson, I'd be non-plused.

by Alex Coleman on September 06, 2013
Alex Coleman

"Saying 'Jones is who the Nats fear most' and 'Jones connects with mainstream voters better' is not an endorsement, it's commentary. "


But the statement from Guyon was that "In any conversation I've had with senior Nats about the Labour leadership over the last few years the No 1 they fear is Shane Jones."

Which isn't commentary, it's credulous reporting of off the record comments. What gets people's backs up about that is that from the outside it looks like he is carrying water. We are being asked to believe that senior Nats honestly tell Guyon their deepest fears about Labour. Why is that off the record? And if they aren't prepared to put their name to it, why on earth report it without saying that he has no way of knowing if it is in fact, true. Why would senior Nats say that to a journalist? I mean, we can feel free to speculate wildly about why someone wouldn;t want journalists in their private home, why not speculate about that?

Is it that journalists are so much cleverer than politicians that politicians forget they are talking to journalists, or could it be that politicians try and play the ref by telling journos things, off the record, that are not true in order to shape their coverage? Often to great effect.

And why should news consumers have to try and read the chicken entrails and guess? Whose job is it to try and cut through all that bullshit and spin? I seem to remember a series of ads for a new new show where hard headed journos promised us something along those lines.

Sorry for the tone, but, sheesh.

by Richard Aston on September 06, 2013
Richard Aston

Tim yeah maybe bias is a but strong but I would have liked to have seen a bit more poking around Jone's edges , like his flash apperance at the hui , why is he so anti green, how he gets on with labour collegues , how does he  marry his board level work and Havard education with this ordinary kiwi bloke image,  you know a bit of investgation .

I have no problem with a soft colour piece but Third Degree , as its name suggest promotes itself as edgy and critical. 


by Viv Kerr on September 06, 2013
Viv Kerr

Sure, it is probably good for a potential Prime Minister to let the public know more about their homelife before the general election, but this is not a general election. What proportion of the Third Degree audience are likely to be eligible to vote in Labour's leadership race?

by Bruce Thorpe on September 06, 2013
Bruce Thorpe

When Jones put his hand up I was asked to rate him, and I credited him several unique advantages, apart from the multicultural popular oratory,and his strategic nouse, he had credibility among Maori networks, business groups and already has existing successful relationships with media personnel, he is entertaining and they admire his verbal skills.

If Jones had delivered a half pie revelation about his comparatively recent divorce and new partner, it would have done him no good, but he took charge of the situation and turned into a commentary he could control.

He is a clever chap, as anybody from that far North can tell you.

by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

Alex, I don't think you understand how the relationships and trade work. Why do you assume it's "credulous" or "water carrying"? Of course politicians, senior Nats or otherwise, will tell you speak openly to journos, especially political editors.

Frank conversations are had between politicians and journalists because it's in their interest to create confidences, but more than that they're just people forced together in an intense environment, who want to build relationships for their own good and who also, because they're human, just gossip and like to offer opinions and look knowing. Just tonight, politicians said things to me they'd never say on the record – it's just conversation, so naturally someone like Guyon who has spent over a decade talking to MPs day-in, day-out of course has stories to tell.

Is it "true"? Well, it's not a fact being offered, but an observation from some MPs. Obviously Guyon thinks they were genuinely held views, not spin, but this isn't about "truth".

If it was a one-off mention in recent weeks, you'd have more reason to doubt. But what message was trying to be shaped by more than one person talking about a Jones leadership years or months before one was a real possibility (if indeed it is now, which it probably isn't)? That would be playing a very long game!

Believe it or not, but my point is it's commentary from a top journo, not an endorsement.

by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

Viv, a few people have said this sort of thing to me, and for me it misses the point. Labour is looking for a leader not just to represent the party and unions, but a leader who can be Prime Minister. That means reading the voters' will, that means figuring out who of the three is resonating with swing voters. It's ALL about who the general public connects with; at least it should be if Labour wants to be in government.

by Lee Churchman on September 07, 2013
Lee Churchman

Well, I haven't been happy with press coverage of the leadership contest. TV3 has been the worst offender in my view, but the papers aren't far behind. I can't help but get the feeling that the ABCs extend well into the media. These people were pretty obviously shilling for Robertson up until a few days ago, when they switched to Jones.

For me, this latest FUD from John Roughan encapsulates what's wrong:


I may be wrong, but whenever I see a NZ journalist use the term "economics" in a column, I'm 95% sure that the journalist in question doesn't mean "actual economics", but  rather "the particular economic views favoured in the beltway", irrespective of the merit or relevance of such views to actual standard economic thought. You can see in this column Roughan's contempt for the views of those outside the beltway, as if they were all a bunch of rubes or conspiracy theorists. The problem for that view is – as Paul Krugman has noted – that the Very Serious People  have been proven time and again over the last 10 years to be barking up the wrong tree.

That means reading the voters' will, that means figuring out who of the three is resonating with swing voters.

Well, that's one view. Another would be that it's the job of the Labour leader to get non-voters back to the polls and instead of following voter sentiment to lead it. Another would be that winning isn't everything in politics: a large part of it is having political debates represent the actual political differences between New Zealanders instead of some bland mixture used to paper over the cracks. 

But if this happened, then journalists would be forced to talk about the actual arguments rather than the candidates personalities, sexual orientation or predilection for taxpayer funded onanism. I'm not sure all of them are capable.

by Ross on September 07, 2013
I wouldnt be at all surprised if Garner and Espiner were backing Jones. They seem to be supporters of David Bain, which suggests they don't have much ability at separating the wheat from the chaff.
by Ross on September 07, 2013
Tim You refer to the Holmes interview with Helen Clark and Peter Davis. Didn't that interview take place while Clark was PM and had been in the job for several years? There's no comparison between that situation and this leadership contest. For a start, two third of the contenders won't have a chance of becoming PM. And for the one who does become leader, there'll be plenty of time for the media t pry into their private life.
by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

Lee - no, no, yes, yes, and no. No, the ABCs don't extend well into the media; at least not how you seem to think. I don't know any journalists who are in the pocket of Clayton Cosgrove and Tervor Mallard, for example. Most journalists are professionals who don't 'back' candidates in a race, but report the mood and context and, in some cases, offer their own analysis of the candidates' strengths and weaknesses. Gallery reporters know these people quite well, and so are well placed to tell people not just about their policies, but about their character. And heck, a lot of people who know Cunliffe talk about a self confidence bordering on arrogance and paraody. I mean, you've seen the Avondale markets speech, right?

These people were pretty obviously shilling for Robertson

No. Again, you mistake commentary for bias. Journalists offer analysis these days, it's part of the gig. They make criticise the guy you like, but that isn't "shilling". And what do you mean "these people"? You think all journalists, even in the same company, think alike? Or club together on an agreed position? It don't work that way. I mean, Duncan Garner is being lumped into this 'pro Jones' conspiracy, but just a few weeks ago he called out Cosgrove, one of the leaders of the ABCs, on air and had a spat with him. Was that pro-Cunliffe bias? Or maybe journalists are able to come at things from different angles?

Yes, Roughan is a conservative on economic matters and is on the right politically. Don't think equals "contempt" any more than your belief in more your economics shows contempt for other views.

Yes, Labour could choose to lead the centre further left rather than have its leader follow the mainsstream voters it needs to the centre. Of course that's a much, much harder thing to do. Savage moved the centre, Kirk moved the centre, Douglas moved the centre... but it's bloody difficult and all politicians in some way sacrifice some beliefs to win over some groups of voters they need to stay relevant. That's why they say politics is the art of compromise. You sacrifice 20% to get the 80%.

Which leads me to the final no. Winning is the whole point. Well, I get your point about integrity and some things being beyond sale, but you also know that Opposition is the worst job in politics and only in government can you achieve that 80% change.

Oh, and finally there has been quite a bit of talk about their policies - not every piece or track on the race needs to be the same y'know. Character has always been a part of how people judge leaders, and rightly so.

by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

Ross, what on earth makes you think they're backers of Bain's? I think you've counted 1+1 and got 9 me ol' china.

As for the Holmes piece, quite right about the timing. But... First, things have changed since then. Second, this is the first primary of its kind and expectations are different. Third and crucially, as I keep saying, if Labour has any ambition this race isn't about internal leadership, it's about who the public will support as a PM. One reason Shearer failed is that his first impression was weak; he missed the chance in his first few months to create a story around himself. (Key did it well with the state house boy made good and who knows numbers). These three only have one shot at a first impression and presumably they want it to look prime ministerial and electable. That's what it's all about.

Talking about the media prying into their personal life misses the point... which is that the public want to feel like they're getting to know their country leader. Someone who wants to be PM needs to want to be known, to earn the public trust, to be open to inspection from all sides and to strike a chord with their people - that's true about leadership in all its forms, isn't it?

by Alex Coleman on September 07, 2013
Alex Coleman

Tim, I'm sort of aware of how the game is played. My point is that the way it is played has effects on both the output, and the 'game'.

It's all very well to criticise news consumers for being ignorant about how the news is produced, but the sort of transactions that occur in access journalism are real. Those relationships are mutually beneficial and it astounds me, frankly, to think that senior journalists appear to pay so little attention to the fact the politicians get something out of those relationships too. Or at least to minimise that benefit when criticised.

That's what I mean by 'carrying water'. There are loads of 'off the record' comments reported that are clearly in the interest of the politican to have out there. Reporting them is a decision made by journalists, and I'm certainly not disputiung that it's their call to make. In return, readers, (remember them?) are wanting insights into what is really going on. Un-named sources being reported uncritically, make getting that insight nigh on impossible much of the time. We don't know who is putting the message out. So what are we supposed to think? Of course we are going to speculate as to who and why. 

I accept that I'm quite probably being very unfair, and even wrong. But that's the point. We, as consumers, are left in the dark about what is going on in terms of the transactions involved, and even the people involved. We don't just have to work out what the politicians are getting away with, we have to try and work out what the relationships are between individual journalists and politicians. That's not our fault for being ignorant, it's a reasonable reaction to the way the game is played in the bubble.

In this example, we have Jones seeking the leadership. His claim is that he will be able to hawl in the votes of the 800,000 and bring over those in National who don't like the pointy headed feminists and gays from the 'common room'.

In order to do that he wants to present an image right? Analysis of whether he could actually do that, is a different question, and one that requires polling us out here.

It's not about what journalists think about him, or what National party mps think about him. Because that question isn't really about Jones at all. It's about the electorate. It's about us ignorant folk out here and what we think about Jones. And we get our information from journalists.

So journalists play a huge roll in whether or not he would succeed. He needs a certain image to be portrayed, and the story to be framed in a certain way,and he is not an idiot. Right now, in a campaign for the leadership of course he is going to want a certain type of coverage. Which he seems to be getting. The idea that National fears him, fits the narrative perfectly. But whether or not they really do fear him,  the question that needs analysis is  'do their reasons for fearing him stack up'? And that's a question that is about us out here, not what people in the bubble think about what we think, but what we actually think.

Journalists spend quite a lot of time telling us that such and such a politicain 'connects with us'. Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but that is a question answered by polling. When the bubble starts declaring that such and such is popular, that has effects. It's hard to quantify of course, but that's no reason to just ignore all this stuff.

It's these sorts of issues that feed the 'meme' that 'journalists are awful'. So I'm sorry I don't understand the trade, I try. I read a hell of a lot of journaslitic output, and follow several journo related things in the attempt. I'm a big fan of the things Jay Rosen talks about for example. 

It's just frustrating that it seems, often, to be so needlessly an act of reading chicken entrails. Maybe that's all my fault, but there are elements of the 'trade' that don't help. A code book for users would help sometimes.


And again, I'm sorry if this comes across as being harsh. I love journalists. I love journalism. If I had to live in a society that only had one of 'the vote' or 'a free press' I'd take the free press every time. I know it's hard, and I respect the work you all do in spite of all that I've said here. But these are issues that bear thinking about and letting the consumers in on, surely?



by Lee Churchman on September 07, 2013
Lee Churchman

Don't think equals "contempt" any more than your belief in more your economics shows contempt for other views.

That's not quite my point. If I were an economic Marxist – which I am not – I would not describe my economic views as orthodox in the sense that they were the more or less standard beliefs among economists, because it would be dishonest to do so – Marxism is, like the Austrian school, a heterodox view.

Commentators like Roughan commit this sort of crime: they write as if the radical right wing free market views they endorse represent orthodox economic theory when they do not. It's not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. These matters are things that regular economists can and do disagree about. For example: Paul Krugman does not hold wildly heterodox views. It's poor journalism to misrepresent the level of disagreement amongst genuine experts.

I don't know whether Roughan is being intentionally dishonest or he just doesn't know. I suspect the latter. That's what bothers me. I wouldn't care so much if he disagreed with me, if it actually looked like he knew what he was talking about. This particular article is just FUD and readers deserve better than that.

by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

Alex, I take your points and fair dues. Journalism's far from perfect and I confess I get a little defensive when good journalists who are doing their best in the most difficult of times are picked at and criticised. Guyon is one of the best and most serious journalists around - but he does one quick turn-around softer piece and even Fran O'Sullivan's chipping in!

Use of off-the-record sources is always a fraught area. Thing is they inform much of what journalists do. O'Sullivan, for example, has excellent contacts and most of the opinions she offers will be based on knowledge that isn't necessarily declared in every piece. It's a fine line between protecting sources, nurturing relationships so you can keep access to informed people, full disclosure and judging who's view is the most valid... all are important parts of a journalist's work, but they often contradict.

Paul Holmes, for example, always said to me the real power of his job was the power of the green room. The information shared in those places is fascinating.

But just because someone is reported un-named doesn't mean they're reported uncritically. In this example, Guyon said 'senior National MPs'. That's not naming names but a) it narrows it down to fewer than a dozen people and b) means by Guyon's judgment they were genuinely held views rather than spin. As with any reporting, the reader can interpret that as they wish.

Agreed, the audience doesn't know all the transactions involved. Heck, I said at the start of this blog to take it all with a grain of salt. But it was always thus. And the reality is that it's exactly these kinds of tweets - and this kind of blog - that is our attempt to lift the curtain more than used to be the case. I've got employers and colleagues to think of, but I try to blog on these kind of issues exactly to try to explain to you how this all works on the inside. (I just sometimes get exasperated when people who've never been in a newsroom in their life tell me how it really is; I'd never presume to know more about insurance than an insurance agent, so why do these people... anyway, I won't get started!).

We do know that MPs will try to play us, so the starting point for most journos is to assume that they don't want their reputations ruined and will only report the un-named stuff they think is real. Sometimes they'll be wrong. Often they'll be swayed by their own world view - O'Sullivan and Roughan are from the right, I'm a little more to the left (but not left enough for some!) and so on. Of course you should take that into account, but I certainly try to put my world view aside as much as possible and to see what's really happening. That's the difference between analysis and advocacy. I prefer the former.

You're right that there's no way you can know about relationships etc and that's makes it hard to figure how much scepticism to apply. My frustration is that people these days seem to instantly assume the worse. Guyon can spend all year investigating David Ross and the Ureweras etc, can spend a decade tripping up journalists from all parites and then, bang, he's suddenly in cahoots with Jones!

I worked with Guyon on Q+A for several years and we got this month after month; we went after everyone, but there were always accusations of bias and conspiracy - again, often from people who purport to be critics or experts, but are just ranters. It's wearying.

You're right - it's exactly about the electorate's opinion, which is what I'm trying to say to Ross and Viv.

I accept that Guyon's telling the truth that National MPs have expressed some fear of Jones (because I've heard him say it more than once and prior to this race). In part they probably fear his unpredictability! But you're bang on that the question becomes 'does that fear stack up'. That probably could be dealt with more in this track, but it wasn't trying to be that kind of piece. What's more, aren't we always told to respect the intelligence of the audience. Viewers could see Jones at home, get a sense of him, and decide that for themselves, as Richard and Bruce have.

As for polls, well, as some say these things can be self-fulfilling and circular. But you're right and the TV3 poll last night shows Jones growing in support (pre the John Key bungy cord gaffe). So this analysis that Jones has a power to connect, based on years of observation, has been shown to have some insight, no? The TVNZ poll on Sunday will be interesting.

Mate, I don't understand this business half the time. I guess I'd just ask you to believe that most of us in here are trying our best to get to the nub of things and get it right. Take it with a grain of salt, look at a journo's full track record to decide how much weight you put on their analysis, but just give us the benefit of the doubt now and then. One thing to keep in mind is that the political workplace isn't that different from any other - people goss and moan and let off steam and make mistakes. It's less machiavellian than you'd think most days - but much, much more on other days!

by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

But Lee, didn't you acknowledge that his economics were the (orthodox) beltway view? And didn't he acknowledge the same thing by saying that it's these views they are greeted by when they read their briefs? He happens to agree with them, you don't. But he's right that they are the orthodox views around Treasury, this government and most economic institutions these days (IMF etc). The GFC gave them a knock, but they're still the orthodoxy aren't they? And Krugman's so interesting because he's a little unorthodox.

by Lee Churchman on September 07, 2013
Lee Churchman

Of course that's a much, much harder thing to do. Savage moved the centre, Kirk moved the centre, Douglas moved the centre... but it's bloody difficult 

Sure, but at some point it needs to be done. Given recent events, now looks like a good time whereas 2002 was not. 

by Lee Churchman on September 07, 2013
Lee Churchman

But Lee, didn't you acknowledge that his economics were the (orthodox) beltway view?

Orthodoxy among economists ≠ orthodox beltway economic views. That's your problem right there.

by Lee Churchman on September 07, 2013
Lee Churchman

And Krugman's so interesting because he's a little unorthodox.

Krugman holds different views from the policy elite. That doesn't make him a proponent of unorthodox economics. The story here is the capture of the policy elite by a particular view, and not the capture of the economics profession.

by Lee Churchman on September 07, 2013
Lee Churchman

Part of the problem here Tim is that "unorthodox" or "heterodox" has a somewhat loose, but nevertheless technical meaning in economics.


Krugman as a Keynesian is not a heterodox economist in the technical sense.

by Alex Coleman on September 07, 2013
Alex Coleman

Thanks Tim. 


By way of example, and it's a doozy:


The gloves appear to be off behind the scenes, with claims and counter claims from each side over how many votes they have within the caucus and wider party and among union affiliates.

There are also claims of skulduggery, with suggestions that offers of winnable list spots are being offered to electorate officials able to bring in local votes.

The claims and counter claims about numbers aren't at all surprising, and it's pretty obvious to people who sort of understand the game that those claims are being made off the record to journos to try get momentum type coverage.

But that second claim is  of no use to readers at all. We are told that there are 'claims of skullduggery' with 'suggestions' of really bad  behaviour form one or more of the camps. Were the suggestions explicit, or wwas it hinted at? Are the suggestions coming from one camp, two camps about the third, or are they all making the same suggestions about each other? It tells us nothing useful to either voting members in this fight or the electorate at large.

Either the suggestions are true, and these offers are being made, (but we don't know by which camp) or the suggestions are false and it's a smear campaign (and again, we don't know which camp). It's not so much burying the lede, as ommitting it entirely, if you like. 

People inside the bubble will have a much clearer view about whoo is making the suggestions, the rest of us are none the wiser at all. It's made it more murky not less.

by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

Take your point Lee. I was equating the beltway orthodoxy with economic orthodoxy, but of course there's always debate going on. And not undermining Krugman, who I've lond read and admired, and given the Nobel is hardly a nutter!

by Tim Watkin on September 07, 2013
Tim Watkin

Alex, it is an excellent example. To be fair, the skullduggery has only been "suggested", not proven. And earlier it says "each side" is claiming it has more support than the others, so that claim is attributed to all the camps.

The second par is the trickier one, and the question is why it was written that way. Perhaps it's second-hand info and lazy reporting. And yes, it could be spin to damage the other camps. But it's more likely to be from people who would get in trouble if they were quoted (and of course would never talk to you again). Or that it seems clear to the writer, but it's unprovable, so to name names could open you to legal action - or take the story to a level of dispute that you couldn't win (say if one candidate was named and he then came out and said 'prove it'). So you want to let people know as much as you can, but can't tell it all.

Or it could be that the word limit simply didn't allow for much detail - the boring, practical realities of time on TV and word limits in print are behind many of the decisions that are often viewed by outsiders as suspicious!

But I take your point - do you trust that information? And if you do, what do you do with it? Who's being dastardly? Or is it just dirty pool? It's hard, journos want to get out every inch they can, but at the same time you don't necessarily think as deeply about every line as you are in this case. Is it better to leave it out? Or do drop that sort of line out and heop that it prompts some thought by readers, or perhaps further questioning by other reporters? Or, as you say, are you being spun?

That's where you've got to decide which journos are more reliable and have the best sources, I guess.

by Maureen Jansen on September 07, 2013
Maureen Jansen

Tim, you seem like a lovely young man but that was an appalling piece of television. You can't defend it. It was indefensible. (Maybe you have to be a woman to understand how upsetting Jones' "red-blooded male" act can be.)

If Shane Jones gets the leadership it will be the end of Labour. Surely that is bleedingly obvious! 


by stuart munro on September 07, 2013
stuart munro

Ultimately it is the cultivation of relationships between MPs and journalists, and the reportage of their variously interested or asinine comments as 'analysis' that brings the MSM into such disrepute. At best it is horse-race journalism, and at worst it is simply becoming a party organ.

Neither Espiner nor Garner are remotely credible as journalists - they are only a step away from talk-back. Hard talk? Not so much.

by Tim Watkin on September 08, 2013
Tim Watkin

Maureen my point wasn't to defend it or otherwise, but to counter the accusations of bias and endorsement, explain a little about how the process would have worked and suggest Robertson and Cunliffe were made to reject the opportunity. But thank you, I'm sure you're lovely too! Thought I'm not as young as I once was.

Your point about women is an interesting one and I think you're onto something. Labour has relied heavily on the womens vote in the past, but Key has changed that. Labour has to think hard about how it gets it back (or, from a purely numerical points of view, compensates).

@Stuart. Sigh. Back to Korea now, because in this case you know nothing of which you speak.

by Jenny Kirk on September 08, 2013
Jenny Kirk

Belatedly, to Richard Aston - re did Hone Harawira stay for the whole business of the Ngati Hau hui at the Whakapara Marae ?   Yes he did, and what's more he undertook - and followed up on his word - to let local National MPs know about its content and to invite them to a later presentation of it.  As for Jones, so far he hasn't shown any interest whatsoever in that presentation - even though it was sent to him later. I doubt that he has watched it, let alone taken in its message. As far as I'm concerned, Jones was at that hui just as a "show man" - to show he knew how to behave on a marae and to have it shown on TV3's 3rd Degree as a puff piece. And that's all it was !

Oh, and by the way, Tim - as to your last comment "Labour has relied heavily on the womens vote in the past" - lets put that into context. Women have been attracted to Labour because of its policies.  Lately its policies have not been so attractive to women.  And if Jones became leader, they'd be even less attracted back to Labour.

by stuart munro on September 09, 2013
stuart munro

@ Tim,

I know that the political right - the professed economic policy experts are underperforming all our comparable economies, and have for decades. And the MSM is so cosy with them that the prevailing economic discourse in NZ MSM is hard Friedmanite, not data driven like Krugman or Stiglitz.

This is at odds with the preferences and interests of most of the populace. So, don't be telling me NZ journalists are wonderful - that's like the Bill English fantasy economy. He has to show us results besides 70 billion in new debt, and MSM journos have to show us impartiality, analysis, and insight. Ain't holding my breath.


by Ross on September 09, 2013

One reason Shearer failed is that his first impression was weak;

Come on, Tim, Shearer was never going to succeed. He could have made a fantastic first impression - it would not have made a blind bit of dfference to the outcome.

Like I say, the public will have plenty of time to assess the new leader. He doesn't need a puff piece by a little-watched TV show to improve his fortunes.

by Ross on September 09, 2013

Ross, what on earth makes you think they're backers of Bain's? I think you've counted 1+1 and got 9 me ol' china

Have you watched their efforts on Bain's behalf? I would hestitate to call it journalism. 

by Tim Watkin on September 09, 2013
Tim Watkin

Um, like I said, Ross I don't think you get it – you're mistaking a programme with the people who host it. Because Air NZ has Bear Grylls on its safety video doesn't mean everyone at Air NZ is a Bear Grylls fan – or anti-Bear Grylls for that matter. Just because your workplace does X, does that make you a backer of X? Alex was saying that it can be hard for outsiders to understand journalism, but this is pretty basic A) You don't necessarily "back" the stories you do, you just tell them (that's exactly journalism) and B) it's even more true that you don't necessarily "back" the stories your colleagues do.


@Jenny, I've had that discussion with a couple of women who quite like Jones. So while I'm not sure what evidence you have to back up your claim, I suspect his macho nature is a turn-off for some. But possibly an attraction for others... the polls suggest he's capturing some interest. Thanks for the info about the marae visit.

by Danyl Mclauchlan on September 10, 2013
Danyl Mclauchlan

I don't have time to read all the comments, so apologies if these points have already been made, but:

1. The 'conspiracy'/'misguided argument' that several TV3 journalists are endorsing Jones is really very widespread. Radio New Zealand's Media-Watch commented on it. Fran O'Sullivan. Bryce Edwards. Russell Brown. Brian Edwards. John Drinnan. You might even say that EVERY media commentator in the country has adopted this 'conspiracy theory' which, since they all usually disagree on everything, might be meaningful.

2. To put it another way, if everyone who isn't a friend of yours 'misunderstands' your actions, the fault might not be with everyone who isn't your friend.

2. The 3rd Degree piece didn't happen in a vacuum. It was accompanied by Espiner, Garner and Gower endorsing Shane Jones on Twitter, talk-back radio and the evening news. I think every commentator has made that point, and I haven't seen any defence of it. If you take the 3rd Degree profile on its own merits then yeah, it is defensible on the grounds you state, but it was part of a campaign. It was! And that's a hugely problematic way for senior journalists to behave.

by Ross on September 10, 2013

The other point worth mentioning is that Cunliffe and Robertson apparently made a pact some time ago that their partners were off-limits to the media as much aspossible. So, it's hardly surprising they didn't partake in TV3's puff piece.

by Tim Watkin on September 10, 2013
Tim Watkin

Danyl, I wrote my post before some of those folk had written their comments. Re 1. Group-think isn't a great defence. 2. You may have a point there. 3. Most of what I've written in this post and thread is a "defence of it"! My whole point has been that there WAS NO ENDORSEMENT. Please, show it to me if you can.

You're a smart man, so I can't believe you can't see the difference between commentary that says 'Jones deserves to be taken seriously in this race, I've seen his work for years and he can be impressive, he speak to middle NZ in a way the others don't, he would recast Labour in a centrist and electable way etc' and endorsement. If any of those three said 'Jones is the best man for the job' or anything remotely like it, you'd have fair grounds. But commenting on a contender's strength an endorsement does not make!

by stuart munro on September 10, 2013
stuart munro

commenting on a contender's strength an endorsement does not make

In the absence of comparable commentary on other candidates?

by Tim Watkin on September 10, 2013
Tim Watkin

Stuart, read the post! Both the other contenders were offered the same treatment by 3rd Degree and turned down the offer. Indeed, Cunliffe and Robertson tried to do a deal to refuse as a group. After Jones had said yes and the piece organised... Please don't make me keep repeating myself. And Garner and Gower have covered all of the candidates.

Aaaaaannnd... even if they hadn't... if I write a blog analysing Cunliffe and don't mention Jones, am I endorsing him? It's like you're just making up rules out of your head to find an excuse to criticise someone.

by Tim Watkin on September 10, 2013
Tim Watkin

Same message to you Ross. Read the post! I said that's fine if they choose not to partake, but a) I think it's naive and bad strategy and b) don't whine when Jones gets covered. Oh, and c) you happy with candidates making pacts? Some might not like that.

And finally, "apparently" made a pact? If you're going to go on about the poverty of journalism, you shouldn't really quote unsubstantiated and unattributed rumour, should you? That's twice now in one thread! (as with your Bain error).

by NiuZila on September 11, 2013

I think the pact between Robertson and Cunliff was a sensible strategy, in that why should some people's prejudices against gay couples take away from the leadership qualities and policy directions of the candidates?  Unfortunately the pact didn't seem advantageous to Jones. 

In my eyes, Cunliff comes out best, in that he seems to be accept the pact out of respect of Robertson.  Whereas Jones comes across as taking advantage of an area where Robertson, through no fault of his own, has too many risks outweighing the possible positives of doing a personal life piece.

by stuart munro on September 11, 2013
stuart munro

It's like you're just making up rules out of your head to find an excuse to criticise someone.

Principles generate an abundance of rules.

Press neutrality is an ideal, and there will of course be times when it cannot be achieved. But journalism is at a historic low point in NZ at present. This is because of the dominance of large corporate interests, and the expressed opinions of journalists tend to reflect this operating environment.

Coverage of Jones was far from balanced - which is not satisfactory. There will be times when product should not be aired because it cannot be balanced. Was this such a time? Well it will scarcely lower the reputations of Espiner and Garner in any case.

by MJ on September 14, 2013

And in political editor idol (including formers...) Corin Dann has been bringing the humilty of Richie McCaw and the sense of innocence of Dan Carter in an outsiders bid to have the best political coverage...

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