How soon is too soon to ask the government how it intends to pay for rebuilding Christchurch? A spat has broken out on the blogs about where politics starts and stops, but who's kidding whom?

Good grief. Two of our largest right-wing blog sites have got their angry faces on about left-wing blogs advocating tax increases to pay for the rebuild of Christchurch. It seems such blogging is "ghastly opportunism" or "muck" that disrespects those who died in the earthquake.

Sure, no-one finds party politics tasteful at a time of nationwide grieving; some of the posts on The Standard and Tumeke, which David Farrar at Kiwiblog and Cactus Kate are cross about, are a little ahead of the public taste and feeling and may have jumped the gun. For many New Zealanders, this has been a time to focus on what unites us, and fair enough.

But are advocating certain tax views horribly offensive? Hardly. Is there anything wrong with discussing how to pay for the rebuild at this stage, or even last week? I can't see it. When exactly is an appropriate day to start this discussion? And why is talking about funding options in particular, as opposed to architecture styles or anything else about the rebuild, so offensive? Is it "name-calling" to suggest one minister is better suited to a task than another? Plus, these are blogs, not mainstream media. I'm not sure the need to mirror public taste is quite the same, is it?

As I say, good grief. And I'll add a puh-lease.

And who are Kate and David to criticise? Are two bloggers who hate the nanny state so much really wanting to be the taste police? Have they never been out of touch with public sensibilities? They have indulged in shock blogging or no-holds-barred writing before, and in permitting some frankly nasty threads on their sites.

Indeed, in Kate's first rant, she writes, "Years of generous over-spending on welfare to those who haven't really needed it, have led to a position now where John Key is going to the world with the begging bowl and asking for help."

If that's not a political statement, what is? So why is that OK on Tuesday, but not on Monday?

Farrar, for his part, writes: For fuck’s sake – couldn’t that [advocating tax increases and asking the PM to rule funding options in or out] wait until you know after we’ve stopped pulling bodies from the rubble?

That could be weeks or months away. Is all public debate to be censored in the meantime? Is the media to stop asking questions? Is parliament to be suspended until the last funeral?

I also wonder why this pair don't they include right-winger Not PC in their fury, given that he put up a "timely" guest post on Monday – before the two minutes of silence on Tuesday – advocating for Christchurch to be a tax-free zone?

As that post begins: "Thought is already being given to the recovery of Christchurch, and the repercussions that this disaster will have on the New Zealand economy..."

People, at least those outside of Christchurch who have the luxury of doing so, are talking about how we pay for this, so why not discuss it? The government has asked Treasury to start crunching numbers. Is that rude too?

Indeed, not discussing it and getting a strop on about those who have started discussing it seems to be a political, even partisan act in itself. It's hard to ignore that their language of attack is not against individuals, but against 'left-wingers' and "Labour lap-bloggers".

To take a step back, the question of timing is one that sits heavy on the shoulders of anyone in the media. Here at Pundit, I waited until Monday to talk about the economics of the issue, allowing, as I saw it, for the raw feeling to ease. But that was a personal sense and question of taste.

Would writing that piece on Sunday have broken some ethical law? I think not.

Media have had to decide how much coverage is too much... when to raise certain topics... when to pull back coverage without looking like they're abandoning Christchurch. Such calls are made along the lines of taste and decency, but anyone saying that commercial considerations play no part is a liar.

Politicians make similar calculations, except for 'commercial', read 'political'.

The Pike River explosion last year offered similar challenges. Q+A goes to air on a Sunday, which just happened to be three days after the second explosion that confirmed all in the mine were dead. We debated long and hard how to approach that programme.

We paid our respects, we moderated our tone, but we decided that doing our job and asking hard questions showed more respect to those who died than waiting. Many other media didn't ask similar questions for some time after, but I remain immensely proud of that programme and the answers we got.

My hope is always that if sensitivity and humanity clashes with the other considerations, it triumphs. But to pretend that a tension doesn't exist or that the rest of the real world stops when disaster strikes is ridiculous – and a little rich coming from the typically hard-headed, real politik right. And to ask citizens to stop debating and the media to stop interrogating is nonsense.

Ask yourself, are Kate and David really trying to pretend that politics just stops when a tragedy occurs? Are they really claiming that no-one – no-one – in their beloved government has stopped to consider the economic – and yes, the political – implications of this quake in the past week? That any decision on cutting government funding or increasing borrowing or introducing a levy is not political, and isn't already under discussion?

Come on.

And that goes for the other parties as well.

Of course politicians have started thinking about how to pay for this and the impact this has on the election and their preferred policies. The latter is natural, given their jobs and how they get them. The former is called leadership. I like the idea that my country's leaders can govern and grieve at the same time, not be stunned into inaction. That the media which informs me can offer tribute and challenge simultaneously. And that fellow citizens can be talking about what happens next, even as they grapple with the horror of what happened just days before.

And if the people in charge are starting to look at options, then it's entirely proper for the people who monitor the people in charge to start asking questions. Indeed, it's vital.

Where David and Kate get it right, is to challenge (rather than abuse) politicians on the left if they fear they are leveraging the tragedy to push their agenda. Yet David has to be very careful when he assumes that Russel Norman is insincere and grandstanding in pushing for a tax increase to pay for the rebuild. Could Norman not be advocating that in good faith, just as John Key, within days of the earthquake, could have been acting in good faith when he poured cold water on the idea of a special levy?

And why is his damning of the Greens acceptable, yet Marty G's vent against National disgraceful? I don't see either of them presenting evidence to justify their claims.

As Farrar says, it's not in good taste to be "using the earthquake" for political ends. And that's true whatever your clique or party. Here's hoping he would be just as horrified if National was to cut interest-free student loans, rail spending or KiwiSaver funding as a result of the quake.

In the meantime, let's keep praying/hoping for miracles, do all we can to support those hard at work in Christchurch, and start a free and frank discussion about what comes next.

Comments (82)

by Deborah Coddington on March 02, 2011
Deborah Coddington

(Sound of DC tiptoeing back and peering over parapet):

Crikey Tim, you spoiling for a fight? Or more from those cute little guys who live under bridges and talk to billy goats gruff?

Light fuse and stand well clear.

by Danyl Mclauchlan on March 02, 2011
Danyl Mclauchlan

It reminds me of the fallacious defense of Paul Henry, in which Henry was allowed to say anything he liked - but anyone who disagreed with him or described him as offensive was shouted down on the basis that they were attacking his freedom of speech. Now we have a similar dynamic in which the government gets to make as many political statements and decisions as they like, but if anyone openly disagrees with them then they're 'politicising the earthquake'.

by Cactus Kate on March 02, 2011
Cactus Kate


As proven with your post, that in the end eventually praises Farrar and myself after a slow start, you can post commentary on the subject without politicising the earthquake.  I don't know your politics in any instance or yourself as to whether you are aligned to a political party.

What made Tuesday better than Monday?  Well it was a week and remembrance with the two minutes silence.  The Stranded (a purely political blog) were right in there before a victim was even officially named so was Tumeke (another political blog) and Trotter .

As for Not PC - Deborah will confirm that as a Libertarianz member he is utterly uncontrollable.  His post wasn't nasty in any instance it was as usual with a Peter post, purely analytical.

I took it as a matter of decency and taste in terms of timing in responding to their nonsense.  As I usually proudly have very little of both when it comes to blogging, given that low barrier if I say someone is less decent or tasteful in their behaviour than myself I am always right.

Tumeke is just a blog I agree, however The Standard is not.  It is full of anonymous lap-bloggers proven to be paid from funds of the left.  Anyone can google who I am in a second or two, yet the identity of The Standard's authors has remained a secret for years.  For all we know Labour MP's are using their log-in names.

by Robert Winter on March 02, 2011
Robert Winter

Thank you, Mr Watkin. The hypocrisy of the Right, or, if you prefer, their faux anger, has been hugely entertaining - a type of Thought Police approach, in which they believe that the right to trigger "political" comment post-earthquake lies with themselves. I am struck by theit particular appropriation of these terrible events, which they implicitly suggest is wholesome and right, whilst condemning any view that disturbs their world view. It has caused more than one wry chuckle on my part over the last few days.

by Chris Webster on March 02, 2011
Chris Webster

Tim: consider the sources!


by Ben Wilson on March 02, 2011
Ben Wilson

The ruling party doesn't automatically get a free pass from natural disasters. It is actually that simple. This country is a democracy, in which alternative ideas are posed for public discussion.

There are practical reasons to let the leadership get on with it early on, but those have pretty much played out now, the urgency around rescues has abated. Now other issues are urgent, and they're multiple and competing and thus political. The Opposition are our leadership, too, after all, and we want them to represent us.

If National uses this disaster to push the agenda they wanted to push anyway (and I've not heard any new ideas from them, other than the most obvious, to use the EQC money), it's the duty of the Opposition to say why their alternative agenda is far more compelling.

by ScottY on March 02, 2011

I suspect we won't see David Farrar denounce John Key for openly pondering whether we need to cut Working for Families to pay for the recovery. While the bodies of many of the dead lie unburied.

The posts by Cactus Kate and Farrar are as political and as partisan as the ones they denounce.

by Andrew R on March 02, 2011
Andrew R

Of course national is using the earthquakes to push their agenda.  Starting with using it as an excuse for the failure of their economic policy -- there is so much unemployment, recovery is flat and so on because we had to first deal with hte mess that labour left us (i.e. low government debt), then we had to deal with the September earthquake now this one.  Our policies are just great but haven't had a chance to work because of these other external factors.

Nothing to do with a $15 billion government income reduction via tax cuts for the wealthy contriuting to spending deficits and borrowing needs.

Along with the opportunistic behaviours over working for families, "partial" privitisation, even more cuts to the public service ...


by Tim Watkin on March 02, 2011
Tim Watkin

Hey DC, I must have eaten my provocative beans today. Or maybe I was just cranky cos I hadn't eaten enough of anything! I don't usually like to get into online scraps, but that ripped my shorts.

As Kate says, she's been worthy of a few taste tickets herself in the past, so it's a bit much for the convict to turn cop without someone coughing politely at the nuttiness of it all.

Kate, I don't buy that a week was somehow significant. The two minutes of silence was a significant bit of ritual for the country, but it's not a sacred tradition or anything anyone knew about more than a day or so in advance, so I don't see how it suddenly becomes the marker for all things decent.

And I don't get the Not PC excuse. He's uncontrollable... but Martyn is on someone's leash? That excuse either works for both or neither.

Still yeah, fine for you and David to raise the interesting taste question – it just seemed rather at odds with your politics otherwise. If you believe the good of the community trumps individual rights of expression in this case, perhaps you might be more sympathetic to it in other instances?

And no, I'm not aligned with any party.

by Tim Watkin on March 02, 2011
Tim Watkin

Ben, you sum it up nicely.

The question of whether National will try to exploit this is still a very big "if" though, so I'm wary of going there. We don't know their intentions yet and should give them the chance to be decent.

Perhaps they'll stick to their agenda out of integrity... or just because they're conservatives or because they're poll-shy. Remember Jim Bolger had a legit reason for reneging on his surtax promise (BNZ bailout), but voters still weren't forgiving.

by Lynn Prentice on March 02, 2011
Lynn Prentice

Cactus Kate raves about the secrecy at The Standard..

It is full of anonymous lap-bloggers proven to be paid from funds of the left.  Anyone can google who I am in a second or two, yet the identity of The Standard's authors has remained a secret for years.  For all we know Labour MP's are using their log-in names.

There is a reason for that privacy. It largely comes from the actions of her mate Slater, and to a slightly lesser extent Farrar. In the early days of the site I was the only person using a real name at The Standard because someone had to have a real name for the domain name.

Perhaps she has forgotten Slater using that information to try to attack me through my employer. Of course he was his usual stupid self and found my previous employer. I had a reciprocation arrangement with them for secondary DNS after I'd left that company.

Similarly he and Farrar made a big deal about our hosting on a free server run by an activist that turned out to have been donated by an ISP to the Labour party (who had no idea what to do with it). FFS we were running on whatever hardware was available and free. I just shifted to a host and started paying for it out of my own pocket.

That is why I keep the information available to me on the net to a minimum and along with the various threats by nutters over the years is why keep our authors protected.

I don't care who Cactus Kate is, I'd prefer to deal with whatever ideas she has. Unlike her friends I don't do the modern equivalent of crawling through garbage looking for scandal and using 'real names' as an excuse to attack people.

We don't allow MP's to post on The Standard except as named guest posts. That has ceased now that they have  Red Alert.

Everyone posts in their own time which is usually in the evenings or work breaks and is why there are so few posts per author per day and are not reaction pieces largely quoting other people and saying 'indeed'. Unlike Slater or Farrar we all work for a living without the cushy amounts of time that their work seems to accord them.

Can anyone confirm this? Well no - you're going to have to trust me. But is there a valid reason to absolutely know?

Based on past experience, it is my belief is that it'd be useful for the arseholes to attack them. To date Cactus Kate hasn't shown a reason why her mates would not - they have done it before to me.

by Lynn Prentice on March 03, 2011
Lynn Prentice

Oh and just as a sidebar. The Standard has had exactly 3 sources of funding during its life time.

Nothing when I started it on my servers and when it moved for 3 weeks to a freebie server in Jan 2008.

From Jan 2008 to April 2010 it was paid for almost entirely by me for a maximum of about $90 per month.

There were some donations through paypal that amounted to less than $600 after June 2009 mostly in $20-$50 per donation with a couple of generous $100 donations.

Since April 2010 most of the $250 cost has been paid for using advertising through the same agency that Kiwiblog uses.

The Labour party has never put any money into the site and they don't control it (nor for that matter does any other party). They sure as hell don't control what we write and some of the party hierarchies have been known to get rather upset when we criticize them.

Cactus Kate should learn to read facts rather than inventing fiction. These are all in our about at

by Cactus Kate on March 03, 2011
Cactus Kate

Lynn, my real name is Cathy Odgers.  Of anyone I should be more concerned about my privacy because I have a real job in the private sector but I am not.  You know my politics, my job is to make sure people, most of them wealthy are not paying more tax than they should due to black letter law and I advocate this strongly.  I have always been honest about this and believe in what I do.  I have had left wingers even complain to my past employers about what I have done. Guess what?  No one cares because it is my job to do precisely what I do every day on the blog - defend the rights of taxpayers.  Nothing I state in my blog contradicts either my beliefs or my employment.

Why can't your pen names identify themselves?  What do they do that is so very secret?  Or important?  Fiction? You could have made all that up.  That's right, why should anyone trust you?  You are not honest with your readers.

Given your site and its higly politically charged content it is crucial in terms of transparency that we know who you are.  You know who we all are.

Crying that you are apparently being bullied by Slater is weak.  Very weak.

The Standard is a lap blog funded by the Labour Party.  Until you defend yourselves with transparency as to whom you all are we cannot rebut this presumption.

Tim - you want taste police - I am again honest about this that I push the boundaries but the Standard and Tumeke has gone past what even I would do.  Perhaps you fail to see the difference between yourself who is unknown politically and those who do not pretend to be apolitical.

by Tim Watkin on March 03, 2011
Tim Watkin

Lynn, I'm with Cathy on this one. Mostly. I have no truck with Slater going after you in your personal life and I think her point that her work and blogging line up so perfectly is her good fortune, hardly a template that everyone can follow.

But I still consider anonymous blogging to be weak and missing something. The argument that you engage with ideas rather than identity is the worst sort of grasping excuse. Of course who you are matters as much as your ideas... The two go hand in hand.

By my old journalistic ethics, anonymity disrespects your readers and is less than full disclosure.

To use an extreme example, I would read a piece on Germany differently if I knew the author was Adolf Hitler, regardless of its views. Or more plainly, don't you look at a column differently once you know it's written by Brian Rudman rather than Garth George or Steve Braunias rather than Joanne Black?

And you might say that the bloggers aren't MPs, that you've only had three sources of funding, and so on... but with no names I have to take your word for it, don't I?

by on March 03, 2011

It's not particularly on topic, but since it was mentioned... Is there any word on whether Q+A will be returning this year?

by mickysavage on March 03, 2011

I am with Lynn on this one.  The debate ought to be about the ideas and the concepts and not the individuals involved.  Although I instinctly prefer reading something by Rudman to something by George I also prefer to read something by MartyG.  So I do not accept the suggestion that you have to know the identity of the writer to appreciate them.


I appreciate this next comment will attract howls of derision but the right do tend to get personal with their attacks.  Cactus Kate's use of the phrases "stranded", "lap bloggers", and "paid from the funds of the left" (that last comment made me laugh) is an example of this.  Some of the behaviour of others is appalling.  Slater stands out and is obviously trying to be the Michael Laws of the blogosphere.


And Kate's attack gets away from the point of the post.  It is important that we discuss Christchurch and how its rebuilding is going to be funded.  To allow the Government to uncritically do whatever it wants as some sort of misguided indication for support for Christchurch is just wrong.




by Ben Wilson on March 03, 2011
Ben Wilson

>And Kate's attack gets away from the point of the post.  It is important that we discuss Christchurch and how its rebuilding is going to be funded.

That was the point, but since Kate is in the title of the post, it was only going to be a matter of time before it became her thread, and digressed onto the irrelevant hobby horse about blogger anonymity.

Is blogging anonymously about the politics around the quake any more tasteless than doing it in a real name? Or, for that matter, is trying to shut debate down from a real name any less political than from a pseudonym?

Pseudonyms are a choice some people make. But they take on an identity pretty fast if the writer writes a lot. That can gain or lose credibility depending what is said. So I think the rules are the same for both. Either it's tastelss or it's not, the anonymity is irrelevant.

by Ian MacKay on March 03, 2011
Ian MacKay

When right bologgers like David Farrar and Cathy Odgers come out swinging, as in this case over whether we should discuss Christchurch funding, I believe that they see the NAct Government is vulnerable in this area. The fact that Bill English playing Hard Cop followed by John Key playing Good Cop started the discussion on funding seems to be lost in the dust-up. Must look harder at the funding of Christchurch. There is something loose in there.

by Ian MacKay on March 03, 2011
Ian MacKay

And the question of real names who cares! As a supporter of the Standard for example, I just know the writers by their style and content. As a Provincial, just who they are is insignificant as the ideas and opinions that they present are for considered opinions and often impulsive considerations. I have total confidence in IPrent and am surprised that Tim would write <i>The argument that you engage with ideas rather than identity is the worst sort of grasping excuse.</i> Rubbish Tim!

by Lynn Prentice on March 03, 2011
Lynn Prentice

Cathy: My name is Lynn Prentice aka lprent - just as it says in these comments. I have only ever worked in the private sector. Ah - is there are point to all of that? You still now know virtually nothing about me except what I care to share.

No-one around my various workplaces has ever cared that I blog because they're far more interested in the code I write. They do care when idiots like Whale start listing their names and addresses as being associated with me and saying that they are lapdogs of a political party. They really care when this starts showing up on the top of google listings for them and their company.

I notice that you still haven't actually given a reason why as individuals we should shed our privacy. There is a  guarantee of privacy to our authors and commentators in our policies. As far as I can see you're just asking for it to satisfy your curiousity. That does seem quite a weak reason. Based on an actual past history I have offered an alternate explanation of a systematic exercise in intimidation, which you seem to prefer not to deal with.

If you have an issue with the site then you can always deal with me - that is why my name is on the domain and why it is on the trust documents. For some strange reasons critics like yourself do not appear to want to do that.

Tim: The point is that we are not journalists. We are people writing stuff in our spare time. So journalist ethics hardly apply. We make no secret of what our attitudes and opinions are - we write them down most days.

If we were claiming expertise based on our experience or qualifications then we would need to show those. Now I do occassionally when it comes to earth sciences and management and other life experience - but I have also said where I got them and the limits to my expertise. Because some of our authors are psuedonomyous they do not claim any particular expertise or authority. We all just use the net to link to relevant material and let readers dig around themselves.

If one of our authors wants to use their own in real life identity and to be able to call on their experience, then they do so. Currently that is me, Mike Smith who we grabbed when we set up the trust and who wanted to write based on his experience, and rocky aka Rochelle Rees who wanted to write about activist and animal rights issues. Of course that is about a quarter of our currently active writers.

So yeah, psuedonomyous blogging is inherently weaker. But there is a trade off between making yourself exposed to personal attacks by the likes of Slater and being able to claim more experience and skills. The limits are far less now than they ever had been because the medium allows us to directly link to the supporting materials and external authorities.

If anyone has any issues with our authors or what is written on the site then they are perfectly able to write directly on the site or to come through me or Mike. This is why domain names are registered to a person and are not allowed to be anonymous. This happens a few times a year.

I pointed out above how we fund the little money the site requires. The only organisation we are (or ever have been) associated with is The Standard Trust which was set up to handle the advertising revenue. Because we are a registered non-profit organisation, I suspect that we will have to file some paper work this year about our revenue. I have no idea how accessible that information is. But I guess that if a journalist requested I could dig out the paperwork for the server payments of the years and give authority to check that information to the suppliers. It would be a rather pointless activity.

But really I think that this is just a way for the supporters of the current government to try to attack their opponents.

by Ben Wilson on March 03, 2011
Ben Wilson

>Rubbish Tim!

It's not total rubbish. You can't ignore the fact that an author has more credibility if their identity is known. But there are still lots of reasons for people with valuable contributions to keep their identities hidden. It would only be rubbish if Tim was saying that anonymous views have no merit at all. He's just saying that they're weakened by the anonymity. Which is true.

by r0b on March 03, 2011

By my old journalistic ethics, anonymity disrespects your readers and is less than full disclosure

How do your old journalistic ethics cope with the anonymous editorials in newspapers and magazines Tim?  How do they cope with writers such as Lewis Carroll, Joseph Conrad, C. S. Forester, Clive Hamilton, O. Henry, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, Voltaire and so on?

Crying that you are apparently being bullied by Slater is weak.  Very weak.

Hey Kate - ever been held up at knife point in your own home?  Ever had your place of work firebombed?  No?Well then what the hell do you know about it.

by ScottY on March 03, 2011

The debate over anonymity is largely irrelevant. It is entirely possible for a person blogging under anonymity to create a reputable body of work over time.

The attacks on The Standard's funding are also a smear and distraction. Why doesn't Cactus Kate demand that David Farrar front up to show the world where he gets his money from? Farrar may well be funding his own blog, but his business Curia is heavily involved with National, so indirectly, at least, there's an argument that Kiwiblog is National Party funded.

I for one don't care, because Farrar doesn't hide his National affiliations, just as most of the Standard authors are openly pro-Labour. By why the double standard from Cactus Kate when it comes to financial transparency?

by Alec Morgan on March 03, 2011
Alec Morgan

Something has rattled the rights cages and that something I suspect is annoyance that a few of us at least are pointing out the NZ public is likely being played by the tories over aspects of ‘Quakechurch’.

The Key/English utterences on who is going to pay for the tragedy echo a kiwi form of ‘shock doctrine’.

Why mention specific areas of possible spending deferrals or cuts at all? Because it is a tactical/strategic requirement. When specifics are raised they just happen to be long time nuisances for the Natz such as WFF. Where is the holiday highway? Where is the change of heart over South Canterbury Finances $1.7 bill? We are being played alright.

by XChequer on March 03, 2011

Right. Had just commented on my own blog and was going to leave it at that but Alec Morgan's comment is right out of the Left-ist play book - bring out an "I suspect.........." line then try to build a cogent case around it even though he fails on that point.

Alec - Chris Trotter has already apologised for you, please don't give him a reason to apologise again (see here and here).

When Chris Trotter is apologising, you know he's not comfortable with the actions of some of his fellows. And he has fair reason.

I don't really care about the Standard authors. I know that some (and I mean some) write absolute drivel - regardless of what their names are. And I also see the point of some protecting their identities from the machinations of a ruthless Whale!

What I don't support is the utterly defensless way that certain people, namely at the Standard have chucked the boot in to promote their own agendas while pretending to give a rats about us down here. Using Christchurch as a sheild is weak, pathetic and incredibly unethical. THAT is the issue here

by XChequer on March 03, 2011

ScottY - as any reader of CK knows, she blogs often about her source of funds and the way and style she spends it.

She is utterly transparent.

by XChequer on March 03, 2011

Alec said "Why mention specific areas of possible spending deferrals or cuts at all? Because it is a tactical/strategic requirement. When specifics are raised they just happen to be long time nuisances for the Natz such as WFF. Where is the holiday highway? Where is the change of heart over South Canterbury Finances $1.7 bill? We are being played alright."

And before you get on your high horse there Alec, just remember that it was in response to specific questions put to the minister about WFF etc and the ability to pay that led to the ministers not ruling anything out.

How bout giving them time to do their job before you carp from the sidelines, eh????

Also any reference made to the Shock Doctrine can't really be taken seriously - its a terrble piece of analysis but a wonderful coffee book item for conspiracy theorists.

by ScottY on March 03, 2011

ScottY - as any reader of CK knows, she blogs often about her source of funds and the way and style she spends it. She is utterly transparent

I suggest you go back and read what I wrote. I wasn't raising any questions about her spending.

And it's a bit rich of you to complain about others getting on their high horse. John Key went a lot further than Bill English's "nothing is on or off the table" comments when he openly discussed the prospect of cutting WFF. Isn't that politicking too?

And in case you haven't noticed, Chris Trotter isn't exactly representative of the modern left. He's often quoted with approval by right-wingers on a number of issues, which kind of says it all. I suspect most people on the left would tell Trotter where he can put his apology.

by stuart munro on March 03, 2011
stuart munro

Ultimately 'taste' almost invariably becomes the province of rightwing agit prop - because it is a sentimental argument. As it must be to appear to legitimate the preservation of privileged inequities, like the lack of taxation on capital earnings, or the fiction by which corporate entities enjoy the rights but not the responsibilities of citizens. 'The people' are revolting, thus their reasoning can be evaded. But not forever.

by Tim Watkin on March 03, 2011
Tim Watkin

Paul, Q+A is back on air March 20. And it'll be a goody.

@ the others, including Lynn. I take your point that you're not claiming objectivity or pretending balance, so regardless of your name, the reader knows where you're coming from. So there's significant disclosure.

It's still not full disclosure, however, and therefore, as Ben says, is weaker. Lynn, you acknowledge that, and fair dues. I won't abuse you for being different to me, but here at Pundit we don't publish anything unless the writer is prepared to put their name to it. (A nagging memory suggests we may have made an honourable exception once, but I can't recall precisely).

I'm sorry Ian, but are you really claiming that an idea exists independently of its source? An opinion and who has it are intrinsically linked, surely.

The Std writers may not claim balance, but they claim knowledge and insight. Can I trust that? It's simple fact that I would be better able to answer that question if I know who they are.

If they're on Labour's payroll, I would still read their word differently that I would a left-leaning academic, for example.

Rob... That's a great list. But you can hardly claim that Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll and George Orwell, for example, were anonymous. They had public lives under their pseudonym. Readers knew they weren't PR hacks, lobbyists, mad hatters - or anything else - in disguise.

And yeah, I do read Kiwiblog as a National Party funded-blog. Farrar openly earns much of his money from the party and has openly worked for it and openly thinks John Key is the best thing to happen to NZ since fertilizer. (Maybe better). That's all disclosed. The Standard doesn't reach the same standard. (Heh.)


by on March 03, 2011

Tim -

I'm agreeing with r0b, but I have no idea who Garth George or most other columnists are, or their background.  My opinion of their columns is based purely on previous ones I've read.  It is no different from Marty G or r0b on The Standard - I've found their previous work interesting and high value, so I'm interested in their future work.

It's certainly far better than a Herald editorial that I have no idea who wrote it, so pure anonymity does have a downside.  Pseudoanonymity (for reasons of work or other reasons) does not bother me.  I truly believe it is the argument that matters in political discourse, not the messenger.  It's different for an MP or elected person - then I have to know about the person to know if I trust them to actually carry out their words.

But a talking head's name is all they have or need for their reputation.

by Ian MacKay on March 03, 2011
Ian MacKay

Tim. I wonder why you are questioning the integrity/authenticity of another blogsite? I would have thought there was more common ground politically between Pundit and Standard than between Pundit and Kiwiblog. (I understand that Pundit largely publishes professional writers which is its strength and its weakness.)

by r0b on March 03, 2011

Rob... That's a great list. But you can hardly claim that Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll and George Orwell, for example, were anonymous. They had public lives under their pseudonym.

Public lives known to what percentage of their readers do you reckon?  Vanishingly small is my guess - to most of their readers they were their pen names.  And why not?  Did it change a single word of what they wrote?  No.


And I notice you didn't address the other example.  Anonymous editorials in papers like The Herald, and magazine like The Listener.  It's a bit bollocks to claim that journalistic integrity requires full disclosure while that is going on - don't you think?


Readers knew they weren't PR hacks, lobbyists, mad hatters - or anything else - in disguise.

Are you a party hack, mad hatter, or anything else in disguise Tim?  How would I know?  Why should I care?  I respect the words that you write without knowing anything about you.  And in my case I'm happy for others to judge me (as an author at The Standard) based on the words that I write.


The "right" wants to make politics all about personalities and mud slinging and name calling.  This fascination with who pseudonymous authors "really are" plays right in to their hands.  I'd rather that politics was about evidence and ideas.  Wouldn't you?

by Lynn Prentice on March 03, 2011
Lynn Prentice

The Std writers may not claim balance, but they claim knowledge and insight. Can I trust that? It's simple fact that I would be better able to answer that question if I know who they are.

That is really the point. They don't particularly claim knowledge and insight.

There are different styles.

For instance Zetetic (in my opinion) simply exists to stir. Almost everything s/he writes is satirical.

People like Marty G or r0b write much more analytical peices usually with links out the wazoo to supporting material. Half of the more serious debate that goes on in comments is deconstructions of their links and added links.

IrishBill writes almost entirely opinion peices arguing around what is usually a newish way of looking at things. I'm sure that he spends deliberately spends time just trying to turn ideas on their head.

etc etc. But the point is that they don't claim hidden knowledge or insight. They put their views down and let you decide and to participate from what they write and the materials that the link to. The mental model you're following is that of a broadcast media, not of an interactive media. Most people reading the pages also spend time reading the comments. The average residence time per page is somthing in the order of about 6 minutes - far longer than is required to read a 600 word post.

by Tim Watkin on March 03, 2011
Tim Watkin

Sorry Rob, agree to disagree on this one. I don't see this as a right/left issue. Full disclosure has been a media ethic for decades and for all sides of the argument. And I don't see why I should have to choose between evidence/ideas and known identities.

If anything, you could argue that lefty types have been more fervent about identifying authors to expose placed stories by tobacco companies and other vested interests.

Your point about the Listener, Herald etc... The Listener only returned to that tradition in recent years; Denis Welch is a big fan, and there is an honourable tradition about writing not personal views, but the position taken by the publication. Many editorial writers for the papers write contrary to their own opinions to reflect the editorial line of the publication, so names would be contradictory. What they're disclosing is what the paper thinks.


by Tim Watkin on March 03, 2011
Tim Watkin

Six minutes... that's very good Lynn, well done.

My point remains that if I knew more about them, that would influence how I read them. Content and character are intertwined.

And the pieces do claim knowledge of politicians, of what motivates them and their intent, what their real agenda is and so on. Again, I might look differently on that if it was someone who works fulltime in politics, versus a botanist from Bluff, or a tobacco lobbyist.

Gotta go get a train, so I guess we're not going to reconcile on this one today.

by r0b on March 03, 2011

What they're disclosing is what the paper thinks.

Oh please - do you really believe that?  Want me to start in on the contradictory Herald editorials over the years?  There is no "paper" that "thinks" - it's all people.  Of course they are personal views, and anonymous ones at that.  As long as you accept that tradition you are completely inconsistent in querying the anonymity of bloggers.

Anyhow, toodle pip, agree to disagree as you say.

by Deborah Coddington on March 03, 2011
Deborah Coddington

I think when it comes to blog sites, both the 'left' and the 'right' are about even when it comes to hiding behind anonymous comments and personal abuse. There are very, very few people who can dish it out, but then take it when it comes back at them.

I also think Tim and I, coming from a journalists' background and training, adhere to authors being identified for a number of reasons, not the least being legal issues. There's defamation, for instance. The journalist might well be cited as second or third defendant. Then there's the issue of hypocrisy, if you're a commentator or a columnist and, for instance, you strike out and support a politician for opposing legislation which might be decriminalising cannabis. You praise that politician. His supporters do some digging on you, and find that in your hippie youth, you spent a considerable amount of time stoned out of your mind. It might make you look a bit silly.

Columns also have far more weight if they have a name to them.

That said, there was a time, I can remember (I'm much older than Tim) when ordinary reportage didn't have by-lines, it didn't matter who wrote them. These days however, I really can't imagine that any of you who've said you don't care who writes the story would approach a feature on, for example, "teacher unions and their effect on education" in, say, The Listener, the same way, if it was written by Denis Welch, as if it was written by Deborah Coddington.

And is that such a bad thing? I don't think so. Surely we're intelligent enough to cope with that?

by stuart munro on March 03, 2011
stuart munro

Nice discussion of bylines here. Sometimes not having them indicated subordinating the writer's preferences to the 'greater good'.

But for blogging, using one's real name ought to delineate a degree of sobriety. I'm not sure that is always apparent. It is a bit like expecting rational argument from academics: it turns out that they use fallacious arguments in informal forums just like everyone else.

by Deborah Coddington on March 03, 2011
Deborah Coddington

Thanks for that Stuart. I still think a good tough editor can whip a journalist into shape though for the readers' good, even with a byline. Robyn Langwell (North & South) and Warwick Roger (Metro) - two of the best - always told us we didn't matter. The readers did. We were never allowed to begin our stories with "I sat down and ordered a capuccino" and I still hate that.

And I agree, I hate that word 'writer'. We're not frigging writers. How pretentious is that. But not all journalists are obsessively protective. I reckon many journalists care more about their publication than their own patch - without the success of their publication they wouldn't have a patch. I've done heaps of OIAs and research then handed it all over to colleagues, helped them write the story, let them take the money and the byline, because of a family confict.

by stuart munro on March 03, 2011
stuart munro

Well I for one am conscious of a debt to writers of all descriptions - I teach, & for those purposes I routinely use chunks of other's work.  I seldom attribute the sources, (my students don't have the leisure to follow them up) nor do I have a budget to pay them. But they are nevertheless immensely useful.

Ben Franklin had a line on it:

That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.

I wouldn't want to extend it so far as to abridge the earnings of any living writer, but we are all the beneficiares of the cleverness of our predecessors. It is a debt we can only hope to pay in turn to our successors.

by Tim Watkin on March 03, 2011
Tim Watkin

Interesting Stuart. As I read your link, for all the words, the only reason that seems to be given for The Economist having no bylines is that it makes the journalists think less of themselves and more of the paper (The E has always called itself a paper for over 50 years, although it's been a magazine by most standards for a very long time. Another one of its endearing traditions).

Yeah, there used to be no names, but then we used to use hot lead too. And it used to take days for war reports to reach had office. Things change and in some cases improve. And if you forgive the repetition, for me full disclosure matters. I respect journos who try to step back, be objective and take themselves out of the story... far too many think it's normal now, when, as Deborah recalls, the best editors I've known always pounded that out of young reporters: 'It's not about you...'

But having said that, we do carry our own baggage, so I think we can seek balance etc, but be honest about who we are.

The balance of ego vs disclosure is worthy of debate, though. By-lines do create wee celebrity cults, and that can lead those folk to get rather too big for their boots. But y'know what? If they don't keep it up, their reputation slides again. We're a pretty tough audience in this country, which I like.

And we haven't got to the US situation, where senior writers get juniors or interns to dig for them and then stick their byline on others' work. At least, not that I've seen. We just have more info if we see a story is by Coddington rather than Campbell, or Braunias rather than Collins.

Oh, and Rob, it's simply fact that some editorial writers and journalists subsume their own opinions to tow a paper's line. I know these people, it's sometimes part of the job. Whether you believe it or not, or are incredulous, makes no difference to fact.


by peasantpete on March 03, 2011

I gather from the above that WHO says something is rather more important than WHAT is being said.



Personalities are more important than facts.

I shall now regard the NZ Women's Weekly as th fount of all knowledge.

by Todd on March 03, 2011

The interesting thing here is that some of you who work with words are trying to lessen their meaning because an author might be unknown. You’re using that excuse to diminish the power of words. As a writer this should be immoral to you.

The other point is that the DF/Oilard et al are bullies. They utilize systems to track and gain information on people and use that information against you in the real world. “Systematic exercise in intimidation” is an exact description of their conduct. Lynne’s experience is not an isolated instance and such despicable behaviour typifies the ideals that create so much dysfunction within New Zealand. Not only within a political or blogosphere arena.

The question is; should anonymity be undertaken through self-preservation or should some people’s false belief that anonymity gives less strength to a person words, override common sense? There’s no question that the debate at The Standard is relevant and as such contributors are not utilizing anonymity to wage a flame war or publish untruths. In any case it is for the reader to decide the merit of what they read and the author to decide how open they wish to become. Any sanctimonious debate concerning this is somewhat trivial!

Deborah, you mention a few legal matters that have often been used to effectively inhibit freedom of speech. A blog site gives scope for people to attack the ideas within the context of that post through comments. It is my experience that the right-wing blogs inhibit healthy debate through selectivity far more than other sites. In my opinion, a battle of ideas should not be limited by fear of prosecution or retribution (within the bounds of common sense of course). There are limits to this, just as there are limits to anonymity, the privacy of your emails and personal information. How far does your belief in the right to know extend?

Discussing the Christchurch Earthquake and finding a solution to funding the rebuild, is one of the most pressing matters around. That’s exactly what the Greens were doing, trying to find a solution. They were not politicising anything, they wanted to help through a means at their disposal. The sooner a financial solution is found the better.

I have no political associations either, but if I did, that should not diminish the meaning of my words or give other context to their implication, especially when they are reasonable as Mr Norman’s were. To discount or admonish his words and ideas because he is a Green MP seems churlish! Especially in a time when we should all be working together to find the best solution for everybody.

His ideas are just and a debate concerning them is worth undertaking. It has unfortunately developed into something a lot nastier though; with the right-wing blog’s unable or unwilling to have a productive debate about how we’re going to fund the rebuild of Christchurch. They would rather attack a reasonable argument in a despicable personalized manner as only the right-wing elitists can, utilizing people’s grief, as a vehicle for their vexation towards the left. I find such behaviour incorrigible!


by Ian MacKay on March 03, 2011
Ian MacKay

peasant pete: You're right! Now I realize that Joanne Black must be writing the truth and the light because she uses her name, while Mr No Right Turn must be a fraud because he doesn't! Makes it much clearer. Thanks.

by on March 04, 2011

My point remains that if I knew more about them, that would influence how I read them. Content and character are intertwined.

Is that necessarily a good thing?  Does that mean that a nobody's point of view is worth somehow less than a celebrity's regardless of how well thought out it is?  Does the fact that someone remains anonymous and refuses a personality cult around them make their opinions less valuable?

Those who work in the civil service or for an employer of a different political persuasion - should we not hear their voices because they cannot afford to be known?

I'd rather have the debate.  And I'd rather we played the ball, not the man.

by Todd on March 04, 2011

A similar mechanism is therefore money… Being that elitism gives people more credit and worthiness if they are wealthy. The hierarchical system and class distinction based on money must end. It is founded on a falsehood; just like thinking the anonymous persons words are somehow less meaningful.



by Ben Wilson on March 04, 2011
Ben Wilson

This debate got sidetracked sooo easily. It doesn't matter how much print copy you've written over the years, this is a different medium with different rules. A discussion forum is not a newspaper column, it's much more like a dialectic, and being a paid journalist is no guarantee you won't be suckered like a n00b at the first opportunity. Kate very skillfully turned this away from being about her right to shush everyone who isn't a right-winger, into whether or not journalists should be shushing anonymous writers. Just because you get paid to write doesn't mean you can't be tapped out with the greatest of ease on the net.

by on March 04, 2011

"But I still consider anonymous blogging to be weak and missing something. The argument that you engage with ideas rather than identity is the worst sort of grasping excuse. Of course who you are matters as much as your ideas... The two go hand in hand."

Tim, I used to blog a little and comment a lot using my real name around the place.  I stopped for two reasons.  One was issues with my private sector employer over their perception of conflict of interest.  They didn't want me to talk about them, because I was employed by them.  Nothing I wrote constituted use of information not fully in the public domain, but it wasn't worth the fight.  Would you accept the premise that for some people, if not most, anonymity is a fair enough path to choose to avoid such problems?  Consider also that some simply don't want the profile, or see it as a form of self-aggrandisement to be avoided.

The other reason was the all to common use of people's information against them, not to judge their worth or other sounds-good-in-theory ideas you have put forward.  If you are associated with a political party, then your ideas aren't relevant.  If you studied there, you're clearly a lazy student.  If you worked there, we can't take you seriously.  If you live there you're biased.  You're a foreigner - next opinion please.  Chances are you're being paid by them to put up this view, and it isn't yours. 

All the loss on anonymity gives you is attacks like Kate's trashy approach above but on a personal level and with more information.  Instead of attacking people for not knowing who they are, people attack based on knowing who you are.  Neither approaches are particularly useful, since they are a deliberate attempt to avoid engaging with the ideas being put forward.  Both are a cop-out.

I'm perfectly happy to judge your blog entries by the words on them, and would prefer to do so without pre-conceptions.

It strikes me as a bit lazy if you have to know who someone is before you can work out how to take what they say, for the average blog post anyway.  People are more defined by what they say that the labels the internet attaches to them.  I rarely ever seen something that goes against this (i.e. someone saying 'I have this knowledge and am very important, but you'll have to take my word on it') - and if they did, the solution is simple.  Don't take their word, see if they are likely to be who they claim based on their knowledge and insight.  Finally, there's a lot of comment along the lines of 'a blog/article/post is much stronger if the author's name is known'.  Unless that person is a prominent public figure or has significant authority in the field for which they're writing, this argument holds nothing.

Would this post mean that much more if it was written by Maynard James, if that were my full name? Nope. 

by Tim Watkin on March 04, 2011
Tim Watkin

I'm genuinely flabbergasted by the responses here and the way my words are being misread, especially when they're all from the left. Come on guys.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but wasn't there outrage early on when Whale Oil started slinging his muck, before people knew who he was? Wouldn't you be fuming at anonymity if Slater was doing what he does, but hiding his identity?

Pete, I never said someone's name was more important than what they said. Don't twist my words. I wrote that the two go hand-in-hand, are intertwined. To try to separate them seems to me to be some post-modern nonsense. Ideas don't exist in a vacuum.

Todd, same point. You don't need to lecture me about the power of words; they pay my way and feed my family. But they too come from somewhere, from a perspective, and I like to know what that is. 

The 'self-preservation' argument has some merit. No-one deserves to be slandered or hounded. And I've said earlier, I have some sympathy with Lynn over that. But don't we respect those who stand up for their beliefs and be counted? Saying 'Whale's a nasty piece of work therefore I need to hide my identity' sounds to me like letting the bully win. And BTW, if you're going to include Farrar in that criticism, you'd better provide some evidence or be accused of slander yourself.

Ian, again, don't twist. I never said a named writer had a monopoly on 'truth and light'. I said more was disclosed and that made me a more informed writer. The fact that Joanne Black's name is on her column means that I also know her husband is a senior adviser to John Key, and so that makes more a more informed reader of her work (not that she necessarily agrees with everything her husband says, but it's useful info, no?).

Time to draw breath...

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.