On Pundit's invitation, Nicky Hager argues that Matthew Hooton's attack on police this week is just another smokescreen

Matthew Hooton has complained that the Police investigation into National Party leaks used in my book The Hollow Men was "profoundly incompetent or corrupt". He repeated these words three times in his writing on the subject and suggested that the detective inspector in charge of the case was politically biased. It was an entirely unwarranted attack on the police officers involved. What should we make make of this attack? All it really means is that Hooton did not like the Police's conclusions and felt entitled to attack them personally for not coming up with the findings he had hoped they would. After my book was published in late 2006, Hooton joined other right-wing voices in declaring (without a shred of evidence) that the internal National Party papers in the book had been stolen. He declared confidently that sooner or later they would uncover the people responsible. This bluster came to nothing when the Police ultimately found no evidence that any crime, hacking or other wrongdoing had occurred, as I had consistently said. Fortunately, the Police had made no progress in identifying my legitimate leakers either. I have a life-long responsibility to these sources and so I'm of course relieved that neither the National Party nor Police have worked out who has been providing me with information. I met the Police officers who investigated the National Party complaints. My impression was that they had tried very hard to get to the bottom of the leaks, much harder than the National Party's own half-hearted inquiries. I feel sorry for them now that they have to put up with personal attacks from someone like Matthew Hooton. But they shouldn't feel bad about it. Hooton's comments say much more about Hooton himself than they do about the Police investigation. Hooton gets a lot of space to sound off about subjects like this, so it is relevant to pause and put the spotlight on him. I first became aware of Matthew Hooton when he was a spin doctor in the late 1990s for Cabinet Minister Lockwood Smith. He got a mention in my book on anti-environmental public relations, Secrets and Lies. At that time he was helping his Minister argue that the state company Timberlands was actually helping improve the environment by chopping down West Coast native forests. This cynical world of ministerial advisers is illustrated beautifully by the current Australian TV satire called The Hollowmen, which is well worth watching online here. I next noticed Hooton in 2003, when he was a National Party activist arguing in a party conference that National should drop the nuclear-free policy. That year he was working as a freelance PR consultant, notably assisting the tobacco industry. Over several months he collected information on organisations supporting new smoke-free legislation, information that was later used by the ACT Party's Rodney Hide to attack those groups and the smoke-free legislation on the day it was introduced to Parliament. Willingness to work on the side of tobacco companies is a very clear way of identifying the less ethical PR operators. (John Key's strategy adviser Mark Textor, of the Australian firm Crosby/Textor, likewise stands out as someone who was willing to work for tobacco companies.) These experiences paved the way to Hooton's next job, working freelance for Don Brash. What Hooton doesn't mention when he expresses is indignation about the leaked information in The Hollow Men, is that he is one of the people the book shows at work. His strategy e-mails are there for the world to see. Anyone who wonders what to make of Matthew Hooton's public contributions to New Zealand politics really should read what he writes in private. His advice is sometimes clever, but it is also cynical. It is very revealing. Which brings us to the point. Anyone who wonders why Hooton is making wild allegations about theft and crime again needs only to see what the leaked materials revealed about Hooton himself. His words have since been used in the Hollow Men stage play and now in the feature-length documentary. This is the unacknowledged context of all Hooton's comments about my book and the Police. Like Don Brash and the other National Party figures featured in the book, presenting themselves as the victims of dark deeds is preferable to facing up to their own dark deeds as revealed in the book. For this sort of PR person, the answer when faced with a crisis is to attack the messenger, deny everything and claim that they themselves are the victims in the affair. Like an octopus squirting ink into the water, the hope is that these diversions will allow them to escape unscathed. In this world of spin, words, arguments and personal attacks are all just means to an end, tools to advance their and their clients' objectives.  

Comments (13)

by Graeme Edgeler on October 03, 2008
Graeme Edgeler

Nicky said: This bluster came to nothing when the Police ultimately found no evidence that any crime, hacking or other wrongdoing had occurred, as I had consistently said.

I direct you to the police release. My reading of it (and I welcome an alternative) is that they found no evidence of hacking, but did find sufficient evidence to conclude theft.

For example, this statement from DI Quinn:

"The investigation established that e-mails created between October 2003 and November 2005 had been stolen from the ownership of Dr Brash but found no evidence of any thefts since November 2005."

and this one:

"There are strong indications that the e-mails were in printed form at the time of the theft, but with the thefts perhaps happening at any time over the two- year period it is very likely that they were stolen during several incidents"

And more than half a dozen others, where theft or something similar is referenced.

This police statement that

"During the initial stages of the enquiry, police were very concerned that Parliamentary Services computer systems had been breached by some external attack. But the investigation has concluded that no unauthorised or unlawful breach took place."

clearly indicates their conclusion there was no hacking or computer crime involved, but I cannot see how a statement that "The investigation established that e-mails ... had been stolen" in the police release of their conclusions is reconcilable with your interpretation that "the Police ultimately found no evidence that any crime, hacking or other wrongdoing had occurred".

You are welcome to argue (and may be able to establish here, or with your additional confidential knowledge, to yourself) that the police conclusion was wrong, but the police conclusion was absolutely categorical that there was theft.

by Ian MacKay on October 04, 2008
Ian MacKay

Welcome Nicky Hager. I have read Mr Hooton's comments with deep suspicion. Graeme I think your reply is a good one but I think that the use of the word "stolen" could mean that, if say Brash did not authorise the removal of e-mails then they must have been "stolen". But no such evidence could be found.(Rather the person who should have shredded documents instead photocopied them beforehand. The documents were then passed on. Who owned them then? Was Mr Hager part of a break-in, or did he pay some-one to steal? No. Not so and no evidence that anything like that happened.) So the original story that these e-mails and so on were leaked by some people inside, still stands. And the broad message about political strategies stands also.

by Graeme Edgeler on October 04, 2008
Graeme Edgeler

Ian - I'm not saying that the emails were stolen, I have no idea how they got out. What I am saying is that it is disingenuous to use the police investigation to back up the argument that they were leaked.

Even if you are right, and the 8+ uses of words like theft/stolen by the police in their public report are just careless language, you still cannot use the same report to bolster the leak argument. There seem to be two options on this theory:

  1. The police report is accurate and considered - this would support the theft/criminal action (other than hacking) argument.
  2. The police report is careless - this would mean it does not support the theft argument, but it also means it would not support the leak argument - it would be largely unhelpful.

For myself, the use of the very deliberate phrase "stolen from the ownership of" indicates at the very least that the police knew what was being said. That doesn't mean they're right, but it does mean they can't help Nicky's argument, and that the statement that "Police ultimately found no evidence that any crime ... had occurred" is misleading.

by Nicky Hager on October 06, 2008
Nicky Hager

These points deserve to be replied to. I am in the privileged position of knowing that the Police can't have found evidence of a crime, because no crime occurred. I also met with the Police and discussed the subject with them at length, explaining all I could without revealing my sources. I took from these discussions what I said in the article above: that they had found no evidence of a crime.

But Graeme Edgeler is right when he says that the Police announcement uses the word 'theft' and 'stolen' a number of times. I was taken aback by this wording when the Police press release appeared, because it did not accord with my discussions. I can only assume that since they have no way of proving it was a leak either (that would only be possible if I revealed the leakers) they were not ready to say there had been no wrongdoing.

by tracey macleod on October 07, 2008
tracey macleod

GRaeme

 

The police seem to have determined that papers were taken without Brash's authority. On tha basis they could easily determine a theft had taken place BUT keep in mind that stillhas to be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a Court to become a "factual" conclusion, raher than a police allegation.

IF Brash doesnt know the leaker, then he quite fairly has presented to the police that

a) the papers were taken without his consent ;and/or

b)they could not have been taken by people authorised by him

b) of course could be conjecture on Brash's part because he doesnt know who did take them, or "theft" remains accurate because in Brash's view only HE had ownership and therefore the right to pass that on to another.

It would be helpful to have an understandingwho, if any, people would be regarded by Brash to have  possession of those documents "legitimately".

 

by cindy on October 07, 2008
cindy

Nicky you're so right -  Matthew doth protest too much, methinks.  I can't think why anyone would actually take him seriously, given the role he has played.

McCain and Palin are doing the same as an election win gets away from them.

 

by Steve Withers on October 07, 2008
Steve Withers

I've never thought of Matthew Hooton as someone overly concerned with the facts. Having read his columns over the years and listened to his commentary on various radio programs, in my view he's just another one-eyed party hack.  That he gets as much air time and ink as he does says is both interesting and sad.

by Graeme Edgeler on October 08, 2008
Graeme Edgeler

Tracey: On tha basis they could easily determine a theft had taken place BUT keep in mind that stillhas to be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a Court to become a "factual" conclusion, raher than a police allegation.

Absolutely. I was not saying there was a theft. I was not looking at what the police said, and then using it to argue "hey - it was theft!".

I was simply taking issue with Nicky's asserting that the police backed him up.

They don't.

Even if the police were completely wrong, even if Nicky could now prove it was a leak, it would still be false to claim the police support the view that it wasn't criminal. The police can - at best - only be used to support the view that it was not hacking.

by tracey macleod on October 09, 2008
tracey macleod

Graeme, I concur with your comments/analysis.

by Rab McDowell on November 03, 2008
Rab McDowell

A widely held perception is that Hager is a credible left wing journalist and that the likes of Hooton and Wishart are less than credible right wing journalists. It almost appears that some think Hager’s credibility is assured because he is left wing whereas Hooton and Wishart, because they are right wing, are beyond redemption. I would hope Hager’s credibility is based on the fact that he has earned it. Now if Hager is making claims that the police report backed him up when clearly it doesn’t then he is putting in jeopardy the very credibility that he and his supporters hold dearly. He may have merely misinterpreted the report but if so then could he have misinterpreted other things as well. It may well be the Hooton and Wishart are beyond redemption but it would not be helpful if Hager is found to be slipping down that slope also.

 

by Rab McDowell on November 03, 2008
Rab McDowell

Sorry about that format garbage at the front of my post. I wrote in in a Word doc and pasted it into the comment box. I have never seen it put the format data in before.

by Robert Miles on March 17, 2010
Robert Miles

I find the Long Hooton thesis that the emails were stolen unlikely. It is obvious Nicky has his sources in the intelligence world and not just InNZ. Without such assistance and approval' 'Secret Power' would have been impossible, is it credible that current and retired members of GSCBureau would trip up Nickys Rosneath path if they did not have official sanction to provide information.  My view is the Brash emails were almost certainly hacked and leaked through a third party in the US or Canada. The reasons a feeling in Washington that a change of Governmnent to a somewhat woolly and rabid Brash, Long , Keenan regime would be extremely undesirable compared with the stable support of Clark of the SAS in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Project Protector, frigates and Orions which Clark guaranteed and Brash would probably have scrapped, the phone traffic of leading Act and Brash advisors would have confirmed they would have scrapped Protector and were extremely unsympathetic to F-l6 type purchases and had actively worked to sabotage efforts to maintain the F-l6 squadron in  the first months of the Clark government. This is despite the two faced efforts of Dereck Quigley who despite pretenses was never for the F-l6s. The F-l6s are far more critical in this than most think. Why do you think there's been extroadinary little coop from the US to take the Skyhawks and Aermacchis out of NZ. The US really wanted NZ and Aus to have those F-l6s and would have extrordinarily resented the contempt by Brash like advisers like Keenan for F-l6 supporters.

by Hesiod on April 20, 2011
Hesiod

hooton cant lie straight in bed.

he is a sorry sack of sh*t who wants money but doesnt know how to get it except hang around with rich people in the hope that they might toss him some.

in the end he will wear out his welcome.

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.