In defence of Kiwiblog

Not all blogs are the same. Not all bloggers are bad. David Farrar hasn't done anything wrong.

My last post was a bit of a heartfelt reaction to what I saw in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book. In it, I gave examples of what I regarded to be quite reprehensible statements by a number of the individuals discussed in the text. One individual notable by his absence was David Farrar. With hindsight, I should have made it clear in my post that this absence was not accidental - not everyone discussed in the book is equally culpable (in my eyes).

David has now written:

I don’t believe that the book shows me having acted in any way inappropriately. I have  gone out of my way to be open about my background and leanings and relationships, and I follow my own views when I blog – hence why I campaigned against the Government last year on the copper tax (despite being a Chorus shareholder!). I never have taken any form of money or kind for blog posts, and disclose even the mist minor gifts.

I agree. I don't think that there's anything revealed in Dirty Politics that should cause David to feel particularly ashamed or concerned about. He may have friendly relationships with some people who strike me as particularly nasty individuals, but that really is no business of mine (or anyone else). I accept that we can never really know the map of the human heart. So it's fine for any private individual (and that is, in the end, what David is) to choose whoever they want as their mates. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, however ... not so much.

That being said, should David have even been discussed in the book? Should information about his business (Curia Research) have been obtained from an (ex?) employee in order to write it? 

I suspect he'll strongly disagree with me, but I think that it was OK to do so. This was a book about the way in which a new form of information sharing - the blogosphere - is being used by a political party to further its political messaging. David has established himself as the most read blogger in New Zealand (I discount the stats that Slater reports, as there's very good reason to suspect that they've been gamed), while also having a central role in that party (a role that is, it must be remembered, ultimately funded through the public purse). In turn, his success as a blogger has led to high demand as an "old" media commentator. With that level of public profile comes a level of scrutiny. You don't get to sit in the public eye without the risk of having that gaze peer into places you might prefer it didn't go.

(A quick side note. I also blog. I also talk in the media a fair bit. Granted, I'm nowhere near as good at it as David, and my topics tend to be things I know about because of my day job rather than general political commentary. But does my role mean that I think it would be OK for my work activities to be subject to similar scrutiny using similar covert methods - for instance, a student in my classes being convinced to record my lectures in order to uncover evidence of "extreme left-wing bias" in my teaching? Well ... I guess it does, provided it's in the context of gathering information for some story that it really is in the public interest to have told.) 

Now, if the story Nicky Hager was looking at simply was that Kiwiblog - a site that David has built up with a lot of hard work and application of some serious smarts - is influential and run by a guy with strong National Party links (which, sure, he hardly trumpets but also doesn't deny) who may on occassion get a helping hand from that party to generate content, then that's not revealing anything that I think needs to be told. It's not a story worth invading privacy for. It's simply a challenge to everyone else on the political spectrum to try and build up something similar. Which they have done - The Standard and The Daily Blog are (let's be honest) attempts to match Kiwiblog's reach and influence.

However, that wasn't simply the story being researched. National hasn't confined itself to helping David out on the odd occasion with material for his site.  It (or, rather, some within it) have decided that Cameron Slater is a useful and worthy addition to their media strategy, which is a morally repugnant step to take. In turn, Slater and his cohort have been active participants in the internal processes of the National Party. There is a nexus there that can't be denied (however hard John Key tries to do so) and which does not reflect well on that Party. 

Having said that, and I suspect Nicky Hager will disagree with me, I think the book's analysis of David's role is somewhat flawed. Portraying him simply as the "good cop" to Slater's "bad cop" does his blog and him as a person a disservice. There's far more nuance than that. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I think the book should have held Kiwiblog up as an example of what political blogging can offer, as compared with the cesspool that National went diving into. Not all "blogs" are the same, and we run the risk of denigrating what actually is a useful and valuable addition to public discussion if we tar them all with the same brush.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that David has decided he's going to keep blogging on political matters (although, if he's anything like me and the other people I know who blog, it's a lot like smoking ... a lot easier to say you'll quit than to actually do it). I also think he's doing the right thing with the changes he's proposing for the future. If nothing else, I think Dirty Tricks has made those of us who dabble in on-line writing and care about who we are take a look at what it is we do. And if we can make that better, then that's all to the good.


Disclosure statement: I would not regard David as a "friend", more a civil acquaintance. I've met him a few times in person, and had a drink with him on a couple of those, over about a 10 year period. We've had some email communications over matters a handful of times, and online in the comments section of Kiwiblog a few more. We link to one-another's posts. I once sent him some information that I had worked on but didn't feel comfortable publishing under my own name, which he then posted on Kiwiblog (clearly identified as coming from "a reader"). 

Last year, I sent him a copy of my Election Law in New Zealand book, which he promised to review. He still hasn't. The bastard.