Paul Henry (Why Not? Everyone else is commenting)

How little it takes to send this country's commentariat into a prissy lather

The ironies just continue to pile up in this saga.

On the first night, we saw unionists outside the TVNZ mothership demonstrating, demanding that Paul Henry be sacked for his racist statements in the workplace.

John Minto, who seems to pop up everywhere these days, like some sort of seasoned actor in a small town repertory theatre group, was waving a placard also demanding this "racist bigot" be fired immediately. He thrust his face into the camera, quite frighteningly and aggressively, which brought home the first of the ironies - not only was Henry being racist, but he had a history of recidivist bullying because he was in a position of power.

I would not have liked to be a TVNZ employee that evening, having to walk through the gamut of the picket line to catch my bus.

Furthermore, here were people demanding an employee lose his job immediately. He'd had his "three strikes", one wit quipped, it was time he was out. What? No warning? No process? These are people who campaign to bring an end to employers' right to fire employees at will. It is well nigh impossible to terminate someone's employment these days, without going through a tortuous process, and even then there is always a strong chance of being sued.

But suddenly when it suits, we have a large group of noisy unionists demanding Paul Henry be thrown out on his ear.

Is he a bully? No more than the teacher unions who, when the Minister of Education delivered her speech at their annual conference, organised a co-ordinated placard-waving demonstration each time she mentioned the words 'national standards', then sat in stony silence refusing to applaud when she'd finished.

I have to declare I don't watch Breakfast. In about 1990 I wrote a profile on Paul Henry for North & South magazine, when he was a journalist with Radio Pacific. He struck me as very intelligent, quick, and experienced as a foreign correspondent. I have since seen him do some extraordinarily good interviews on Close Up.

However, I think he's a potty mouth when he comes out with comments like moustaches on women, and Susan Boyle being a retard, because that's just really unnecessary and hurtful. His question to John Key about the Governor General was ignorant, and possibly deliberately provocative, and as far as journalistic standards go, about as low as it's possible to go.

As Bruce Slane said on Jim Mora's programme today, if he'd worded it differently, as in, we've had two female governors general, and a Maori, are we going to have a white male now, it would have been entirely different. But he didn't. He invited the Prime Minister on to his programme and he was totally rude, and adolescent. Not even cheeky.

As a senior television presenter, Henry must have heard Sir Anand Satyanand speak at some time, so he would have known he has a very New Zealand accent. Therefore his remark, 'sounding like a New Zealander' was just inexcusable. Was it racist? Yes, if you take racism to mean the superiority of one ethnicity over another. Henry compounded this by his later apology, and referring to himself "just as a gippo" (where my family come from, actually, but I'm okay with that).

So here's another irony, pointed out by David Cohen on Facebook (where good discussion often unfolds). John Minto calling someone a bigot is enough to make a cat laugh. Bigot, as defined in the Oxford Concise, is "an obstinate and intolerant believer in political theory".

Invited as an MP by John Minto, wearing his Coalition for Quality Public Education hat, to speak to a large education group in Ponsonby one time, I started to talk passionately about my belief in parental choice, and the voucher system I had studied in Holland and Sweden. I could make no progress, as Minto and his group hissed loudly, and drowned me out with their bigotry and intolerance. And yes, bullying.

But back to Henry. Should we be so outraged? No, but we have become such a prissy country, we love to feel morally superior. On the journalism discussion group Journz, there are some who would like him to blow his brains out, it seems, yet Henry has probably forgotten more about journalism than many of these name-callers have learned. It seems we cannot have a debate in this country without reverting to personal abuse.

Which leads me to the next irony. Sent home on gardening leave without pay, Henry was chased by journalists for a comment and – oh dear – told them all to **** off or he would sue their ****ing paper.

Well, for one thing there is no more silly sight than a journalist suing for defamation. And Henry dishes it out, he has to learn to take it. It's not nice being chased by a swarming pack of media, but you have to Just. Say. Nothing.

If you make your living reporting about other people's lives, then you cannot whine when reporters come clamouring to report on your life.

Final irony. Henry is in the gun for name-calling and personal insults, but in most of the debate online, that is exactly what his critics are giving back to him. And even his supporters are flinging personal insults at his critics, and critics personally abuse his supporters....oh, it's all quite head-splitting.

Yes, Paul Henry has been very, very naughty, but must we all lie down and join him in the gutter?