John A at The Standard – hypocritical and spiteful at the same time

Today John A on The Standard decided to post the street address of the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife and children. It was unnecessary, it was hypocritical, and it was spiteful.

I would love to see The Standard playing a clean fair game, but if they’re not going to then they could at least stop picking on politician’s kids and families.

Update: Exact same criticism of Toad at Greenvoices, again unnecessary, and spiteful.

Update 2: Some good-hearted Standardista has removed the address detail, good on you!

Update 3: Toad too – thanks!!

38 thoughts on “John A at The Standard – hypocritical and spiteful at the same time

  1. What makes you think they were being deliberately hypocritical or spiteful?

    1) John A is a very occasional poster, I don’t think he’s ever said anything about the issue of publishing addresses. I also don’t detect anything to suggest spite in his post. Perhaps by people in the comments, but in that case you should be directing your outrage at them.

    2) Bill English’s house has been all over the news lately. The address is a matter of public record by English’s choice, and footage of it was on tonight’s news. When irregularities arose over John Key’s place of primary residence I remember the media reporting his address. Why is that any different?

    This isn’t worth losing your bottle over.

  2. Right on, Anita. Personalising and targeting private lives, homes and families is wrong when Whale Oil does it, wrong when Wishart does it, wrong when Selwyn did it, and it’s no less wrong when partisan hacks on leftie blogs do it.


  3. Anita, this is public information that you or I or anyone could have posted.

    Bill English chose to post it on a public information register (that of the Companies Office).

    I have no idea whether he actually lives at either of the Wellington addresses registered. For his Parliamentary expenses purposes, he apparently still lives in Dipton.

    I’m not breaching anyone’s privacy (unlike Paula Bennett with the beneficiaries whose benefit details she revealed).

    I’m just copying what Bill English has already made public. If he didn’t want his home address (whichever, of either of them it is, if either) in the public domain, he could have used his solicitor’s address.

    That is common practice for those who want to keep their personal addresses private. But English didn’t do it, so we have to assume he is happy for what he has agreed to being published on a public information register being republished by those like me and John A at The Standard who access it.

  4. Wayne,

    There is a huge difference between the relatively anonymous photos which have been in the media (which I could never have found the house from if I didn’t live just around the corner) and publishing a street address.

  5. toad,

    There is a difference between it being publicly available on a small number of registers and you taking a conscious act to publish it more widely.

    Also, IMO, whether or not you are really confident that Bill English is ok with you republishing it (are you?) you have absolutely no basis to believe his kids are ok with it, or to make their lives as a politician’s children any more difficult.

  6. If it is sauce for the goose, then it is good for the gander. After all, it is just rounding out the debate so the public can take a look and make up their own minds, nes pas?

  7. I very much like BK Drinkwater’s comments on the linked post: there’s a substantive difference between information which is public and publicizing that information.

    Thinking in terms of the US anti-abortion movement’s publicization of the addresses of doctors – sure, anyone could take time and money to ascertain where a person lives. Putting the address online in a place where it’s likely to be read by people unsympathetic to the inhabitant is a very different kettle of fish.

    And you’re totally right over there as well, Anita: the post does not require the address to be specified. Saying “lives in Karori at the same address listed on the public register” would be all the info necessary to make the point, and it’s just f***ing petty for John A and toad to post the whole thing.

  8. If it is sauce for the goose, then it is good for the gander. After all, it is just rounding out the debate so the public can take a look and make up their own minds, nes pas?

    This is exactly the kind of arguing the NACTs use: “but they did it first!” We talk all the bloody time about how that doesn’t justify the right publishing people’s incomes or rorting accommodation allowances, so if we’re going to say Bennett was totally out of line, so is this.

    Making it a hypothetical, saying “Bill English’s address is the same as on suchandsuch, and wouldn’t it be a gross invasion of his privacy to publicize the exact house number?” would be fine and dandy. This is just childish and thoroughly justifies people wondering if the left’s outrage is just pretend.

  9. Wayne,

    Any evidence that the MSM have ever published John Key’s address? I just did a quick NewzText search (so Fairfax, APN, Radio NZ and a handful of others) and no mention of his address ever.

  10. Don’t you think your initial reaction to the post on The Standard was a bit over the top? Come on, ‘hypocritical and spiteful’?

    How do you know what the poster’s motivations were? What makes you think it’s so black and white when a) the house’s image is all over the media as we type, b) it’s been voluntarily put on a publicly accessible register by Bill English himself, and c) there’s a precedent with John Key’s address being published when his housing situation was a matter of public concern, d) there’s no evidence John A put it up there as a way to spite Bill English or his family?

    It’s one thing to say ‘hey man, probably best to take that address down’, it’s another to accuse someone of hypocrisy and spite.

  11. An analogy (inspired by QoT – thanks) a few years ago one of the more extremist anti-abortion groups published the street address of a Wellington doctor who supports abortion because she was involved in setting up a company specifically to import RU486. They put in a newsletter and sent it to everyone on their anti-abortion mailing list along with all the abortion related things she’d been involved with. Like John A and Toad they got the address from public register.

    What do you think?

  12. Wayne,

    Again – any evidence Key’s street address has ever been published by the MSM? I looked, I found nothing, I’m tempted to say you’ve misremembered.

    And no, it wasn’t my initial reaction, and no I don’t think I over-reacted. How do you think it should be described?

  13. I guess that may be where we differ Anita (actually, I usually agree with you on most things).

    But my position is that if someone puts personal information in the public domain, then it is totally legitimate for someone else to republish it.

    And it is morally imperative on someone else to republish it if it is relevant to allegations of corruption.

    [Copying posts to each other’s blogs again]


  14. From my perspective the only purpose served in publicizing a personal address in the midst of a controversy or political dispute is to intimidate the person and family involved. There is no legitimate reason to do so because it invites nutters into the fray; it personalises partisan conflict in an intimate way; it is bullying; it is cowardly; it is wrong. The most salient example I know of is the National Front publishing on its web site photos and addresses of leftist activists in Wellington. The NF argues that it is all “in the public domain” anyway, so in that regard they are parroting John A., Toad, Wayne and Tom Semmens’ line.

    Just because others are bullies and cowards does not mean they should be emulated. What happened to the high road in politics? Is not the democratic Left supposedly more empathetic to real human concerns than its market-driven rivals? What, exactly, do John A and Toad expect to get out their actions other than the potential for a serious incident or, at a minimum, a frightened family?

    Shame on John A. and Toad (and Wayne and Tom Semmens for defending them). You have embarrassed yourselves and tarnished legitimate Left critiques of the accommodation rort. Worse yet, this despicable act is now a diversion from that rort, so it is politically unproductive as well.

  15. And it is morally imperative on someone else to republish it if it is relevant to allegations of corruption.

    If Bill English and his family lived in Thorndon, his behaviour would still be shady.

    If Bill English and his family lived in Seatoun, his behaviour would still be shady.

    There’s “relevant” and there’s “extraneous information which does not in any way provide detail without which the story cannot stand.” As I said in a previous comment, there is nothing in the phrase “Bill English lives in a Karori [or even just “Wellington”] residence which is also his address on a public register” that requires explanation by way of “at house number X on Y street.”

    This is the exact f***ing argument put forward in defence of Bennett’s release of beneficiaries’ income details, and I’m really leaning towards Pablo’s opinion: in both cases, the target of this “full story” information is an individual [and his or her f***ing family] the information-releasers don’t like.

  16. Worse yet, this despicable act is now a diversion from that rort, so it is politically unproductive as well.

    Politically unproductive in the strategic sense, too.

    By employing the political tactics of the more nefarious members of the political activist community, people engage in an arms race of lowing the bar, encouraging those nefarious elements to sink yet lower in order to retain the tactical advantage gained by going where none will go.

    This address business is a couple of steps less offensive than Whale Oil photoshopping the face of Bill English’s teenaged son onto gay pornography; but only a couple of steps, and the more those who should know better engage in this sort of thing, the more accepted and legitimate it becomes.

    Those who refuse to engage concede a tactical disadvantage in that they do not have access to the full array of techniques available to those who are less scrupulous, but they gain a strategic advantage inasmuch as they can claim cleanliness and integrity. As campaigns get uglier and more exploitative, the value of integrity increases.

    The Greens and Labour and their supporters should be trying to de-escalate the arms race of personalised attacks and veiled familial threats, not participating in it.

    [Edited for severe incoherence.]


  17. I can’t see what is served by publishing someone’s address. Well that’s not true. I can imagine all sorts of motives, but none of them reflect well on the people involved.

    The addresses may well be available on a public register, but how many people know how to access that information?

    And English didn’t “choose” to put his address on the register: he was complying with a legal obligation under the Companies Act 1993. And he’s not allowed to simply put his solicitor’s address down – see section 12(2) of the Companies Act. A certain Labour cabinet minister got in trouble for a minor breach of the Companies Act a couple of years ago. So what was English meant to do?

    A cheap stunt that reflect badly on those involved. The Standard can kiss goodbye to any moral highground it had on the English matter.

  18. Scott Yorke writes,

    The addresses may well be available on a public register, but how many people know how to access that information?

    Y’see, this is where it gets hazy in my mind. I think that public registers should be equally open to all, so I think that everyone (not just those of us who know the ropes). Which means I think everyone should know how to take the conscious actions required to find out English’s address.

    So what actually is my problem? :) It’s the act of publicising it, it’s what that act signals.

  19. I’m still amazed at the people here trying to second-guess John A’s motivations. What makes you think it’s anything more involved than a guy publishing the findings of his research at the Companies Office website? Why does it have to be some deliberate nasty ‘stunt’ designed to attack English personally? Is there anything in his post that makes you think he’s being spiteful? He even removed it when people started pointing out it could be an issue.

    I’m just disappointed to see the left going at each other like this and assuming dark motivations, over what looks to me like a simple misunderstanding.

  20. Wayne, even if the intent wasn’t spiteful, the effect was (and seemed so). Net effect is the same.


  21. Wayne,

    If I believe John A was stupid or had no political or social clue then I would think it was an unforced error. As it happens I think that John A has a clue and is quite perceptive about the public and political consequences of actions. Given the choice between interpreting a post through the lens of incompetent-clueless-John-A or intelligent-politically-astute-John-A I will pick the latter, having done so what should I think of that post?

    If he were to say “Yeah sorry, I was in a real hurry and I didn’t think it through and if I had I would never have posted it” of course I would accept it (as I have Toad’s explanation), we all have moments when our fingers go faster than our heads. In the absence of that, I will continue to think of John A as a competent politically astute writer who knew what he was doing.

    (Just as I think of Paula Bennett as astute enough to know what the talkback response to her release of beneficiary information would be.)

    But on to your second point, should the left not criticise each other? Or not criticise each other in public?

    I believe movements are stronger for internal critique (as well as for listening to external critique) and while it is sometimes more comfortable to keep it behind closed doors for broad movements (as the left should be) there are no closed doors to stand behind, and furtive attempts to discipline each other in secret are far more damaging than open honest critique and response. We learn from each other by having these conversation in the open, and we prove we have nothing to hide.

    So, do I see “dark motivations” in what John A wrote, no? probably not? Do I think it was hypocritical and spiteful – yep. Do I think it’s important we call each other on bad behaviour – yep. Would I take it well if someone called me on bad behaviour – I hope so :)

    Before I finish this epic comment, I do accept that he had “no intention to be spiteful”, but that doesn’t mean the post wasn’t spiteful, or that damage wasn’t done. I’m glad everyone’s doing what they can to limit the damage, and I hope that this whole sorry mess moves us toward a left consensus that politicians’ families are off limits to both collateral and deliberate damage.

    So we’ve had a <6 hour fuss while we sort out our internal loose norms and check, as we need to do from time to time, that the right's unethical behaviour is not rubbing off on us. Now we move forward united to ask why on earth English, a Wellington resident MP, is getting allowances as if he was not Wellington resident.

  22. John’s already explained his actions at the end of the post, it was an honest misunderstanding. These things happen. I’m a politically astute person but the first time I read the post I didn’t see an issue. It was only when I read the comments that I started to see there might be a problem there. I think the fact a photo of English’s house was already in the public arena confused the issue somewhat.

    About the criticism thing, I’m not against criticism within the left, I just think Kiwipolitico is all about the criticism and the pedantry. There’s very little constructive discussion here, and no organising to speak of. That’s why I don’t have a lot of time for your approach.

  23. Wayne,


    It probably also confused the issue that so many of us already know where English lives, or know we could find out the moment we wanted to know, so it didn’t feel like a change in the information’s status. I probably noticed it quickly because I have some history with privacy and home addresses in my work past. That said I also left it a while before posting so that I was sure I’d thought through how reasonable my response was. I guess we all learn from this.

    Hm… wrt KP I agree there’s no organising here, and I don’t expect there will be. I do as much of the organising I’m doing as I can face to face, and the rest still through modes that feel more personally connecting than blogs. I honestly don’t believe blogs work well as organising tools, they are too one-directional, too status differentiated, and tend toward passivity being seen as a form of engagement. I could go on (it’s a hobby horse) but not tonight :)

    Criticism and pedantry, some of our posts sure, but not all of them. I can’t speak for all of us, but I will guess that we all draw quite a lot of our analysis from critical approaches. So yeah, we’re higher on critique than most places, people like that or they don’t. I personally find that exposure to good critical analysis does far more good for my real activism than just about anything else (other than a huge network of supportive friends and a full garden of course :) but YMMV.

  24. Anita,

    I feel I owe you something of an apology here. My comments on the matter, both on The Standard‘s thread and on my own blog, were clearly intemperate. This put you in the awkward position of arguing the same side as, well, some guy beating a drum; which in turn exposed you to the ire of those you’d normally expect to be allied. I’m sorry I put you in that position.

  25. This is just ridiculous.

    Anyone who wanted to get Bill English’s address could find out pretty easily.

    Who are we trying to save Bill English from: really lazy nutters?

    All you lefties scrabbling around to make distinctions that add up to nothing puts me in mind of this:

  26. About the criticism thing, I’m not against criticism within the left, I just think Kiwipolitico is all about the criticism and the pedantry. There’s very little constructive discussion here, and no organising to speak of. That’s why I don’t have a lot of time for your approach.

    “little constuctive discussion”??? What, compared to The Standard?

    I find Kiwipolitico posts to be refreshingly thoughtful which is rare for political sites of any persuasion.

  27. sausage fingers,

    I would like to invite you, for a moment, to imagine you’re a parent with a job that makes you a target of some of the more unbalanced people around. For instance recently a man was stopped from buying a gun which he intended to use to shoot one of your colleagues, similar stories abound. Someone, a political opponent, publishes your family’s home address as widely as they are able, then someone else does… How might you feel? How might your kids feel?

  28. Wayne,

    This is not a site for partisan activism or organisation. If you came here looking for that you were always going to be disappointed.

    As far as I’m concerned, objecting to reasonable and properly-justified critique is the refuge of people who won’t or can’t defend their ideas or actions. Absence or disregard of robust criticism leads to an echo-chamber effect where ideas and reasoning never get tested. Untested reasoning is brittle. This ‘stay positive or shut up’ argument in society, in business, and particular on the left of NZ politics is a defence of mediocrity. It’s the problem, not the solution.

    So if you want to read to feel good about your political choices, about how bad the Tories are, fudged numbers and partisan point-scoring, how good and righteous the NZ left establishment is with their undoubted commitment to worker solidarity, peace, equality, motherhood and apple pie, then this is not the blog you’re looking for.


  29. “Anyone who wanted to get Bill English’s address could find out pretty easily.

    Who are we trying to save Bill English from: really lazy nutters?”

    well, as it happens, there seems to be quite a few lazy nutters around…. Some years ago, a talkback radio host, after an on-air rant about (I think?) Dr Ranginui Walker then mentioned that you can find his address and phone number by looking in the phonebook.

    In the following days and weeks, Dr Walker subsequently received hundreds of threatening, abusive or crank calls, mail threats, and other on-effects. A complaint was made (and upheld?) to the broadcasting standards authority…. and an unlisted phone number had to be obtained.

    Even if information is “publicly available” shoving it in the faces of nutters seems to have an extra effect….. and frequently the people doing the shoving are aware of that, and if so, it is indeed a cowardly and threatening act.

  30. I don’t know who took the details down but I back the fact it was done. I’ll have a word with my fellow standardistas to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    Cap: maoists ALTERMAN (for the record I have never been either!)

  31. Vernon Small has both a picture of the place and the address in his column in The Independent today…

    cue invective from Anita?

  32. Anita,

    A nutter would require only a modicum of iniative to find my address via another source (like the Companies Office website or the electoral roll).

  33. Verny,

    If I had any way of seeing that column (I don’t suppose you can provide a linky) I would indeed express my deep unimpressedness.

    Given that he’s a professional journalist I will need to come up with new words to describe it as I don’t think either “hypocritical” or “spiteful” would cut it for someone whose professional skills include knowing better, but I would get there.

  34. IrishBill,

    Thanks, I’m glad it’s down, I’m glad the conversation happened as perhaps fewer people had through the effects of bringing personal information about politicians into the public sphere than I would’ve thought. I’m glad we all think politicians’ families are off limits.

    Now back to effective criticism of National… :)

  35. Okay Anita, well how about this one.

    Things to do in Dipton when you’re dead.

    And thanks for pointing out my error last night re the English family residence – I just did a copy and paste to from the companies register, and thought no more of it until you raised the potential implications.

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