Whining John.

Late last year a friend of mine who works in the media said to me that the press had turned on John Key over the Teapot Tape affair. Key’s attempt to have the photographer prosecuted, following on his defamatory and/or contemptuous treatment of individual members of the press corps, was seen as the last straw. My friend noted that the press had generally been kind to Mr. Key during his first term and had avoided digging into a veritable trove of scandal and mischief simply because Mr. Key was riding high in the polls and they did not want to get off-side of a popular PM. That, my friend said, changed after the election, and the press would take a more critical stance with regard to Mr. Key and his government.

To my mind that was welcome news, because it seemed to me that Mr. Key had been treated with kid gloves during his first term and I felt that he needed to be pushed a bit on matters of National policy as well the behavior of some of his party entourage.

In the first quarter of 2012 a number of questions have been raised to Mr. Key that appear to support my friend’s prediction. None of these questions are particularly damaging by themselves, but a pattern has emerged in Mr. Key’s responses. Slowly but surely, as each new mini-scandal or crisis was revealed, Mr. Key began to drop his smile and wave optimism and replaced it with a surly, if not seething disdain for his questioners. Although he keeps his nice persona sharp for staged interviews on TV and radio, his guard drops when doing the impromptu stand-up Q&A with the press gallery. This was very evident when he was asked on one such occasion about the No Asset Sales hikoi, where he clearly struggled to reign in his contempt before saying that he did not concern himself with the opinion of 1000 people.

Now it appears he has had enough with the press in general and the NZH (and to a lesser extent the SST) in particular. He complained  to a rightwing talkback microphone jockey that the press was aggressive and sensationalistic and singled out the NZH as scandal-mongering in its treatment of him and his government in order to raise flagging sales of newsprint.

I do  not have any particular affection for the NZH, SST or the NZ MSM in general–in fact, just yesterday the TVNZ evening news borrowed without attribution a phrase I had used in a discussion about drones with Chris Laidlaw the day before(a phrase I did not coin or copyright but which I nevertheless introduced to the NZ discussion of the subject, which just happened to be the subject of the news item in the TVNZ One broadcast). Since such behavior is increasingly the norm in the NZ MSM, the standard of NZ journalistic training and ethics is, in my opinion, in the main less than optimal (needless to say there are some exceptions to the rule). But I find it ludicrous that Mr. Key is upset about the “aggressive” and “antagonistic” nature of the press approach towards him as of late. Shoot, he got the press equivalent of a free pass for the first three years in spite of often equivocal, deceptive or disingenuous answers to anything other than patsy questions. Why should he get upset when the questions begin to develop a harder edge? Does he not think such questioning comes with the job? Does he think that he is entitled to be treated differently than other politicians?

Of course, all politicians complain about their treatment in the media and past NZ prime ministers have not been above attacking the messenger or interrogator. But it seems to me that Mr. Key is being very rich when he complains about his recent treatment in the press. It may not be the solicitous if not supplicant posture of the first term, but the press approach to Mr. Key is also not anywhere close to the hostile negativity and contrariness of press corps in a wide range of democracies (I think of the partisan jousting that goes on in places like Argentina, the Philippines, the US, Spain, Taiwan and Italy, where the relationship between sections of the press corps and government executives is often very strained, if not toxic).

Thus I have come to the conclusion, following on previous posts about Mr. Key’s demeanor and attitude, that he is a pampered whiner with a royal’s sense of entitlement. He simply does not see himself as having to be accountable to a critical press, and as a result complains to the lapdog press that he is being treated unfairly. Not only is his accusation untrue. It is also politically stupid because it now has the media dissecting his complaint in public. If he thought he was going to win sympathy from anything other than his diehard base, he needs to think again.

Whatever calculus he may or may not be employing, I have one thing to say to him: harden up and do your friggin’ job, which includes fronting up to hard questions from time to time. After all, you do not get the big bucks just to smile and wave.

27 thoughts on “Whining John.

  1. I probably won’t be the only one to say your conclusion is slightly off-mark: I doubt Key’s self-perception is “royal”.

    Key seems to think of himself as CEO of NZ Inc. And his job expectation doesn’t involve fronting up to challenging media, because they don’t help him achieve his KPI of increasing the return to his “investors”.

    Nonetheless, the sense of entitlement is palpable.

  2. Scott: I did not say he thought of himself as a royal. Geez. I said he has their attitude of entitlement, which the rest of your post explains.

    IV2: I am just going on the media reports and his subsequent denials/qualifications/clarifications as reported by the hostile and adversarial press ( pretty much all that are on-line). TBH, the more he says the more I think I should have used another word to describe him that starts with “W.”

  3. This post is a genuine knee slapper, “entourage” etc. It’s true! Check out the photos, ‘Backbuster’ Veitch, the beshaded guys with curly wires down their necks. And it focuses on the media “love in” that ShonKey indeed received in term 1.

    JK’s 2008 speech to a Kerikeri breakfast meeting of SME torys where the dear leader opined that he would like to see “wages fall” is now coming back to haunt him in light of the Nats proposal to undermine Collective bargaining processes which will ensure wages will actually drop in NZ. The 350,000 voluntary union members have held the line with their CEAs that much of the rest of the working population freeloads off.

    Our testy PM may be regretting sucking up to Banksie right about now.

  4. While the media is no knight in shining armour, there’s a sense that Key has crossed the Rubicon and the Muldoonist side of him is starting to crawl out. At least Helen didn’t pretend to hide her abrasiveness.

    Now all Key needs is a real Simon Walker or Tom Scott moment. Guyon Espiner nicely pulled it off on 60 Minutes with Prostetnic Vogon Joyce over the SkyCity wheeler-deal.

  5. It seems to me John Key is increasing displaying the ambient sociopathic values of the corporate world from which he is from. I would argue these diffused ambient values have been critical to the success of this government in keeping the media in line. After first using the fate of the Bay Report’s Greg Robertson and a virtual boycott of RNZ’s flagship Morning Report as a pre-emptive warning to the others of the consequences of dissent, John Key and Steven Joyce put their experience of the corporate culture of psychological violence to good effect to bully the media with a carefully crafted atmosphere of overt threat of retaliation should anyone not toe the PR script around of the cult of Key. They also combined this with status rewards (inside briefings, access to ministers, sharing of government flights, etc) to those journalists who were willing to dance to their tune that also fed the conviction of the egotists like Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner that they are not just observers of our democracy but players in the game as well. The result has been the willing have been subverted to cogs in the National party PR machine without even realising it, slowly boiled like so many frogs in a pot, and the unwilling sidelined with stalled careers or worse.

    From that perspective, to me the big story from yesterdays little whine was that Key chose to do so after first pulling out of a Morning TV3 interview without explanation and substituting it with a spot with the reliably sycophantic Leighton Smith on Newstalk ZB. Given the role TV3 played in the teapot tapes and the role John Campbell has played in the Kim Dotcom saga I suspect the target of Key’s little whine was not just the Herald, but also TV3’s News and Current affairs management. “Back off, toe the line, or join RNZ on the informal boycott list” was the message Key was sending to the media.

  6. I find it amusing that Key, now that the media are being slightly critical of him, is dismissing them as only driven by selling newspapers in their desire to criticise him.

    Even putting aside the fact that selling newspapers* is something that Key should be in favour of, does he really think that when they were giving him the prolonged handjob that constituted pretty much all his media coverage up until Teagate, they were motivated by some altruistic desire to raise the public discourse, inform and educate?

    *also known as “creating wealth”

  7. Aaaargh!

    ‘Reign’ is what monarchs do. ‘Rein in’ is what horse riders do.

    You want Key to rein in – bring under control. Don’t you? Gee, drop the ‘g’.

  8. Perhaps this is all part of the long game though, begin to make Key less popular with the media, so a different MP can take over before the next election and become the new media darling. Say what you like about the unethical media management of National, it is undeniable that they are very very cunning.

  9. @Alex:

    Kind of a shitty plan. A new leader would have a better chance taking the reins from Key if Key is popular, providing it’s not a hostile transition.

  10. All I can say is,

    1. A good blogpost
    2. About time the media did their job
    3. I concur; the Teapot Tape affair and police raids on media offices was the final nail in Key’s popularity-coffin.

    Up until now, it’s been bloggers who’ve done the critiquing and questioning. If Key should “harden up” and do his job – so should the media.

    Considering Key’s dodgy activities, he really needs to be scrutinised 24/7, and without let up.

  11. Alex, no politician seeks to become unpopular for their own sake — but in some cases popularity with the punditocracy or general public can be traded off against other things. I’ve argued recently that Key is now starting to put the political capital he accumulated to work in an aggressive, reformist policy programme that will probably make him and his government unpopular in the medium term, but over the long term the changes wrought on the political and economic landscape of the country will be worth it, to them. I see no reason to revise this theory, and indeed the growing media dissatisfaction with Key’s conduct and demeanour (rather than his policy programme) is probably not the worst he could expect.

    After all, what is popularity good for? You can use it to hold power, or you can use it to exercise power. In a unicameral democracy with narrow margins such as ours, it’s very rare that anyone can do both. Key is no Berlusconi or Castro; he’s in politics for a good time, not a long time. Time to get the job done and move on to the next big thing.


  12. …what Key doesn’t seem to comprehend is that his continued boycott of RNZ and “Morning Report” just creates an “empty chair” where he is seen to be failing in his job to explain the govt’s policy to the taxpayers. RNZ is the most popular radio netowrk in the country and its funded by the public – Ke should be required to front and explain his govt’s actions. RNZ’s news service just keeps on reporting the activities of his govt – and his inability to front doesn’t seem to dampen their desire to give us the lowdown. In the end he just damages himself by restricting his interviews to fascist nutbars like Leighton Smith.

  13. I’m a huge fan of the “if the minister doesn’t show, automatically offer his or her spot to the opposition spokesperson” incentive strategy in this regard.


  14. It’s interesting you say that Lew. I noted this remarkable comment from NZ Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan, four days ago,

    “But Key has more than held his own on television programmes such as Campbell Live or on Radio NZ’s Morning Report against critical news presenters trying to expose chinks in his political spin.”


    I cannot recall the last time Key fronted on Radio NZ. Every time he’s invited, he refuses.

    So what the heck was O’Sullivan talking about??

  15. “RNZ is the most popular radio netowrk in the country and its funded by the public – Ke should be required to front and explain his govt’s actions”

    Required? Seems a bit strong.

  16. Frank, from a quick check, it looks like Key has appeared live on neither Morning Report nor Checkpoint in the last 30 days. I may have missed some, but there are certainly no solo long-form interviews in that time. Most of his appearances are drawn from pool work — press conferences and such — or pre-record comments as part of a package.


  17. Cheers, for that, Lew. Yeah, I found pretty much the same thing – nice to have it confirmed.

  18. Pingback: Dear Leader: I’m so Ronery… « Frankly Speaking…

  19. Kiaora Pablo.

    Ever since former US President Bill Clinton named John Key as a major player in the global financial meltdown I have done some research and the reason being is that I dislike intensely being fooled by a “baby faced assassin”.

    Patrick Gower in his blog spoke about Key who would often say at various events that he had “stuff to do”

    Of course in twitter, I replied, “Key already has, “stuffed New Zealand”.

    There are other nations, like Latvia that are not fooled by John Key and Co.


  20. “Of course in twitter, I replied, “Key already has, “stuffed New Zealand”.”


  21. Latvia?

    I don’t remember Gerry insulting them recently.

    Ever since former US President Bill Clinton named John Key as a major player in the global financial meltdown

    I’m surprisid Clinton knows Key exists let alone considers him so influential.

  22. Obviously NeilM when you do not keep up with current global affairs, of course you’d be surprised.

    Who mentioned anything about the Man who Eats All the Pies?

    Clinton knows Key exists alright…Just ask #wikileaks

  23. NeikM No not from a blogger, but now that I’ve read your LINK to it…Sounds credible but no.

    My source comes from the Legal filings against Merrill Lynch




    …and this is just one case against Jokn Key’s former employer

    The past always comes back to bite you on the bum…sooner or later


    hn Key’s former employer and one thing that publiccreditorbust blog has stated correctly…

    “( This is the red herring that most everyone has swallowed and not bothered to look beyond since despite the mountain of evidence as detailed in this article proving John Key was a big part of complex derivatives well prior than 2004-2005 – red highlight and comment in brackets added by Iain Parker )”

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