Saturday, August 17, 2013

Plunket on the "John-off"

RadioLive talkback host Sean Plunket also writes a weekly column for the Dominion-Post. And his column today is devoted to what he calls the "John-off"; Key vs Campbell, on Wednesday night. Under the heading PM gives Campbell a masterclass Plunket opines:

I wasn't even a working journalist when Sir Robert Muldoon uttered the famous line, "I love you, Mr Lange".
It was July 1984 and Ian Johnstone was moderating the final televised leaders' debate of the snap election between just two party leaders, incumbent prime minister Sir Robert and ebullient Labour leader David Lange.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet 30 years on I could watch the whole thing again this week. Not so I could get all dewy eyed about my lost youth but rather because this week I saw for the first time in three decades a television encounter which matched that debate in terms of utter dominance for one participant and defeat for another.
I'm talking, of course, about the mighty John-off on TV3 last Wednesday night, Campbell v Key on the GCSB.
Having decided that the GCSB bill is the most important piece of legislation this Parliament will ever pass (it actually isn't), the team at Campbell Live jumped in their sponsors' cars and hit the highway to ask New Zealanders if they like being spied on and were happy to give up their personal freedoms to a secretive government.
Of course they are not, they are outraged and so is John Campbell, especially when the prime minister thinks recreational snapper quota is probably worrying people far more than the GCSB bill and won't come on Campbell Live to defend himself.
It took a couple of days of the self-generated sanctimonious road trip before Mr Key finally snappered and agreed to join Campbell in the studio to explain himself.
The rest will one day be broadcasting history. Never has an interviewer who has almost gleefully proclaimed his right to practise advocacy journalism been so comprehensively and obviously "owned" by his intended victim. 

Campbell Live's promos at the beginning of the year set the programme on a collision course with the Government. John Campbell and his team chose some highly political and emotional subjects which they were going to hone in on. Read this Whaleoil post from 16 January, and watch the video on it; it was a very accurate prophesy of things to come.

So Campbell Live eventually settled on supporting those who oppose the GCSB Bill. That's fine; once colours were nailed to the mast, no-one expected objective, balanced coverage. But John Campbell  may now be regretting inviting the PM along; Plunket continues:

In 17 minutes of compelling viewing Mr Key either answered every question put to him or explained why he couldn't. He maintained his dignity and focus throughout in what anyone who knows anything about the art of the interview has described as a masterclass.
Campbell was left shuffling his papers, defending his lack of friendship with Kim Dotcom and finally, in the style of Sir Robert 30 years ago, ruefully admitting, "Mr Key, you are a brilliant politician".
Next night in a petulant self-serving tone he defended all the hard work he had done to get Mr Key to front up on the programme and lo and behold the magical mystery misinformation tour continued as if the exhaustive and reasoned statements of the prime minister the night before had simply never happened. 

Quite so; the opening minutes of Campbell Live on Thursday night were simply bizarre. John Campbell has obviously never read Whaleoil's Rules of Politics, and specifically rule #1 which reads thus:

If you are explaining, you are losing

To be fair to Campbell though, he wasn't really losing on Thursday night; he had already been comprehensively thrashed, and was simply trying to stem the bleeding. But it was clear that his encounter with the Prime Minister on Wednesday night had knocked the stuffing out of him, despite his bravado.

Plunket concludes, suggesting that this interview will be mandatory viewing for journalism students in years to come, but with a particular twist:

Thirty years ago you couldn't miss the symbolic significance of the Lange/Muldoon debate. "I love you, Mr Lange" was Sir Robert writing his own political epitaph and days later he was out of office, never to return. Looking back at that debate was remarkable. Unemployment was 100,000 but 40,000 of them were on government make-work schemes, Mr Lange and Sir Robert sparred over a $660 million loan from Britain, Sir Robert committed to spend $10m on promoting tourism and Mr Lange made much of the shocking fact that every man, woman and child in the country was paying $10 a week to service our national debt.  
Perhaps the most marked difference between that encounter and what occurred this week was that it was two politicians going toe to toe, not a politician and a journalist. Johnstone moderated that 1984 debate like the utter professional he is, soothing an increasingly agitated Sir Robert and controlling an ever more dominant Mr Lange.
There were no fancy graphics, just three chairs, a table, two pitchers of water, some carpet on the wall and three or maybe four cameras. It is still the best piece of political television I've ever seen.
For 18-year-old journalism hopefuls watching on Wednesday, John vs John may one day occupy the same high mantle in their professional memory but I'd suggest for quite different reasons.
One represents the success of the media providing a forum for the important business of political debate, the other represents an abject failure to do so.  

We could not agree more. Wednesday night was a huge own goal for Campbell Live, and its campaign against the GCSB Bill was left in tatters. 

Perhaps John Campbell should sit down with Sean Plunket, Dr Brian Edwards and the video of Lange vs Muldoon from 1984 for a spot of media training.


Anonymous said...

Sean Plunket says it all. The only words I'd prefer to add to his column are (the thrashing of Campbell) "long overdue!" Campbell's incessant attacks on the present government have become tiresome and dirty, and now, exquisitely self-destructive!


smttc said...

Good to see someone in the MSM prepared to call out one of their one for dropping the ball when it comes to the proper role of the media.

Keeping Stock said...

Well said, both of you.