Hard News by Russell Brown

Dour, suicidal, etc

Having noted Paola Totaro's love letter to New Zealand this week, it seems only fair to also acknowledge Douglas Davis's unintentionally hilarious account for The Spectator of "visiting Auckland the other week" and finding it "even more dour and dull than I remember" from 30 years ago.

Good grief. So it was all for nought? We should have stuck with Muldoon after all? How alarming.

It gets worse: according to Davis, since his last visit, our "remoteness has turned to resentment. Back in the Seventies a social commentator described his fellow citizens as a ‘passionless people’. No longer. Kiwis have acquired passionate hatreds for Americans, for Israelis, and for anyone else who is not ‘aware’ - of nuclear issues, globalisation, the environment, ecology, animal rights."

Um, animal rights? We kill the little buggers for a living, don't we?

Davis continues:

An indication of the difference can be found in their immigration policies. Australia is seeking to attract the sharpest pins in Europe and Asia; New Zealand, which suffers a persistent haemorrhage of its best and brightest, is looking to Tonga and Western Samoa."

Presumably the Aussies know how to deal with the darkies hammering down the door: ship them off to remote Pacific Islands. Oh, hang on …

Onwards …

Domestic policy appears to be informed by an overarching guilt complex about supposed historic wrongs done to the indigenous Maoris, who make up 15 per cent of New Zealand’s population. On cue, the chattering Pakeha classes quickly lapse into bizarre jargon - ‘acculturative stress’, ‘material deprivation’, ‘colonial trauma’, ‘collective grief’ - to describe the angst.

It seems a little odd for someone who makes a career out of taking exaggerated offence to perceived slights on Jewish history to be dismissing someone else's "supposed historic wrongs", but never mind. But the rest of it? I can honestly say I have never had a conversation which has featured the phrase "acculturative stress", but, then, I'm not the varsity sort.

Indeed, I submit that Davis did not in fact visit New Zealand, but instead Googled this Ministry of Health report which contains his accursed phrases, and is also clearly the source of his penetrating observation that suicide is "a significant cause of death" in New Zealand (although he might have read on to note that we've been topping ourselves steadily less since 1998, and do so at a lower rate than the citizens of quite a number of more impressive countries).

"Kiwis excel at rugby, but in most other endeavours they barely touch mediocrity," Davis further declares. Goodness. No wonder we're killing ourselves on every streetcorner.

I think the source of Mr Davis's dyspepsia may be that he visited Australia and New Zealand to plug his book and nobody noticed. A Google News search reveals that the sole fruit of his entire, arduous journey through the colonies was a paragraph in the Sydney Morning Herald's trivia column which concluded: "At least he didn't visit Melbourne."

And, lo, Maxim's Bruce Logan has issued an apology for passing off tracts of other people's writing as his own in columns for various New Zealand newspapers. Well, actually, he has apologised for, um, not being "as precise as I should have been." But it was alright, apparently, for him to present the writing of commentators such as Melanie Philips and Peter Hitchens as his own because, he, er, once spoke to them. (Crikey! I've spoken to some top journalists in my time - does that mean I can stick my name on top of anything they've written?) I actually find myself feeling a little sorry for Logan, who is now " taking time off from his Maxim duties and having a rest." This is a rather wounding way for Maxim's intellectual hollowness to be exposed.

But as Paul Thompson, the editor of The Press, observes: "I suspect few editors would now touch them with a barge pole. While this looks like an extreme example of what can go wrong, it does show how vulnerable newspapers are to this type of bad faith from contributing writers. It is no longer enough for newspapers to accept that their material is sound. Our checking systems will need to be vastly improved."

NB: Public Address reader Jim McAloon has a further observation:

It's a bit disingenuous of Paul Thompson to play the innocent victim of Maxim machinations with regard to the Logan-Stuart plagiarism firm. Back in March after a particularly obnoxious piece by Stuart a reader enquired of the paper as to her qualifications and background. The Press's pompous and tautologous reply was that she was a freelance writer who writes for the Press. I then wrote a letter suggesting that a little more disclosure might be in order and noted her association with Maxim and ACT. For the which I was roundly berated by one Vincent Orange, who accused me of having a closed mind. I took some delight in pointing out to Orange that as a former history lecturer of mine he should know about careful scrutiny of sources. I was too polite to remind him that he had, or should have had, a painful lesson in this inasmuch as he supervised Joel Hayward's notorious piece of Holocaust-denying fiction. Given that Thompson was less than frank with his readers about Stuart's provenance I have little sympathy in his present embarrassment.

I'll be talking to Paul Litterick, who exposed this rum business, at 12.30 on my 95bFM Wire show today, and Paul Brislen will be discussing the latest movements - or lack thereof - in the broadband Internet market at 1pm. Listen here.

PS: I'm looking forward to seeing how the Holmes-Hosking news quiz show Out of the Question washes up on Prime tonight, given that I've signed up for a creative role in it. My guess is that like National Radio's Off the Wire it will take a little time to settle in to its own identity, but the writing has been quite fun.