Hard News by Russell Brown

News from the front bum front

Early Friday evening, I was sitting on the couch wondering how far removed from the reality of a rugby game Murray Mexted could get and still be considered to be actually commentating on it, when a text message arrived on my phone: "You have just been named Business Columnist of the Year at the MPA Awards." Cool.

I write a monthly column called 'Left Field' for Unlimited magazine, which entered the column in the Magazine Publishers Association Awards on my behalf. I edged out Donal Curtin in the same magazine, and Sir Bob Jones. Clearly, there was no tipping off, because no one bothered inviting me, but that was alright. I didn't really feel like dressing up.

Still, I was pleased. It will confuse the people who think I'm an extreme left-winger (many of whom, it must be said, wouldn't know entrepreneurial spirit if it bit them on the ass) and I can ask for a raise when I go in and collect the award. It's also probably the only journalism award I'm going to win this year, having had a Week from Hell and missed the deadline for the Qantases earlier in the year.

After the rugby, a couple of mates arrived round to take me to the King's Arms, where Ghost Club (featuring former 3Ds David Mitchell and Denise Roughan) were playing. It turned out to be more like a social event than a gig, but it was fun to catch up with a lot of people I haven't seen in a while. Various other people partied off into the night afterwards, but I need my sleep these days, so I went home to sip on my last shot of single malt and watch BBC World for a bit.

I am never happier or more in balance with the world than when I am cooking a great big pot of something, so on Saturday I made a huge pasta sauce with some sieved tomatoes and a couple of kilos of Romas that I got cheap on Lincoln Road. I also stopped in at A Taste of Europe and bought some prosciutto to wrap around my free-range chicken drums ($3 a kilo at The Mad Butcher!), on to which I subsequently poured some of the pasta sauce and a cup of wine, chucked in some capsicum and giant Kalamata olives, and did the lot in an open dish in the oven. Served it with couscous and mesculun salad: came up nicely.

Come Sunday, the Tamihere factor was certainly at play in the papers. The Herald on Sunday led with Ian Wishart letting slip some choice interview quotes that hadn't made print in his magazine - apparently in retaliation for Tamihere's unbelievable decision to return to the scene of the crime and try and secretly get some restaurant staff on tape saying that they hadn't seen a tape recorder on the table when he lunched with Wishart.

Clearly, it was felt that there were whole groups of people who had not been alienated by Tamihere: so now you can add Jews and the leader of his small Parliamentary fan club Clayton Cosgrove to the list.

I have made the point before that respecting Jewish cultural sensitivity will not see you reflexively accused of "political correctness" by right-wing windbags the way that respecting the feelings of women, gays or Maori will (and got a rather alarming email from David Zwartz for my trouble; I tried to explain that he'd missed my point). Rodney Hide can cheerfully stand up in Parliament and paraphrase Tamihere to claim a "lesbian cabal" is running the country, because he knows that he has little to lose by doing so. But you would never hear him advance a similar claim as to a "Jewish cabal". (And there has been no fuss at all over the other part of that comment in which he said he was "sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed" - that he was sick of hearing about the historical grievances of Maori.)

In short, the defence of being a good old non-PC bloke is not available here. And for most people Tamihere's comments will constitute the final straw. It certainly has for the Prime Minister, who has shut the door on a Cabinet return and sent her troublesome MP on indefinite "stress leave". She really had no choice: the Jerusalem Post has already reported both his comments and Clark's emphatic rejection of them as "breaking news".

Mercifully, we agreed in our house today that another comment from the Wishart file - Tamihere's reference to women as "front bums" was actually crudely funny rather than offensive. And a cruel person might find some humour in the Cosgrove situation too …

So why did Wishart choose to withhold the most incendiary statement in a published interview full of such statements? Because he chose to use only the material that supported his well-known perception of the Clark government as a bunch of godless lesbian feminists? Quite probably.

It would seem that there is still some doubt as to whether Tamihere knew that Wishart was recording him for an on-the-record interview - or at least that the presence of a recording device on the table was obvious. For TV One's Agenda, Simon Pound also went out to the Soljan restaurant and also found staff saying they had not seen a tape recorder. There's a transcript of his piece on the Agenda website (nice work!).

Anthony Hubbard's backgrounder in the Star Times notes that Tamihere may have become used to speaking frankly to journalists in Wellington, without fear of having every loose word reported. This is doubtless true, and a reality of political journalism. Reporters who rush to print with every word they hear soon find that they're not hearing everything.

But you can't deny his pull on the media: of the four items on the Star Times' op-ed page - one editorial and three columns - all four dealt with Tamihere, as did the column of political editor, and former Tamihere press secretary, Helen Bain.

I thought the girls had the best of it: in the SST, Rosemary McLeod essentially said, well, so what if gay folk have some influence in the government (the kind of influence that bothered no one much when it belonged to industrialists, Catholics, Rotarians, fourth cousins of earls, and returned soldiers")? In the HoS, Kerre Woodham made the point that "the John Tamihere Appreciation Society is claiming, in a sanctimonious fashion, that all Tamihere did was tell the truth and a man shouldn't be punished for being honest. I beg to differ. He wasn't telling the truth. He was offering an opinion." And, of course, everyone's got one of those: not least some of Tamihere's Parliamentary colleagues. But perhaps Bain, who would be in a position to know, had it right in her list of contradictory acts committed by either "Good John" or "Bad John".

Elsewhere, Media Matters looks at how the conservative blogs and media feverishly gathered "evidence" to prove to themselves that the notorious Republican Schiavo memo was a Democratic dirty trick - until it became apparent that it wasn't. Hilarious reading, if a little disturbing. Power Line still won't apologise, of course. I suspect that quite a few other people, I made the mistake of thinking that Time naming Power Line its Blog of the Year meant it might actually be a conservative blog worth reading, in the way that, say Instapundit or Andrew Sullivan are. But, no: as Ezra Klein pointed out in a savagely funny little post:

They get nothing right. Their fact-checking skills are atrocious. They neither report nor call experts, it's just whatever they invented twenty seconds ago. Watching them work is like attending a high school debate match in the impromptu event. Arguments are created on the fly, accuracy is unimportant so long as the product accuses the "MSM" or Democrats of some cardinal sin that'll leave Powerline's sycophantic readers moaning with the exquisite pleasure that comes only from having one's biases expertly stroked. The plausibility of their claims ranges from pathetic to laughable (has Big Trunk debated PZ Myers on the biological uncertainty of evolution yet?) and their traffic and credibility is entirely predicated on the work someone else did, success they've been totally unable to replicate. They have failed.

August J. Pollak has more on what now appears to have been officially named PowerLine-Was-Completely-Fucking-Wrong-Gate.

Oh, and some bad news for fans of Douglas Adams: early reviews indicate that the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy movie sucks as few films of its kind have ever sucked before. There's also a list of things that are missing from the movie (including, unbelievably, the Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster) and a Slashdot discussion.

PS:Just got an email from Jeremy Corbett to let me know that the marvellous Hairy McClairy-Tamihere parody in fact originated at More FM and was the work of breakfast producer and comedian Paul Ego. Due credit, mad props, etc.