Hard News by Russell Brown

The Role Model

Lock 'im up, demands this morning's Herald editorial on the disgraced TV3 newsreader Darren McDonald, who displayed insufficient "remorse, contrition and acknowledgment of guilt" to be allowed to apply for home detention.

McDonald's star appearance on Sunday was exactly what his erstwhile colleagues at TV3 have been fearing since he was arrested about 18 months ago - a chance for TVNZ to have a go. He certainly seemed happy enough to be there talking about his secret life and wistfully remembering the times he read the news on drugs. It was all very showboaty, very gay-male-transgressive.

No one should really admire McDonald. He has blown TV careers on both sides of the Tasman, financially ruined himself and, through being The Party Guy Who Could Score for Everyone, got himself nailed with a conviction for offering to supply ecstasy and conspiracy to supply methamphetamine. His party friends, inevitably, stopped calling the moment he was busted. This might all have been a mercy: if he was really chugging through a gram of P a week he was going to be another pathetic P basket case before long anyway.

But what appears to have annoyed the Herald is that he turned down several invitations on Sunday to play the victim. He could presumably have delivered a Darren's Drug Hell speech, blamed his sexuality or something, and cracked on like it had all been perfectly ghastly. But no, he said, he had taken drugs because he liked to party and to dance and "it was just a whole lot of fun". This is, just quietly, the reason that people actually take recreational drugs.

McDonald was picked up in the course of a broader police investigation into the activities of his own dealer. He wasn't convicted of any actual supply, and his offending was, as they say, at the lower end of the scale. Yet a brown kid from South Auckland might not have been granted the same latitude: two months out of prison to parlay his eight-month sentence into home detention.

The reason the court gave for this latitude was that he would be in danger of re-introduction to drugs if he went to prison, which as Greg Newbold pointed out, was really a way of saying that he seemed like a nice chap and shouldn't really go to jail. It was a bit tenuous - but, on the other hand, it could be argued that there was little benefit to be had in spending taxpayer's money incarcerating him.

Yet McDonald, who "smiled" and "smirked" throughout the programme, and "whose job as a television newsreader made him a role model, should receive no special treatment," the editorial thundered. A role model? In what sense is a professional reader of the autocue a role model? He has been convicted of criminal offences. The Herald seems to want to send him to jail for being insufficiently contrite.

The ceaseless and repetitive linking of P to a couple of nasty crimes - rolled out again in the Herald's argument for McDonald to be harshly dealt with - is in danger of becoming just as counterproductive as the Herald believes McDonald's chipper demeanour on TV to have been. Middle-class P users know that they are not going to shoot innocent people in the course of armed hold-ups. They don't recognise themselves in that scenario. It's all a bit too easy to ignore. The appropriate scenario for them is more prosaic: that they have become embarrassing idiots with no money and other idiots for friends.

If TVNZ has banned its onscreen staff from shopping themselves around the women's magazines, it's still apparently happy to stoke celebrity culture on its own terms. Last night's Documentary New Zealand programme, Celebrities' Wives, sought to redefine "celebrity" as "anyone who has, or has had, an onscreen role in a Television New Zealand programme" and thus an eager public was delivered a compelling insight into the challenges fame has brought the families of, um, the Leishman brothers. Oh really

Stuck for an opinion about Corngate at cocktail parties? Finlay Macdonald outlines your three basic options in this week's Listener editorial.

Spinsanity says Michael Moore has removed one of the more egregious falsehoods from the DVD version of Bowling for Columbine, but is still tossing around libel threats at anyone who disputes his claim that "absolutely every fact in the film is true". It wouldn't be so bad if he hadn't made that "non-fiction" Oscar speech, really …

The Nation takes issue with Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice's characterisation of Iraq as being like post-war Germany, where dead-enders held on in guerilla operations for some time after the war was one. Big difference: no US troops died in post-war Germany: "In fact, zero is the total of all combat casualties from the US occupations of Germany, Japan, Haiti and the Balkans. Compare that to the 67 US soldiers killed in straight-out combat since aviator action figure George Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on May 1 (bringing the American death toll to 285 since the war began)."

So what happened to the weapons, then? As noted by reporters in this CNN transcript, George W. Bush's speech on Iraq almost wholly ignored the reason his administration gave for going to war in the first place: the imminent threat posed by "the deadliest weapons known to man".

This Reuters story compares rosy predictions from Rumsfeld and others with the grim reality of the new speech, and its requests for a breathtaking $US87 billion from US taxpayers.

There is no polite way of saying this: the American public continues to present as dangerously deluded - in the polls, anyway. A new Washington Post poll finds that seven out of 10 Americans still believe it "very or somewhat likely" that Saddam Hussein was "personally involved" in the 9/11 attacks. However could they have formed that impression?

In light of the Bush speech - and its fine words about the United Nations - Cursor.org dug up this bit of bile from White House insider (and liar and war profiteer) Richard Perle, in which he gloated over the well-deserved "death" of the UN in March.

So anyway, no contact so far from anyone at Air New Zealand to try and ease the pain of my unfortunate online booking experience - but plenty from people who have had a similarly unhappy time. Roger wrote in to say:

The last half dozen times I have gone overseas [I swear I am not exaggerating], I have tried to use the Air NZ website to pick and book flights - with a total lack of success for one reason or another. I am yet to get success on any electronic booking with them. My wife has tried a similar number of times on domestic flights; with a similar success rate; and every time she has fallen back on their phone booking system they have found her a cheaper flight than those offered on the webpage.

It seems that your choice is a web based system that does not work, or waiting an interminable period in a phone queue!!

Christopher Dempsey raised an interesting theory - any comment out there on its likely validity?:

My brother had exactly the same problem. He managed to figure it out; when offering cheap seats, AirNZ sells them online ... and each one is snapped up. However, if you book a seat and all the cheap seats have gone, the software is programmed to continue accepting your booking, asking for details etc again and again (as happened with my brother). This is to stop competitors from somehow 'counting' the cheap seats on the flights by booking ALL seats to see how many cheap ones they can get. Nice of AirNZ isn't it - cause, being fustrated is everything. :)

Brent Jackson knew where I was coming from:

I had a very similar experience to your own. I was booking return tickets for me and my family, so had to enter bleems of info before being rejected with Card Declined. So I retried with my wife's card - same result. Rang the bank - no problem with cards, and no declined auths. Ring AirNZ. "Oh yes, our website link to the bank is down at the moment, but I can take your booking now if you like. Unfortunately I will have to charge you a $15 booking fee." After discussing my options with her (pay $15 extra for their stuff up / retry every so often until it works / ring AirNZ every so often until they can tell me that it is back online), I decided that it would be much simpler to fly QANTAS (even though I'd much rather be on AirNZ - I do not like being treated like shit!).

I duly complained to AirNZ, and got a rather glib reply about it being a one-off fault, and the booking fee would have been waived, and giving the overall impression it was somehow my fault that I couldn't book with them. How they can afford to treat customers like this I do not know ?!?

I assume that you'll probably get a barrage of similar complaints from other people as this "one-off" problem has probably occurred numerous times.

It appears so - although I must say I've used the Air New Zealand website happily enough in the past. And Jarrod reported a similar experience booking online with Qantas in Australia.

I had a similar experience to yours when trying to book a domestic airline ticket with Qantas (within Australia). The booking process choked at the payment stage a few times, and my flight options seemed to dwindle as it did so.

I finally rang Qantas, and found that the cheap seats I wanted were actually still available, but their booking application was hanging on to them - as far as it was concerned, the booking process was incomplete. The customer services rep I spoke to was able to delete these partial bookings out of the system, and I could then start over.
Different airline, and presumably a different web app - but maybe same problem?

Brian Kassler of Flying Fish had a solution - wait till the last moment then go Qantas:

You should try flying Qantas!! As a bloke that lives in Wellington, but spends his life in Auckland, I do that trip a lot. Go online 24 hours before you want to travel and you will get a seat for 75 bucks. The 24 hour thing is important. You also get a half decent tucker, friendly service, don't have the long queue and a far superior airline. Trust me.

Hmmm …