Richard Prosser's belated apology for his mad, racist "Wogistan" column in Investigate magazine this morning capped the retreat commenced by his party leader Winston Peters and his editor Ian Wishart. But while everyone's washing their hands, it's worth noting that everyone here has form.
It's around 10 years since I conducted my first (and thus far only) interview with Winston Peters, for Mediawatch on Radio New Zealand. To be honest, the thing that stays with me is that he wore his headphones upside down, slung under his chin, to avoid indignity to his hairdo.
Peters would say something tenuous, then flash me his big, beaming smile, as if to say that we all knew it was all a bit of a put-on. I'm not really sure what weight he put on what he told me before the interview started: that if I was to read deep into the Koran I'd find alarming material about the real intentions of Islam. Surprised, I put it to him that a similar reading of the Holy Bible or the Torah might find some alarming material too.
It was hard to tell what Peters really believed about this -- as it is to tell what he really believes about anything. But there was no doubt about his message a couple of years later when he gave a speech titled The End of Tolerance to a Grey Power meeting in Kaitaia:
"In New Zealand the Muslim community has been quick to show us their more moderate face, but there is a militant underbelly here as well.
"These two groups, the moderate and militant, fit hand and glove.
"Underneath it all the agenda is to promote fundamentalist Islam - indeed these groups are like the mythical Hydra, a serpent underbelly with multiple heads, capable of striking at any time and in any direction," Mr Peters said.
Yes. The enemy within. It could be the family that runs your local dairy. It casts an interesting light on this tidbit from yesterday:
Former Labour MP Ashraf Choudhary, a Muslim, called on Mr Peters to "remove this cancer from the party".
"It's uncalled for and racist. This kind of person has got no place in our Parliament."
He said NZ First had recently been reaching out to New Zealand's 30,000-strong Muslim community.
"Winston Peters has been sending feelers out to the ethnic and Muslim community to sell [that] he has become a mainstream party, reaching to all Kiwis. This has done no good to his party."
And on the message to he issued yesterday in a statement about Prosser's column, in which he says Prosser:
... wrongfully impugned millions of law-abiding, peaceful Muslims.
Mr Prosser agrees that the article did not have balance, and does not represent the views of New Zealand First.
Meanwhile, Ian Wishart, who published Prosser's absurd rant, cruised through an interview on Seven Sharp last night, carefully distancing himself from what he'd published. His longtime columnist Prosser, he said, used "exagerrated points to get his main point across," and to "provoke debate and get people talking."
As editor, he admitted to merely having "skimmed throgh" Prosser's column and declared "maybe if I'd read it properly and been in a sound state of mind I might have picked it up."
"Wishart not of sound mind," possibly isn't news, but what he did next is interesting. He went home and republished his magazine's 2007 story, Preachers of Hate, which said that extremist wahabbi preachers had been allowed to repeatedly enter the country and preach hatred to the local Muslim community.
As is often the case with Wishart's scoops, there's an actual story buried deep in the breathless language, tenuous associations and creepy, endless obsessions with Helen Clark -- one on which more light is shed in a leaked 2006 cable from the US Embassy in Wellington. Ironically -- or perhaps inevitably -- the embassy cable offers a more balanced view than Investigate.
Wishart was less guarded in his rambling 2002 essay, Islam vs the West, where he declared:
Muslims in the West must decide whether they will stand with the West against the move by one religion to become a world government, or whether they wish to join that move. If the decision is the latter, then those Muslims would, under New Zealand law, be exposing themselves to treason charges if they were in any way to assist an outside power or group in an attempt to overthrow our current system of governance.
Neatly, he raises a straw man and then uses it to speculate that New Zealand Muslims might just be traitors.
Prosser himself, of course, is a long-term fruitcake who abandoned his own party (which called for the secession of the South Island) and joined New Zealand First just in time to be added to its party list and duly elected by voters who probably had no idea who he even was. He began his career as an MP by calling for the burqa to be banned and taxi drivers to be armed. Toby Manhire collected a few more of his utterances.
It's worth recalling that this whole thing began when he attempted to take a knife onto a commercial flight.
Anyway, take a look at Peters' interview with John Campbell last night -- not for Campbell's dismantling of his subject (although that's good stuff) but to watch Peters' hands during the interview. They are a frenzy. Whether Peters was more angry or anxious is an open question. But he was clearly very, very wound up.
Bonus: Feel free to discuss the government's mystifying refugee deal here too -- it's actually a bigger race-relations story than that above. I shall not attempt to parse the logic of this agreement -- because in a capable and highly readable column Bryce Edwards has attempted to do so and come up dry.