Hard News by Russell Brown


Vision and dumbassery

Part way through last night, the Moment of Truth event at the Auckland Town Hall felt history-making. Journalist Glenn Greenwald had presented documentary evidence -- not a lot, and it was more blasted Powerpoint slides, but easily enough to be troubling -- that the Prime Minister is lying when he guarantees New Zealanders are not subject to mass surveillance from their own intelligence agency, and was lying when he said last year's GCSB bill did not validate such an activity.

And NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, appearing on a video link from Russia, had borne witness to the same, eloquently outlining the basic democratic issues in the fact that we, the electors, do not make that choice. He was clear, calm and compelling.

So how did it end in a rancorous, poorly-handled press conference in which it seemed that the bearers of witness were the ones on trial?

The credit and the blame must go to Kim Dotcom. No one else would have had the vision to conceive (and fund) such an event. The Town Hall was packed, with hundreds turned away. It was streamed to thousands more, in New Zealand and around the world, and live-blogged by The Guardian. Bringing together Snowden, Greenwald and Julian Assange was not so much ambitious as utterly audacious.

And no one else could be such a dumbass as to undermine the event in the way Kim Dotcom did.

The journalists who demanded afterwards to know aabout the elephant missing from the room -- Dotcom's proof that John Key had lied about having no foreknowledge of the Dotcom raid, and not even having heard of Dotcom -- had every right to do so. The whole event had been billed for months on that revelation, long before there was any mention of the famous whistleblowers.

So what the hell happened? My guess is this. Greenwald arrived, got the lay of the land, and wanted no part of the email Dotcom believed implicated Key in a conspiracy to entrap him in return for the favours of Warner Brothers. The email fits into various other elements of reporting -- most notably the Herald's discovery via OIA of the weird way that objections to the granting of Dotcom's residence was turned around -- like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It's so perfect as to be too perfect. On its own, it could be anything.

The lineup of the event was altered on Sunday. Robert Amsterdam, who was to be the moderator, joined the speaking lineup, perhaps to fill Dotcom's place (he gave a heartfelt, if occasionally torturous, explanation of why we should care about the loss of sovereignty implicit in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreemwent). Dotcom impulsively passed the email to the Herald yesterday [NB: I am now told it was not Dotcom who supplied the email to the Herald], it was immediately denied as a fake and there was no way to prove its provenance. In the hours between that release and the event itself, Hone Harawira lodged it with the Speaker of Parliament for a complaint to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee -- meaning, Laila Harre insisted, it could not be discussed on the night. Shambles.

There were other problems on the night. Harre repeatedly gave the crowd the impression that Assange is ensconced in the Ecuadorian embassy because a US prosecutor wants to get at him, rather than because he refuses to return to Sweden for questioning over two alleged sex offences. Dotcom's advertisement on the night for Mega's forthcoming encrypted videoconferencing service sat awkwardly. The repeated baiting of John Key, however questionable his words and actions have been, distracted from the substance of the evening.

And I'm fairly sure Nicky Hager would have been horrified at Harre ending the event by waving around his Dirty Politics book in what was basically a pitch for votes. He separates himself assiduously from partisan politics, and yet here he was, being co-opted into a campaign in his absence.

The press conference was also a work less of media management than media muppetry. Rather than ride out the questions about the no-show email and get on to the substance of what Snowden and Greenwald had said, they cut it off after 15 minutes, so the only content was the thing they didn't want to talk about. This video by OccupyNZ captures what happened. Dotcom harangues Patrick Gower about what questions he should be asking -- at the same time as the party's press chief John Mitchell calls an end to further questions. Duh.

This, I think, will be the story of the Internet Party: vision and dumbassery. I find things to greatly admire in the party -- candidates like Chris Yong, Miriam Pierard and Pani Farvid would probably not have come through a mainstream party process but have much to offer, and the party has has made crowdsourced policy-making work really well in several areas -- and things at which one can only despair. 

This should not overshadow the crucially important issues aired last night. You do absolutely need to read Keith Ng on on what a risible red herring Key's allegedly exculpatory document release yesterday was, Andrea Vance's concise explanation of why this really, really matters, Greenwald's own detailed story for The Intercept, and Snowden's column on the same site.

But you won't bat back the flannel and spin from the usual suspects (seriously -- I am not about to give Michelle Boag one solitary second of my attention on a matter of which she knows nothing) by pretending no part of what happened last night was unsatisfactory. It needs acknowledging that it was both a remarkable and compromised event. It couldn't have happened without Kim Dotcom and it would manifestly have been better without him. Now, let's get on with the substance.

NB: MediaTake, at 10.20pm on Maori Television tonight, includes some video from the Moment of Truth event, and also from the press conference itself. Have a watch.

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