Hard News by Russell Brown


Loving your dog and owning your words

Stephen Franks is having a major hissy fit at the moment, over Agenda screening a clip from a Wellington Central candidates' meeting in a Te Aro house that he seems to regard as part of some sort of conspiracy against him.

You might have seen the clip already -- it was noted by The Standard last month. The means by which it came to screen on Agenda is quite innocent: last week, Rawdon Christie invited the country's budding "citizen journalists" to send in video from the campaign trail and be in to win a fancy mobile phone. So James Barber of Lyall Bay did just that. It appears in the fourth segment of the show.

The Agenda panellists, MSM stalwarts that they are, ruminate darkly about the potential "chilling effects" of candidates being recorded on the campaign trail. Really? It was hardly a sting. It was a public candidates' meeting organised by some young students and covered as a novelty by TV3 -- whose crew presumably lacked the patience to stick around and hear what people actually said.

And let's be clear here: Franks digs his own hole. In the clip, the Labour candidate, Grant Robertson, puts it to Franks that there had been "a lot of convenience" in Franks' formal justification for opposing civil unions, and that might be set against other comments he made at the time "which weren't particularly positive towards the queer community". Robertson actually tries to hand on the mic after making the observation, but Franks insists on throwing himself into the hole:

Franks: I think you might be meaning, I said I was sick of grumpy Christians and whining gays.

Robertson: No, it was the one where you said 'I love my dog but that doesn't mean I should be able to marry it'.

The point of the clip is the shocked reaction of the kids in the room, who presumably didn't remember the sorry details of the civil union debate. Franks then attempts to explain his reasoning. He has used the "dog" argument more than once, so I can't see why he should be so offended that it has been recorded on this occasion.

The first time I can recall an incidence was in this memorable blog post from Mr Neil Falloon of DogBitingMen (who, it is presumably safe to say, was a fresh-faced Ben Thomas, before he became NBR's political editor). It records the conversation when Franks described the gay community as "riddled with pathologies".

In his blog Franks seems keen to do anything but own his words. And he's still digging. His Labour opponent, he says, "makes a feature of being a gay activist" and "mentions it at every opportunity". It is all a plot, he believes, "to paint me as homophobic".

The more sensible interpretation is that National's Wellington Central candidate is busy plotting against himself. As Act blogger Cactus Kate observed, he was perhaps not the optimum choice for Wellington Central.

Also, I'm told the Labour campaign doesn't know Barber, but if he's the same person who runs the YouTube channel where the clip (along with several others from the same meeting) appeared, he's a 19 year-old lefty with Green sympathies. [Update: Yes, as I thought, he's a Green Party member.]


With the brief, alarming season of Republican Idol on hiatus owing to a financial meltdown, the US press has been producing some serious -- and sometimes seriously good -- work. The Obama campaign presumably won't be upset with the story that appeared in yesterday's New York Times magazine under the byline of Alexandra Starr.

Starr examines a side of Barack Obama that is surely rich with clues to his way of thinking and character, but which has been studiously underplayed by his campaign -- because you don't get elected POTUS by running as a smart alec -- his decade-long career as a law professor at the University of Chicago.

Through conversations with former colleagues and students, she depicts the professor as open-minded, inscrutable and thrilled by the contest of ideas. In a White House era characterised by tunnel vision, nonsensical proclamation and intolerance of debate (let alone dissent), Obama's traits might not seem optimum for the task of actually wining an election, but I'm quite tickled by the idea of the hold of the most powerful job in the world being able to countenance ambiguity.

But the most emailed story on the Times site is, as I write Charles Blow's less-lofty snarkfest about Republican voter attitudes towards Sarah Palin as told in the entrails of last week's NYT/CBS poll. Hoary old clichés about people voting for someone they'd like to have a beer with were thumpingly borne out:

… 77 percent of Republicans said that they had a favorable opinion of Palin. But when asked what specifically they liked about her, their top five reasons were that she was honest, tough, caring, outspoken and fresh-faced. Sounds like a talk-show host, not a vice president. (By the way, her intelligence was in a three-way tie for eighth place, right behind “I just like her.”)

When those Republicans were asked what they liked least about her, they started to sound more like everyone else. Aside from those who said that there was nothing they didn’t like, next on the list were: her lack of experience, her record as governor and her lack of foreign-policy experience.

Also, most Republicans think you only picked her to help with the election, not because she is qualified, and a third said that they would be “concerned” if for some reason she actually had to serve as president.

Meanwhile, while you all were greeting spring (first barbecue!), quite a number of folk were at Blog World Expo, "the world's largest Blogging Conference" in Las Vegas, also the co-locational home of REBlogCon (real estate), the MilBlogging Conference (military blogging) and GodBlogCon. Apparently, they partied.

PS: Because I'm at the TVNZ 7 Internet Debate tomorrow, we're recording Media7 this afternoon. Our panel, discussing the media dimensions of the US presidential campaign as it plays out against the collapse of the banking system, is Herald columnist Tracey Barnett, Canterbury University political scientist Therese Arseneau, and Bernard Hickey. If you'd like to come and watch and you can be at The Classic in Auckland by 2pm, hit reply and let me know asap.

PPS: My mate Andy has citizen journalism of a different stripe: video of Little Pictures' album launch gig on the party bus on Friday night. It appears to have been a riot.

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