Sunday, 26 April 2015

Weep, Zealandia, Weep!

Cry The Beloved Country: Is this really where we are, 100 years after Gallipoli? Is this how far we’ve come? From a bigoted British Israelite and union-buster;  to a “relaxed” golfing partner of the US president and a “playful” hair-fetishist? From dispatching troops to Gallipoli in the name of the King-Emperor; to dispatching troops to Iraq in the name of the “Five Eyes Club”?
 
THERE ARE TIMES when it’s heart-breaking being a New Zealander. This past week has been one of those times.
 
The week began with the deafening drumbeat of ANZAC-related patriotism. Having already alienated a huge number of Australians, the almost obsessive memorialisation of the First World War is beginning to do the same to a growing number of New Zealanders.
 
Among all the individuals responsible for planning the centennial “celebrations” of the ANZAC landings, there was, apparently, no one whose job it was to make sure, one hundred years on, that New Zealanders had a clear idea of the political and economic motives that drove so many human lambs to the slaughter.
 
The historical context out of which some young men volunteered for “the adventure of a lifetime” and some did not (let’s not forget that by 1916 it had become necessary to start conscripting replacement soldiers) has been almost completely elided from the official narrative. Likewise the extraordinary curtailment of civil and political rights that followed almost immediately upon New Zealand entering the conflict.
 
To hear someone like Lieutenant-General Tim Keating, Chief of Defence Staff, couch New Zealand’s participation in the First World War in terms of standing up for the right and the good (just like today in Iraq!) was quite sickening. More than 18,000 young New Zealanders died on the battlefields of that terrible war – not for the right and the good, but for the greater glory and profit of the British Empire and its principal investors.
 
I wonder if Lt-General Keating even knows that William F. Massey, the unelected Prime-Minister of New Zealand in August 1914 (his Reform Party had won a No-Confidence vote against the Liberal’s in 1912) was a member of the British Israelites.
 
This bizarre sect was a curious mixture of religious and patriotic enthusiasm which believed that the British race was descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel, and that the British royal family’s bloodline extended all the way back to King David and King Solomon. The British Israelites were adamant that the English-speaking peoples were divinely ordained to rule the entire world.
 
Born in Ulster, Massey was also a member of the Orange Order, whose compatriots back in Northern Ireland, even as Gavrilo Princip was assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, were actively plotting mutiny and rebellion against the pro-Irish Home Rule Liberal Government of Herbert Asquith.
 
Massey’s religious and political bigotry would be drawn into sharper focus as the war drew towards its end and the Reform Party linked up with the newly-formed Protestant Political Association to mobilise voters against the large number of Irish Catholics who had swung in behind the nascent Labour Party.
 
Massey’s hostility to organised labour was prodigious. The crushing of the Waihi Miners’ Strike in 1912, and of the Great Strike in 1913, were among Massey’s first and most enduring contributions to New Zealand’s political history. Working-class Kiwis didn’t call the mounted special constables (drafted in from the countryside to smash the unionists of the “Red” Federation  of Labour) “Massey’s Cossacks” for nothing.
 
I could go on, but hopefully you’ll have some idea already of how little that was “good” or “right” lay behind New Zealand’s participation in the First World War. Indeed, it was only after the outbreak of revolution in Russia in 1917 (and the mutiny of the French army in the same year) that the imperial establishment decided it might be wise to shift its rhetorical emphasis from protecting innocent women and children from the bestial Hun to “defending freedom” and “making the world safe for democracy”.
 
So many lies – and how old they’ve grown! It is nothing less than shameful that so little of the history of the period leading up to the First World War is known to the young New Zealanders who turn out in their thousands to honour the sacrifice of those who they naively believe “died for our freedom”.
 
And what, I physically cringe to think, do those same young New Zealanders now make of their 53-year-old Prime Minister, who has admitted to repeatedly tugging on the ponytail of a 26-year-old waitress?
 
Is this really where we are, 100 years after Gallipoli? Is this how far we’ve come? From a bigoted British Israelite and union-buster;  to a “relaxed” golfing partner of the US president and a “playful” hair-fetishist? From dispatching troops to Gallipoli in the name of the King-Emperor; to dispatching troops to Iraq in the name of the “Five Eyes Club”?
 
And what about the likes of your humble correspondent? That endangered species known as the “Fourth Estate”? Are New Zealand’s journalists, commentators, newspaper columnists and bloggers to be guided now, in the fulfilment of their professional ethical obligations, by the shining example of Rachel Glucina?
 
As I said: These are heart-breaking times.
 
Weep, Zealandia, weep!
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 24 April 2015.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Before ANZAC Day: How It Really Was.

The Good Old Flag: Strike-breakers pose proudly under the Union Jack, Waihi, 1912. In the two years immediately preceding World War I, the “good old flag” had become an emblem of bitter class warfare. Undaunted, it was the Union Jack that 2,779 "sons of the empire" ended up dying for at Gallipoli in 1915.

TELLING PEOPLE “how it really was” is the historian’s first and, some would say, only duty. On the eve of the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings it’s a duty that weighs very heavily. So much has been spoken and written about the events of 25 April 1915, and what they mean to New Zealand, that anyone attempting to tell people truthfully “how it really was” risks extinguishing the roseate glow of our national mythology in the cold white light of the historian’s flash-bulb.
 
Let’s begin with “the good old flag” under which so many volunteers marched off to war in 1914. Not their own New Zealand Ensign, but the Mother Country’s Union Jack.
 
In the two years immediately preceding 1914, that “good old flag” had become an emblem of bitter class warfare. Nowhere was this more vividly displayed than in the mining town of Waihi.
 
Only rarely can the Union Jack have been borne aloft by a more disreputable bunch of flag-wavers. Answering to such outlandish names as the “Snake Charmer” and “Harvey the Pug”, the strike-breakers brought to Waihi by the owners of the Waihi Gold Mine advertised their officially sanctioned status by rolling into town on a horse-brake draped with “the good old flag”.

Strike-breakers arrive in Waihi, 1912: The "Snake Charmer" is second from left in the bowler hat. "Harvey the Pug" stands in the middle wearing a white scarf.
 
The message could not have been clearer: the red flag of the “Red” Federation of Labour (to which the striking Waihi miners proudly belonged) had met its match.
 
Pretty soon the residents of Waihi were encountering crudely scrawled representations of the Union Jack on the walls of their houses and public buildings – usually accompanied by the words “God Save the King!”
 
Emboldened by the presence of the Police Commissioner, John Cullen, Harvey the Pug and his mates paraded brazenly up Waihi’s main street bellowing out their own, revised, version of “The Red Flag”:
 
We’ll work the mines and never fear,
We’ll drive the Red Flag out from here.
The Socialists we cannot stand,
We’ll drive them out from Maoriland.
 
Snake Charmer, Harvey the Pug, and the other strike-breakers (backed up by Commissioner Cullen’s 80 Police Constables) were as good as their word. On 12 November 1912, “Black Tuesday”, Waihi was “politically cleansed” of “Red Fed” miners and their families. They boarded the trains and ferries to Auckland in fear of their lives. The strike-breakers had besieged the Miners Union Hall, and one of the socialists they could not stand, Fred Evans, who’d tried to stop them, was beaten to death.
 
Exactly one year later, in the midst of what came to be known as “The Great Strike of 1913”, thousands of Auckland unionists marched in memory of Fred Evans. His former comrades carried a banner declaring: “If blood be the price of your cursed wealth, Good God we have bought it fair.” There were no Union Jacks.
 
"If blood be the price of your cursed wealth, Good God we have bought it fair": "Red Fed" supporters commemorate the anniversary of Fred Evans' murder. Auckland, 12 November 1913.
 
A mile across town, hundreds of “Special Constables” and their horses, known forever after as “Massey’s Cossacks” (after the then Prime Minister, William F. Massey) were encamped on the Auckland Domain. They had come from Northland and the Waikato to break the waterside workers’ picket-lines and open the Auckland wharves. In Wellington, identical contingents of “Specials”, this time from the Wairarapa, had arrived to battle the capital’s striking wharfies.
 
Massey's Cossacks: Mounted Specials arrive in Wellington, 1913.
 
The formation of these special police units had been recommended by Colonel Edward Heard, acting commandant of New Zealand’s military forces. Rather than have his soldiers take over the role of the Police on the streets of the major cities, as Prime Minister Massey, his Attorney-General, Alexander Herdman, and Commissioner Cullen were urging, Colonel Heard, in the strictest secrecy, undertook to instruct his senior officers to raise a force of special constables to break the Red-Feds” rapidly escalating strike.
 
One year later, in November 1914, many of these same special constables were on their way to a very different kind of war. From “Massey’s Cossacks” they had graduated to the Auckland and Wellington Mounted Rifles, now combined, with troopers from Canterbury, into the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade.
 
From Mounted Specials To Mounted Rifles: The NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade, Cairo 1914.
 
They were young and brave and bigoted patriots, ready to smite the King-Emperor’s enemies anytime, anywhere – including outside the gates of the Auckland and Wellington wharves. They fought like demons for Chunuk Bair and we must honour their courage. Even if “the good old flag” they fought for was not their own.
 
That’s how it really was.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 April 2015.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Upbraided, But Not Undone: John Key Will Survive "Tailgate".

Child's Play: Tugging a girl’s pony-tail – what male hasn’t? Not many, it’s true, but most of them were under twelve years-of-age – and almost none were their country's prime minister!
 
IN AMERICAN JOURNALISM there’s an expression: “The story was too good to check!” And every journalist knows what it means. A story so compelling; so freighted with significance; so certain to sell newspapers (or generate page-views) that you don’t want to go through the usual processes of verification – in case it turns out to be untrue.
 
You can imagine, then, how Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury felt when he heard the story about the Prime Minister and the pony-tail. A journalist can work in the industry for forty years and stumble onto something like this maybe once or twice – if he or she is lucky.
 
There’s a temptation to rush such a story into print, or post it immediately on the web, but in the age of Dirty Politics that is the last thing you should do. A story as big as this one could be a VRWC set-up: a complete fabrication designed to entrap the unwary blogger and explode his credibility forever. The watchword in such circumstances is always: caution.
 
And Bomber was as good as his watchword. He checked and double-checked. He sought advice. He pondered the consequences of getting it wrong. But in the end, he did what all journalists do. Having checked the story, he checked his gut. Did he trust his informant? Did her story ring true? If the answer to both of those questions was “Yes.”, then he had to publish. And publish he did.
 
No one now can say that Bomber’s trust was misplaced. Barely an hour up on The Daily Blog and the pony-tailed waitress’s story was being read by thousands. Twitter thrummed with comments and questions. Other blogs linked to it. And by mid-day the mainstream news media’s reporters had forced a clearly spooked Prime Minister to get off his plane at LA International Airport and deliver a public admission and apology to the young woman he’d repeatedly pestered in a Parnell café.
 
Even before his admission and apology, however, John Key’s friends and allies were leaping to his defence. The PM was only being playful, they insisted. It wasn’t as if he’d touched her breasts or backside. Tugging a girl’s pony-tail – what male hasn’t? (Not many, it’s true, but most of them were under twelve years-of-age!) There was nothing sexual in it. For God’s sake – the man’s wife was present! Seriously, who could object to a little friendly fun?
 
Well, the young woman did – as was her right – and she let him know by shooting him a filthy look. Did he stop? No he didn’t. She tried to avoid him. He crept up behind her. She told her boss, who told the PM. He kept on tugging. Finally, exasperated, the waitress summoned up all her courage (and if you are a young woman, and the man pulling your pony-tail is the Prime Minister, a great deal of courage is required) and told him to his face to cut it out. Even then, the prime-ministerial banter and teasing continued. Finally, someone – his wife Bronagh, one of his security detail, a neighbour who dines at the same café – managed to convince him that his behaviour was unwanted, unacceptable and must cease. He returned to the café, bearing two bottles of his own wine as a peace-offering. Turns out it was too little, too late.
 
Too Little, Too Late: John Key's peace offering - two bottles of "JK" wine.
 
Will the PM’s prompt admission and apology put this story to bed as swiftly as his spin-doctors are clearly hoping? Probably. By chance, the story broke when the PM was out of the country, en route to the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. That sombre event will, in all likelihood banish “tailgate” from the nation’s front-pages.
 
But, it makes you wonder.
 
According to Bomber’s informant, the hair-pulling antics of the PM began in September of 2014, during the election campaign. So let me leave you with this little thought experiment. Had the man doing the pony-tail pulling not been John Key, but the Leader of the Opposition, David Cunliffe, and the story had broken before election day (let us say, for the sake of argument, on the Whale Oil blog) how do you think the mainstream news media would have responded? Would David Cunliffe have been permitted to get away with an admission and an apology? Would his political opponents have conceded that he was guilty only of a little playfulness, a little friendly fun?
 
Of course not! Every honest New Zealander knows that if it had been David Cunliffe who’d repeatedly pulled a waitress's pony-tail, and been found out, then the story could only have ended one way – with his resignation.
 
What does it say about John Key and his relationship with both the news media and the wider New Zealand electorate that, public admission and apology delivered, he will almost certainly walk away from this scot free?
 
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Wednesday, 22 April 2015.

What Were The ANZACs Fighting For?

The Lion's Share: As the hapless Ottoman Sultan looks on, the major imperial powers openly bid for huge chunks of his empire. New Zealanders died in their thousands so that John Bull (him with the scissors) could keep the Royal Navy supplied from its Middle-Eastern oil-wells. The very same oil-wells that the German Kaiser (him with the shears) was so keen to get his hands on.

DIPLOMACY AND WAR have always been uneasy bedfellows. Uneasy because, when diplomacy fails it is usually war that triumphs. Sometimes, however, the baton is passed on quite deliberately. In those cases: when diplomacy is allowed to fail; the uneasiness arises out of war’s wild contingency. It is upon the bodies of warring states that the Law of Unintended Consequences inflicts its most dreadful wounds.
 
On 25 April, Australians and New Zealanders will mark the hundredth anniversary of a catastrophic military defeat. Close to 3,000 young New Zealanders died in the Gallipoli campaign and many thousands more were wounded. These shattering losses (New Zealand’s population in 1915 was barely 1 million) provided but a foretaste of the bitter repast that awaited New Zealanders in Flanders and Picardy. From a very little country, diplomacy and war were about to extract a very high price.
 
This would have been tragic enough if the diplomatic and military decisions that sent so many young New Zealand men to their deaths had been made by New Zealanders themselves. That they died as a result of the deliberate failure of British diplomacy, in a war intended to enrich and enlarge the British Empire, renders their sacrifices even more absurd and obscene.
 
Such, however, are the hard, cold facts of the matter. The Dominions of Australia and New Zealand entered the First World War at precisely the same moment as Great Britain (11:00am 4 August 1914) because constitutionally, diplomatically and militarily they were appendages of the British Crown. Where Britain stood, we stood. Her enemies were our enemies. Where she led – we followed.
 
That we ended up following Great Britain on to the territory of the Ottoman Empire was only partially accidental. One of the most important reasons British diplomacy did so little to prevent the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 was the British Empire’s rising concern at the Germans’ lengthening strategic reach. British policy makers were especially wary of Germany’s rapidly expanding diplomatic, military and economic ties with the Ottoman Empire. The British had observed the dramatic benefits of French investment in the Russian Empire and were fearful that Germany’s administration of a similar tonic to the tottering Ottomans could compromise Britain’s strategic future.
 
It was Winston Churchill who, as First Lord of the Admiralty, made the decision (just one year out from the First World War) to power the Royal Navy with oil rather than coal. With Churchill’s primary source of oil being the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (whose wells were perilously close to the Ottoman border) Germany’s “peaceful” expansion into the oil-fields of the Middle-East loomed instantly as a major strategic threat.
 
The decision to invade the Ottoman Empire, which swept the hapless ANZAC’s into the doomed assault on Gallipoli, was first and foremost Churchill’s. Ostensibly an attempt to come at the Central Powers from a new direction, its true purpose was to secure for the British Empire and its French allies the strategic oil reserves located in Ottoman territory. Britain’s other ally, Tsarist Russia, would receive Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and control of the crucial straits linking the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
 
The Sykes-Picot Agreement: In complete secrecy, the British and French negotiators (Sir Mark Sykes and Francois George-Picot) carved up the Ottoman Empire to their respective governments' satisfaction. The peoples who actually lived there were never consulted. Had the Bolsheviks not published its contents (Britain and France had thoughtfully provided their Tsarist Russian ally with a copy) the Arabs would never have known what they were fighting for - and neither would we! Modern-day borders are overlaid.
 
The first of these strategic objectives were confirmed in the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, in which the Ottoman provinces of Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) were divvied up between the British and French Empires. The top-secret deal was to be delivered militarily not only by British arms, but also by the Ottoman Empire’s Arab subjects (inspired to revolt by T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia”) with additional assistance from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the Australian Light Horse.
 
The New Zealand Mounted Rifles
 
The second objective – Russian control of Constantinople and the Bosphorus – was thwarted only by the intervention of the Russian people, who overthrew the Romanov dynasty in 1917.
 
Undaunted, the British simply revised their plans. Just how inimical these would have proved to the people of modern-day Turkey was revealed in the extraordinary Treaty of Sèvres. Had the latter been allowed to stand, virtually the entire empire of the Ottomans would have been parcelled out between the British, French, Italians and Greeks.
 
That this did not happen was due to the efforts of a man not unknown to the ANZAC’s – one Mustapha Kemal. The man who had held the heights at Gallipoli rallied the Turkish people behind him, drove out the Greek invaders, forced the Allied occupiers of Istanbul to withdraw, and established the Turkish Republic – where Saturday’s ANZAC centennial commemorations will unfold.
 
On TVNZ’s Q+A programme (19/4/15) Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, declared that New Zealand entered World War I to fight “a great evil”. Presumably, he was referring to Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany. History refutes him. The First World War was a war between rival empires. The “great evil” was Imperialism. And New Zealand’s sons were fighting for it – not against it.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 April 2015.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

“Prepared To Make Any Sacrifice” – How New Zealand Went To War in 1914.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered - I'm Yours! The Governor of New Zealand, the Earl of Liverpool, prepares to read the message from the King-Emperor, George V, which officially signalled this country's participation in the First World War. A conflict that would, ultimately, claim the lives of 18,000 young New Zealanders.
 
HOW DO YOU THINK New Zealand went to war in August 1914? No, this is not an operational question about military units, points of embarkation and troop carriers. What’s being asked here is a constitutional question. Essentially, by what process were New Zealanders impelled into a state of war?
 
Did Parliament declare war on Germany? Were the ties of empire invoked? Was the German Emperor’s dismissal of Belgium’s 1839 Treaty of Neutrality as a mere “scrap of paper” held up by the then Prime Minister, Bill Massey, as an indisputable casus belli – cause for war? Were the Members of New Zealand’s Legislative Council and House of Representatives enjoined to stand by their King-Emperor and commit the Dominion’s armed forces to helping Britannia put Germany’s upstart Kaiser back in his box?
 
Massey’s conservative Reform Party would certainly have voted for war. But what about the Opposition? Would the Liberal Party leader, Joseph Ward, have dared oppose Britain, France and Russia’s war with Germany? Not likely. With an election looming in December, Ward would, almost certainly, have thought it better to play the “national unity” card.
 
After all, the Liberal Party had not been defeated at the ballot-box. Bill Massey was Prime Minister only because, two years earlier, he had managed to carry a Vote of No Confidence against Ward’s predecessor. Reform was desperate for a popular mandate – especially after the divisive events of 1912-13.
 
Which is why, on the question of whether or not to join Mr Asquith’s War, Ward would undoubtedly have thought it best to allow no daylight at all between his own party’s position and the Government’s. (And it very nearly worked: the 1914 General Election, which Massey won, was one of the closest in New Zealand’s political history.)
 
But the Liberals were not the only occupants of the Opposition Benches in August 1914. Alfred Hindmarsh’s United Labour Party had two votes to cast – as did the new, more left-wing, Social Democrats. What would Paddy Webb, the firebrand socialist from the West Coast seat of Grey, have to say about New Zealand joining an imperialist war? And James McCombs, the SDP Member for Lyttelton? Why would a left-wing intellectual, and the newly-elected representative of Lyttelton’s working-class, vote for a war between Kings and Kaisers?
 
The truth is, we shall never know how the New Zealand Parliament would have voted on the question of whether to join Great Britain, the French Republic and the Russian Empire in a war against Germany and Austria-Hungary – for the very simple reason that all the key decisions that led New Zealand into the First World War were made in London – not Wellington.
 
The Governor: Arthur William de Brito Savile Foljambe, Fifth Earl of Liverpool.

New Zealanders officially learned that they were at war Germany and Austria-Hungary only when, on 5 August 1914, the Governor of New Zealand, one Arthur William de Brito Savile Foljambe, fifth Earl of Liverpool, stood upon the steps of Parliament, in front of a crowd of 15,000 Wellingtonians, and read the following missive from the King-Emperor, George V.
 
“I desire to express to my people of the Overseas Dominions with what appreciation and pride I have received the messages from their respective Governments during the last few days. These spontaneous assurances of their fullest support recall to me the generous self-sacrificing help given by them in the past to the Mother Country. I shall be strengthened in the discharge of the great responsibilities which rest upon me by the confident belief in this time of trial my Empire will stand united, calm, resolute, trusting in God.”
 
To which the Governor, Liverpool, responded:
 
“New Zealand desires me to acknowledge Your Majesty’s gracious message, and to say that come good or ill she, in company with the other dominions and dependencies of the Crown, is prepared to make any sacrifice to maintain her heritage and her birthright.”
 
And that was that. Flanked by the Speakers of the Legislative Council and the House of Representatives, and with the Judges of the Supreme Court and an assortment of MPs providing him with a fine patriotic backdrop, the Governor acknowledged the cheers of the King-Emperor’s subjects and returned to Government House.
 
Liverpool’s words were very far from being empty. In the years ahead, and in the company of “the other dominions and dependencies of the Crown”, New Zealand would send nearly a tenth of her population – 100,000 young men – to “maintain her heritage and her birthright” as a member in good standing of the British Empire. Fully 18,000 of that terrible tithe of New Zealand’s population would lose their lives in the service of King-Emperor, and a further 41,000 would be wounded.
 
Exactly how Liverpool, the man who in October 1913 – less than a year earlier – had authorised the deployment of military and naval personnel - "Massey's Cossacks" - to suppress what came to be known as the “Great Strike”, was in any position to know what “New Zealand” thought about sending her sons to war is difficult to discern. There had been no debate by those “New Zealand” had elected to represent her. Nor is it clear by whose leave Liverpool authorised the making of “any sacrifice” in the name of victory. Not a single vote had been taken.
 
Amidst all the commemorations, and all the tearful invocations of the 18,000 young men who did not “grow old, as we that are left grow old”, it is as well to remember that it is not in the monarchical tradition to ask the King’s (or the Queen’s) subjects if they want to – let alone whether they should! – go to war. It remains a matter for the “Executive” alone.
 
This is as true today, as a much smaller force of New Zealand soldiers prepares to depart for the Middle East, as it was in 1914, when thousands of volunteers embarked for their fateful rendezvous with terror, disfigurement and death on the sheer slopes of Gallipoli.
 
A version of this essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 20 April 2015.

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Prudent Restraint: The Fate Of Liberal Media In Conservative Societies.

Police Riot, Chicago, 28 August 1968: Leading members of the liberal media establishment telegrammed Chicago Mayor, Richard Daley, condemning the way his Police Department repeatedly singled out and deliberately beat newsmen, allegedly to "prevent reporting of an important confrontation between police and demonstrators which the American public as a whole has a right to know." The American public backed Dick Daley and his cops.

FOR THE LIBERAL US NEWS MEDIA,  28 August 1968 was “the day the music died”. That was the day Chicago’s finest unleashed what a later inquiry would describe as a “Police Riot”. In full view of the TV networks’ cameras, the Chicago Police Department fired canister after canister of tear gas, sprayed gallons of mace into people’s faces at point-blank range, and rained down torrents of billy-club blows on unarmed anti-war protesters, delegates to the Democratic Party’s National Convention, and – horror of horrors – working journalists. CBS News’s Dan Rather was roughed up as the cameras rolled, prompting his colleague, Walter Cronkite, to declare live, on nationwide television: “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan.”
 
It was shocking stuff, and the newspaper publishers, their editors, and the network bosses weren’t afraid to say so. Confident that they spoke for the overwhelming majority of decent, civic-minded American citizens, the owners of America’s largest and most liberal media institutions roundly rebuked the behaviour of the Chicago Police Department and their brutal boss, Mayor Richard Daley.
 
Imagine, then, the liberal establishment’s profound shock and dismay when the overwhelming majority of decent, civic-minded Americans backed Mayor Daley and his rioting policemen. In the fortnight following the riot, the Chicago Mayor’s Office received 74,000 letters supporting his response to the anti-war protests. Fewer than 8,000 were critical of the way the Mayor and his Police Department had handled the situation. The nation’s pollsters confirmed these correspondents’ sentiments. Political pundits would later say that Richard Nixon did not win the 1968 presidential election on 2 November; he won it on 28 August.
 
The American public’s response to the Chicago Police Riot had a noticeably chastening effect on the liberal US media. Writing just a week after the event, the widely syndicated US columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Joseph Kraft, drew attention to the deep class divisions that liberal journalism at once reflected and exacerbated:
 
“On the one hand there are highly educated upper-income whites sure of themselves and brimming with ideas for doing things differently. On the other hand, there is Middle America, the large majority of low income whites, traditional in their values and on the defensive against innovators.”
 
“In the circumstances,” Kraft concluded, “it seems to me that those of us in the media need to make a special effort to understand Middle America. Equally it seems wise to exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public.”
 
Thirteen years later, and 13,000 kilometres south-west of Chicago, the “sovereign public’s” view of the news media was strikingly similar. In 1981: The Tour, his history of the 1981 Springbok Tour, Geoff Chapple describes an encounter between a crowd of Hamilton rugby patrons denied their match with the South African team, and a 25-year-old Radio New Zealand reporter from Auckland:
 
“He was slung around with radio-telephone gear, and he was a target too. The rugby crowd shouted at him: ‘You caused all this to happen, you bastards!’”
 
If one listens carefully, amidst all the clamour of protest at the possible cancellation of TV3’s liberal news and current affairs programme, Campbell Live, there is an unmistakeable echo of the same outrage that gripped the champions of a free press in Chicago and Hamilton. It is also a pretty safe bet that most of it is coming from “highly educated upper-income whites sure of themselves and brimming with ideas for doing things differently”.
 
In his famous post-Chicago column, Kraft invoked the medieval Catholic Church’s concept of “plenary indulgence” (the wholesale forgiveness of sins) to convey some sense of the invincible moral confidence that afflicts so many liberal journalists. That the judgements flowing from such confidence might be construed (by those required to live in circumstances of considerably less moral clarity) as a species of reproof never enters their heads.
 
Also absent from their calculations is the uncomfortable fact that, in a robust secular democracy, truth and falsehood, right and wrong, are what the majority say they are. Nothing makes the majority madder than being preached at by those who came second.
 
If as many New Zealanders voted for Campbell Live with their remotes as currently watch Seven Sharp, its future would be assured.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 April 2015.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Alright, Alright! Here's The Original!

 

THE INCOMPARABLE JOEL GREY (Emcee) sings "Willkommen" - the creepy/raunchy overture to Bob Fosse's magnificent 1972 movie, Cabaret. The sceptics who questioned whether Christopher Isherwood meets Broadway meets Hollywood couldn't possibly work needn't have worried. John Kander's score and Fred Ebb's libretto didn't just ensure that Fosse's movie was a smash hit, they also delivered a disturbing warning about what can happen when people attempt to "leave their troubles outside" by shutting the door on political reality and loosing themselves in a hedonistic, make-believe world where "even the orchestra is beautiful".

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.