In the world of politics, it is seldom the truth that wins out, but the perception of truth.
How painfully true that statement is right now.
It would be fair to say that it has been a tough old week for some in the world of kiwi politics. The main party on the left has taken quite the hammering, and how the next few days plays out is going to make all the difference.
Its irrelevant now what the actual truth is. The damage has been done. Perceptions mean everything in todays world, and the savvy know this. It is all about the PR spin. In this weeks saga the 'leakers' of the information and the PR firm behind the 'leakers', knew timing would be critical.
And so I wonder...
How ethical is it for the 'leakers' to have sat on that information for such a long time?
They knew all about it and they failed to disclose the fateful paperwork until the timing was just right. They waited for the Leader of the Opposition, DC, to state publicly that he had no knowledge of that situation. Interesting to note that the media asked some pertinent and might I say, leading questions (is that a morality issue in itself I wonder...) that set up DC quite nicely, all before the OIA had actually come through so the 'leakers' I expect are behind that as well. Then media (I suspect through the 'leakers' pre warning them of the contents but not wanting to be implicated themselves), magically release it the very next day, rendering their victim as a fool and an incompetent liar. Thats not the reality because DC spoke with the knowledge he had - but its the perception that he lied. And the perception is powerful. It feeds the bias the public has for distrusting politicians.
Why did the 'leakers' not release the letter in parliament?
The 'leakers' have been reported as saying Mr Liu, the person at the heart of the leaked letter, has been debated in parliament for 'months'. Does anyone else wonder why then, considering they have had a copy of this letter for over 6 weeks, they themselves didn't produce this 'evidence' in parliament? Of course, I forgot, silly me - timing is everything! Why act with integrity when you can use your information to trap someone for your own gain. A further wonder is just why are the leakers not being asked by the media why they didn't release it sooner, if they knew. To date I have not seen a report on that - and I have been waiting all weekend to see there is balance.
More importantly, why did they push for the release of the letter full stop, when they had their own letters kept secret?
I am no expert in these things, but I have heard of the old adage 'if you live in a glasshouse', and that does seem to apply here. It smacks of hypocrisy to slam one person for not being upfront, all the while knowing you had your own secret letters. Interestingly, there is little more on this fact either.
Why is the media not asking the 'leakers' some key questions?
I have been thinking about this for some time. The media has a huge responsibility to be impartial (unless they are a political commenter or writing an opinion piece) and to report the truth. So, in the pursuit of truth you would imagine that the media players would be lined up to ask the tricky questions.
In fact, my questions - if I was a journo - would be along these lines;
On the letter:
- Who advised you about the 'letter'?
- Who else knew about the letter other than the PM and Immigration Minister?
- Why did you not release the letter in the house when you were debating Mr Lui?
- You say Mr Luis donations and connections have been debated in parliament for over two months, and you have had the letter in your possession for at least 6 weeks - why did you not release it sooner?
- What were you hoping to achieve by releasing this letter now, at this specific time?
- Whose idea was it to advise the media of the existence of this letter? (of course they would advise that they were not behind it in which case I'd go further to say, 'So you are confident there is no evidence to suggest anyone involved with you or the party spoke with the media about this before hand?')
- How long have you known about the alleged extra $150,000 in donations?
- How did you find out about that alleged donation?
- Who else knew about this, and why did you not bring this up during the two months you have all been debating this in parliament?
- Who else is involved in knowing about this from your organisation?
- What were you hoping to achieve in providing this information to the media but not in parliament during the times you were debating Lui?
- There was mention that the PM was confident there would be more information to come on the donations front. How did he know this?
Of course, depending on the way the answers went there would be some tweaking and modifying. I don't doubt that I could write the likely answers, because that is the way a good PR spin machine works - only answer what you are told to answer, all other times use subterfuge.
Which brings us back to perception. If the 'leakers' can maintain their shock and horror at the turn of events, and keep on trotting out the line that DC has 'much to explain', and look how 'thin' his credibility is, then the publics perception is that DC is slippery and lacks credibility. All the while, the real people who lack credibility and ethics are those who knew about the letter, but failed to disclose it in the house. Here, the truth is irrelevant - it is the perception of the truth that matters.
Does the media realise how important their role is in providing the truth, and how what they chose to report, or not, shapes societies perceptions?
The media has an important job to play when it comes to assisting the public with deciphering the truth in a situation. Especially in an election year. For the most part, I quite like our journalists. I don't always agree with them, but I like their style. I particularly like opinion pieces, most of whom I don't agree with, but I like that they put their thinking out there and there is no second guessing. I imagine it is important to gain the trust of politicians from both sides of the house, and to be known as a balanced reporter.
I do wonder if they realise that sometimes they are being played and manipulated, a part of the PR machine that is political spin. Perhaps they do - perhaps that is part of the 'game' that we the unsuspecting pubic are not privy to. What is interesting in this case is that the media had a part to play in setting DC up as well. If I have read the report correctly, on Tuesday they asked him what seems like leading questions, perhaps in the hopes they could trap him to say he knew nothing about it. I am guessing that they already knew about the letter or had been promised a leaked copy and someone suggested they ask DC those questions. Then, the letter is released under OIA. I wonder, in that context, who had the most to gain from that line of questioning. I also wonder, had they already seen a copy but could not release until it had been given to them under OIA so as not to implicate their sources? (I am such a sceptic these days)
There are two ways that could have played out. They could have said 'we have been promised paper work that suggests you supported Mr Liu - would you care to tell us more about that?" or the way they did it. I appreciate the way they did it sells more papers and is more sensationalist, and I understand that. I expect that they will be just as balanced with the other side of the house and use the same strategies in the future, should such an opportunity present itself.
At any rate, the media are the make or the break of a situation like this one, and I am still hopeful that a wily reporter will dig a bit deeper and ferret out the back story. This is not about a letter as such - but about how to manipulate a situation to set up DC and twist public perception. When you look at the questions used on Tuesday, you understand how much of the medias handling of this fuelled perception. How far will the media go to right this, I wonder? Time will tell.
Why could DCs staff not find the letter or knew about it, but the current PM and Immigration Minister did, and had a copy of it?
I believe DC was acting on the best information he had. His staff had searched but failed to find anything, as was his understanding. This close to an election, DC would know that something like this would be political suicide if he was 'caught out'. If we use logic, then we can objectively look at this situation and believe that he was confident he was in the right based on what he knew of the issue. Either way, he was let down on all accounts.
I wonder who leaked the letter?
Who has the biggest axe to grind? Did the 'leakers' go on a massive ferret hunt all by themselves to find a smidgeon of dust so that they could twist peoples perceptions and turn it into a massive mudslide of dirt? Or did they have help? I wonder if we will ever find out or if the media will ask...given the implication that the media knew quite a lot before they actually got the OIA, then I suspect they will not go on a hunt to find the masterminds of the set up.
Was it an inside job? (I am not leaning that way)
Some pundits have hinted it could have been an inside job. I find that abhorrent and I naively refuse to entertain that as a valued option. No political party, on the left or right would be so foolish this close to an election surely? I'm more inclined to think that that is part of the PR spin - sell the public the perception of instability enough times and they will eventually buy it. If it was to be the case then the party members have every right to demand payment in blood. Heads should roll and atonement made. However, until proven otherwise I refuse to believe sabotage.
Why didn't one of DCs staffers come forward and say 'we looked, we didn't find, were sorry to have let our boss down'?
Its about ownership of a situation. I appreciate that he did not push one of his staffers under a bus, many politicians before him have done just that. That shows he has a moral compass and ethical set of guidelines and I like that about him. It is not easy being set up and finding the right path to take when the fight is against perception, and perception is winning. The truth, as I outlined before, is irrelevant to the minds of voters.
Is it fair? No.
Is it right? No.
Is it equitable? No.
It is however part of the political landscape. That is why it is a shame someone on his staff didn't take one for the team, or that his Chief of Staff didn't step forward with a coordinated line. The fact that DC refused to sell out his team does say more about the values of his party than it does about those who set him up.
Was the timing of the medias release of politicians being one of the least trusted professions and the leaking of the signed letter...lucky timing and coincidence or carefully orchestrated plan?
I don't know the answer to this wondering. Either way, it certainly helped to feed into the bias mentioned above. In terms of a beautiful cohesion of manipulating perception, it doesn't get much better. Coincidence of not, I bet the 'leakers' were smiling all the way to the PR boardroom.
Finally, I wonder how 'accurate' the signed statement of Luis is re the $150,000 in donations is?
I wonder this for several reasons. It does seem awfully convenient. Just like that, he recalls a bottle of wine worth $100,000, signed by Helen Clark. I am Helens biggest fan, but no one in their right mind would buy a signed bottle of plonk for that amount of money - not unless its gold plated, has some kind of 100yr old history or was the bottle on the table as Captain Cook landed. More importantly, if someone had, there would be evidence of the fact somewhere. People in Labour would remember. It would have been written about somewhere. You just don't forget a purchase/donation of that magnitude. Surely someone would have asked Helen if she remembered...
Then there is the sudden, and oh so conveniently timed, signed statement. Just like that, Lui suddenly signs a statement to say he's donated $150,000 to Labour, but again, the 'leakers' don't produce their evidence and the signed statement until DC has said, publicly, there is no evidence he's aware of, or knowledge about it. Cue sinister music. DC is not stupid. This is an election year and he is already sailing close to the wind regarding public perception. There is no way he would publicly say that unless that is what he believed as true.
The Daily Blog explains how Luis statement is just that - its not an affidavit and links to a good article on why legally that is important. Like Bradbury, I also wonder about the legitimacy of the statement, and how on earth no one in Labour can recall these mysterious donations, if they are indeed fact, and if they are not, how dirty the 'leakers' hands may be in this mess.
The damage is done. Fact or fiction, the perception of lies and cover ups, hypocrisy and disorganised disarray has just been further strengthened by this recent allegation.
Either way, perception is a powerful thing. Truth will always struggle to prevail when the machine that is public perception is fully fired up and on a roll. Add some 'Teflon Politics' into the mix and many a politician has been caught in the trap of flailing pubic perception.
Maybe one day it will be truth that prevails, not perception.