Andrea Vance and others in RNZ’s MediaWatch this weekend have been bewailing the absence of public concern about their allegations (or disclosure) of politician lying.
They are right to be anxious that democracy may not be safe if lies have no cost. The questioning in the programme tested the concern.
But most revealing was an incredible lack of elite awareness of their own intellectual limitations (or blinkers). Some journalists are intelligent enough to understand that ordinary citizens will not care what is thought by journalists who despise them and their values. But few political journalists know why ordinary people think as they do.
When they find out they despise them. A remarkable demonstration last week of elite arrogance from a Treasury pet intellectual reminded me of my experience with political journalists. Bernard Cadogan has been paid to advise Treasury on Brexit, from his English academic perch. In an extraordinary hour he sneered and preened in a revealing display of why ordinary English voters would have ceased to listen to his class. Toward the end he purported to illustrate how stupid were the Leave advocates and popular referenda generally with a comparison to the NZ “Law and Order referendum” of 1999. According to him it “rabbited on and rabbited on and rabbited on…” and was “impossible for a judge to apply”.
It read “Should there be a reform of our Justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?”. This measure passed by 91.78%.
In fact that vote reverberated in Parliament, and helped overcome the status quo defense of the Justice establishment. It played a significant role in the toughening up that may have belatedly helped reverse our climbing serious violent crime rates.
I spent my years in Parliament with virtually no media interest whatsoever in criminal justice facts, research or policy analysis. As a typical swot, I fondly thought when I entered Parliament that they would be important. Instead all the work I put into criminal justice policy was repaid by constant repetition of the media’s brand of me and ACT as “far right”. In fact most of the policy innovations I advanced were drawn from Bill Clinton’s 1996 reforms, and much of the political language from the UK Labour Party website.
None of that stopped routine reports as if of fact that our policy was cynical populism we could not possibly believe (because we were perceived as intelligent) . I recall not one attempt over 6 years to investigate the policy details or the material my digging got out of official statistics.
The journalists who are realising that most voters no longer care what the media and elite say to each other, will not find a route back to public respect. They despise the public who voted for the Norm Withers referendum too much to apply open minds and sympathy to ordinary values, beliefs and fears.
The media bubble is oblivious to how thoroughly it has suppressed the expression of ordinary people’s real opinions, even by their Members of Parliament. Only Winston Peters can defend many common sense expressions without a collective media swoon then hysterical screeching. Even within families ordinary people often keep their thoughts to themselves to avoid derision from the bien pensant family members.
In consequence politicians and media can lie to each other without the rest of us caring much at all.