Wednesday, March 17, 2010

As they say, not do

Oldline print newsmedia in New Zealand have an odd fixation with blogs: When mentioned at all, it’s usually to dismiss them or to suggest that they alone are destroying newspapers, or worse. Most of the time, newspapers’ contempt for blogs is obvious.

Most of the time—unless a rightwing blog makes a dubious charge.

The latest example came yesterday when Stuff reported—virtually unchecked—on a blog post by a far-right blogger who alleged Labour List MP Charles Chauvel told the blogger’s child to “shut up” “three times” on a recent flight to Wellington. The two sides remember the incident quite differently, but Stuff seemed to buy the blogger’s version, placing the story in the “tabloid box” on its main page. The New Zealand Herald later picked up the story and echoed the tabloid-y Stuff angle.

Today the Herald updated its story, balancing it a bit and suggesting that Chauvel wasn’t the only passenger bothered by the children’s behaviour, and noting that the blogger’s wife never heard anything. The blogger claims that, while his children were being noisy, it was only “the odd squawk a few yells and disagreements but nothing that your average person on a short domestic flight could dismiss undercover of an insipid tea, a packet of crisps and a magazine.” (I think he meant to say, “couldn’t dismiss”—unless he was being more honest than he intended).

He also makes the absurd claim, “I have no reason to construct this. This is what happened.” No reason? Apart, apparently, from being an activist in the neocon Act Party? Despite being part of a blog that’s notorious for attacks on Labour? No reason apart from all that?

The blogger goes on: “This is how a Labour front bencher acted in public, when his party is on 30% in the polls, when the accusations of ‘out of touch’ are still ripe and the electorate is still trying to digest the ‘many but the few’ mantra.” He also suggests that Chauvel, who is gay, “despises” children, a typical right-wing smear against gay people. In fact, homophobic posts are common on that site, as are posts that are sexist, racist or classist (I know: I had a good look around).

If the children’s noise was really so inconsequential, why were other passengers annoyed, too? And if passengers are supposed to “dismiss undercover of an insipid tea, a packet of crisps and a magazine” such disturbances, why could he not do the same? Unless, of course, he saw it as an opportunity for a politically-motivated rant.

I have no problem with bloggers launching into such rants because I do them, too (though I try to base it on at least some semblance of fact). However, treating such a rant as a real news story was stupid and wrong.

Given their antipathy toward blogs, you’d think oldline newsmedia would’ve been more dismissive. Was there a darker motive? The left-leaning The Standard suggests that this beat-up isn’t the result of oldline newsmeda’s collusion with the right, but rather “a result of the growing tabloidisation of the media”, something they blame on the need for scandal to fill the void left by media conglomerates slashing the numbers of real journalists. However, they also suggest that it’s “no coincidence” that recent right-wing smears, reported as news by the oldline newsmedia, targeted gay MPs.

One thing is certain, though: The only news here was that the oldline newsmedia treated it as news when they tell us to ignore blogs.

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