Saturday, January 02, 2010

Honour and dishonour

New Zealand Herald columnist Fran O’Sullivan published a very odd column today. “Passionate Kiwis deserve celebrating” was essentially a long defence of New Year’s Honours given to some people who other people feel aren’t deserving of them. She singles out some she strongly feels deserve honours. Fair enough, she and the Herald are entitled to their opinions.

But then she goes on to declare:

“The mainstream media also serve a binding function by not using the honours list as an easy opportunity to reprise all the controversies, skeletons-in-cupboards, and, black-spots that usually accompany lives that are led in the public domain. Instead, we dwell on the high spots.”

That’s a bit of a dubious claim. The New Year’s Honours list is released during the slowest news period of the entire year when, typically, the problem isn’t reprising skeletons-in-cupboards but skeleton crews of journalists. Also, she’s wrong: “mainstream media”, especially columnists and radio hosts, have often criticised honours they don’t like.

Maybe she was referring to her own paper which, despite it’s clear and obvious antipathy toward the government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, and the Labour Party generally, nevertheless editorialised in a mostly positive way, apart from a few neo-con digs here and there.

Like most long-term mainstream journalists, O’Sullivan apparently feels that all fault is elsewhere: “Out in the blogosphere it is a different matter. Right-wing blogs are apoplectic over Clark's honour. Some lefties are out-raged that [Doug] Myers has been elevated.” So? That’s the point of opinion blogs—to have an opinion.

There are very few people who’d confuse blogs with mainstream newsmedia sites, but sometimes I swear they’re all traditional journalists—at least, that’s the logical conclusion if you merely go by the acres of trees lost so newspaper journalists can trash blogs in print. Seriously, they need to chill out.

Who cares if a blog of any political leaning doesn’t like an honour for one person or another? What possible difference could it make to anyone? And even if old-line newsmedia really did exercise the imaginary restraint that O’Sullivan claims, why should anyone be bound by that?

I said
about this Honours list: “The rest of the list honours people who deserve it as well as some who probably don’t. That’s typical.” And that’s exactly the point that O’Sullivan seems to have missed: No list will please everyone—whether they have a blog or not—and they have the absolute right to say so. For the record, I was thinking of Doug Myers when I said that some honourees “probably don’t” deserve to be honoured (clearly I was neither apoplectic nor “out-raged” if I didn’t even mention him by name).

O’Sullivan has every right to defend honours given to people if she wants to, regardless of whether anyone shares her opinions. But she doesn’t have a unique or special right to express an opinion—or expect others to withhold theirs—just because she works for old-line media.


Nik said...

The Herald's generally taken a rather snarky reactionary tone to blogs, as if they were some curious species of new mushroom or something. It's unbecoming I think and only backfires.

Arthur Schenck said...

You're absolutely right. I'd just add that it makes them increasingly weird, like they're trying to pretend that change doesn't happen.