When dirt gets thrown around in politics, everyone involved emerges looking grubby. In fact we are all going to suffer from the Len Brown scandal and its corrosive implications.
This column looks at who has most to lose, in what way, and if anyone stands to gain any advantage at all from the scandal. This morning David Farrar has also written a comprehensive survey of the Lengate losers and winners, and pointedly notes that ‘there are far more losers than winners’. So who are the losers, and why?
Politicians and democracy suffers
In an age in which politicians, political parties, and politics in general is regarded very poorly by the public, this scandal will only further entrench anti-political attitudes. The reputations of all politicians are at stake, and the political process – whether at local or national level – is likely to be tarred by this scandal. This will particularly be the case if this scandal is the catalyst for further scandals in escalating retaliation. Political competition in New Zealand is not traditionally centred around scandals and allegations about personal lives.
There is an unspoken commitment from all politicians not to venture too far into this sphere on the understanding that everyone will suffer from a war based on scandal.
Much like nuclear détente, politicians hold off from pushing the ‘red button’ in the knowledge that the other side will retaliate by unleashing their own allegations – see my comments in TVNZ’s story, Expect more dirty tricks in local politics warns expert.
The Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse has commented on this: ‘Making political gains out of people's private lives is a really slippery slope. It is a culture that New Zealand politics absolutely doesn't need…. My worry is where the line suddenly starts to blur about what is in the public interest and what is simply salacious, lip-smacking interest and I have no time for that’ – see Stuff’s Sex scandal reverberates. (For a very different take on this, see Mark Blackham’s Power elite rally for Brown.)
The logical outcome of the rise of political scandals alongside negative campaigning and trivialised coverage of politics is a decline in public participation in politics. The extraordinarily low voter turnout witnessed in the most recent general and local elections is partly due to the public’s disdain for politicians. Therefore, I think Mai Chen has it wrong today in her Herald column – Voter apathy is a serious issue – when she seeks to divorce the Len Brown scandal from the issue of identifying the cause of the voter turnout problem.
Of course the Len Brown sex scandal is hardly this country’s first – see TVNZ’s New Zealand political sex scandals and Chris Trotter’s Adultery and Democracy: Should Len Brown Resign?
The blogosphere and new media blamed
What makes the Brown scandal a potentially landmark one for New Zealand, is the extreme degree of lurid detail involved. Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil blog, in breaking this story, has spared few details of the relationship. In the past, when the traditional media has covered such scandals, more restraint has been shown. Media lawyer Steven Price has argued that Len Brown could take successful legal action against Slater because ‘the sordid and salacious detail in the original story on Whale Oil’s blog breached his privacy. In short, this is because it was unnecessary to provide that level of detail to serve the public interest’ – see his blogpost, Can Len Brown sue for invasion of privacy?
In one sense Slater has become much more important as a result of this scandal. As Farrar argues, ‘Whale likes nothing more than page views and visits. He’s had 750,000 page views in two days. He not only broke the story, but covered himself by insisting on tape recordings and sworn affidavits. Cameron doesn’t want to be liked – he wants to be relevant, and this week he has set the news’.
But Slater may also find himself increasingly marginalised, particularly by the National Party who will be extremely uncomfortable with his tawdry treatment of this episode, rendering him persona non grata at all levels of the party. His tactics may also harm the very party he wants to succeed at the next election.
Bevan Chuang turning against him is particularly damaging – see Simon Day’s Feud between ex-mistress, blogger. See also, Scott Yorke’s ambiguous parody post, I am disappointed in you. Slater’s colleague, Stephen Cook, is likely to also suffer further damage to his reputation as a result of how the scandal has evolved.
To some degree, the whole blogosphere will be tarred with the same brush. For many, the scandal will reinforce the ‘wild west’ reputation of all social media. Unlike traditional scandals, this one has clearly revolved around the blogosphere, with much of the evolving story occurring on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. And for an update on what is being said about the scandal on Twitter, see my blogpost, Top tweets about the Len Brown scandal (updated).
The Media’s tabloid risks
The traditional media is already receiving criticism for reporting on this scandal and some believe that the mainstream outlets are letting commercial sensationalist values drive the story. There’s the possibility, therefore, that some of the public will regard the media as sinking into tabloid, gutter values in covering the story. Ironically, it’s Cameron Slater who is the media’s biggest critic – see, for example, his post, Sex Sells, Dodgy Rooting Ratbags Create Massive Interest.
Surprisingly, one journalist has even lost his job over the scandal – see Jared Savage’s NBR journalist Jock Anderson fired for column supporting Len Brown. This is analysed in more detail by Greg Presland’s Standard blogpost, The NBR and Editorial Independence.
An embarrassment for the political right
The sheer sordidness of the coverage of this scandal has the potential to be extremely damaging for the political right – especially in Auckland – and particularly for the National Party, which is closely linked to Slater. National will be very keen not to be seen as guilty by association. Judith Collins, for example, who is seen as being close to Slater and often endorses his blogposts, may have to distance herself from the controversial blogger. The Brown scandal reeks of dirty tricks and negative politics, both of which are voter poison.
Cameron Slater’s father John Slater is, of course, a senior National Party figure, and was the campaign manager for John Palino’s mayoral campaign. Slater senior and Palino have both been damaged by all of this – see Brian Rudman’s Sex, blogs and right-wing plots. Until the scandal broke, it was apparent that Palino might have future success as a mayoral candidate, but this effectively rules out any future political career. It’s not surprising therefore that Bernard Orsman reports today that Palino and fiancee keep a low profile.
Not everyone on the Auckland rightwing will be disadvantaged by the scandal however. Cameron Brewer is now well placed as the rightwing front-runner for the next mayoral contest. He has wisely kept well clear of this controversy, therefore avoiding guilt by association.
Attention has also turned to the role of one of Palino’s campaign workers, Luigi Wewege, who appears to have been instrumental in bringing this scandal to light – see the Herald’s Mayor saga: Who is Luigi Wewege? For further analysis of Wewege and the other important players in the Auckland political right, see Russell Brown’s Everybody's Machiavelli. Brown is particularly critical of Stephen Cook, saying: ‘The question he should be expected to answer before he gets to say anything else is this: Is he being paid for these stories? And if so, by whom? Freelance journalists don’t usually work for free, and Cook can’t exactly be flush with employment since Truth went under’.
Bevan Chuang’s downfall
One of the major twists in the sage was when the main female protagonist, Bevan Chuang, turned against her rightwing partners in the scandal.
This is best conveyed in the article by Jared Savage and Bernard Orsman, Chuang: I felt pressured to reveal Brown affair. She has now suffered major embarrassment and will be seen by most as one of the biggest losers in the scandal she helped create.
She is having to endure the dirt being dished on her own background – such as Jared Savage’s Revealed: Chuang's computer criminal past. Chuang is also receiving some criticism from within the Asian community – see Inside Flat3’s An Open Letter to Bevan Chuang.
For some sort of defence of Chuang, see Slater’s Why the full court press against Bevan Chuang? and Greg Presland’s In defence of Bevan Chuang.
The biggest loser – Len Brown
At this stage it’s hard to tell just how badly Len Brown will suffer from this scandal. There are certainly some items that give a more positive reading of the situation for Brown. Blogger Andrew Robertson correctly dismisses the various online opinion polls about the issue and points to a better indication of what the public might think – see: New Zealanders differentiate the public from the private life of politicians. Similarly, see Mark Blackham’s Why political sex matters.
There is also good reason for believing that the increased focus on the role of rightwing political agendas will also help Brown – see Colin Espiner’s New claims may save Brown. See also, Espiner’s Can Brown stage a political resurrection?
Much is made of Brown’s conservative Christian supporters and how they are likely to abandon him. Yet TV3 reports one of Brown’s rival mayoral candidates, Reverend Uesifili Unasa, as being more positive about the situation – see: Unasa urges Brown to make amends for 'betrayal'.
There is still debate about whether Brown has brought the scandal on himself due to his self-promotion as a morally upstanding family man. Brian Edwards looks at this in his blogpost, On Len Brown And The Problem With Haloes. Cameron Slater also points to examples of Len Brown and campaigning on values.
Brown’s family have also brought themselves into the story further by writing an open letter – see: Len Brown daughters: 'We stand by Dad'. Slater criticises this in Brown desperate as he drags daughters into the spotlight to fight battles for him.
The revelations keep coming, making things worse for Brown. The reference for Chuang was bad enough – see Stephen Cook’s Whaleoil post, Brown helping Chuang get council job, gave personal reference. But now there is speculation about free hotels – see Bernard Orsman and Lincoln Tan’s Chuang: Mayor dipped into own pocket for hotel rooms. Slater comments on these allegations in Brown didn’t pay with council cash but did take freebies for hotels.
Some of the legalities of the situation are discussed by Andrew Geddis in a 5-minute TV3 video interview and article – see: Law weak on philandering mayor – expert.
Another very good analysis – making some similar points to this column – is the Dominion Post’s editorial, A sordid affair in all regards. This argues that Brown is ‘undoubtedly the victim of dirty politics’, and that ‘none of those drawn into the expanding controversy will emerge with their reputations enhanced’. Duncan Garner also has some interesting opinions in his RadioLive column, Resign and stand again Len Brown.
The real winners
The biggest winners from the Brown scandal are the satirists who will dine out for weeks on both the issues and colourful personalities involved. To see how the cartoonists are covering the scandal, see my blogpost, Images of the Len Brown scandal. For an amusing video montage of Len Brown’s history, watch TVNZ’s 2-minute Len Brown the 'cream whippin' king.
NZPD Editor (bryce.edwards@
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Lengate losers and winners
Duncan Garner (RadioLive): Resign and stand again Len Brown
Mark Blackham (Political business): Power elite rally for Brown
Brendan Manning (Herald): Key: No confidence lost over Brown affair
Michael Field (Stuff): Key all 'business' with Brown
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Luigi Wewege, Whaleoil and Judith Collins walk into a bar…
Dan Satherley (TV3): Law weak on philandering mayor - expert
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Why the full court press against Bevan Chuang?
TVNZ: Len Brown: It's a beautiful day
Poetic Alice: A Poem dedicated to Len Brown
Brian Rudman (Herald): Sex, blogs and right-wing plots
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Brown didn’t pay with council cash but did take freebies for hotels
Greg Presland (The Standard): The NBR and Editorial Independence
Mai Chen (Herald): Voter apathy is a serious issue
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Sex Sells, Dodgy Rooting Ratbags Create Massive Interest
Taranaki Daily News: Editorial – Brown should consider standing down
Russell Brown (Public Address): Everybody's Machiavelli
Claire Trevett (Herald): Best advice: Keep it in your pants
Stuff: Brown affair to be reviewed
Josh Martin (Stuff): NBR journalist fired over Brown article
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Campbell v Brown
Jared Savage (Herald): NBR journalist Jock Anderson fired for column supporting Len Brown
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Jock Anderson fired from NBR for supporting Len Brown?
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Len Brown and campaigning on values
Stuff: Sex scandal reverberates
Dominion Post: Editorial: A sordid affair in all regards
The Press: Editorial: A two-timing cheat as mayor
Lincoln Tan (Herald): Ex-mistress: I feel used
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Top council pair stonewall on key questions arising from affair
3 News/RadioLIVE: Tremain 'keeping distance' in Brown saga
Maria Slade (Stuff): Fifty Shades of Brown: A workplace lesson
Radio NZ: Brown could be back to work in days
Southland Times: Editorial: Wrong on how many levels?
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Palino and fiancee keep a low profile
Herald: Mayor saga: Who is Luigi Wewege?
Bernard Orsman and Lincoln Tan (Herald): Chuang: Mayor dipped into own pocket for hotel rooms
Amanda Gillies (TV3): Chuang fragile and overwhelmed - Slater
Stuff: Brown affair to be reviewed
Michelle Boag (Herald): Personal failing doesn't affect ability to lead
Jared Savage (Herald): Revealed: Chuang's computer criminal past
3 News/Newswire: Daughters back under-fire Auckland Mayor
RadioLIVE: Facebook status from Bevan Chuang
Pete George (Your NZ): Super city clusterfuck
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Brown desperate as he drags daughters into the spotlight to fight battles for him
Redline: Brown stains
Keeping Stock: The editorial that got Jock sacked
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): New claims may save Brown
Bob McCroskrie (McBlog): Comparisons between JONES & BROWN
Ted Somerset (Redline): Lenardo of Auckland
Pete George (Your NZ): Brown/male good, Chuang/female bad?
Cameron Slater (Whaleloil): Preparing for the whitewash
Cameron Slater (Whaleloil): The Peking Duck room? No outrage over Jones’ comments
John Banks/Sky City
James Henderson (The Standard): Stopping casinos hurting our communities
Jane Clifton (Stuff): Testing Speaker's temper ill-advised
3 News Online Staff (TV3): Greens want pre-commitment cards for pokies
Radio NZ: Greens problem gambling plan
Herald: The Insider: Gangster style
Isaac Davison (Herald): Greens introduce gambling policy
Isaac Davison and Heather McCracken (Herald): Solicitor General considers John Banks case
Adam Ray (TV3): Who is Graham McCready?
Peter Wilson (Newswire): Heated debate in Parliament over Banks
Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Banks shouldn't vote on SkyCity – Greens
The Standard: Point of order, Mr Speaker!
No Right Turn: Unfit to be Speaker
Chris Ford (Voxy): John Banks and ACT are finished regardless of court case outcome
Claire Trevett (Herald): Key's 'stability' may be as wobbly as blancmange
Isaac Davison (Herald): NZ First focus on early election
Claire Trevett (Herald): Cup-of-tea stunts grow cold
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Does Cunliffe prefer NZ First to Greens
Mike Smith (The Standard): Roy Morgan – easy win for Labour/Greens?
Pete George (Your NZ): Roy Morgan rugged for right
The Standard: The sick state of the right
Newswire: $23 billion in NZ Super Fund
Andrew Cardow (Stuff): Reserve Bank's the hero, not the villain
Robert Scollay (Herald): NZ must not be a bystander in free trade negotiations
Corin Dann (TVNZ): The political battleground of interest rates
Paul McBeth (Newswire): Default KiwiSaver funds stay conservative
James Henderson (The Standard): Double Dipton’s doublethink
Local body elections
Amy Jackman and Boris Jancic (Stuff): Beaten candidates reflect on results
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Premature success
No Right Turn: Typical
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Local Government success story – Cameron Brewer
Harry Love (ODT): Market zealotry a threat to universities
Thomas Mead (TV3): Single-sex schools to share Christchurch site
Isaac Davison (Herald): Changes to student loans slated
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Effective schools
Law and order
No Right Turn: A gap that needs to be filled
No Right Turn: More police crime
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Minister says there's no culture problem in police
Radio NZ: Smith defends DoC funding
Newswire: Privileges complaint a stunt – Smith
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Did Nick and Doris conspire on this?
Adam Bennett (Herald): NZ First shuts down social media pages
Aimee Gulliver (Stuff): NZ First social media shut
3 News Online Staff (TV3): NZ First quits Facebook
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): NZ First youth wing head under investigation
Andrea Fox (Stuff): Danone puts scare damage bill at $564m
Sue O’Dowd (Stuff): Flagship dairy farm showed off
Karl du Fresne (Stuff): Tenacity and TV a wonderful thing
Morgan Tait (Herald): Anglicans in clear over gay-man case
Olivia Carville (Stuff): Ill homeless people worry health board
Herald: Law change on research animals
Kurt Bayer (Herald): John Key's expensive holiday tastes
Steven Cowan (Against the Current): In Brief
Lois Cairns (Stuff): Dalziel: Meeting with Brownlee 'hugely positive'
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): UNITE union organiser convicted of selling P
Vernon Small (Stuff): Right to slam talks secrecy
Susan St. John (Daily Blog): A sorry state of affairs