Key is squandering any remaining media goodwill

Fairfax journo Tracy Watkins is letting her wishful thinking get in the way today in a piece where she posits Key is “burning political capital” over the Hager/Fisher GCSB “revelations”.

Are the latest leaked documents important? Yes, of course.

Actually, they’re not.

They detail the vast and indiscriminate store of information gathered by the Government Communications Security Bureau, including plenty that must surely breach the spirit, if not the technicalities, of the 2013 GCSB Act.

Once the media get back to the “spirit” of news reporting instead of running the country, they might actually have a leg to stand on.

The Act spells out that it is illegal for the agency to intercept the private communications of New Zealand citizens and residents, except in specific circumstances or when it is “incidentally obtained” ? which, as we now know, is likely to include while they are lying on a beach in Samoa.

There are bound to be diplomatic ripples, meanwhile, over the extent to which the GCSB reaches into the Pacific.

There are bound not to be. ?Unless you’ve been living under a rock, are particularly unaware of how the real world works, or you have your own ‘outrage’ agenda, people 1) know their stuff is up for grabs, and 2) they truly don’t care.

We are told that the targets include friends and foe alike, though we are yet to see any direct evidence of ?that claim ? say, for instance, a transcript of a private phone call between the prime minister of Samoa and his mates.

Nonetheless, it is probably no coincidence that John Key will embark on a goodwill tour of the Pacific later this year, including a likely stop-off in Fiji.

Yeah, that’s right. ?John Key wasn’t going on a Pacific trip until Hager and Fisher dusted off some Helen Clark era stolen documents to try and blow some life back into the same old issue. ? And now Key needs to go around a tour to calm down his Pacific neighbours. ? That has to be the reason. ?

Key’s reaction to Thursday’s revelations came straight out of his highly effective campaign ’14 playbook: he rubbished the gang of spy-watchers as Left-wing kooks and labelled the leaks a bunch of lies and misinformation ? and that was before anyone, including Key, had actually even seen what Snowden had.

This was presumably based on his knowledge via the NSA and GCSB of exactly what information was held by Snowden in relation to New Zealand, but that only undercut his argument that it was all made up anyway.

Hager has a clear record of taking a few bits of vague information and writing his own narrative around it. ?It wouldn’t get any traction for the fact that the media at large are happy to give him the platform to continue his “investigative” work, which is nothing less than activism.

Key’s explanation following the release similarly defied logic; on the one hand, he held firm that the information was half baked, inaccurate and incomplete, and on the other you had to be an idiot not to expect the GCSB to spy on foreign countries, including in the Pacific.

Our media are incapable of understanding the basics. ?New Zealand may capture the information, but it may never directly access it itself. ?It is provided to other Five Eyes partners to analyse. ?This is, after all, both a legislative trick to get around (don’t spy on your own people) and a political and diplomatic trick (don’t spy on your friends).

I find it interesting that nobody has suggested Australia spy in New Zealand, or that New Zealand spies on on Australia. ?Because they do. ?It is impossible to intercept comms and avoid this, even if you wanted to. ?But that doesn’t suit anyone’s carefully constructed story.

One of those explanations can be true, but not both.Key’s response was as unconvincing as it was over the top, and it fell short of what he could have offered given the GCSB’s recent sorry history.

Yes, they are both true. ?I can’t help it if you’re dense or you’re helping Hager screw the scrum.

A reasoned and considered defence of the GCSB and its work, including a detailed explanation as to why Snowden had it so wrong as Key claimed would have carried a lot more weight and would have quickly shut the story down.

Instead, Key’s response was to greet any questions with a mix of bluster, bullying and putdowns.

And that’s why?even Fairfax have decided to start pushing the NZ Herald vacuous hit piece – they don’t like being spoken to and dealt with the way Key has been speaking to them and dealing with them. ? This isn’t about the substance, or the lack of it, it’s about how they don’t like Key.

That he is frustrated with some of the silliness surrounding the GCSB and spying in general is understandable; it is naive to argue, for instance, that because the documentation shows we spy on the Pacific rather than al Qaeda that Key has lied about the role of our GCSB in combating terrorism.

Yeah, but let’s put it out there anyway, eh?

Key’s handling of the latest revelations may suit his political purposes.

But as a precursor to this year’s long-awaited review of the intelligence agencies it does not offer any comfort that the outcome will be greater transparency and openness over a cowboy outfit that has had little of either over the years.

Who the hell wants greater transparency of national security surveillance? ?Seriously. ?Only Hager and his media poodles. ?Nobody else cares. ?We can see in our day to day lives, and we have seen in our day to day lives for as long as we’ve been alive there is absolutely?no practical, visible or actual threat to New Zealanders.

We have the media continuously telling us the GCSB is bad. ?And we can not see it. ?Where are all the people that are rounded up in the streets? ? Where are the raids? ? Where are the stories of people that are anti-government or anti-USA disappearing without a trace?

The bluster and bravado is also a side to Key that is growing increasingly familiar. It is founded in National’s firm belief that the public will buy his version of events over the media or his opponents any day.

And there you have it. ?A whole op-ed finally comes down to the nub: ?the media are increasingly frustrated that their ability to influence opinion is waning.

It was John Armstrong last week, incensed that Key had “gone over the Media’s heads direct to the public”.

Given his ongoing popularity National’s confidence in Key’s huge store of political capital helping it ride out controversy is justifiable.

Given the media’s continued attempts to act like the opposition party, it is a natural outcome. ?Key is able to communicate with people directly. ?Twitter, Facebook, on the ground, and dare I say it: ?via blogs.

But political capital is not limitless.

And Key has become increasingly cavalier about squandering it on silly stuff.

Nobody likes being wrong, of course, and especially in politics when the stakes are much higher.But it seems to be the curse of all third-term prime ministers that they eventually come to believe they are infallible.

Once again the media are trying to tell you what to think instead of reporting the realities.

The only political capital John Key is expending here is with the journalists who are getting increasingly frustrated with Key. ?The GCSB story itself has no legs. ?It is pushed by Hager and thoroughly discredited Herald journo David Fisher?at a time National needs “damage” because there is a by-election on.

The majority of NZ Herald poll respondents, the majority of National voters, and indeed the majority of most New Zealanders can’t see the problem here.

But that doesn’t stop the media from finding ways to express their increasing displeasure with John Key in the way he doesn’t treat them with respect and refuses to play their games.

Key has indeed burned a lot of political capital, and he’s set to burn a lot more. ?But it won’t be over the GCSB “issue” that is as contrived as it is shallow.


– Tracy Watkins, Stuff