Admonishing Angel: Nicky Hager descends periodically to trouble our consciences and wreak merry havoc with the orderly conduct of our political affairs. But, more than any other journalist in New Zealand, he has taught us to read the actions of those who wield power over and around us in the twenty-first century.
WHAT WILL HISTORY MAKE of Nicky Hager? That slight, perpetually boyish, journalist who descends periodically, like the admonishing angel in a medieval mystery play, to trouble our consciences and wreak merry havoc with the orderly conduct of our political affairs. History will have to make something of him: his interventions have been too important to be dismissed by our political brewers as mere irrelevant froth. But what? That is the question.
Perhaps we should begin by telling the world what Nicky Hager is not. Prime Ministerial judgements notwithstanding, he is not “a screaming left-wing conspiracy-theorist”.
Hager has never, is not, and never will be some sort of avatar of the “left-wing”. He has far too refined a moral sense to be the representative of anything so fractious and morally compromised as the New Zealand Left. Indeed, most left-wingers have little patience for individuals so weighed down by self-imposed scruples. The preferred left-wing soldier is as reluctant to question the ethics of the party-line as Hager is eager to challenge them. Revolutionary bread is typically made from much more coarsely-ground flour.
Nor does Hager scream. His mode of address is invariably polite and carefully measured. Softly-spoken and slow to take offence, Hager is actually the perfect foil for the genuine screamers of the public sphere. These latter cannot abide the fact that Hager is able to inflict so much damage to their cause while speaking in tones of such sweet reasonableness. One imagines their camera lenses, microphones and keyboards flecked with spittle – so great is the rage which he inspires.
Of all the epithets hurled at Hager, by far the most common is that he is a “conspiracy theorist”. I recently heard one of Jim Mora’s panellists, a woman who I would wager has never read a single one of his books, dismiss him as “a grassy-knoll fantasist”. I was surprised she didn’t add that he was generally to be found sporting a jaunty tin-foil hat!
Methinks the lady – and all those others so quick to dismiss Hager’s work as the rantings of a demented conspiracy theorist – doth protest too much. Such people cannot easily accept that what they happily acknowledge as the truth of things may be something else entirely. That the “official” story is, as often as not, a tissue of lies. Or, that the eruptions of mendacity which periodically disturb the placid surface of public life are anything other than unfortunate accidents: cock-ups – not conspiracies. Hager’s books, so meticulously researched and footnoted, so weighed down with names and dates and places, render the cock-up theory unusable by these poor souls, forcing them to focus on facts as uncomfortable as they are irrefutable. Unsurprisingly, he is not thanked for doing so.
Even more upset, however, are the people whose hidden machinations (conspiracies if you like the word better) Hager exposes. Once again, this is hardly surprising. Whether it be the people behind the Echelon spy system; the timber company with its eyes on the native forests of the West Coast; a Labour prime minister who’d neglected to alert the country to the accidental release of genetically-engineered corn; the National Party strategists behind Dr Don Brash’s bid to complete the neoliberal revolution; the New Zealand Defence Force’s strenuous efforts to re-attach New Zealand’s pinky finger to the Anglo-Saxon fist; or, All The Prime Minister’s Men’s e-mail communications with Cameron Slater: these are people who would have preferred their words and deeds to have remained hidden from the public gaze. “Conspiracy theorist!”, in the mouths of such individuals is not a revelation, it’s a diversion.
So what has Hager done? In historical terms, he has taught us how to read the actions of those who wield power over and around us in the twenty-first century. Since the publication of his first book, Secret Power, in 1996, Hager has shown us things our leaders would rather we hadn’t seen. He’s taught us to challenge the official media releases; to question the news stories; and to understand the truth of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s (1804-1881) disturbing observation that: “The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.”
Hager is one of that rare breed of men with whom even History is uncomfortable. He represents neither class nor creed; is the servant of neither political party nor economic interest. He comes to us out of storms of malice, steering his fragile little boat of truth across a raging sea of lies. In the words of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest historians, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Nicky Hager is proof that:
“In the true Literary Man there is thus ever, acknowledged or not by the world, a sacredness: he is the light of the world; the world’s Priest – guiding it, like a sacred Pillar of Fire, in its dark pilgrimage through the waste of Time.”
This essay was posted simultaneously on the Daily Blog and Bowalley Road blogsites on Wednesday, 27 August 2014.