Thursday 9 July 2020

Why Kurt Taogaga Had To Go.

Sacrificial Lamb: If the stories about Mr Taogaga and the unauthorised release of confidential medical data had been deliberately orchestrated by Labour’s political opponents, their deflection of the news media’s attention away from the Prime Minister’s address to the Labour Party Congress could hardly have been more successful.

THE LABOUR PARTY delisted Kurt Taogaga for one very simple, very brutal, reason:  to appease the mainstream news media. The party was pulling out all the stops to generate as many positive news stories as possible from the Prime Minister’s speech to Labour’s election year congress. Had Mr Taogaga not been purged, his presence on the Party List would have completely overshadowed Jacinda’s speech. By delisting him, Labour’s President, Claire Szabo, demonstrated the seriousness with which the party responds to the slightest hint of Islamophobia. It staunched the wound which Newshub-Nation had very deliberately inflicted on the party. Political triage of this sort is never pretty but, sadly, it is necessary.

The journalistic decision-making that went into the Taogaga story is also rather ugly. Given the skeletal nature of Newshub’s current staffing arrangements, it is hard to see any of its reporters having the time to trawl through Labour’s entire Party List for embarrassing social media postings from several years ago. That’s the sort of job a parliamentary staffer might be tasked with on the off-chance that something politically useful might turn up. Which, in this case, it did.

It is worth emphasising how useful Mr Taogaga’s social media commentary was to the Government’s enemies. A very substantial part of Jacinda Ardern’s dazzling political persona is attributable to her deeply empathic response to the Christchurch mosque shootings. The viral image of Jacinda, hugging in a headscarf, rocked the entire world – it was even projected on the Burg Khalifa. The damage done to her reputation, should she fail to move immediately against a Party List candidate found to have posted anti-Islamic sentiments on social media, is easily imagined. Instant cauterisation of the media-inflicted wound was the only viable option.

If Newshub was tipped-off by a parliamentary source, it raises the question: should they have allowed themselves to be used to inflict political damage on the Government? After all, Mr Taogaga’s indiscretion (if that is what it was) took place seven years ago in 2013. What’s more, his comments were made well before he became involved in Labour Party politics. What were the ethics of using information this old to almost certainly destroy a young man’s political career? What should the producer of Newshub-Nation done?

In another era of current affairs broadcasting, she would, at the very least, have made an effort to put Mr Taogaga’s comments in context.

Between 2012 and 2013 the number of deaths from terrorism had increased by 61 percent. In 10,000 terrorist attacks 17,958 people had been killed. According to the BBC: “Five countries - Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria - accounted for 80% of the deaths from terrorism in 2013. More than 6,000 people died in Iraq alone.” Just four terrorist groups were responsible for the deaths of two-thirds of 2013’s nearly 18,000 terrorist victims: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and the self-styled Islamic State. The Global Terrorism Index reported that: “All four groups used ‘religious ideologies based on extreme interpretations of Wahhabi Islam’.”

This was the context in which the NZ First MP, Richard Prosser, wrote his infamous “Wogistan” article. The article which Mr Taogaga somewhat naively endorsed. The anti-Islamic mood of the times was further heightened by the terrorist attacks launched against European targets – especially against the staff of Charlie Hebdo and the audience at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris – over the course of the next two years.

Responsible journalists will always strive to contextualise statements like Mr Taogaga’s, lest the passions and fashions of the present are unfairly and anachronistically projected back onto the past.

Unfortunately, current affairs producers and their staff no longer have the time to do the right thing. They are acutely aware that if they are not prepared to use leaked information, more or less immediately, then it will be passed on to somebody who is. These sort of pressures play directly into the hands of parliamentary research teams and their political masters. It makes it almost impossible for the mainstream news media to do anything other than act as a conduit for information likely to prove useful to the Government’s enemies. If they don’t use it – they lose it.

Mr Taogaga also suffered from the coincidence (if that is what it was) of the unauthorised release of confidential Ministry of Health information. Just hours before his own story had found its way into journalists’ hands, Radio NZ, Stuff and NZME had all been supplied with the names, ages, addresses and current locations of 18 individuals who had recently tested positive for Covid-19. This was a truly appalling breach of patient confidentiality, which senior Government ministers seemed pretty sure was malicious – and quite possibly criminal. Their urgent need to deal with this problem left them no time to deal with media accusations that Labour was harbouring Islamophobes. They had witnessed the damage done to the reputation of the British Labour Party by media accusations of antisemitism. Better to be safe than sorry.

If the stories about Mr Taogaga and the unauthorised release of confidential medical data had been deliberately orchestrated by Labour’s political opponents, their deflection of the news media’s attention away from the Prime Minister’s address to the Labour Party Congress could hardly have been more successful. If the woman who broke out of quarantine on Saturday – instantly commandeering the top slots of both 6:00pm news bulletins on Sunday night – turns out to be a fervent supporter of the Parliamentary Opposition, who would really be surprised?

Editors and producers must know when they are being used for political purposes – and by whom. This raises an important question: in protecting their journalistic “sources”, are the media also protecting the shadowy teams of political operatives and their bureaucratic helpers who, by fair means or foul, supply the information? Equally importantly, are these same editors and producers “equal-opportunity” political facilitators? Is the Left, when it is in Opposition, always offered the same consideration and protection from those who own and run the mainstream media as the Right?

In forty years of covering politics in New Zealand I can only recall one period in which the whole of the mainstream news media was lined-up to keep Labour in office, and that was between 1984 and 1987. Everyone who mattered in television, radio and the daily press were determined to see the programme of David Lange and Roger Douglas succeed. Is it significant that for those three years Labour’s economic policies were further to the right than National’s? What do you think?

Mr Taogaga shouldn’t feel too bad. His was a personal sacrifice. Between 1984 and 1987, to keep their newfound mainstream media friends onside, Labour was willing to throw the entire New Zealand working-class under a bus.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 7 July 2020.


John Hurley said...

There is a zero tolerance policy for criticism of Islam. This protects our politicians as much as Moslems. EG Michael Woodhouse "In NZ we don't just accept diversity we celebrate it" (speech to Syrian refugees). However

Even the most well-intentioned policy expressions overlook that Muslimness covers a considerable variability, which is usually glossed over by essentialization. In reality Muslimness covers a broad spectrum of expressions, beliefs, habits, and customs that defies clear standardization. Not unusually doctrinal issues of Islam are mixed up with habitual, customary, or regional traditions. Another confusing issue lies in while being Muslim may not necessarily prevent the adoption of Western "core values" (religion-state separation and democratic governance and processes, embracement of human rights and of domestic "man-made" law, the presidency of secularity in society, etc.) other forms of Muslim identity may contain ingredients which are clearly at odds with Western "mainstream" culture, conventions, values, and norms. Such cultural elements may then be falsely construed to be representative of Islam and Muslimness per se. For instance, difficulties arise when Muslimness is based on an "ultra-orthodox" version of Sharia while on the liberal end of the spectrum Sharia may be used more vaguely as a very personal "moral compass" but may make no demands on expressing it overtly and publicly. Some notions of the desirability of following the Sharia, however, may include requirements of unusually harsh forms of punishment, or aversion to democratic governance and to free speech, or incline toward distinct gender inequality or toward extreme notions of family honor. At the very extremity of Muslimness is the violent, eschatological, and Salafist political Islamism which despite it being a minority expression within Islam tends to tamish all of it with a disastrously bad reputation and seems to give credence to the worst prejudices. To uncouple this expression from the version of Islam that prides itself as a religion of peace and tolerance, commensurate with the modern Western concept of religion, is an enterprise fraught with difficulties. Muslim Exceptionalism - Erich Kolig

As for "It's about the birth rates"
Despite strong secularization trends across the West, Kaufmann insists that in the long run, low-fertility seculars are no match for high-fertility, low-assimilation religious who have already proven themselves immune to the charms of modernity. Kaufmann mentions Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs, but more notable are what he calls “white fundamentalists,” such as the Amish, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Quiverfull evangelicals, and Mormons. The demographic power behind such groups is impressive. Mormons actually increased as a percentage of Utah’s residents over the course of the twentieth century in the teeth of significant non-Mormon in-migration. In Israel, the Haredi went from making up a small percentage of the Jewish school-age population to comprising one third in just fifty years. Five thousand Amish a century ago have become 250,000 today, and should current trends persist, by the late 2200s half of the United States will be Amish.

Brendan McNeill said...


Good on you for attempting to provide some context to the comments made by Kurt Taogaga on the subject of Islam.

Yes, in hindsight they were ill advised for any aspiring political candidate, but given the context of the times, they fell within the realm of acceptable commentary. Of course if the Labour Government gets their way, then his commentary may ultimately fall into the realm of 'hate speech' but for now at least his comments fall within the sphere of opinion.

The real issue of our times in the West, is not Islamophobia, although recent history provides justifiable fears over the doctrine of Jihad in the religion of Islam, but more typically our problem is Islamofillia. A love for Islam by westerners in spite of it's religious texts that give rational cause for concern, not to mention the actions of ISIS and those who take the teaching of Mohammad seriously.

No one has had the courage to express the failings and the fears that prompt Islamophillia better than author and colmnnist for the Spectator Douglas Murray in his book of the same name.

ISIS may be considerably weakened, but the religious texts that provoked the conquest of North Africa, much of Europe, not so long ago, and ISIS more recently are still alive in the minds of the faithful.

I commend you Chris for an attempt at context, and Douglas Murray for demonstrating how we ourselves, are the greatest problem.

Kokila Patel said...

I couldn’t disagree more than Kurt had to go on the basis of liking a tweet, but that is the decision of the Labour Party, so be it. I have no influence over that. What is disturbing is that his action is considered Islamaphobic. We don’t have a concept of say Hindhuphobia or Christianaphobia. I would rather we could debate freely say that female circumcision is more mutilation than, say beautification. So many brave women have escaped such barbarism, and I’d rather stand with them and be considered Islamaphobic, as we can’t undo what happened in Christchurch, but can’ speak out about things like this.

Nick J said...

John, you may get slammed for those comments, I'd probably disagree with you, but I admire that you bring up the unwelcome shibboleths for debate. That is not admired however in the post-modern Left. They don't want to recognise that there is a debate to be had.

Neitzsche posited that as God was dead with what would man replace him? John's comments reflect an existential concern that western culture is not facing up to its own survival in the face of real challenges, and that underlying this is the loss and fracturing of a cultural tradition.

I'd contend that the West for want of a better collective description is in denial of the challenges it faces, both internal and external. Here as we come to an election you can bet that questions related to negative aspects of this avoided debate will be asked by the more bigoted sides of National.

For example under National thousands of Indians and Chinese became Kiwis, yet as Covid rages Nat MPs are leaked names of probably non European origin to use to scare "white" NZ to vote for them. The problem for the Left is that it assumes that NZers accept these new Kiwis as a good thing without ever asking them or persuading them why? That in turn leaves the door open for dog whistle populism which the Nats are unscrupulous enough to deploy. Better hope the Left has good answers.