Thursday 26 August 2021

A Disturbing Preoccupation: Why the Right-Wing Media Hates Jacinda’s Covid Elimination Strategy.

Captain of The Life Star: A great many of Jacinda Ardern’s right-wing opponents seem to be inspired by a sexist antipathy towards a young, female prime minister, from a tiny and powerless country, who has outperformed (by a wide margin) the male leaders of much larger and more powerful nations. In doing so, Ardern has produced a disturbance in the conservative “Force” that makes them shudder: as if an entire political ideology suddenly cried out in indignation and was rudely silenced. 

THERE IS SOMETHING DECIDEDLY SINISTER about the way the right-wing media is pursuing the “elimination strategy is madness” argument so doggedly. Yes, it’s always interesting to discover what people are saying about New Zealand overseas, but the NZ Herald re-publishing anti-Jacinda Ardern editorials from the Daily Telegraph – mouthpiece of the British Conservative Party – points to an altogether more disturbing preoccupation. These misgivings are only reinforced when one considers the near unanimous hostility directed towards the Prime Minister and her government by New Zealand’s talk-back hosts.

At the most superficial level, one could argue that the right-wing media’s editorial hostility is generated almost entirely by bottom-line anxieties. With most of its advertising revenue generated by realtors, retailers, the hospitality industry and tourist operators, the big media outlets must experience significant financial pain whenever New Zealand and/or its most important economic hub, Auckland, goes into lockdown. The pressure brought to bear on media bosses to get the doors open for their advertisers’ paying customers is easily imagined.

More than anything else, commercial enterprises hate surprises. Certainty and predictability are what they need to go on generating profits for their shareholders. The sudden appearance of Covid-19 in the community, followed by lockdowns of a severity to make the eyes of overseas commentators water, bring with them consequences that are costly, disruptive and generally bad for business. Unsurprisingly, a significant fraction of the business community would very much prefer that Covid-19 was responded to in a fashion less injurious to their financial health.

Those business leaders less bound by the short-term selfishness of their colleagues take a more responsible position. They understand how very bad it looks for businesspeople to convey the impression that they care a great deal less about people getting very ill, and quite possibly dying, than they do about making money. They also know that New Zealand’s style of short, sharp, uncompromising lockdowns protect the economic interests of the business community a whole lot more effectively than the loose, dangerously porous, lockdowns on display in the UK, the USA, and across the Tasman in Australia.

Not that anything as mundane as “the facts of the matter” have ever slowed the Government’s critics down. Neither New Zealand’s extraordinary success in keeping the number of Covid-19 deaths below 30, nor the powerful bounce-back of its economy, cuts any ice with the “elimination strategy is madness” brigade. Indeed, the obvious success of Jacinda Ardern’s elimination strategy only seems to make them madder.

So what is it? What drives Ardern’s critics so crazy?

Sadly, a great many of her right-wing opponents seem to be inspired by nothing more edifying than sexist antipathy towards a young, female prime minister, from a tiny and powerless country at the bottom of the world, who has outperformed (by a wide margin) the male leaders of much larger and more powerful nations. Something about this picture is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Young women are supposed to defer to the “big dogs” of the international community – not show them up. Ardern has produced a disturbance in the conservative “Force” that makes them shudder: as if an entire political ideology suddenly cried out in indignation and was rudely silenced. They fear something terrible is going on.

And, in a way, they’re right. From the perspective of those responsible for creating a world in which the interests of business take precedence over even the ordinary person’s right to stay safe and well (some might say especially over the ordinary person’s right to stay safe and well) the sight of a young, female prime minister putting the interests of ordinary people first is a terrible thing. Because Jacinda Ardern’s “kindness” doesn’t just work a little bit, it works way beyond neoliberalism’s capacity to supply a credible explanation.

Take Sweden, for example. For a while it was the “who needs lockdowns?” brigade’s poster child. But Sweden, with just twice the population of New Zealand, racked-up a horrifying 14,000+ Covid fatalities. Had Ardern followed the Swedish prime minister’s example, her country would have sustained upwards of 7,000 deaths. By following its leader’s strict elimination strategy, however, New Zealand’s “Team of Five Million” kept their country’s Covid death toll to 26.

On the Right, however, this sort of science-guided, humanitarian response to Covid-19 just doesn’t compute. Conservatives around the world react by accusing Ardern of political cowardice. She simply doesn’t have the balls to adopt a strategy that will lead directly to hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths. Look at the Brits; look at the Yanks; they had the courage to condemn tens-of-thousands of their people to early and unnecessary deaths; they know that “you can’t live in a cave forever”; that, in the end, the economy must come first.

This is the upside-down world towards which the right-wing media’s wayward editorial decisions are dragging its readers, viewers and listeners. A world in which saving New Zealanders’ lives is the wrong thing to do. A world where “freedom” means nothing more than being able to go shopping wherever and whenever you want – without a mask.

That the big media companies haven’t quite arrived there yet is because there are still some executives who understand that, ultimately, the news media relies on ordinary people to read its copy and listen to its broadcasters’ opinions. Ordinary people who, if right-wing editors and producers ever get around to actually swallowing the insanity-inducing Kool-Aid swishing about in their mouths, will be offered-up to deranged conservatives (and the advertisers) as unavoidable human sacrifices to the Moloch god of the free market.

The only elimination strategy these right-wing media bosses will ever wholeheartedly support.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 26 August 2021.


Tom Hunter said...

Sadly, a great many of her right-wing opponents seem to be inspired by nothing more edifying than sexist antipathy towards a young, female prime minister,...

Oh please, you're trying to turn this into a Joan of Arc mythology now?

In case you haven't noticed many of the same commentators, particularly the overseas ones, are saying the same things about the Australian lockdowns and the last time I looked that was being led by a very Male Christian PM.

The lockdown strategy, at least in the USA, was first proposed by GW Bush's Homeland Security brains trust, and was very much opposed by one Dr. D.A.Henderson, who wrote his own academic paper in response and said:
Dr. Henderson was convinced that it made no sense to force schools to close or public gatherings to stop. Teenagers would escape their homes to hang out at the mall. School lunch programs would close, and impoverished children would not have enough to eat. Hospital staffs would have a hard time going to work if their children were at home.

The measures embraced by Drs. Mecher and Hatchett would “result in significant disruption of the social functioning of communities and result in possibly serious economic problems,” Dr. Henderson wrote in his own academic paper responding to their ideas.

The answer, he insisted, was to tough it out: Let the pandemic spread, treat people who get sick and work quickly to develop a vaccine to prevent it from coming back.

Who was this fringe nutter you may ask? Well he was recognised at the time as one of the world's leading epidemiologists and one of the leaders in the campaign to eliminate smallpox.

Scientists are going to be arguing about the actions taken by nations and the results for years, but in the rest of the world, including islands like Hawaii, it seems that neither harsh lockdowns or masks have made any difference. A scientist would ask if there are any other factors involved in NZ's low total of 26 Covid deaths. A political activist won't.

Wayne Mapp said...

This is a post that I almost entirely agree with. There is certainly an enormous amount of antipathy among older men in conservative circles about Jacinda. Way beyond what any impartial analysis would indicate. I agree it is largely because of her personal characteristics, which enrage some beyond reason.

Tom Hunter said...

One last thing and it's to do with Sweden as it stood at the end of 2020:

The annual death rate for 2020 was 0.94%, compared to the average of 0.92% for the previous decade. Moreover the death toll is lower than it was in 2010-2012 and the same as 2013. I don’t recall any great wave of hysteria about those years.

In other words, we didn't see the usual few thousand people die from the usual diseases of flu and Pneumonia, PLUS several thousand dying from Covid-19, which is the usual for pandemics in the past. The only conclusion that can be made is that the same people, mainly the elderly, died from this similar disease.

BTW, one of the themes from a number of pro-lockdown friends in the last few months has been to talk about how their mates from overseas had been looking enviously at us as we opened up to play sports and have a normal life while they continued to shelter in place.

That's all ended, with their mates now asking them why we've locked down again and is it going to keep happening again and again? This while they return to playing sports and having a normal life.

John Hurley said...

I was in Pac n Save with my mask on and a thought occurred to me that a system is created where the population (society) is ill and Jacinda can play doctor figure (= health). Also with global warming. So you have a collectivist noose, which would be o.k but also comes with a lot of stupidity.

oneblokesview said...

Dang, Another conspiracy theory Chris :-)
Will put that in the same folder as the Vax will kill you folder.

When can we start resisting the tribalism of politics in to your tribe(Left) great. Other tribe(right) terrible horrible.
And get back to whats good for the population and getting rid of non performing policies.

Graham Hill said...

I agree with you Mr Trotter. Facts matter regardless of left-right, liberal-conservative or radical. The reality is that there are insufficient hospital beds in NZ. Where I live the hospital has been at over 100% plus- without covid- capacity for most of the winter and there are only 4 ICU beds and serves several regional small hospitals. Staff are also stretched and admin paid really poorly. Nothing has been done since 2020 to improve the hospital situation. However, the government is happy to bury a turtle on Bank's Peninsula by helicopter and run around after other virtue signalling causes

CXH said...

Considering the obsequious fawning by the left wing media is it really a surprise. The sad thing is that we have no media remaining that are interested in the truth, or more importantly, the facts any more.

Instead we are just bombarded with opinion pieces dressed up as 'the truth' from both extremes.

Anonymous said...

She is savaging the country with this strategy and hey, not one New Zealander was even asked if they wanted to be locked down again, despite being healthy. It's is just impossible to eliminate a virus, as overseas have decided and acted upon. Our hard won freedoms have been totally compromised, and these lockdowns are totally alien to what an open and liberal democracy means. Sheesh Chris, this is becoming like Nazi Germany, with a self appointed dictator in charge, who is totally over stepping any mandate. Unprecedented and disgraceful, arrogant behaviour.

The Barron said...

The days when conservatives could present Covid19 as infection, illness followed by recovery or death are long gone. Recent estimates of Scott Morrison opening up Australia to 'live with Covid' has 25,000 deaths - I am sure the business community can write them off as elderly, already disabled or indigenous, almost an economic gain. However, the long term affect to the economy and society is in an illness being called Long Covid.

Long Covid is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis following even a mild or non-symptomatic infection of Covid19. The Australian estimates are 200,000 left with Long Covid. This may be a vast underestimation as a recent study by Oxford scientists suggests that people who contract the Delta variant after being fully vaccinated carry a similar amount of the coronavirus as those that are unvaccinated and get infected. Following the pattern of CFS / ME, this would have 25% of those unable to continue to work or study. Therefore, up-to a quarter of the Australian workforce and school population could be vulnerable to Long Covid / CFS / ME. Most of those still able to work will have to have their disability managed within the workforce, tertiary or school.

Three-quarters of those reported with CFS / ME are women. Yet, normally vocal Womens' Health and Workforce lobbyists are shamefully silent on the issue of CFS / ME, whether related to Covid or not. The Medical sector have been ignorant, allowing self-serving medical opportunists to promote treatment that will cause actual harm on those disabled by CFS / ME. The normal community groups and Government funded agencies offer no protection.

The Government Covid strategy is to keep out, and keep safe until all factors can be considered. Vaccination of all those, including children, that could get Covid19 and therefore vulnerable to Long Covid is essential in suppressing the virus. The Americans have (belatedly) invested US$1 billon to research CFS / ME, Britain has similarly finally funded research, NZ has funded research into Long Covid, leapfrogging the wider look into CFS / ME and drawing the few researchers into CFS / ME towards the new kid on the block.

That said, the NZ Government strategy has shown an awareness that children are at danger of long term disability. When the virus dust settles, the NZ workforce will be in a better condition to drive the economy than those dealing with large numbers of Long-Covid.

Simon Cohen said...

Unfortunately for your argument Chris it is not only "right wing media bosses' who are questioning the Govts policies. I know you read Peter Dunne's blog and he has written that he does not support how the Govt is handling this crisis. So do you categorize him as right wing and sexist. I read widely and a large number of intelligent commentators are questioning the govt's policies and continual spin. And I know you are too intelligent not to know what I am talking about. It is a shame that your political sympathies are clouding your comments.
I believe you are better than that.

Barry said...

My first response to the headline was "what right wing media" thinking you were refering to NZ media. Afterall they have their noses in the $50 million media trough with its condition that they support the governments aims.
My dislike of the current government is that they promised to be the most transparent ever - which was and is an outright lie.
Then they pushed the limits of credibility over the Chch killing and blamed almost everthing and everybody and ignored the fact that it was all a lone killer who was allowed to get a gun license by incompetant and pre-warned Dunedin police.
They said we were front of the vaccine queue -when in fact we were at the end.
And something constantly in the background is the apparent limited ability of most of the MPs and the knowledge that they will constantly screw things up.
Adern is one of the more competant of the MPs - its just that shes burdened with a group of what are probably the most incompetant group of MPs ever.

Anonymous said...

"There has been a disturbance in the Force" Chris Trotter.

In the original 1977 StarWars screenplay, lead hero, Princess leia, (played by the inimitable Carrie Fisher), was not able to save her home world from being totally destroyed, the resulting disturbance in the force was felt right across the galaxy.

Yes there has been a disturbance in the force, but luckily this time, the hero has managed to save her homeworld, the resulting disturbance is being felt by the dark side of the force right across the (political), galaxy.

Unknown said...

Interesting read, Jacinda Ardern has really rattled the "big boys" !

greywarbler said...

Male -florid-faced, self-important, petulant. The Greta Thalberg knee-jerk response.

Kat said...

No apologies to Winston Churchill....

Jacinda Ardern and the team of (nearly) five million, linked together in their cause and in their need, will observe the rules of lock-down, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of our strength. We shall go on to the end, we shall isolate in our homes, we shall isolate on the seas and oceans, we shall isolate with growing confidence and growing freshness in the air, we shall defend and quarantine at our borders, whatever the cost may be, we shall social distance on the beaches, we shall patrol on the highways, we shall stand two meters apart in the fields and in the streets, we shall keep our distance in the hills, we shall never mingle without our masks, we shall ride out the storm of Delta, and to outlive the menace of Covid, if necessary for years, if necessary alone; we shall never become cave dwellers but rather lighthouse keepers blinding the virus in our beacon, the possums across the ditch and the naysayers beyond........

thesorrow&thepity said...

We NZers are a little too thin skinned when it comes to what people overseas say about us, especially when its the Brits & Aussies saying it.
I really have to roll my eyes at the consistent metronome of stupidity that is the NZ media.... they really (& far too predictably) took the bait.
Politics 101, distraction. When attention is needed to be diverted, lob a smoke grenade.
Scott Morrison; epitome of the guy who does the sausage sizzle outside a Bunnings, raising funds for his sons football team..... the dad that NONE of the other dads want to be stuck at the sausage sizzle with.
Distraction required because no one likes him, & he's botched up too many things vis a vis Australias CoVid response & vaccination rollout.

The upper class Brits; a 'meanwhile in the colonies' story is likewise a good morale boost to distract them from their ever shrinking roll in the world.
In this case it's Afghanistan. Some very good interviews by Rory Stewart (I respect the fact that he's actually been there) driving home the key point of why a distraction is so badly needed.... essentially the UK has been completely humiliated by the United States in how the Americans didn't even feel the need to consult with them about the plan for their departure.
Likewise that the UK can't operate without the help of the Americans.
A very big humiliation to have their irrelevance made so naked & glaringly obvious in the full light of day.... hence the need of a classic distraction story

Pity the NZ media never woke up early enough to get to their Pol 101 classes.... no wonder they all ended up as journalists

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Not only did Sweden rack up all those deaths, its economy tanked just the same as everyone else's. People seem to forget that we are all – for better or for worse – economically interconnected these days.

Unknown said...

You write very well. I used to work for an ad agency whose slogan was The Truth Well Told. This was soon twisted to Shit Well Cooked. I am afraid the negative twist applies to your column because you haven't addressed the real issue of whether our accidental PM is actually transparent or opaque, competent or a good leader. I think the people of NZ will let her know on Saturday 13 Jan 2024 - and the outcome will not relate to her sex but her patchy ( to put it kindly ) performance

Chris Trotter said...

To: Unknown@14:14

"Accidental" Prime Minister??? There's nothing "accidental" about 50.01 percent of the Party Vote.

Did you miss the 2020 General Election?

Were you living in a cave?

greywarbler said...

anonymous at 13.25-

Your comment seems to carry the wrong message. 'She is savaging the country' should read - 'She is salvaging' the country.'

greywarbler said...

It may seem kind for Unknown at 14.14 to advise us from his? superior store of political thinking. Perhaps he can write again if he has another thought.

Unknown said...

Well said!

Unknown said...

Love this!

BeKind2021 said...

You don't have a choice when there is a pandemic. Jacinda prefers to keep her citizens alive and well. You are exactly what Trotter describes!

Anonymous said...

So you pick and choose what you publish, sir. How very very China. One published and one not. Censorship alive and well at this little podium! What a surprise. Not.


Unknown said...

What a stupid coment whats Germany got to do with it I lost family in the second world War you moron

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Dear Arthur. Only your government has to guarantee your freedom of speech. And even then it's limited. Private organisations have no obligation at all to give you a platform. So Chris is perfectly entitled to pick and choose what he publishes. And judging by one or two of the things he's let through as examples of what he doesn't publish, it's probably a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Totalarism and total control, a dictator with no other opinion or opposing views allowed. Kind of obvious. Our freedoms, hard won, stolen just cause a govt suddenly grabs them away. Very Nazi Germany! Very real parallels to a govt of one.