O’Brien attack article lowers New Zealand journalistic standards


Yesterday afternoon following revelations a now resigned National Party Member of Parliament had sent indecent images to multiple young women, a Newshub journalist wrote an attack article criticizing the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition for “letting down” National Party Member of Parliament Andrew Falloon (Rangitata).

There are several quite wrong aspects to Ms O’Brien’s article, which I set out below. Before I do, I want to set down the sequence of events that happened which led to this.

Mr Falloon, came to the Police attention after a lady came forward to say that he had sent her indecent images. The lady, now 19, was apparently still a high school student when she received them. The Police investigated and concluded that that on its own was not enough to charge Mr Falloon and dropped the investigation. Last week Ms Ardern’s office was notified of an e-mail from the complainant and after obtaining permission from the complainant passed on the e-mail to Ms Collins’ office. Her office contacted Mr Falloon who did not say anything more about the alleged incident. With nothing to go on, her office waited until Monday morning.

During the weekend, based on Mr Falloon’s original explanation it was understood that he had some kind of mental break down. People were sympathetic because at that time the sending of the images was not known about.

On Monday morning Ms Collins rang Mr Falloon for an explanation. He admitted what happened. Within couple of hours a second complainant came forth and then a third. The public sympathy evaporated and so did Ms Collins’ patience. Mr Falloon was told to leave. Following the explanation she went public and told the media that Mr Falloon was expected to resign from Parliament immediately. He surrendered his candidacy for Rangitata that afternoon and his Parliamentary resignation followed shortly afterwards.

So what are the issues raised?

First, Ms O’Brien ignores the bigger issue at play here. She argues that Ms Collins and Ms Ardern are responsible for letting down Mr Falloon, when in actual fact the only person who let down Mr Falloon was himself. Mr Falloon is the sole culprit in sending those images to the young ladies who have come forward to complain.

Second, the Prime Minister and Ms Collins’ both handled the complaint well. Ms Ardern’s office made a demonstrable attempt to get permission to forward the e-mail, which was granted. Her office then tried to get hold of Ms Collins’ Chief of Staff to explain what was going on all on the same day.

For her part Ms Collins’ cannot be blamed for Mr Falloon not telling her straight up until prompted. She had reason at that point to believe he was being honest and had had some kind of break down. When she was finally told she was quick and decisive.

Perhaps though, the most disturbing aspect of the opinion piece by Ms O’Brien is that it basically amounted to disinformation. I have described disinformation in the past and it can be effectively likened to lying. A journalist, like any other human being who lies quickly loses respect. The extent to which that will apply in this instance is yet to be seen, but the very negative reaction so far suggests it could be substantial.

At the end of the day Ms O’Brien had an opinion piece to write. But it does not change the fact that it is a shockingly thought out one that exposes a clear and demonstrable bias. It also – unfortunately for both the reporter in question and New Zealand journalists at large – leaves a rather messy smear on the fourth estate’s reputation in New Zealand.

Perhaps the one who should be doing the apologizing is – as has been suggested – Tova O’Brien.

 

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