This shows how desperate to keep this government in power the Leftists in NZ’s Legacy Media are getting.
by Karl du Fresne on his blog
It’s hard to imagine a more spectacularly pointless exercise than RNZ’s “investigation” of the language used by National leader Christopher Luxon.
Pointless, that is, unless the objective was to discredit Luxon by presenting him as a reciter of repetitive, predictable and boring election-year rhetoric – or worse, as an unscrupulous dog-whistler trying to exploit public anxieties.
In fact, RNZ’s research findings confirm that Luxon is doing what all opposition leaders do and have always done: namely, zeroing in on areas where the government is perceived as vulnerable. Quelle surprise!
RNZ journalists Farah Hancock and Guyon Espiner trawled through 28 hours of interviews from between July 2022 and May 2023. In a report misleadingly headlined What hours of interviews reveal about the obsessions of our political leaders (misleading because it’s almost solely concerned with only one party leader), they breathlessly inform us that Luxon used the word “tax” 233 times – about three times as often as Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins over the same period.
Conclusion: Luxon thinks talking about tax might be to National’s advantage while Labour leaders tend to avoid the subject because it’s not in their interests to draw attention to it. Astonishing!
But wait, there’s more. Luxon said “spending” 179 times – nearly five times more than his opponents. He used the word “crisis” 91 times whereas Ardern used it only 11 times as prime minister and Hipkins hasn’t mentioned it at all.
Luxon also referred to the cost of living 86 times and on 49 occasions described it as a “cost of living crisis”. A key theme, Hancock and Espiner concluded, is “Luxon’s relentless use of words associated with basic economics”. Shame!
Presumably we’re supposed to be surprised – perhaps even shocked – that the leader of the opposition is hammering issues that polls reveal to be uppermost in the minds of voters.
Hang on – it gets worse. Luxon brought up words like “health”, “hospitals”, “education” and “teacher” far more often than Ardern or Hipkins. Who’d have thought? What gives Luxon the right to emphasise policy areas where he thinks the government’s record is weak? Off with his head!
In another “Eureka!” moment, RNZ’s incisive investigative journalists noted that the National leader was happier talking about farming than Ardern or Hipkins, who used the word only eight times between them (to Luxon’s 114). Hancock and Espiner described it as “startling” that the Labour leaders avoided talking about farmers and farming. But startling to whom? Of course Ardern and Hipkins don’t want to talk about farming, and with very good reason. Why risk drawing attention to the fact that farmers, who generate most of this country’s wealth, regard the government as hostile?
RNZ doesn’t explain why it decided to embark on the complicated and unprecedented (its own word) exercise of analysing more than 200 interviews and breaking its findings down into multiple charts likely to be of interest only to political obsessives. More important, neither does it explain why Luxon appears to have been chosen as the focus of the investigation rather than Ardern and Hipkins, who – as the people in power – are the politicians whose actions and statements call for closest critical scrutiny.
Of course RNZ can (and probably will) argue that this was a legitimate journalistic project aimed at analysing political rhetoric in a totally neutral and objective way without seeking to influence how we think about our political leaders.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s likely to be seen. Rather, it will be widely perceived as a heavy-handed and unsubtle hit job on Luxon.
That impression is reinforced by the opinions of the “experts” RNZ invited to comment on the findings. Josie Pagani, who has historically been associated with Labour, rather disdainfully dismissed Luxon’s apparent preoccupations as “National’s classic hits”.
Pagani pointed out that Luxon rarely used terms like “inequality” or “working-class”. But someone who has made a career of following politics, as Pagani has, would know that those words are not part of the vocabulary of the National Party. Almost by definition, anyone who uses them is likely to be on the left of politics. No blinding insights there, then.
RNZ also went to media trainer Janet Wilson, who has worked for the National Party but couldn’t, judging by her newspaper columns, be described as a National supporter. She took a swipe at Luxon for using corporate jargon such as “outcomes” and “going forward”. But given that these terms are routinely used by public servants, academics and politicians of all shades, it seemed a carping criticism. Yes, Luxon does speak the bloodless language of the Koru Club, but voters are likely to have noted that for themselves.
Question: was RNZ unable to find a single “expert” who was prepared to point out the obvious – namely, that Luxon is doing what all politicians do, which is highlight opponents’ weaknesses and by so doing, present themselves as offering a better alternative?
Whether intentionally or not, the story was presented in such a way as make Luxon look bad. The implication seemed to be that he was seeking to manipulate public opinion by the repeated use of key phrases (RNZ used the emotive term “carpet-bombing”, which is loaded with negative connotations), as if this was somehow underhand and improper. In fact it’s just politics as normal. They all do it.
Regular readers of this blog will know I’m no admirer of Luxon, but he’s entitled to expect fairer treatment than this, especially from a publicly funded broadcaster.
On a day when RNZ’s reputation is, by its own admission, damaged by the revelation that stories on the Russian invasion of Ukraine were tampered with, apparently by a rogue employee, the Hancock-Espiner project was an additional hit to its credibility that was entirely self-inflicted. If there were an award for Non-Exposé of the Year, RNZ would have it in the bag.