The Herald’s Last Resort: Dog-whistling Smugness

by cemeteryjones

As a parliamentarian, Shane Jones has pissed on his biscuits one time too many times for a career in party politics, especially for someone with long-held aspirations of leadership. However, this may be a blessing in disguise, freeing him from the mentally shackling ‘responsibilities’ of staying on-message as a Labour MP. Jones’ comment this week that the appointment of three middle-aged white men to Northland’s economic development and tourism body, Northland Inc, amounts to a ‘joke’ bodes well for his future, which is bound to be done and dusted as far as parliament is concerned once that report from the Auditor General’s office hits David Shearer’s desk.

Note that the Herald’s verbatim reprint of the Northern Advocate’s article is titled Jones annoyed by ‘three white guys’ and not, say, Jones annoyed by complete disregard shown for his community, or Maori denied representation yet again, or something which, you know, gets to the point of what he actually meant. Once again, the New Zealand MSM chooses to indulge in some light-hearted midweek race-baiting over the opportunity to acknowledge that Northland Maori just got shafted out of a voice on the board that coordinates tourism and economic development in their own communities. Some surprise, then, that the story is headlined by the Herald to explicitly criticise the man who dared to draw attention to the unfairness of the decision. One only need note that the Northern Advocate’s original title was Body Needs Maori: Jones. The distinction in how this frames the reader’s expectation only further serves to demonstrate the Herald’s conscious choice to make this an opportunity to indulge the mean, stupid and spiteful side of the Kiwi psyche with a dose of smug, race-baiting hysteria.

Equally disappointing— but no less surprising— is that Northland Regional Council chairman Craig Brown rushed to justify the appointments with a predictably beige defence, noting that the candidates were

“selected purely on their commercial qualifications. Their race, gender or religious beliefs were not considered,”

Well duh, that only serves to reinforce Jones’ point, not rebut it, though of course it is presented by Brown as if it does. That old, “We’re not sidelining Maori, we’re simply disregarding the importance of Maori representation in a region which is far and away predominately Maori because, uhhhh because we’re market-focused” chestnut.

The spin we should accept, the narrative we should see as self-evident, is that the decision to ensure that (once again) Maori miss out  on representation is not another sordid example of thoughtless, neo-colonial erasure, but a straightforward business decision. We’re just supposed to equate being considerate of Maori and aware of their history and predominance in Northland with accommodating privately entertained subjectivities, like people’s choice of religion. For good measure, Brown makes sure to throw gender into the mix as well: we are to believe that respecting the importance of a Maori perspective to Northland’s tourism and employment body is akin to sexism. We should find nothing untoward in the decision, and view the process as if it were just another private sector appointment, where ‘commercial qualifications’ are the logical criteria for selection.

For daring to criticise the fallacy of the council’s decision, the Herald ensures that Jones gets his comeuppance. His serious intervention on behalf of his community, drawing attention to how important it could be for Northland Maori to have their voices heard on their own regional council economic development body is instead framed by a race-baiting headline which not just totally misses, but actively draws attention away from the entire fucking point. In doing so, it gives credence to the Calvinistic narratives and prejudiced stereotypes that animate the sad, spiteful neo-colonial nutjob Tories that this headline was crafted to appeal to. After all, how else is the Herald to keep making money out of shock-horror headlines about beneficiaries and dependency if Northland Maori are actively engaged in the development of strategies for tourism and economic development in their own community? What if active participation in tourism and economic development were to succeed, and then catch on in other regions? The horror!