Could Dotcom cost John Key his job? Could the debacle involving the Megaupload founder become for our Prime Minister what the Watergate scandal was for Richard Nixon? Different scale, different time, maybe; in terms of a news story it's becoming difficult to ignore the similarities. Spies, Lies and the FBI. Shadowy figures hiding behind claims of national security. And, of course, the core question: how high up does this thing go?
There's no point in blaming Dotcom for the mess, as many Key sympathisers appear to be doing. And the PM can make as many snide comments about him as he likes. It changes nothing. Conspiracy or cock-up, call it what you will; the only people responsible for the embarrassment are the crown law office, the police, the GCSB and, by definition, John Key. To whinge about Dotcom is to deliberately avoid the point.
If anything, Auckland's accidental hero has done us all a favour. By helping the Kiwi media shine a light on the clearly illegal activities of some our most trusted and protected agencies, he's provided a snap-shot of them we otherwise wouldn't have received. And they've been found wanting. At best sloppy and cavalier, at worst, near-criminally deceitful. Whichever way you want to spin it, they've been found unworthy of our trust.
Watergate? I only mention it because of the on-going parallels. Like the Dotcom trail so far, the controversy that brought down Nixon wasn't any one, single bullet. It was an incremental advance; small story after small story, gradually building momentum. Sometimes the trail went cold; next minute a fresh spoor would be found. Watergate started in June, 1972; Nixon (to avoid being impeached) stepped down in August, 1974.
Like the Dotcom shambles, it wasn't simply the break-in at the Democrat party headquarters that galvanised the nation. It was the revelations that followed; the publication of snippet upon snippet of information that not only exposed corruption, but corruption at the highest level of office. White House-initiated obstructions seeking to contain the fallout only reinforced a belief the President had something to hide. In fact, he had a lot to hide.
The way Key has been carrying on, it's hard not to have the same suspicions. His efforts to distance himself from the Dotcom continuum have left him looking clumsy and ham-fisted. As the minister in charge of one of the country's most powerful and secret organisations, he's come across as an establishment stooge. Not only has his credibility been shredded, his honesty's also under the spotlight. No wonder he supported John Banks' memory lapses.
And to think, a few years ago, Helen Clark was pilloried by opponents for allegedly signing someone else's doodle for a charity fund-raiser. Nick Smith was forced to resign as a minister a while back for forgetting to declare a conflict of interest. Key? Oh, well, he only let New Zealand's spy agency run amuck. Then he forgot he'd been briefed about precisely how they were running amuck. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? I mean, what else has he conveniently forgotten?
True enough, a lot of water has to run under the bridge before the next election; many other stories and controversies will play their part in whatever's decided then. Still, in terms of gravitas, there's little chance of anything usurping the Dotcom shenanigans. Key and his lieutenants can continue to run away but, as they say in the business, this one's got legs. Which is why, I guess, so many John Key supporters are wishing Dotcom would simply disappear.
He's not just an alleged internet pirate anymore. He's the very public face of the PM's failings.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
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- Auckland Now