Playing the man not the haul

MATTHEW DALLAS - DEPUTY EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 15/08/2014

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OPINION: Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics may not produce a smoking gun but its pages smoulder enough to get voters gagging.

And the National Party attacking the author rather than the evidence has done little to temper Hager's allegations.

Released on Wednesday, the book exposes the National Government's insidious associations with Right-wing bloggers and tactics employed to undermine the Opposition's credibility, drawn from six years of hacked emails from the computer of Whaleoil's Cameron Slater.

Some of the claims pack a punch, such as the assertion the prime minister's office orchestrated an Official Information Act request between Slater and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) to discredit Labour MP Phil Goff in 2011.

Elsewhere Hager simply wades through the murky antics many of us expect to occur in the back channels of any political arena. It's not revelatory but it still damages the ‘nice guy' branding of Team Key - which remains the foundation of National's campaign for re-election.

Thus, the return attack on Hager has been emphatic, but not convincing.

John Key dismissed Hager, a respected and experienced investigative journalist, as a "Left-wing conspiracy theorist" before he'd even picked up the book.

Senior ministers, such as Judith Collins and Steven Joyce, have offered the sort of generic condemnation that make for swell sound-bites - "speculation and gossip" - but does little to debase the authenticity of the source data.

Accurately interpreting the context of emailed correspondence can be difficult for a third party, but this is not a case of someone trying to find links from a handful of isolated messages. Hager has been handed a comprehensive treasure trove - thousands of emails over an extended period.

While there is certainly an argument to be made about the ethics of publishing stolen data - Hager argues the information is so compelling and in the public interest that it demands dissemination - the share magnitude of correspondence obtained bolsters its reliability.

Key yesterday denied any involvement from his office in Slater's OIA request. However, emails between Slater and a member of the prime minister's inner circle suggest he knew what would be in the released document and that it would be expedited in unusually quick time - and it was.

In August 2011, Goff himself accused the Government of colluding with Slater on the matter, when Whaleoil's OIA request was actioned inside 24 hours, half the time that it took the SIS to turn down a Fairfax request for the same document.

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- Manawatu Standard

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