Did Nicky Hager breach basic journalism standards in Dirty Politics book?

IS NICKY HAGER AN UNETHICAL HYPOCRITE? YOU BE THE JUDGE:

By Ian Wishart

I hope Nicky’s work in his new book Hit and Run attacking NZ SAS in Afghanistan is a step up from his previous effort in 2014.

In his book Dirty Politics, Nicky Hager reprints allegations contained in stolen private emails – theories about a wide range of people. Among the allegations he has printed are that former Act leader Rodney Hide was blackmailed into quitting because he had been caught sending inappropriate text messages to a woman.

Additionally, Hager reprinted emails alleging Auckland mayor Len Brown was having sex with prostitutes.

Neither Brown nor Hide appear to have been asked to comment on the truth of the allegations. In fact, Hide has definitely confirmed he was not approached, and that the allegations are false and without substance.

Yet here is what Nicky Hager testified to the Wellington High Court in a defamation case last year:

“I believe the more serious the allegations we write, the more care that is required to ensure we have got things correct. I say to myself that no one can ever criticise me for things I haven’t written, so that if I am not absolutely sure of something, I don’t publish.

“Research is something that can take months or years. In this case the allegations were serious and personal. I would not include allegations like those in my work if there was so little time for proving the facts…

“I was struck by the fact that the sexual allegations appeared to rely entirely upon the words of the plaintiff’s ex-wife. As a journalist, I would feel very uneasy about publishing, let alone putting my name to, sexual allegations from an ex-spouse unless I had done a lot of work and found very strong corroborating evidence.”

In Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics book, he has no witnesses at all; no prostitutes admitting to sleeping with Len Brown, no ex-spouse, no woman saying she was sent inappropriate texts by Rodney Hide. Hager’s entire ream of “evidence” is actually hearsay gossip, which is usually inadmissible in court.

“There are issues of logic in investigative journalism,” Hager told the High Court. “In particular we have to be careful that our evidence actually supports our conclusions…

“What would count as strong enough proof to publish allegations such as these? It is very, very hard to know what happened in someone else’s bedroom…If I was trying to investigate allegations like these, I might look for documentary evidence of complaints the alleged victim made at the time. I might try to find witnesses of diaries. I would ask about medical or mental health records. I would if possible confront the person against whom the allegations are being made, as they might be ready to admit at least part of the story. Even with these various lines of approach, it would quite likely still be impossible to make progress.

“Relying on a single source, an ex-partner, feels totally inadequate to me. I would never publish such serious allegations on such flimsy grounds.

“In the case we are discussing, where the allegations were serious and the evidence was far from being solid enough to publish with confidence, I would definitely have gone to the person being accused to hear their side. Not only is that fair to the person concerned but also it would form a vital part of the checking of the facts. The person’s response would be very important as to whether I proceeded to publish the allegations about that person.”

Those are the words – in sworn testimony on oath – of Nicolas Alfred Hager – in the Wellington High Court on 1 August 2013.

Remember, the allegations published in the book he was being asked to comment on were a woman’s claims that her first husband back in the 1960s was addicted to sex, tried to take her to strip clubs and was in her opinion a pervert for those reasons. The woman later alleged in court that she had been raped during the marriage, although in the 1960s this was not a crime. That allegation was not in the book that Hager was asked to comment on.

In contrast, Hager’s Dirty Politics alleges Len Brown not only had an affair with Bevan Chuang but that he may have been sleeping with prostitutes, and that Rodney Hide was sending unwanted text messages to a woman. Both of these allegations are serious and have an impact on two families. If true they are matters of public interest, but Hager had done no fact checking of any kind.

In cross examination, Hager told the Court he would “never” use a single source in a sexual allegation:

“Single source is regarded as bad form in all journalistic training and it’s sort of seen as the beginning rather than the end of the process, yeah, that you would get a single source and that would be where you’d start and then you would head out into the world to try to corroborate what they’ve told you.

“So these are your personal standards?”

“These are my personal standards, yes. Oh no, without wanting to be a hypocrite again, there would be instances in which I would use a single source, but I wouldn’t use it in a contentious, complicated, murky area where the stakes were high. I would never do that.” [Trial Transcript page 347, lines 19 to 28]

Asked whether he was saying a woman should never accuse someone of inappropriate sexual behaviour unless she had multiple witnesses to back her up (so that she was not a ‘single source’), Hager replied:

“I am specifically saying that a woman or a man making allegations of those kinds after however long, as the only source, would not be enough for me to even dream of publishing it. Even though I might personally completely feel sympathy and support their right to try and find justice in every way they can, that’s different from a decision to publish.”

“Because you would be concerned they might not be believed in Court?” asked barrister Chris Tennet.

“Not because of that. I’m concerned that I might be wrong and do an injustice to somebody else by believing one person when I didn’t have, actually in the end, good enough grounds.”

“So supporting evidence would influence your decision?”

“Yes.” [Trial Transcript page 348, lines 20 to 31]

Ironically, despite Hager’s evidence on his “personal standards” of fact checking helping convince the jury to find for the plaintiff, major new evidence emerged that resulted in the High Court quashing the jury guilty verdict in its entirety, and ordering a retrial. Among the grounds argued for a retrial [although it didn’t require the court’s consideration in the end] was that Hager’s evidence was flawed.

The Wishart book that Hager said should not have been published relied on first hand evidence from the alleged female victim, including sworn affidavits as to her experiences. She has now been backed up by another female complainant who has come forward. In Hager’s book, the allegations are contained in stolen emails repeating third-hand gossip and hearsay with no attempt at fact checking or asking the men concerned whether the sexual allegations were true.

Hager told the Court that even if the sexual impropriety “was central to the story, I wouldn’t have published. I would have waited until I had my central argument stronger…if I have got 90% which is as solid as a rock, and something which I would like to add, but I just haven’t got there, I would leave it out.” [Trial Transcript page 321, lines 13 to 18]

“In a political commentary often the defamation is about what someone has said about someone else and it revolves around issues of opinion. The thing which is special..when you’re alleging facts then you put yourself in a much more dangerous position, and that’s why in my comments I was saying if I was alleging facts which were being summarised as someone being a pervert, then I would regard that as a much more necessary time to be approaching them [for comment].” [Trial Transcript page 319, lines 23 to 33]

The question for readers is this: has Nicky Hager gone one step too far with his book Dirty Politics? Major defamatory allegations of sexual impropriety were made, and not fact checked. Worse, Hager never had an actual witness, just some stolen emails repeating hearsay gossip.

If that’s the standard of fact checking on just one small portion of the book, how much trust can the public have in Hager’s standards of journalism?

 

Disclosure of interest: The book Hager criticised in the Wellington High Court was co-written by Ian Wishart. That case has now gone before both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court after the High Court threw out the guilty verdicts handed down by a Wellington jury.

The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court upheld Wishart’s request for a retrial on the grounds of material new evidence.

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26 Comments

  1. “Among the allegations he has printed are that former Act leader Rodney Hide was blackmailed into quitting”

    False. What Hager actually said was “There is also no evidence that a direct threat was made to Hide” [p70]

    “Hager had done no fact checking of any kind”

    You are is no position to know what the extent of Hager’s fact checking was.

  2. I’ts the communists!! Under the bed, in the crawlspace, hiding at the bottom of the long drop!!

    Quickly Mein Friends, we must capture the Sudentenland of Fair Samoa if we are to survive!!

    VE MUST DEFEND ZE PURITY OF ZE FAZERLAND!!!

  3. Regardless of one’s perspective, I’m sure we can all find something in this to smile at:

    “There are two people who reserve the right to read all your e-mails: the GCSB and Hager. The GCSB needs a warrant, and doesn’t blurt your e-mails out to the world after they’ve read them. Also, GCSB don’t wrap themselves up in a cloak of Lefty sanctimony.” – commenter on Kiwiblog

  4. Sorry about radio silence for last 24 hours, had a technical issue. Firstly, here’s Duncan Garner’s take on it:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/10388408/Politics-is-a-sleazy-business-regardless-of-who-is-in-power

    Dealing with Nigel first. The Crewe book covers a couple of possible suspects, one a police officer. You say no “hard” evidence and I would agree – indeed I said that – but they had no ‘hard’ evidence against Arthur Thomas either so I deliberately contrasted the police standard of evidence against Thomas with the possible evidence against the cop, and concluded there was actually better evidence against the officer, albeit circumstantial as the Thomas evidence also was.

    That evidence included psychopathic tendencies on the part of cop Len Johnston. Not only had he threatened to kill a witness, he also had a history of arson, having set fire to the Otahuhu Police Station in the 1960s to frame a junior officer he was trying to get rid of, after the junior threatened to blow whistle on his corruption. The junior cop retired and became a senior barrister in later life.

    Secondly, Johnston was one of the few people outside of the family who was familiar with the layout of the Crewe house, having investigated a ‘burglarly’ there in 1967. The Crown said it was a vital aspect to their case that Thomas knew the layout of the house (in fact he didn’t, this too was fabricated evidence by John Hughes, but that shows how important it was to the case).

    Thirdly, whoever had it in for the Crewes kept trying to burn their house down. We have hard evidence of an arsonist working on the police murder inquiry – what are the chances of TWO arsonists ending up in the orbit of this case?

    Fourthly, the murder scene was forensically clean, detectives found nothing at the scene that they could use against anyone. What are the chances of the killer being an expert in police forensic techniques?

    There were more factors, but the point was I actually devoted serious space to investigating and debating those allegations, fact-checking wherever possible. Nicky did no such fact checking.

    Which brings me to Patrick’s 18.54 point. Printing someone else’s allegation and stating the alleged act took place are in fact exactly the same thing in the eyes of the law. You have to be prepared to defend the allegation just as if you had made it in the first place. The idea behind the rule is that if it didn’t exist, Person A could write a lie to Person B about Person C, and Person B could go on talk radio with full immunity if he repeated the lie he had been told. The Courts say that would quickly undermine the law of defamation, so they make Mr Hager liable for repeating a defamation, regardless of his intentions.

    [UPDATE…I found the rule in a court judgement, which goes like this: “The repetition rule has the effect that “[f]or the purpose of the law of libel a hearsay statement is the same as a direct statement…” (per Lord Devlin in Lewis v Daily Telegraph [1964] AC 234, 284). The purpose of the rule is to protect the individual’s right to his reputation: “repeating someone else’s libellous statement is just as bad as making the statement directly” (per Lord Reid in Lewis at 260). In Stern v Piper [1997] QB 123, this court applied the rule to the situation where the defendant contended that it had simply made a statement that an allegation had been made. Thus the policy of the rule appears potentially to apply in all circumstances and irrespective of whether the meaning of a statement is that the publisher is only reporting that a statement has been made without adopting or endorsing it.” Hope this clarifies the law for you]

    In answer to Paul S, without going to the trouble of personally fact-checking all of the emails that Hager has alluded to -which he himself hasn’t done – I cannot offer intelligent comment except on material I know about personally. I understand one person is adamant that Hager has cut and pasted emails out of context, making it appear as if they had commented on something that in fact they hadn’t. If true that’s a massive and total breach of journalistic standards. The person is considering their legal options and has briefed a senior lawyer. They are not named in Hager’s book, so he may have dodged a defamation bullet unless someone can identify them from the reference (the media have but opted not to publish after being bluntly informed that Hager’s account was factually wrong and the newspaper would be inviting a massive lawsuit if it based a story on Hager’s journalism and named the person.

    This again gives me serious concern about Hager’s journalistic standards and methodology when taken in conjunction with my original post, but I won’t take a final position on that or give specifics because it may become a sub judice issue.

    You ask me Paul why I am not outraged at Hager’s revelations. Putting aside the methodological concerns, let’s assume Hager is solid journalistically. How do his revelations compare against some REAL, serious dirty tricks that my books and magazine articles encompass:

    Helen Clark deliberately leaked FALSE information to a newspaper that ended the career of Police Commissioner Peter Doone, and she knew it was false:
    “Doone would later realize he was laboring under a massive misconception here. He blamed the media for spinning the story, which in turn forced the government’s hand. In truth, as he would discover during his court case against the Star-Times for defamation in 2005, it was Prime Minister Helen Clark herself who’d been stirring the pot and who had passed damning, false, information about Doone to the media in a bid to crank the story up. You’ve seen the version of events the Prime Minister wanted you to see
    about the downfall of Police Commissioner Peter Doone. Now let’s see what really was going on behind the scenes.”
    (extract from Absolute Power)

    The Absolute Power book contains detailed proof of Labour’s Dirty Politics, and Doone was just the tip of the iceberg. I had previously exposed National’s Dirty Politics in The Paradise Conspiracy.

    Hager talks about relatively minor smear campaigns, I had people trying to kill me in the lead up to Paradise. I lost my job at TVNZ as a result of political interference from on high.

    Duncan Garner is right, politics is dirty…much much dirtier than Nicky Hager has revealed. Why would I get excited about Hager’s Johnny come lately approach to a subject I have been investigating since 1992? You want to see how far down the rabbit hole goes?

    Read Paradise 1, Paradise 2, Lawyers Guns & Money, Daylight Robbery, Absolute Power and my new book Winston. What you will read in those books is orders of magnitude more serious than anything Hager has publicised in his latest tome so far. I’m not saying that to blow my own trumpet, it is a simple statement of fact.

    The media don’t like giving me publicity, but that’s probably because I busted the media in all those books playing a role in the dirty politics games, and they didn’t like being exposed.

  5. Printing an allegation and stating the alleged act took place are two different thinks. I would like to see Wishart clarify that aspect. I think the book is more likely to be about whether Slater’s reputation is being impugned by the allegations rather than the targets.

  6. Ian Wishart is concerned about unsupported allegations. What about Ian’s book on the Crew murders? This contains allegations the police committed this crime, but is speculation with no hard evidence offered.

    It is actually an interesting book, but leaves Ian Wishart in no position to really criticise Nicky Hager. And don’t try and pretend this is different, as the basic principles are the same.

  7. Really? YOU talking about ethical standards in journalism? From the king who rules them all? Unbelievable.

  8. If the government of New Zealand is acting in a corrupt manner, it is absolutely essential that this is exposed. The means of discovering it are completely immaterial. If the government of New Zealand is acting in a corrupt manner, this threat is amongst the greatest we could encounter. Leadership is a sacred trust: any default is theft of that trust. This is not up for debate – and has nothing to do with political persuasions.. Please let us thank this good journalist for his courage.

  9. You’ll notice I didn’t spend any words defending Hagar. Let us suppose the worst case for the sake of argument, ie that Hagar actually hacked Slater’s account himself, publishes things without verifying them and is a completely reprehensible human being.

    Let us even suppose (to keep you happy) that a Labour government has engaged in its own abuses of power.

    At best that might take Hagar down into the muck with Slater, but you see it still leaves all of the problem of the content of the allegations themselves, and whether or not our Prime Minister, his office, and his senior ministers are abusing their role in the way described.

    I get that you don’t like the Left in general, or Hagar specifically, but you can dislike both of those as much as you like, but none of that makes the allegations themselves disappear.

    Now, you could take each of these severe allegations one by one and show where Hagar’s evidence is shakey, but you’ve decided to write a whole column about attacking Hagar’s character instead. Where are your priorities?

    You haven’t even begun to take a position on whether the emails contained in Hagars book are fabricated, or real, or real, or real but mischaracterised. Collins seems to want -schizophrenically, I might add- the emails to simultaneously be “all lies” but want the theft of them to be real enough to warrant police investigation. I’d say that’s worth following up, wouldn’t you?

  10. Yes Paul, it is called “the repetition rule”, and you become liable even if you accidentally repeat someone else’s false claims. This is what Hager was lecturing me about in Court last year (the passages sued over amounted to about two or three pages of the entire book, they were not the central story). I however had gone to the trouble of getting first hand witness and affidavit, even though it was a tangential issue. Hager tried to dance on my grave, and has ended up falling in. The judge, on the other hand, ended up seeing it my way.

    It’s a professional standards issue. Hager has had no formal training in investigative journalism, and this book really shows it. If one was to write a book about dirty politics in Labour, what would one find?

    Absolute Power, probably.

  11. How absurd, Ian.

    Reading your article, you’d almost think Hager’s book was about about Hager making allegations of sexual impropriety towards Len Brown, rather than about:

    1. abuse of power (Collins having a prisoner transferred at Slater’s request, Ede in Key’s office and maybe Key himself complicit in hack of Labour’s server),
    2. exposing government-media collusion (Key-Ede-Slater) to conduct attack politics while publicly distancing itself from the same
    3. recruitment of security apparatus (SIS) against opposition political parties.

    All of which are demonstrably items of great public interest.

    Your remarkable lack of curiosity about all of this is a pretty good indication of what sort of ‘journalist’ you are.

    Instead, your immediate response to the book is to ignore all of these devastating questions and somehow your emphasis is to triumphantly pronounce Hager as somehow complicit in Slater’s sordid witch hunt, because he ..what? because wrote about that circus at all? By that standard you’d also have to consider yourself complicit in every similar situation you’ve mentioned over your whole inexplicable career. Or rather, you’d risk that if you’d done any real journalism…

  12. I’m not worried about the privacy breach…Hager knew he was taking that particular risk. What I am shocked out, and many above are missing the point which is a bit of a worry, is that Hager was so amateurish in his research and writing that he defamed people without even bothering to adhere to his own sanctimonious advice. There was no fact checking done. Repeating someone else’s defamatory comments makes you just as liable, if you cannot prove the truth of them. Interestingly Collins has denied doing what she was accused of, as have others, making Hager’s legal position even more precarious. Live by the hack, die by the hack.

  13. This is full tilt damage control mode at its best. Hard right zealots running this way and that amid the initial fallout of an atomic scale assault on the forces of evil. I couldn’t care less about Cameron Slater’s privacy. He has no regard for anyone else’s. This government have been eroding people’s rights to privacy and increasing their powers of snooping and as the old maxim goes: “Live by the sword, die by the sword!”

  14. Well written Ian.
    Hoist by one’s own petard comes to mind.
    This is a good summary and Hager’s responses in court and under oath are very telling.
    Could be wasted though as those on the left either cannot read, care not to or won’t understand.

  15. A McKellow, I would concur entirely with you opinion. The important question really is whether or not the claims made in the book are true. I have not yet read it, but certainly there are some very serious allegations made, not the least being Minister Collins interfering in the transfer of a prison inmate as a personal favour to Slater.

    There are serious questions in regards to the gathering of information by Hager, but the more serious questions are the ones raised in the book. Putting political bias to the side, the fact that the National Party has seen fit to align itself so closely with the rabid Cameron Slater is astounding. Their judgement in regards to this ‘relationship’ has always concerned me, now it has just been taken to the next level.

  16. Unless Hager has had full control of the data from the moment it was hacked, he cannot vouch for its authenticity, much less assert that the 10 x greater volume of email data that could not be hacked did not alter the meaning, context etc etc of what he published. let’s hope the Police are more fastidious when they trawl through Hager’s computer while investigating the Greens’ complaints!

  17. This is what I love about people who comment on here. They either do not know all the facts or just conveniently forget them. Patrick seems to forget that the information that he refers to (that which National are supposed to have stolen) was open to anyone on their website. It had, by mistake been left available to the public. So there was not illegal activity by anyone.

    I note that The Joker (David Cunliffe) and his cronies have remained very silent on this fact, when they know exactly what the truth is.

    As a Computer Forensic investigator, I have my theories as to who hacked the Whale Oil blog and who also stole the emails. Hager has been noted as being seen there on a number of occasions.

    This book, as many have stated, is based on information that is stolen and private. No matter what some may think about it, we in New Zealand value our privacy. All the other political parties would be screaming blue murder if it was their computers that had been hacked and their emails published. And you cannot tell me the other political parties do not do the same thing. Grow up and get in the real world. If you can’t stand the heat or tolerate this type of thing, then don’t get on your high horse when it occurs.

    I have a sneaky suspicion that the DotCom revelations that are to be announce a week out from the election, will follow on from this. Maybe people want to put 1 and 1 together and this time get 2, instead of 11 like Nick Hager has.

  18. I am being fair Bob…I am holding Nicky to the same level of account that he held me in court. The difference is that I actually had hard evidence for the allegations in my book…and my book solved a 30 year old kidnapping case…

    It appears Nicky has not done the standard of research he boasts of. ..and has simply interviewed his keyboard using emails stolen from a bunch of guys who in turn were interviewing their own keyboards.
    The end result is not journalism nor is it investigative…it is unsubstantiated gossip.

  19. Kiaora Ian

    “A Fraud has been exposed”
    “The learned Judge made the Order without mincing any words:

    “It is strongly in the public interest that the true nature of the funding of the partnerships involved in this inquiry be accurately unravelled. The remaining potential evidence is fundamental to this. It is in the public interest that taxation be knowledgeably and properly assessed….[A] fraud has been exposed and reasonable efforts should continue to be made to ascertain the perpetrator or perpetrators of that fraud”.
    Thirty Pieces of Silver Chapter 18 page 159 – Author: Anthony Molloy, QC

    Though the above statement refers to the behind-closed-doors Inquiry of A Films Ltd, I am sure you can read between the lines.

    My unfettered opinion is that the trigger was pulled and now that the smoke from that gun has been cleared it reveals, as aptly described by Duncan Garner on his 17 years in the Gallery the “grubby nature, the vendetta’s and the dirt with the threatening blackmail mafioso approach‎”.

    Bob Robert said, “Ian W, be fair, you were always likely to take a pop at Hager over this book, yeah? You two have got history, you said so yourself. So, sorry, I feel your objectivity is questionable at best”.

    I agree with his statement and I have also read ‘Wishart for the Defence’ posted by lawfueleditors.

    Regardless of ” “high society” intrigue – drugs, sex, big money and low life activity”, whenever children whom do not get to make decisions/choices for themselves and only have their caregivers to rely on to make those decisions for them…is an area that I believe even an angel would fear to tread.

    One reaps what one has sown.

    Cheers.

  20. Ian W, be fair, you were always likely to take a pop at Hager over this book, yeah? You two have got history, you said so yourself. So, sorry, I feel your objectivity is questionable at best.

    And you know very well that if he’d approached those people to “check facts” the book would never have seen the light of day — at least until after the election, the same way Key had the cup of tea transcript stifled before the last election.

  21. “So, funny story, I was supplied hacked data that says you hacked someone else’s data, you’re a bad person!”

  22. You are missing the point. The issue is not whether the content of these emails is true or even if eventually they were used. The point is that there appears o have been a concerted and systematic use of parliamentary services resources to collect and transmit information, disinformation and misinformation to manipulate political outcomes. The point is, this appears to be evidence that the prime minister far from being a straight up sort of guy might be behind he scenes acting very differently. The point is whether New Zealand has a Nixon like culture in which real issues of conflict of interest are being covered up by the spread of this sort material.

  23. The Hack has written what could arguably be termed journalistic bullshit.A Jerk with a warped left wing mentality could write anything that came to mind given enough wacky backy.

  24. I’ve taken whacks at both Left and Right in my career…but basic fact checking is something one expects from an author, regardless of whose side they are on…otherwise it lets everyone down.

  25. Perhaps more important than anything you raise………..is it the truth?
    If it is then the screen of Journalism or the legality of actions…..or attempts at hiding actions from the public is trumped by the public good.

    We are not stupid. This is election year, but NO BODY is above the law and as NZ citizens we expect whoever is in power to represent ALL the people.

    Hopefully the truth will be ALLOWED to prevail, whatever that may be.

  26. So it’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us?

    Key and his cronies are allowed to use stolen data to smear and trash their rivals and gain an unfair business advantage but anyone who exposes them is considered breaking the ethical standards.

    National supporters are just a bunch of self indulgent hypocrites.

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