The Leighton Smith virus
Back in the mists of the 1990s, Martyn Bradbury served a term as editor of the Auckland student mag Craccum. In those days he was earnestly left-wing, and full of contempt for bastions of the bourgeois media.
Bradbury also seemed to have loftier literary ambitions. I seem to remember him turning up to poetry reading in a dingy pub wearing a ridiculous bowler hat, and taking the stage to chant a poem about a girl he loved who didn't love him, because he wore a ridiculous bowler hat. I'm sure it meant a lot at the time, Martyn.
At some point since those salad days, Bradbury got a gig working as a talkback radio host, and contracted the dreaded Leighton Smith Virus. The virus is apparently incubated by the mikes in smelly broadcasting rooms, and everybody unlucky enough to imbibe it inevitably becomes a pompus, right-wing bore, incapable of organising their thoughts into any pattern more complex than a soundbite or a rhetorical question. Turn on the radio and listen for yourself.
Bradbury has been definitively diagnosed as suffering from the Leighton Smith Virus in the month since the police 'anti-terror' raids on the village of Ruatoki North and activist dens up and down the country. On the evening after the raids, this member of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders banged out a blog post denouncing the activist left for abandoning the rule of law, democracy, and other fruits of the Enlightenment, and praising the police who stripsearched Tuhoe girls for acting as the armed wing of civil society. As anger over police actions has grown, Bradbury and his chum Chris Trotter have carved out a rather narrow niche for themselves as New Zealand's 'decent left', denouncing anti-police protesters and cheering on the state in language that recalls Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen, and the cohort of other Anglo-American media heads who have made careers exposing the evils of the terrorist-loving, morally relativist Western left.
The latest bit of hyperventilating on Bradbury's blog comes in response to the leaking of carefully selected police allegations against a handful of the Urewera 17 by a couple of big papers. Bradbury, who had to endure the collapse of attempts to bring terrorism charges against the arrestees last week, thinks that the police leaks vindicate his stance over the last month.
Now, I've no problem if Bradbury wants to be an upstanding liberal and defend democracy and the rule of law in pious tones. But he does need to try to be a little consistent, if he wants to be taken seriously. If he believes in the rule of law, then he shouldn't judge people on the basis of hearsay and titbits from a police force with a long history of mendacity towards activists. He convicted the Urewera 17 of nefarious deeds on the basis of some titbits from some anonymous informant, and Chris Trotter convicted them on the basis that Police Commissioner Howard Broad was a mate. If Bradbury and Trotter are the ramparts of liberalism in this country, then we're all in trouble.
What can we say, then, about today's leaks? According to John Campbell, who saw the same documents days ago but was dissuaded from revealing them, a big majority of the 17 people arrested were not having the 'juicy' conversations which the police have presented. We also know that the cops were bugging scores of other activists, some of whom went through the camps.
It shouldn't be automatically inferred, then, that the camps were intended to foster actions of the sort this tiny minority was discussing. As I noted earlier this week, Justin Taua was aware of people on the 2004 hikoi talking of starting an armed struggle. Does that mean the hikoi was a breeding ground for terrorism?
The context of these leaked communications also has to be considered. The transcripts published today have been twice removed from their original context. They were edited from much longer transcripts by the police, who were naturally looking for the juiciest excerpts, and they have been edited again by the papers.
At one bail hearing I attended the defence actually used some of the intercepted communications to argue that their client was not a wannabe terrorist. They quoted a part of a transcript, which the police were apparently too dopey to expurgate, where the defendant argued against the use of violence to establish an independent Tuhoe nation. (Of course, this quote hasn't turned up in either the Dom Post or The Press.)
The defence used the quote about non-violence to suggest that the conversation which the police had recorded and edited was a very hypothetical one - the sort of freewheeling discussion where different scenarios and strategies for political change, including some quite outlandish ones, are kicked around in a playful fashion. I've certainly had plenty of conversations of this nature on long car journeys. If the cops recorded and edited them, they'd easily be able to make my words look much more sinister than they really were.
Quite frankly, I'm surprised the cops haven't been able to make more of the people they've recorded say outrageous things. And if there were one or two loose cannons that went through the camps, then that's a fairly low proportion. Certainly the nutter quotient would appear to be far lower than one finds in the army, or in the comments boxes of right-wing blogs.
The desperation of the cops, the right-wing press, and silly old Martyn Bradbury to lay a hand on the arrestees, after the humiliation of last week, is palpable. They'll play this for all it's worth, I'm sure, but the hype will quickly fade, and many New Zealanders will be able to see the essential shallowness of the police case. Bradbury shouldn't worry too much about that, though: he's got decades of redneck ranting ahead of him as a breakfast slot talkback radio host. Move over, Leighton...