Paranoia in Dargy, as Noel's mates complain of 'moles'
[Note: as Timespanner has pointed out, the editorial which this post discusses was produced by John McDonald, editor of a publication called Dargaville On-line, and not by Dargaville News, as the post claimed. My apologies for this misunderstanding, which was aided by the fact that McDonald's editorial defends the Dargaville News, by the way that it appears on a site where Dargaville News articles are often reproduced, and by the fact that it is not credited to McDonald. I think the points in my post stand, even if some of them should have been aimed directly at the editor of Dargaville On-line.]
I've spent most of the past few weeks in Tonga and in that curious region known as Smithyland, so I've only just spotted a statement which appeared last month in response to criticisms this blog had made of the Dargaville News.
I made a post to this blog on the 11th of November to criticise an article which Dargaville News journalist Rose Stirling had just published about the long-time pseudo-historian and anti-Maori activist Noel Hilliam. Stirling's article presented Hilliam as a distinguished scholar of New Zealand's past, and announced that he was about to publish a book which would include evidence that ancient Greeks, and not the Polynesian ancestors of the Maori, were the first settlers of New Zealand. Stirling explained that Hilliam was 'speaking out' about his incredible discoveries because he was tired of the 'politically correct crap' which supposedly impedes the study of New Zealand's past.
As I noted in my response to Stirling's article, Noel Hilliam is an untrained crank with connections to extreme right-wing organisations who has been peddling all sorts of fanciful claims about New Zealand's past for decades. Hilliam may now have decided that Greeks got to New Zealand first, but he has previously awarded that honour to Incas, Celts, and a New Age cult whose members claim to be the descendants of extra-terrestrials. Hilliam's habit of breaking into and looting Maori burial caves in the north Kaipara has been condemned by Te Uri o Hau, the tangata whenua of the region. Back in 2007 Hilliam's unsubstantiated claim to have discovered a Nazi submarine off the Northland coast made him into a figure of ridicule, and earlier this year he made a fool of himself by falsely claiming to have received the prestigous Senior New Zealander of the Year Award.
My post argued that Rose Stirling's article showed a lack of basic journalistic ethics. Stirling wrongly presented Hilliam as some sort of authority on history, and she made no effort to balance wild stories about ancient Greeks arriving on these shores with the opinion of one of the many qualified, widely-published archaeologists or historians who have studied New Zealand's distant history.
Rose Stirling left a comment on this blog in reply to my criticism of her article. She argued that she was simply being 'open-minded' when she talked to Hilliam, and that it was unfair to criticise her article for a lack of background research and balance. I responded to Stirling's defence of her article with a blog post which argued that an open mind and an empty mind were two different things.
A large number of comments were made under my criticisms of Rose Stirling and Dargaville News. A few of these comments were anonymous, but most were signed. Almost all of the comments were hostile to Stirling and her employer, and many of them came from people with a professional interest in New Zealand history and its public presentation.
On the 19th of last month, in response to the discussions on this blog, the Dargaville website carried a rather paranoid statement called 'Now Lets [sic] Be Fair!'. The statement's author begins by placing a spelling mistake in his title, and then proceeds, in a series of often ungrammatical sentences, to repeat the claim that Noel Hilliam is a 'widely-acknowledged' scholar. Apparently the anonymous polemicist has not grasped the fact that scholars earn prestige through training, careful research, and publication in peer-reviewed journals, and not through making outlandish claims about the discovery of Nazi subs and lost white tribes to the trashier parts of the media. Hilliam is 'widely-acknowledged' as a crank, not as an historian.
The statement goes on to assert that the idea that Maori were not 'the original human beings' to settle New Zealand is intensely controversial, and engages the minds of 'academics, researchers, historians, and even politicians'.
The reality, of course, is that it has been eighty years, at least, since any trained scholar believed that the Polynesian ancestors of the Maori might not have been the first permanent settlers of New Zealand. Back in the 1920s HD Skinner demolished the myth that the Moriori were remnants of a group of a Melanesian people who settled these islands before the ancestors of the Maori; ever since that time, scholarly debate has focused on matters like which part of East Polynesia the ancestors of the Maori came from, and when they arrived.
Even before Skinner's intervention in the '20s, no academically-trained scholar ever asserted that Europeans settled New Zealand in prehistoric times. As this blog and other sites have explained at some length, the notion that a large, technologically sophisticated white civilisation existed here thousands of years ago was invented in the 1980s by the neo-Nazi political activist Kerry Bolton, and has been developed by Martin Doutre, Hilliam, and several other self-proclaimed experts who share many of Bolton's political beliefs. Bolton and co believe that proof of an ancient white civilisation in New Zealand would make Pakeha the 'tangata whenua' of this country, and allow for the scrapping of the Treaty of Waitangi and related pieces of legislation.
There is, in short, no real debate, either in academia or in mainstream politics, about whether the Polynesian ancestors of the Maori were the first settlers of this country. If the claim that white people built a civilisation in New Zealand thousands of years ago arouses strong opinions from serious scholars of the past and from Maori, this is because the claim is so absurd, and is so obviously being deployed in the service of a very unpleasant political agenda.
After its unpromising beginning, the statement on the Dargaville website goes steadily downhill. The editorialist talks darkly of a group of 'moles' with a 'passionate hatred' of Noel Hilliam, and about the damage they have done to a series of publications which ran articles about Hilliam. Instead of writing sober letters to the editors of journals they want to criticise, these 'moles' gather in an evil corner of the internet known as Reading the Maps, where they show their essential cowardice by posting anonymous smears about decent folks like Noel Hilliam and Rose Stirling.
I find all these claims very strange indeed. I wrote my criticism of Rose Stirling's article as an open letter, placed my name at the bottom of it, and e mailed it to Dargaville News. I reproduced the letter and my subsequent reply to Rose on this site, but Reading the Maps is hardly an anonymous, shady locale: the name of its author is easy to find, and it was, the last time I checked, one of the twenty most popular non-commercial blogs in New Zealand. Most of the people who made substantial criticisms of Rose Stirling and the Dargaville News in the comment boxes of this blog used their own names, and at least one of them, the Dargavillean archaeologist Edward Ashby, also e mailed his comments directly to the News. It seems to me that the critics of this website lapse into paranoia when they present its denizens as anonymous, devious types.
The claim that a series of publications have been victimised because they gave space to Noel Hilliam's peculiar views also seems to me to be rather strange. Back in March a publication called Dargaville On-line ran a story which congratulated local boy Noel Hilliam on winning the Senior New Zealander of the Year award. After this blog was tipped off and a few enquiries were made, it emerged that Hilliam had not won the Senior New Zealander of the Year award after all, but had instead lied to the editor of Dargaville On-line. After the intervention of the bemused organisers of the award, Dargaville On-line decided to withdraw its article, and to explain that it had been misled by Hilliam.
How, I wonder, can the sad little episode around the Senior New Zealander of the Year award be blamed on sinister 'moles' motivated by a 'hatred' of Noel Hilliam? Surely this episode was the fault of Hilliam and of the publication which was foolish enough to repeat his claims, not the fault of the people who exposed his deception?
Just as Dargaville On-line was wrong to take Hilliam's claims at face value back in March, so Dargaville News blundered when it repeated his fantasies last month. Like the editor of Dargaville On-line, Rose Stirling failed to her job as a journalist when she uncritically broadcast Hilliam's fantasies.
With its mispelt title, frequently ungrammatical sentences, sweeping ignorance about New Zealand history, and preference for paranoid conspiracy theory over serious argument, the statement placed on the Dargaville website further undermines the credibility of Dargavillean journalism.