When whales were hunted in previous centuries, the old method was to spot the intermittent bursts of spray that were shot into the air when a whale came to the surface to take a breath.
The time gaps between these massive spurts from a whale’s blowhole depended upon the length of time a whale could spend under water. The longer the hunt, the more tired the whale, the shorter the time-gap between blowhole eruptions.
Here, then, is a ‘flash from the past‘ – one of the few times that this particular ‘whale’ clearly rose to the surface of the murky depths he normally inhabits.
My aim in this ‘retrospective’ is simply to make sure that what has been blown out of the ‘Whale’s’ blowhole in the past does not go down our collective memory hole.
What this ‘blow’ reveals – in very direct prose – is something that, today, we are asked to prove: the utter embeddedness of Cameron Slater with the National Party and the media.
According to John Key, Cameron Slater is a force unto himself, acting entirely on his own agenda and, decidedly, nothing to do with National.
Well, for appearances at least, I’m sure John Key would like to claim that. I’m also just about as sure that, for his appearances – and ego – at least, Cameron Slater would also like everyone to believe this (and he may deeply desire to believe it himself).
But what John Key and Cameron Slater may desire cannot override reality. That reality is given by our past, our continuing interactions and our dependence on others to achieve what we believe are our own ends.
With that in mind, let’s look more closely at the Sunday Star-Times article from 2009 on the ‘Internet Warrior‘.
The article begins with this very clear statement:
Cameron Slater has turned his insider’s view on politics into the country’s most notorious and controversial blog. We look at the extent of Whale Oil’s influence.
The first point, then, is that the SST at least, appears happy to describe him as an ‘insider’. But an ‘insider’ of which particular group?
He wore the same raglan T-shirt he’d worn during that television appearance, in which he had spoken as a National insider on the Worth affair.
That clears that up then. Whether ‘true’ or not, clearly Slater’s exposure in the main stream media was based on some belief that he had the ‘inside oil’ of the National Party. Presumably, Slater was also happy to let that perception be abroad – unlike now, of course.
But he was also proud, at the time, that he was recognised not just as Cameron Slater (son of John Slater) but as ‘Whale’:
“I’m one of the few bloggers that’s branded,” Slater explained to the Sunday Star-Times. “I’m in the process of trademarking it; it’s tattooed on my fricking shoulder. I’ve gone from being Cameron Slater to being Whale Oil. Walking around parliament the other day, no one was calling me Cameron. It was Whale, Whale Oil, the Whale.”
Here’s a man, then, who wanders around parliament being clearly recognised – presumably by both politicians and journalists in the Press Gallery – as the National Party insider and blogger formerly known as Cameron Slater but now known as “Whale, Whale Oil, the Whale“. Addressing someone by a nickname is very revealing – it shows both an intimacy and an acknowledged social function in a group.
That’s important to remember. His reputation ‘around parliament’ was the reputation of his blog and, presumably, of the attacks it ran. And those attacks, even then, were well known not to begin and end on his blog:
“Now that I’ve outed her, she’ll probably be named on TV tonight,” he predicted. “That’s what happened last time.” When he’d named Neelam Choudary, the other Worth complainant, reporters were calling within minutes.
And why wouldn’t you call a reputed National Party ‘insider’ who has just ‘outed’ someone on his attack blog?
Even more so, why wouldn’t you keep a close eye on that blog?
Slater’s profane, occasionally rabid, vociferously right-wing blog Whale Oil Beef Hooked (to be read with an Irish inflection) gets 5000-6000 page views a day, including many readers in the media and political establishment. In the past year, it has broken a number of stories that have been followed, often unattributed, by news outlets
Of course, as a journalist you may not want to acknowledge – to your readers – that the stories (‘scoops’) you’ve run were sourced from such a blog. I guess that’s why the source of the stories were “unattributed“.
After all, why does the public need to know your source is a person who you understand to be a National Party ‘insider’?
Still, maybe Slater’s ‘insider’ status is just more huff and puff coming out of his blowhole? Or maybe not:
Since its inception in 2005, the blog has grown in influence as a forum for National[Note the capitalisation of that word] news and debate; Slater claims recent posts he wrote were talking points at Lockwood Smith’s wedding.
Similarly, the site has grown into an instrument of attack on the party’s opponents. [and which party might that be?]
The reference to Lockwood Smith’s wedding doesn’t necessarily mean that Slater was a guest at the wedding (perhaps someone else knows?) but what it makes clear is that National Party people were taking a very keen interest in the posts on his blog.
And for good reason – they were very much in the National Party’s interests.
Hence the mention that the Whale Oil blog was an “instrument of attack on the party’s opponents“?
Well, the reference to “National news“, with a capital ‘N’, may have been either a Freudian slip or a deliberate ‘in-joke’ but either way it’s clear which party was meant – National. So clear that it literally did not need to be written in the phrase “attack on the party’s opponents“.
Then there’s reference to his deep links to a “fellow insider“:
Pooling resources with friend and fellow insider David Farrar, who conducts National’s polling and runs the much larger Kiwiblog,
Take a moment to sit back and reflect. Back in 2009 all of these things could be said quite openly in a major Sunday newspaper for the simple reason that they were entirely uncontroversial, known and accepted matters.
For National, after all, Slater was ‘Cam’ – a well-known life-long fixture in their party and in their social circles:
A National Party blueblood, Slater was born into a family with an “impeccable centre-right political background,” according to Auckland mayor John Banks, who has known the blogger all his life. Slater’s father, John, is a former National president, current president of Auckland’s Citizens and Ratepayers council bloc, and one of the mayor’s oldest friends and political supporters.
But, it’s important – and provides quite a bit of insight into the origins of what Hager terms ‘two track politics’ (see my posts here and here) – that, even then, there was growing discomfort over formally acknowledging Slater’s strong links to National:
While Slater’s National credentials are clear, the extent of his influence within the party is disputed. A recent Metro article on the Mt Albert by-election claimed Slater and Farrar were “involved in all National’s internal debates“.
“[Slater] has that access, but also that need, that real desire to be on the inside,” writer Simon Wilson told the Sunday Star-Times. “He works hard to be there… He’s part of the mix.”
Kevin Taylor, John Key’s press secretary, says Slater has nothing to do with party strategy or the PM’s office. [Except, presumably, Jason Ede?] Taylor has only spoken to him once, to argue over Slater baiting protesters at a conference.
Despite this claim by Metro magazine, Cameron Slater himself denied ‘formal’ influence but certainly liked the idea that he possessed ‘informal’ influence:
Slater denies being part of any internal debates, [But now it is known that he was active in candidate selections.] but claims an “informal” influence to which Wilson is referring through the blog’s growing profile, and his longstanding relationships within the party. Meanwhile, Farrar’s polling work meant he was in daily contact with Key and Bill English on the electoral trail. Says Slater: “We’ve got inside knowledge, but we’re certainly not on the communication list.” When it came to pursuing political targets, the party apparatus would not officially feed him tips, or otherwise instruct him to do its bidding. “But somebody might ring me up [of their own volition] and say `check this out’.“
“‘[C]heck this out‘”?
We now know the sorts of things that various ‘somebodies’ in the National Party ‘apparatus’ were interested in Cameron Slater ‘checking out’.
Slater was clearly being used by the “party apparatus” but not, of course, in any ‘official’ way – ‘two track politics’ doesn’t work like that.
Kevin Taylor, we now know, formally rejected that ‘official’ connection with Slater (which, no doubt, Slater sought) but, oddly, appended that revealing ‘FYI’ to his email response to Slater:
Mr Taylor tells Slater: “Our intention is not to engage with any blogs”.
However he goes on to state “Jason Ede asked me to mention he will be giving you a call in the next few days“.
A remarkable lack of curiosity from Kevin Taylor as he acts as mere messenger for Jason Ede – presumably quite relaxed about a Prime Ministerial advisor making an impulsive contact with the operator of a site the Sunday Star-Times describes as the “profane, occasionally rabid, vociferously right-wing blog Whale Oil Beef Hooked (to be read with an Irish inflection)“.
One might hope for better from one’s Press Secretary. Of course, we all are prone to make mistakes and who might not mishear the loud clanging of political alarm bells amongst the background innocent jingling of sociality in the daily life at the Beehive?
Back in 2009 it was also well known that Cameron Slater was prone to apparently random grudge-bearing against the odd corporation or corporate player:
Jetstar is one of Slater’s targets du jour. He claims responsibility for instigating their current media nightmare, when one of his contacts called him while being turned away from check-in. Slater had it blogged within 15 minutes.
“That has been completely run by the blogs, and followed up by the mainstream media. Jetstar are not protecting their reputation using social media, and I’m destroying their reputation through social media,” he says.
Unlike Taylor, “one of his contacts” clearly had ‘his'(?) wits about him as he huffed off in frustration from the check-in that fateful day. Who wouldn’t, in the same situation, immediately make a quick call to ‘Cam’ to let him know of the poor service and shocking situation? I wonder if we’ll ever know who that disgruntled member of the public was?
It’s good to see, however, that the now famous (courtesy of the hacked emails) Whale Oil “tip-line” was running hot over five years ago in 2009. Where would Slater be today without that invaluable hotline to concerned members of the public?
But where’s the harm?
Contrary to his prediction, television news channels that night do not run the name of he woman he claims was Worth’s accuser, nor do other media outlets in the week that follows. Slater is a little surprised, but not bothered. Close Up runs a story on Jetstar.
The point of all this is to ask a simple question: Why is it that all of the things which, five years ago, it was ok for us to know of and believe are, today, signs of one’s membership of the great ‘leftie conspiracy’?
That question has many sub-questions.
Why was it ok then, but not now, to acknowledge the National Party ‘insider’ status of Cameron Slater?
Why was it ok then, but not now, to speak of, and acknowledge as a given, Slater’s lifelong relationship to senior members of the National Party and government?
Why was it ok then, but not now, to detail the tag-team relationship between Cameron Slater and David Farrar?
Why was it ok then, but not now, to accept that Slater had a close but murky relationship with journalists in the mainstream media?
Why was it ok then, but not now, to admit that Slater’s blog was fundamentally “an instrument of attack on the [National] party’s opponents“?
Instead of what we could all talk about back in 2009, today we are asked only to see a bunch of isolated dots weaved into a scurrilous ‘leftie conspiracy’.
There is, of course, one very simple reason why what we could uncontroversially believe then is now the stuff of evil conspiracy. One reason why ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ are now blocking their ears, closing their eyes to ensure that they never learn what they could have read over their Sunday coffees five years ago.
That one reason is evidence.
Reams of evidence that has provided the tawdry details of what was happening and has been happening. Evidence that shows that Cameron Slater was not the lone ‘Internet Warrior’ as the Sunday Star-Times dubbed him but, instead, simply a small but crucial cog in a highly coordinated network of ‘Dirty Politics’ that reached to the top floor of the Beehive.