There are few book launches more hotly anticipated than a new Nicky Hager work. This time Hager is not the author, but it is introduced by him, with the same publisher, and the same closely guarded leadup to publication.
The book, we can now reveal, is by Margie Thomson, and its title is spare and clear: Whale Oil. It tells the story of businessman Matt Blomfield’s long-running struggle against blogger Cameron Slater, who, of course, was at the centre of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics. The saga, told principally from the perspective of Matt Blomfield, covers the extensive legal battle between Blomfield and Slater, as well as examining the way our justice system works, and the way the media has shifted (and shifted again) to allow and then disavow someone like Slater. Blomfield believes that Slater’s attacks led to an attempt on his life at his home in the North Shore of Auckland.
Slater, who has apparently not been approached for comment for the book, has had a miserable last few years, with ongoing health problems, successive court losses, including against Colin Craig, bankruptcy and the fading of the blog he began into near obsolescence.
It’s a page-turner – thoughtful and with remarkable attention to detail. Below, some of the more shocking, fascinating and straight up bizarre moments, as described in Thomson’s book.
Cameron Slater picked on Blomfield because Winston Peters was ‘keeping a low profile’
Early in the saga, when Slater began posting articles about Blomfield on the Whale Oil blog, Blomfield reaches out to Slater and asks him to stop, explaining that the attacks are affecting Blomfield’s work and relationships.
‘At least you don’t get named in parliament,’ Slater said, as if they were brothers in victimhood. ‘I get named in parliament. The thing is,’ he continued in a bored voice, ‘this isn’t politics and politics is my bag and I’d rather bash Winston Peters, but he’s keeping a low profile at the moment.’
“I get named in parliament” is the opposite of whatever a humble-brag is. A balloon-brag?
Really stupid names for things
Including, but not limited to, Cinderella (Blomfield’s advertising agency), Operation Bumslide (the name of the campaign against Blomfield, put together by adult humans and not Boy Scouts), the Onehunga Intelligence Cartel (a Facebook group aligned to Operation Bumslide, and not a really fun name for a rap group), and the Whale Oil Meat Company (a business Slater sets up to subsidise his legal costs, which sells beef, not actual whale meat).
‘The files are copies so it’s not stealing’
During an early investigation by the North Shore Police into how exactly Slater had gotten hold of Blomfield’s files – a process that appears to have involved trading hands in storage lockers and many copied hard drives – he is told this:
Slater told the constable that he didn’t have the filing cabinets and that the files he had were not stolen but were copies of the originals (this is different to what he said on his blog, and different to what he said later in affidavits). During his phone conversation with Constable Guest, Slater informed him he knew who took the files, but he would never reveal his source.
The police officer concluded his enquiry by telling Matt ‘the files are copies so it’s not stealing’.
Does this mean downloading a movie isn’t stealing? Time to go grab my copy of Avengers: Endgame from [redacted], then!
‘Actually, they were all really fucking boring’
Back in May 2012, Slater tried to get New Zealand Herald investigative journalist David Fisher interested in the Blomfield story. He declined, not finding enough of interest in the case.
In the book, Fisher says this:
‘Matt was the face for a company that did provocative advertising campaigns and his ambition had over-reached his ability and he’d gone flat on his arse and gone bankrupt, which a lot of people do. … He wasn’t interesting enough to write about; he wasn’t high-profile enough. I don’t say that on a personal level, by the way. I’ve got to know him since and I think he’s a lovely man. But the things that he was being accused of were either not clear-cut enough to be definitive, or not interesting enough. Actually, they were all really fucking boring.’
Fisher later claims that he has a ‘Pollyanna view’ of the world. As someone who was in a journalism class that Fisher gave a talk to one time, I say, and I say this with kindness, I cannot imagine anybody less Pollyanna than David Fisher.
Blomfield used to receive 129 phone calls a day
Before declaring bankruptcy, Blomfield owned and ran a range of companies, including an advertising agency called Cinderella; Hell Pizza was one of their biggest clients. His other ventures including Contract NZ, which bought trucks and diggers; a dairy farm in Northland; some development at Matakana; and six Hell Pizza franchises:
One day, his brother, frustrated at trying to talk to Matt because of his phone constantly ringing and pinging, asked him: ‘How many calls do you take a day?’ Matt checked his previous day’s record. ‘A hundred and twenty- nine,’ he replied. Just a normal day.
As someone who looks at my phone lighting up with even my best friend’s name with a sigh and roll of my eyes, the idea of someone receiving one hundred and twenty nine phone calls in one day makes me sweat and shiver. And I don’t even have one Hell Pizza franchise!
Blomfield put a Hell Pizza franchise store on Trade Me for $1 reserve
He, quite rightly, calls the decision to put up his $830K store up on Trade Me “one of the stupidest things I ever did”.
Slater’s polarising response at the Canon Media Awards
In a decision that I’m sure felt inexplicable even the morning after, Cameron Slater won the 2014 Canon Media Award for Blogger of the Year. Remember blogs? What a time. Slater would later use this award in court documents to describe himself as an award-winning investigative journalist, which is kind of like using the fact you won dux at intermediate school as proof that you’re a respected intellectual. This would actually later come to bite him in the arse, as a court would rule that in a defamation case that technically, yes, he was a journalist but also, yes, he had to give up the sources for Blomfield’s files.
The book reports on the night of the Canons.
‘Cameron,’ his lawyer insisted, as he stood to push his way to the front, ‘show some grace and humility.’
‘The only problem with that,’ Slater told the crowd, ‘is I don’t know anyone called Grace. Or Humility. It sounds remarkably like hookers’ names.’
Many in the audience burst out with delighted cries of shock and loud clapping, but some heckled – a response that New Zealand Herald editor Tim Murphy quickly tweeted was ‘uncalled for’.
Slater tried to add Blomfield’s 10-year-old daughter on Snapchat
Well after the armed attack, and a fair way into the protracted legal battle between the pair, Slater, or someone pretending to be Slater, tried to add Blomfield’s 10-year-old daughter on Snapchat.
Slater, meanwhile, had been attempting a different kind of access into Matt’s realm. Early March 2017 and Rosalie, Matt’s now 10-year-old daughter, taps on the Snapchat icon on her phone. Someone called Cam Slater from whaleoilnz is asking to follow her. She looks at that name. It seems familiar. She takes her phone to Matt. ‘Dad,’ she says, ‘isn’t this the man who said mean things about you?’
Slater allegedly has a soft handshake, and eats steak
For reasons I can’t fathom, but I’m sure are explicable to the men at the centre of this saga, Cameron Slater and Matt Blomfield have lunch together to try and hash things out. At the Winebox Cafe, of all places! In the book, Blomfield admits that it was ‘an attempt to re-establish that power balance’. Blomfield had a chicken burger, Slater had Scotch fillet.
But, also, Blomfield notes Slater’s handshake:
Matt paid for Slater’s lunch; noted his soft handshake. ‘The whole thing was therapeutic from my point of view,’ he says. ‘I thought, you’re just a guy with a website.’
Matt Blomfield’s grandpa was called Lofty Blomfield
In what is, undoubtedly the most wholesome thing in a tremendously bleak look into a certain chapter of New Zealand media history, Matt Blomfield’s grandfather has the incredibly 1940s screwball comedy name ‘Lofty Blomfield’. I imagine he ran some kind of morning gazette, and was always looking for the next scoop.
Update: Thanks to a few ‘WHAT’ tweets from no other than respected publisher Fergus Barrowman and current Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard, I looked up Lofty Blomfield. It turns out he was an incredibly famous and successful professional wrestler, he invented ‘The Octopus Clamp’, and is the longest reigning heavyweight champion in New Zealand history. His birthname was Meynell Strathmore Blomfield, which is maybe the only name that is more screwball comedy than Lofty Blomfield.
Later in life, he was a supporter of many charities, and served as the president for the Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Association. He seems like a generally good dude, and like he’d be fun to have a beer with.
He did not, to my knowledge, run any kind of morning gazette.