One of New Zealand’s most prominent conspiracy theorists also happens to be a qualified lawyer – and that, as Stewart Sowman-Lund explains, presents difficulties for the media.
The media has been faced with a difficult paradox for the entire Covid-19 pandemic: how do you effectively report on what is happening without giving oxygen to those who attempt to push mistruths? Take the parliament protest earlier this year. I was one of dozens of journalists who spent time in the encampment and had to grapple with how to accurately give a voice to those most disenfranchised by the government’s Covid-19 policies without potentially encouraging further people to fall down the same rabbit holes.
And this week, that same dilemma has again presented itself. It comes as part of a truly unfortunate and, yes, entirely newsworthy story – that of a critically sick baby that is being refused life-saving treatment because his parents do not want him to be given blood donated by a vaccinated individual. Most readers have been simultaneously horrified at the story and deeply saddened that a voiceless baby is at the centre of it.
The lawyer representing the parents is Sue Grey – a name many of you will be familiar with. She’s been at the centre of a number of news stories regarding anti-vax misinformation and propaganda throughout much of the pandemic. She was one of the prominent attendees at the parliament occupation. She’s peddled incorrect information about other topics too, like 5G and 1080. She’s a wannabe politician, co-leading the conspiracy-adjacent NZ Outdoors & Freedom Party. She is also a qualified lawyer, which is where the issue arises.
On RNZ’s Morning Report today, Grey was interviewed by Corin Dann as the lawyer for the parents. There was no mention of her other credentials during the preamble and the interview went about as well as you would have anticipated.
Here’s what happened just two and a half minutes into a nine-minute interview.
Dann: They trust the medical science behind those surgeons carrying out that operation yet they don’t trust those same doctors who do trust the Blood Service’s blood. Where is the logic in that?
Grey: There’s a huge amount of logic. There’s a lot of evidence, including from Medsafe, the New Zealand government’s regulator, about the harm or potential harm from the Pfizer vaccine –
Dann: No, no, no, no, no, no. I want an answer to the question that I asked. So you trust the doctors, the medical science behind the operation, those same doctors, those same doctors are not willing to see to your request. They trust the blood from the Blood Service, they accept the truth, which is there’s no risk here. Yet, you’re not willing to trust them.
Grey: That is not the truth. The truth is there’s huge amount of international research showing that there are factors in blood that can cause –
Dann: I’m sorry, Sue, but that is not the case. If we look at the Federal Drug Administration, the Canadian Blood Services Board – these have all found there is no issue here. We’ve got New Zealand’s Medsafe, we’ve got the Blood Service, the Immunisation Centre, the overwhelming scientific evidence is clear. I don’t want to have a discussion about the research because you and I are laypeople, we trust the experts.
This exchange went on for much of the nine-minute interview, with Dann often forced to interrupt Grey. Ultimately, the interview ended on this note.
Grey: There’s a lot of research that we’ve got from around the world that these doctors were not even aware of until we started providing it to them.
Dann: I’m gonna leave it there. Thank you very much for coming on. I do appreciate that. I’m sure people will have views on that interview.
It’s not the first time this has happened. Just last night, on Newstalk ZB’s drive programme, Heather du Plessis-Allan also spoke to Grey in relation to the ongoing court dispute. It was less of a shouting match than this morning’s RNZ piece, but still required du Plessis-Allan to intervene when Grey started to discuss the vaccine.
Grey: They [Health NZ] don’t believe there is any difference between vaccinated blood and unvaccinated blood so they should have to go to any extra trouble for baby Will. Whereas from Will’s perspective, there’s a lot of evidence that there’s inflammatory factors in the blood, for example that’s why we’re getting these myocarditis cases –
du Plessis-Allan: No, no, Sue, Sue… I don’t want to go into your beliefs on this one because I think we’re never going to agree on it so let’s just stay to the facts.
Grey: Well this is one of the issues, we don’t need to agree –
du Plessis-Allan: I’ve got to be honest, I just can’t go there. I cannot be bothered with this.
Grey: Well you can’t, but a lot of people are really concerned –
du Plessis-Allan: That’s OK, I understand that. I’m not denying that people are concerned, but I’m trying to find out what’s going on here.
It was entirely predictable that Grey, both an intelligent lawyer and a well-versed conspiracy theorist, would use her appearances on two of New Zealand’s most prominent radio programmes to shift from discussing the facts of the legal case before the courts to mistruths about the Covid-19 vaccine.
One argument would be to bar the likes of Grey from ever appearing on mainstream radio. But given her legal credentials and her involvement in this nationally-significant case, that is probably a step too far. Instead, Grey’s history of using media platforms to spread misinformation should mean that her appearances come with clear and firm boundaries. Those interviewing her should either be fully prepared to counter – in detail – her anti-vaccination rhetoric or, given the likelihood it will quickly descend into conspiracy territory, cut it off early.
Ultimately, considering the unfortunate case currently before the courts, this morning’s interview was a missed opportunity for listeners to hear a nuanced discussion on an issue that could very possibly set an historic legal precedent.