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MediaSeptember 14, 2015

Reissue – Joshua Drummond on Rachel Glucina at the Wintec Press Club

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Three or so times a year, media luminaries from all over New Zealand gather in a kind of Hellfire Club – based, of course, in Hamilton. Food is eaten, drink is drunk and a speaker – usually a High Luminary or occasionally Winston Peters speaks. Steve Braunias (newly crowned Books Editor of The Spinoff!) curates the whole shindig; everyone who is anyone in New Zealand Media is there and so are a whole bunch of Wintec students, for whose benefit the event is being staged. It’s called the Wintec Press Club, and in the Dark Year of 2014 Rachel Glucina was the guest of honour.

I was also there, for some reason, and as is my occasional custom, I wrote the whole thing up. Now that Glucina has been gifted what amounts to her own tiny empire by Mediaworks, in the form of Scout, her new snackable, shareable, sure-to-be-sensationally-shitty multimedia thing, it suddenly seems awfully relevant.

So here you go, Spinoff readers. Cast your minds back, back, to a time before Campbell Live‘s demise, a time when Rachel Glucina reigned supreme as goddess of gossip at the New Zealand Herald

Steve Braunias kicked things off in customary style with a speech and congratulations to various personages in the room, alluding to several people who’d refused to come to hear Glucina speak, because they might catch her lack of ethics, or something. He did a shout-out to Dave Snell, Dr of Boganology, whom I mention here because he’s a good mate and he has a documentary series on bogans now playing on TV2. Watch it, because it’s about actual New Zealand people. End plug.

Glucina’s talk was done as a Q&A with Braunias, which was a useful change in format. Several Press Club speakers, while still instructive, have alternately droned and babbled. She began it, bright and bubbly, with talk of previous guest “Holmsie” [Paul Holmes], an affectation that pissed me off straight away, and how she’d got good and boozed with him and he’d become a mentor and role model with the advice: “You’re not here to make friends, you’re here to break stories.”

Braunias prompted her into an anecdote about her story on Mick Jagger, which was genuinely interesting because it snapped her out of the self-absorbed mode, and had her discussing the way she went about pursuing the story. Then he asked about the ethics of outing Alison Mau and her same-sex relationship. Well, that was fine, Glucina opined, because everyone knew about it anyway. Everyone? Well, yes, and besides, Mau had sold stories to women’s magazines in the past so she was fair game.

The things that came to mind at this point were: no, the public didn’t know, and what right did she have to out someone? Surely it’s a personal decision to publicly reveal your sexuality? Braunias asked something similar. No, that didn’t matter, because Mau was in the public eye and had sold stories, and blah fucking blah. It was around then I fired off the following tweet:

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Much more of this sort of thing followed. Any talk of whether it was worth wrecking people’s lives was met with the argument that they were in the public eye, so what. Laughing, she spun a yarn about her pursuit of the Ridges, with some ghoulish “friends” who’d sold them out to her. It had me cringing. A person at my table passed me a note. It said “Sociopath = no remorse.”

When she wasn’t playing up her close celebrity relationships, or how important she was because people called her to tell her shit, or how many contacts she had (“literally hundreds!”) Glucina was genuinely sympathetic. People had abused her quite horribly, as well as offering her bribes and (mystifyingly) “taken their clothes off” at her to try and get her not to write things. She spoke of Cameron Slater’s hideous social-media campaign against her – “hate speech”, she said – which nearly forced her to England. A chance meeting with the CEO of APN kept her in New Zealand.

Braunias did ask whether she’d paid much attention to her minor role in noted gossip Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics. No, she hadn’t read it, and she’d never met Hager anyway. What did she think of Hager? “Don’t know, never met him.” She said it with a snap.

One of the best bits was her story of how Judith Collins brokered a friendship between her and Slater. The way she told it, Collins had buttonholed her at a cocktail party and said she’d arranged for Slater to apologise to her. Glucina doubted it would happen, but it did. She seemed uncomfortable with the outcome – which isn’t surprising as it looks like Collins had essentially said, “Children: your bickering is becoming politically inconvenient. How can I advance my career when my dogs are fighting? Make up, now.” And they did.

People were well warmed up for the Q&A. It quite quickly became, in Braunias’ closing words, fractious. Most questions centred on whether what she did was ethically tenable. Justifications varied. Questions about the depths her gossip plumbed were met with “It’s my job.” She swatted away allegations of partisan bias with “I’m just a gossip columnist.”

Comedian Te Radar came up with a question that was more of an impassioned riposte about how she’d portrayed herself as a Breaker of Stories and a Purveyor of the Public Interest, but who actually mostly broke stories about which rugby league player got a taxicab blowjob from whom. Her response amounted to: “If the public read/click on it, then it was obviously in the public interest to release it.” My thoughts are that just because that the public are interested doesn’t mean that it’s in their interest. Cynicism compels me to think that if anything, it’s in the newspaper’s interest.

My question about whether tweeting a picture of All Black Aaron Smith’s schlong was ethically OK got a “Well, everyone had already seen it.” Well, no, not really. Or even slightly, actually. “It was doing the rounds.” But the public hadn’t seen it. “He shouldn’t have taken it.” How is it his fault if he got betrayed by a supposed friend? “We talked to his agent.” I don’t want to see dick pics from the New Zealand Herald in my feed. “You don’t have to follow me.” Well, I don’t, but it was retweeted.

At this point it was turning into an argument and Braunias moved on to the next question, which was fair enough. I’d had too much wine and my reputation for asking obnoxious questions was threatening to get out of hand. A woman sensibly followed up with a question about whether Glucina would have done the same if the subject of the picture had been a woman. Sadly, I can’t remember enough of the response to paraphrase it. Perhaps someone else who was there will.

Some guy asked a stupid question about how Glucina could even be friends with Judith Collins. Braunias didn’t even bother with that one. Metro editor Simon Wilson asked if she was aware that she was being played by people as much as she was playing them. Her answer, paraphrased, was: yes, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter because people read and clicked and her job was done. All part of the game.  I got to ask another question: “Rachel, you’re clearly good bros with John Key and Judith Collins. You must know a lot about them. Are you an equal-opportunity gossip? Are we going to find out interesting facts about them?” She said, essentially, “Uh, maybe.” I said, “When?” Laughter. No actual answer, though.

David Slack closed the Q&A amid some vocal run-on questions from others in the crowd. His rich intonation sailed above the quarrelling of the mob as he queried how we could be sure of the veracity of Glucina’s second-hand claims. Her answer, which bordered on tautology, was that we can because they’re true. OK.

It was all very interesting. Kudos to Steve Braunias for bringing in a fascinating guest. It was worthy as a snapshot of the changing face of news and for the genuine questions posed about the nature of what constitutes public interest. It was also an insight into a deeply fucked-up personality: an art historian, a self-identified homebody who turns in early, hates parties and whose day job is spinning vituperation. It was an Interview with the Pit Viper.

This piece has been reissued with the kind permission on Joshua Drummond and Stephen Stratford

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