Decade in review: The worst takes of the 2010s

The 2010s will go down in media history as the Take Decade. Hayden Donnell combed through every single take made in New Zealand in the last 10 years to compose this list of the worst ones.

If there’s one overarching media trend from the 2010s, it’s our inexorable move toward a take economy. Look at Duncan Garner, Mike Hosking, Sean Plunket, or Peter Williams. Look at this article. Takes are popular, and, most importantly, cheap. As the media’s business model has disintegrated, opinions have risen like a disgusting Phoenix from the ashes. We’ve been awash in them for 10 years, and if anything they’re getting worse. Still, some stood out below all the rest. I plunged headfirst into the take toilet to fish out the worst efforts from this decade.

Honourable mention: Mike Hosking: The Spinoff TV is crap and a waste of our money

How dare he?

10. Mike Hosking: Don’t waste our money on this cycling madness

Cycling is getting dramatically more popular in Auckland. Cycle trips increased 8.3% from 2018 to 2019, and that trend continued through winter despite the city’s roads still being rank deathtraps. It’s a free way of travelling that makes people healthier and saves the planet.

What’s not to like? According to Mike Hosking, everything. Newstalk ZB’s marquee man has been in a desperate one-man war against bicycles for the better part of a decade. Every week, he slathers himself in engine oil and raps out a column titled something like “four wheels good, two wheels bad” while shouting “broom broom” at anyone in the NZME office who’ll listen. This effort is a particular stinker, railing against, of all things, children biking to school. It’s included here not just for its content, but because it represents an ongoing pattern of take making.

9. Ryan Bridge: Kiwi vegan loonies are treasonous

Magic Talk’s Ryan Bridge is a talkback host who gives the impression of a man impersonating a talkback host. In October, he rummaged around in a bag labelled Provocative Opinions and wrenched out “charge vegans with treason”. “This country was built off the back of farming and agriculture. To not eat the fruits of our labour is economic treason. They’re treasonous,” he said.

On the one hand, it’s doubtful Bridge is 100% serious. On the other, this is easily one of the worst ideas published by a mainstream outlet in New Zealand this decade. Prisons are already crowded enough without having to cage vegans for the crime of not killing enough cows. If Bridge needs a truly provocative opinion that has the upside of being correct, he should consider calling for a ban on golf. I’m available for a brainstorm, Magic Talk. Just call me.

Honourable mention: The entire careers of Garrick Tremain and Al Nisbet.

8. Deborah Hill Cone: Why does Clarke Gayford bug me?

As it turns out, the answer to the question posed in the headline was “for no good reason” and “because I’m being weirdly spiteful”.

7. Rachel Stewart: TERF a derogatory term to shut down debate

Former Herald columnist Rachel Stewart always tiptoed the line between provocateur and unhinged polemic. In this column, she outed herself as a gender-critical feminist TERF, before snorting a full cup of brain worms and talking about trans lobby groups being funded by George Soros and Warren Buffett in a scheme to make money for “Big Pharma”. If those accusations strike you as both ludicrous and potentially worse, well, you’re not an opinion editor for the Herald/haven’t done your research on sites with URLs like trutheagle.com.

Stewart was censured by the Press Council for this column. She now writes for The Daily Blog.

6. Leighton Smith: We need to push back on climate change hoax

Few people have issued more takes than Leighton Smith. Newstalk ZB’s veteran mid-morning host lathered his views on an adoring audience three hours a day, five days a week for 33 years. His show was xenophobic and Islamophobic at times. But most of all, it was scientifically illiterate. He spent hours casting doubt on climate change, railing against the UN, and generally encouraging his listeners to wear polar bear fur and try some fracking in their backyards.

Smith retired recently to spend more time creating blogs like this one on cycle lanes, which begins with the immortal words: “On the cycle lanes, I saw an e-scooter. There was one of the new e-scooters on the cycle lanes.” He also kept up the fight on his favourite topic, confidently shrugging off the verdicts of the world’s scientists in this 11-paragraph tour of his dumbest hits

The last five years were the five hottest ever recorded. Australia is currently on fire. Climate change has already killed and displaced people close to home in the Pacific. Smith has spent years misinforming people about the world’s biggest story. Maybe that’s shameful and irresponsible. But it’s also popular. 

5. Martin van Beynen: Dangerous times for older white males with opinions

Only if you’re the type of older white male who writes stuff like this.

4. Ben Mack: How the far right is poisoning New Zealand

Say what you like about Winston Peters: he’s had some bad opinions about immigration. He’s grumpy with the blameless, beatific men and women of the media. He did this tweet

But any politically literate person would struggle to say Winston Peters is a member of the far right. Ben Mack isn’t one of those people. In an article for The Washington Post, Mack said Peters’ decision to join the coalition government meant the racists were “pulling the strings and continuing to hold the nation hostage”. “What’s happened in New Zealand isn’t just horrifying because of the long-term implications of hate-mongers controlling the country, but also because it represents a blueprint that the far right can follow to seize power elsewhere,” he wrote.

The column left most New Zealanders saying “wtf” and “how did this get published in The Washington Post?” While the far right is definitely a problem, saying it’s in charge of the country, and that Peters is a member of it, may be the most borderline deranged bit of political analysis published in the 2010s. Congratulations to both Mack and Jeff Bezos for this achievement.

Honourable mention: Patrick Gower on recovering bodies from an active volcano

This from The New York Times on the SAS operation to recover bodies from Whakaari: “It took two hours for the troops to collect the six bodies, trudging through knee-deep sludge, drawing labored breaths and constantly thinking about the volcano rumbling over their shoulder.” The Times goes on to quote operation leader, Colonel Rian McKinstry: “They’ve gone to the depths of their endurance and past it… They wouldn’t say it, but it was obvious to me as their boss.”

3. Duncan Garner: Dear NZ, how do we want to look in 20 years?

Imagine the worst thought that’s entered your mind. You probably tried to scrub it from your brain immediately, like cat vomit from your carpet. Made an effort to bury it in better arguments.

Now imagine having to share that thought with the world every day. For your professional success to be judged on how many people you enrage or, even worse, affirm with that thought. 

Hold that image. Really embrace it. You’re experiencing what it’s like to be Duncan Garner.

This column is a good introduction to Garner’s oeuvre. It begins with him travelling through a K-Mart before seeing something that makes him shart and hallucinate simultaneously. At the checkout, there’s a line that includes some people of Asian descent.

Garner doesn’t see people trying to buy cushions and artificial plants, though. He sees a snake. A huge snake! “It snaked and snaked and snaked. The snake was massive,” he wrote. “I looked around, it could have been anywhere in South East Asia.” Despite Garner saying he wasn’t being xenophobic, the Press Council and others affirmed he was in fact being quite xenophobic.

It wasn’t Garner’s only brainfart this decade, or even this month, but this list only has room for 10 entries. A true master of the bad take craft.

2. Dave Witherow: Haere mai? Everything is far from ka pai!

Second place goes to the second-most racist take of the decade. Number one goes to…

1. Paul Holmes: Waitangi Day a complete waste

… the most racist take of the decade.

There were bad takes before Paul Holmes wrote his 2012 screed on Waitangi Day (see John Roughan on transport, Leighton Smith on everything), but this feels somehow formative. Written in 2012, it was like the decade’s ur bad take. A prominent white, male broadcaster tapped into a rich vein of bigotry and exploited it for clicks. He was admonished for it by the Press Council, but the model was proven. The article was talked about by his detractors and racists alike.

You probably have a vague recollection of the column. It’s even worse than you remember. Here’s one paragraph: “Well, it’s a bullshit day, Waitangi. It’s a day of lies. It is loony Maori fringe self-denial day. It’s a day when everything is addressed, except the real stuff. Never mind the child stats, never mind the national truancy stats, never mind the hopeless failure of Maori to educate their children and stop them bashing their babies. No, it’s all the Pakeha’s fault. It’s all about hating whitey. Believe me, that’s what it looked like the other day.”

The rest are similar. 

Holmes died in 2013. For his faults, he could be a skilled, warm interviewer. The people that followed in his wake have often lacked his humanity. Hosking, his literal and spiritual successor, gives the impression he would be wearing human skin within days of the apocalypse. Paul Henry doesn’t have his streak of kindness. Neither does Garner. Holmes doesn’t deserve all the blame for the people that succeeded him in shit takes, but this column helped blaze a trail. In the years since, many men have walked down it. Maybe, just maybe, the future will be brighter.


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