Fresh from reporting on the American Trumpocalypse, Newshub’s larger than life political editor Patrick Gower tells Toby Manhire about the lessons his US experience offers to NZ media, and how he’s preparing to tackle an election here in 2017, all over the course of a mere seven hours, in the latest instalment of On the Lash, our interview series brought to you by Australian wine geniuses Vinomofo. Guest starring: Raybon Kan.
Patrick Gower is full on. Not for a moment, over the course of a seven-hour long interview with The Spinoff last week, did Newshub’s dynamo political editor drop his focus. It’s possible that he didn’t even actually blink. Over lunch at the Sri Pinang on K Road, his piercing stare was unrelenting, as if down the barrel on a television live cross. Later, quite a lot later, at a Ponsonby bar, he remained alert and poised, eyes darting, speed-reading the establishment, even as your correspondent crumpled in slow-motion to the floor.
The conversation was kindled at the outset by a bottle or two of Foxes Island Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (2014), which the experts at Vinomofo shrewdly recommended would be an exquisite match for a Malaysian feed. “This is really nice,” said Gower, though anyone could see from those indefatigable eyes that what he was thinking was that the layers of flavour, refinement, texture and balance revealed a wine that had been structured to support generosity in youth and grace with age, with flavours of ripe alpine herbs, wet crushed stone, guava, white peach and Tahitian lime.
Whether Gower, 39, is destined for grace with age, remains to be seen. Since he succeeded his mentor and friend Duncan Garner as political editor of TV3 in 2012, “Paddy”, as is he almost universally known, including by most politicians (some have tastier names for him, such as Don Brash’s “deceitful bastard”), has become the most recognisable face of political reporting in New Zealand – a dogged, dynamic and sometimes divisive force, gusting through the corridors of power. He was front and centre of the rollercoaster 2014 “peak cray” election, most memorably following the Moment of Truth extravaganza at the Auckland Town Hall, where he was engaged in a terse press conference exchange with Kim Dotcom and co over just what was the newsworthy matter of the day. Already Dotcom’s Internet-Mana Party had denounced Gower’s reporting team as “puffed up little shits”.
In 2016, Gower, who lives with his wife and two children in Wellington, spent a lot of time in America, documenting an even more gravity-bending election. Over four trips and eight weeks he reported for TV3 and RadioLive on the extraordinary race for the presidency. Trump, says Gower in a passage of otherwise inaudible recording, was “like a motorcycle gang on a double dose of steroids”.
Earlier in the day, however, back at Sri Pinang, I asked him …
What happened? What the fuck just happened in America?
Patrick Gower: Yeah, that’s probably the best question that’s anyone ever asked – like, WTF? For me it was a really strange thing to look back on, because I remember in February, when the sun was shining and it was the end of summer; asking [then Newshub boss] Mark Jennings, “Can we go to Super Tuesday?” and he was like, “You know, Trump’s going OK, he might have a bit of a chance of getting this nomination.” It was like, he miiiiight go OK in this nomination, and he might go OK on Super Tuesday.
And now you look back, and I remember the conversation, and – well, I never thought he’d get the nomination, and I never thought he’d become president. It’s just like this punt to go to Super Tuesday, because he was making things interesting, and then, here we are now. Sun’s back out again, and he’s President of the United States of America, and it’s still really hard to say.
You’ve almost been camped out there this year.
Yeah. Eight weeks in the States, four trips, and if you take the travel there, and getting back, the comedown – not the jetlag, but the comedown from the politics – I mean, for the politically-minded it’s a drug, and like any bloody drug there’s a comedown.
So you go and spend two weeks there covering stuff and you get back here and it takes you a while to actually go “jeez, that happened” and for me it was Super Tuesday at Trump’s bloody pad in Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, and all the conventions are a next-level, surreal experience – like you’re in some sort of sci-fi movie. They’re sort of existential experiences, you know?
New Zealand politics must seem pretty sleepy in comparison.
Everyone says that, and I’m going to give a cheesy answer. It doesn’t seem like that to me because I’m kind of into it. Sorry for the cheesy answer.
What’s the real answer?
That is the real answer. I’m still over there sitting up in the middle of the night going, “Oh, what’s Labour doing at their conference – oh my God!” I do really like politics here, I find it really interesting.
Being in America, as journalist from one of the most far-flung lands, you go from being able to have access to the ninth floor of the Beehive with reasonable regularity to no-one really giving a toss. It must make it quite a difficult proposition, going about reporting news.
Yeah, you’re just a bloody nobody. No-one’s going to do you a favour. Like, the janitor ain’t going to do you a favour over there. You’ve got no good security people or whatever. Just getting in the door of the convention is ultimately a major bloody mission. And then nobody wants to know you or do anything, you can’t email someone and get an interview in advance; they don’t even want to answer.
They are so busy, you’re just a piece of flotsam or jetsam out there. But in saying that, because of Trump, there’s a whole sort of army of flotsam and jetsam, and you arrive at something, and Norway’s there, Indonesia’s there, the Paddy Gower of Japan’s there. There’s a whole lot of people just hanging around on the fringes.
And it’s a big call deciding where to go. Being in the right place at the right time.
Yeah, you just gotta fluke it.
And you did pretty well?
Yeah, I had a few flukes. Went to Houston for the first debate, no accreditation, sat around and waited all day and then was given accreditation at the end of the day, which got us into that debate. Well, you don’t even get into the debate, this is the thing – you get into the spin room, which is one, two, three thousand journalists.
Is that where you got to pop a question at Trump?
Yeah. They have a media scrum afterwards, it’s pretty amazing to see. All the networks have a stall on one side, CNN, Fox, ABC, they’ll have stalls and everything, and on the other side there’s a fence. Like in any scrum, Trump will sort of zigzag between stalls, talk to the media on the fence, so it was kind of just like – sitting there and hoping he’d come your way, or that you were in the “you’re in” zone.
It was the old classic tactic – massive media scrum around him, and you hoped that he’d come into clear air. Which he did, he dipped around and I caught his eye, and I asked him, “What would a Donald Trump presidency mean for New Zealand?” And he said, “Do you know Bob Charles? He’s your very best golfer. Say hello to Bob Charles.” And then I asked him about the TPP, and he moved on. But that was a shock, I remember my camera operator and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything. This was when he was just a Republican renegade.
Tell me about election night. Tell me about the day for you.
Well, everyone was like, “you’re at the centre of history,” and I was like, “No, I was on the side of the road in NYC with two or three thousand journalists from Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, you name it.” Literally standing on the sidewalk outside the Hilton, following the results on my phone. There was no feeling of history. There’s no atmosphere. So it turns out this amazing, global seismic shift in politics, and being there on the night was kind of being trapped after the Subway closed and your credit card’s not working.
The shock of the result – you weren’t really feeling it. It wasn’t amazing, compared to the other things. Like the day before was probably the peak for me, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, following Trump; and that felt like history. Like I was in the middle of something that was, for me, a different feeling from something I’ve ever felt before.
Because you could feel something shifting?
Something was happening, I registered that at the time. But you don’t look back until a day later and go, “boy, what was happening there was real.” I remember talking to the newsroom bosses in Auckland, saying, “Great, this is amazing, great”, there’s all these Trump supporters, and they’re normal. There’s actually thousands of these people already, waiting all these hours, and they’re actually normal. So that was what I angled my story on for election eve.
Yeah, just Mom and Pop business owners, with degrees, it’s a University town kind of like Dunedin, heaps of students, they were there 11 hours. I think the college gym only took about five thousand people, so it wasn’t the biggest crowd, and Hillary Clinton’s old man grew up in Scranton. Her dad, who she talks about often, and Joe Biden is from Scranton. So it was always a bit of a symbolic kind of place, and there’s all these complexities, Trump didn’t actually need to win Scranton, he just needed to not lose by as much there to help him win Pennsylvania.
It felt like something was happening there. You doubt yourself because you read the New York Times and Nate Silver, and everyone goes “nah nah nah nah”, and then you see all these people there, and you know something’s up.
Normal people, the atmosphere – you could kind of tell that they were just fizzing. Then Trump came on and started to do his speech, he was very controlled by this point, he was having a really good last week, but the one thing he said that will be seared on my mind forever, he said: “Tomorrow you are going to get the change that you have been waiting for your entire lives.”. And boom, the hall erupted.
And then afterwards, I met this couple, they were in their seventies, she had a college degree. By this point I was going up to people and saying, “In New Zealand, we think you’re crazy to be voting for this guy, and we think he’s crazy.” That’s how upfront I was being. And this woman said, “I’ve got a college degree,” and her husband said, “We’ve got this business, we’re pool cleaners.” Then he said, in reference to Trump’s “tomorrow you’ll get the change you’ve been waiting for”: “He’s not the right messenger, but he’s got the right message.”
This thing is far bigger than him and he just happened to get on top of this giant wave. It might be that it’s not the man, it’s the movement. The seismic shift, to use the cliché, wasn’t because he was jumping up and down on the tectonic plate. I’m doubling down on earthquake metaphors, but you know, those plates were moving. He didn’t create the quake. That political earthquake was going to happen, whether it was now or four years or whenever.
So you talked before about how you met non-crazy Trump supporters at Scranton. But you met a few crazies as well?
There was one, in Miami – the “Zealand incident”, as I refer to it. So there are universal rules around politics, whatever country you’re in. And I think if there’s a political supporter wearing a Nike sun visor, be prepared for him or her to be a little bit out there. Even outside of politics, it’s a rule people can take away: be wary of people who wear sun visors.
Have you been to Williamsburg lately?
It’s the height of fashion. It’s come full circle.
When you’re wearing it in a non-ironic way. Anyone who wears a sun visor because it’s a sun visor, be very wary. Part of Trump’s shtick was to say, “the media don’t show the crowds, they never turn the camera around, they don’t want you to see the crowds.” And then this guy just unleashed, going, “you’re a sellout, you’re selling out your own family, your profession.”
This is to you?
To me, yeah, to all of us. They were at the back of the media area, standing along a fence. There’s another guy there going, “we are the media now!”, filming you on Facebook to three viewers or whatever. “We control the message!” He actually said – and this is where I knew he was wrong – “Newspapers are like the 1880s!” Internally I was saying, well, those were the good days. Things were great for newspapers then. If he’d said newspapers were like the 2010s …
But, you know, this guy did not know where New Zealand was. He said, “You’re part of the Clinton media,” and I said, “No, I’m from New Zealand,” and he said, “What, Zealand?” And I said, “No, New Zealand, and there is no such thing as the Clinton media.” And he said, “Ohhhhhh! You are a part of the Clinton media.” But the reality is, these people exist. Sun Visor was an extreme version, but the distrust of anyone with a camera, or anyone that looked like a journalist that Trump had sort of tapped into, that was really working for him.
So Sun Visor is presumably watching what’s going on, in the transition. He hears, for example, Donald Trump saying he’s not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton, even though he said he would explicitly in the debates, and in those rallies – they’re not after all going to lock her up. Is Sun Visor annoyed?
The visceral distrust was something else – people really disliked her. But they were also so forgiving of Trump! This is why I’m wondering if people will be that disappointed.
Even on Super Tuesday, we went to the rodeo in Texas, even then, people were saying, “Oh, he might not build the wall, but even the idea of them talking about it is good.” It’s sort of this thing where they’d separate the fiction and the fact, and it was happening pretty early on. So even back then, there were people going, “He won’t build a wall, but he will do more about immigrants than anyone else.” And then all these women, next to Sun Visor, there’s all these women supporting Trump. How can you do that? On the “locker room talk” and the sexual assault allegations they say, “Nobody’s perfect”.
One of those great lines was that the media took him literally, but not seriously, and the voters took him seriously but not literally. So media will get obsessed by U-turns or failures, whereas the voter will stick more with, “well, I never thought he was going to do that anyway.” But it’s got a New Zealand parallel, with Key’s U-turns. So U-turns are something that media obsesses on. They’re awesome, supposedly. But what we’re seeing is that Joe Voter doesn’t care.
So to extrapolate that New Zealand parallel: I mean, not to compare, because John Key is clearly not Donald Trump. But does he have some of those qualities?
Can John Key and Steven Joyce see past the news cycle to something out here? Yes, they can. And they pride themselves on that. It’s like lobbing something out over the waves, and the wave crashes in, and you go and grab a beach ball.
Who’s doing the throwing in that metaphor?
You know, you’re at the beach, and there’s these big waves coming in, and everyone’s thrashing about in the waves. And they throw the beach ball out beyond it, and then the waves come in, and they go and get the ball.
Everyone around the world is watching these changes – whether it’s the rise of Marine Le Pen in France or Brexit. Of course we’re not immune to those forces, but do you think there’s a sense that Winston Peters, who’s represented in parliament in a proportional system, provides some kind of safety valve?
We’ve had a valve there for 25-plus years called Winston Peters, do you know what I mean? It’s been like, “Chooo! Chooo!”, steam’s just coming out of it. The US has had no valve, ever. No valve. Two party system. That whole time, Peter has had that valve, and that’s sort of ten per cent at the moment. It’s flared up here and there and might again.
The question that people ask is, could we have a sort of uprising here? It would never be the same. If there is a surge, I think it’s going to have to come from non homeowners, people in the regions, students, over 65s, renters, people in South Auckland working two jobs on the minimum wage. That’s the coalition you need to build for a surge here. And that might not be enough to flip the centre, but it might be enough to give someone like Winston Peters 20 per cent.
You talked about being cast as Hillary’s media, and the media at large kind of missed a lot of the story. Do you buy this whole media soul-searching thing, that media have to look deeply within themselves and rethink the way they do business? Do you feel like it’s time?
It’s such a wake-up call and a serious shock to imagine waking up here and having thought John Key’s gonna win, these other guys have no chance, then you wake up the next day and Andrew Little’s in power or something like that. You’ve actually got it blatantly wrong. One of the things about Americans is, so many of them got it wrong.
Apart from the predictions side of it, the forecasting, just from the way the media goes about its business, is that blown apart too? When you go into work, at the press gallery in Wellington, how do you think about the way you go about your business? Whether it’s the two horse race thing, all that stuff?
All of it needs to be looked at. What’s happening in the States; it’s not just polling, or the horse race. Because everyone around the world is doing the same thing, looking at the same polls, the people that are closest get heard the loudest and it extrapolates, right?
In the end if you strip it all away we’re all looking at this massive complicated election, but also looking at some really simplistic stuff. If you think about it even the debates are pretty simplistic. They don’t cover anything, topics get missed out, they get high viewership and then are broken down into soundbites, everyone runs about with their hot takes.
People lost touch with the voters, and with their audiences. That’s what you’ve got to do when you’re here, think about how you’re going to stay close to the voters. Do we even know what they want? Do we get them? Who wants to be the political journalist who wakes up and goes, “I didn’t understand the nuances of my own country” because I was doing something the way everyone had always done it?
So I don’t have the answers to these things. But I know what the question is. Do I want to be the journalist that wakes up on September 24th next year and is going, “Aw, I know I told you this, but I didn’t understand the nuances of my own country.” Not really. That’s what these guys are confronting.
So a September 23 election next year, you sure on that?
I’m 100% confident.
Someone suggested September 30th to me the other day.
You with your nuances and not making big predictions.
But, yeah, you’re over there and you’re like, wow – there’s all these people making all these calls, and you’re like, I’m never going to make another call again. Then you get back home and start making calls. Oh, I called it, I called it, you know? And you don’t have to call it. It’s interesting because if you’re yarning with your mates, or people want to talk to you, they do want to know what you think will happen. So you can’t say “I’m not going to tell you.” You can’t do that, but you can’t wildly call stuff either. Common sense needs to prevail. For people like me it’s going to be a case of being really careful, and explaining things better.
What can you learn from the American experience, in terms of what you do next year?
All the criticisms – you think, that’s not me. Too insider, doing things the old way, not being open enough to an audience that is changing, not reaching out to real people, or spending any time outside of the beltway or the bubble. You think: that’s not me. But realistically, those are lessons to be learned from what’s happened with the US election or the US media. They’re confronting questions really, when you repeat them back to yourself as I just have. You think, I’m not chained to old ways, I didn’t come up in some institution – then you say, oh, yes I have, yes I have. They’re the sort of failings, you know? And it’s the old look-in-the-mirror scenario.
Is there anything in particular you’re thinking about?
It’s like everything, it’s an institution that’s been tested and it’s not one arm of it that’s broken, the whole thing buckled under pressure. Not just media, their electoral system as well. It’s the whole thing, it didn’t hold up to the stress. I don’t want to make another earthquake analogy, but, you know, it wasn’t one beam, it was the whole caboodle that didn’t hold up to this ginormous amount of pressure.
Going back to 2014 here, and we did the peak-cray election, it was a pinch-yourself election, right? How do you look back on that now?
Wildly entertaining. But did we pick up on the fact that there was a housing crisis and people would be sleeping in cars? No we didn’t. We knew there was an issue with housing, but things got missed, and you wonder if you want another peak-cray election where we spend a lot of time talking about things that in the end don’t affect people’s lives. Or do we want one where we get to the bottom of what’s really affecting our lives, and get close to them again?
It might not be as interesting, and it might not have the highlights reel going and people laughing out loud and stuff like that, but New Zealanders may stay more connected to their electoral system. Because you’re talking about something that takes years and years and years. And the media’s got a role in it – this is the serious side. If you lose it, and this is what American’s shown us, if the institutions, the electoral system, lose it, if the politicians and media lose touch, anything can happen. Will they necessarily come back?
What happens when your institutions lose touch with your voters? When you take time to break it, how long’s it take to fix it? New Zealand needs to think about that. Do we want to drift away, then sit there scratching our heads going, “Oh, how did that happen? Whose fault was that?” Then all of a sudden we’ve got 58% voter turnout in New Zealand or something in six years’ time. What’s good about that? Nothing.
Did you feel like you got burnt out a bit in that election? What happened?
Definitely. All of New Zealand politics – it’s not even right to call it a hangover, that would have been over in March. So you’ve still got that honeymoon phase, and I guess there’s the sort of political hangover, that was a big election campaign, everyone’s catching their breath. That election was so damaging and high-pressure and excoriating that the reset button is taking some time to, well, to get back to normal.
On top of that you had turmoil at MediaWorks not long after the election. People leaving, including mentors of yours, and you had to reshape the team – that must have taken a toll?
Yup. But that’s the new normal for media now. To flip it back on you, was The Spinoff even in the lesser reaches of Duncan Greive’s brain in the last election?
What’s the new normal?
Constant change. Don’t want to sound like a management textbook – we’re going from earthquake analogies to Tony Robbins. But the United States will show you that as well: if you want to reach people now, you can’t just do it at 6pm. You need to be on social. TV, morning, nighttime. Got to forget about the divisions there. Web, radio. And by radio I mean, you might be on MoreFM explaining what’s happening in the States, you’ve got to find a way to grab these people.
But it must have been stressful when all the shit was going down with Mark Weldon and all the upheaval.
Yup. But we’ve bounced back and, shit, you might think I’m diverging, but one of the things, through all of that, a whole lot of people, hundreds, kept working really hard and I think we’re still standing. It’s awesome. I’ve got an awesome team. Lloyd Burr. Jenna Lynch. Maiki Sherman. Isobel Ewing. Awesome.
Duncan Garner, when he did one of those Wintec Press Club gigs, talked about being political editor of TV3, and it was interesting because he was at once exuberant – loved it, best time of his life – and explaining how it destroyed him. I mean, you can’t go forever, can you?
It’s like a tyre, and you’ve only got so much tread on it. When you come in and have heaps of tread, you’re impervious to a lot of things, and then just – it’s like a tyre with tread on it and acid rain being put on it. But you just find things like American elections to get you out of it, and new teams, and new structures, they keep you fresh. But your question is, how long can I keep going? Well, who knows. There’s a hell of a script coming up with the next election, as we’ve seen. The next election is about getting stuff, for New Zealand, it’s about getting things right. From what we’ve seen around the world, it’s about doing it right so everyone can wake up the next day and go ‘hey we did our best job of it and that was not too bad’.
We don’t want a 1999 World Cup scenario. Let’s get some rugby talk in here. Gotta move onto rugby analogies now, because we’re having a few wines. All the warning signs have been there for people like me. You can get on Google and basically read how to not do elections or major political events. The rest of the world is – and to use another cliché – we can be a fast follower. Everyone’s making the mistakes.
And when that day does come, what do you do next?
Ultimately, what would be ideal is some sort of web-based organisation with good writers, and a sort of new revenue model that was outflanking old media. And maybe there was a column with a legacy media thing. That would be ideal.
Did you bring your CV with you?
Nah mate, honestly, shit, what about Helen Clark: “There’s no Plan B.” Main job is to get my guys across the line next election.
Later, at a fashionable Ponsonby bar, Gower says he recognises the establishment because he’s “seen it on Instagram.” Which prompts your correspondent, whose sole activity on Snapchat ever has been to chat with Patrick Gower in the leadup to this interview, to remark …
You’re across all the platforms.
All the platforms.
You quit Twitter, though, basically. I mean you’re still there but –
But I only kind of use it to get stuff out. I don’t ever read it or talk back or anything.
Oh I don’t know, mate.
Of course you know.
Yeah, I do know. It just got too much in the end. All the reasons that everybody knows. It just got too much and I’d had enough. It was good while it lasted. It was like acid rain. Like acid rain.
Because of the arguments you got caught up in?
Was it a time thing?
No, it wasn’t a time thing. But it’s still good if you want to get something out instantly. That’s its strength – you can get something out instantly.
Your critics would say it’s because you were unwilling to face criticism from people who thought your reporting was reporting was inflammatory or biased.
Are you saying they’re right?
Yeah, they’re 100 per cent correct. Give me their handles and I’ll come at them from my face address.
That’s the one. In saying that it was interesting to see Twitter was still very much part of the toolbox for American journos. You can get a lot of what’s happening there from Twitter. They’re all tweeting like maniacs. It’s this instant conversation.
What was Trump doing on Twitter, was he communicating with voters, or really with journalists?
Mate, he’s trolling. He’s the world’s biggest troll. He basically used it as an extension of his media meme.
Later still, at a different fashionable Ponsonby bar, the brilliant and funny comedian and writer Raybon Kan appears, and looks quizzically at the voice recorder propped on the bar.
Raybon Kan: Are you interviewing each other or is that just a precaution?
Gower: This is what you call post-truth beers. Honestly, in a year’s time, everyone will be doing this when they go for a beer. They’ll record it, just in case.
Manhire: This is a high-level Spinoff interview.
Kan: This is actually an interview?
Manhire: What would you ask Patrick Gower?
Kan: I guess the interesting thing is you’ve just been at the election.
Manhire: We’ve covered that.
Gower: Ad nauseam.
Manhire: Patrick Gower is always barking in the face of politicians. If you could bark in his face what would you ask?
Kan: I want to know what his real agenda is.
Manhire: Yeah. What’s your real agenda?
Kan: Clearly someone is pulling his strings. We just want to know who.
Gower. Yeah. I’m on the take.
Kan: Big plutonium? Big tobacco?
Gower: Ultimately, what I’d like to do, is just have a small craft plutonium bar in Nelson. Americans welcome. I’ll just quietly sit back and serve a bit of domestic plutonium.
Kan: The local product. The other question is, what is the Spinoff’s real agenda?
Manhire: That is a really good question.
Kan: It’s just Russian dolls, right? Dolls within dolls.
Gower: That’s right.
Kan: I’m going to say Brethren.
Gower: Open Brethren, definitely.
The recording at this point stops inexplicably, which does seem suspicious. It resumes with Gower talking again about election day …
Gower: It was earlier in the day, getting into New York City from Philly, and going to Trump Tower, and there’s this buzz of activity that’s going on beneath it, it’s completely surrounded by New York sanitation department dump trucks, because that’s what they do for a major event, to stop a terror attack. There’s this ginormous tower, and there’s people buzzing about down below, and it felt like Game of Thrones. The Trump family are up there, and the peasants are down below. It did feel like Game of Thrones. I hate lazy clichés like anyone else, but when you’ve had a few beers it’s the best you’ve got.
Could you use an earthquake analogy?
Earthquakes, All Blacks, management speak, and once you’ve run out of those you can use Game of Thrones, and after that you’re in serious trouble.
The recording stops again, mysteriously, before roaring back to life with Gower answering some insensible question or other, who knows.
Gower: Sometimes I’ve become like a sensitive playwright, who doesn’t want his play reviewed on the first night, or like a politician, who always wants to try to talk in code or whatever and hope the journalists gets it but you never say what you want to say.
Manhire: But there’s also the reality that I will pluck out of our conversation …
Yeah but that’s the reality that I live in. I’m the artiste of that. Where you go with something, you know. That’s the art of politics. Someone’s always hinting at things and then you grab it. That’s where it’s at. And that’s where post-truth politics and all these things have come from. Everyone’s hinting and calling. This is the ultimate story of what’s happening in the American election. Post-truth politics. Hinting. Horse-racing. All of these things are all about inauthenticity, or things that aren’t real any more.
Ultimately the future of the media and politics will come down to this: what is true? What is real? Can I trust them? Is it now? Do I agree with that person? Do I trust that person? Do they understand me? Are they where I’m at? Is it real? Those are the lessons, those are the lessons. Those are the lessons of what’s been happening. Can we still be real?
What you do as a job is almost by definition plucking something out, choosing. You are the arbiter of what is real, or what is important at least?
What are you doing is going into this great morass, and you’re going: I will be the person, we will be the network, we will be the organisation where you can actually get something out and you can trust it. Don’t have to agree with it, but you can trust it. And when the media loses that, they’re out. You ain’t got nothing. You lose that, you are gone. Simple.
Here’s the problem I have with the 6pm news. On both channels, you’re sitting there in front of the house of representatives, then you say, “Ordinary New Zealanders will think this.”
Well, we’ve got to go back and say, will they really?
Isn’t that a deception, in a way? Immediately after a poll or whatever, you say, this is what ordinary people think. In a way, how dare you?
Can I say this to you: how dare we? How dare we do that? And what you’ve got to watch is crossing the line – there’s a line now, there’s a line there that has been breached, in the UK and in the United States, and we see it in Iceland and all these other places. There’s a line there, where people are saying, “we don’t like you saying that about us any more, because you don’t get us, and you are wrong.”
They’re not going to be forgiving. They’re not going to say, you got it wrong once, they’re going to say you got it wrong the whole time, and we’re gone. In some sense, as journalists, we are sacrificing something that has been built up for hundreds of years. We’ve got to stay close to them. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, but in the end, the audience is right. Ultimately, it can be summed up as this: they have the power, we don’t have the power, we should never have the power, they should always have the power. And when the system starts to drift away from that, politics always finds a way back. It can beat anything, it overpowers everything. It ultimately sits with the voter. Every person’s vote in this country counts.
Didn’t I read somewhere that you don’t vote?
That’s right, I don’t vote.
Fucking hell, mate, you should vote.
Well, fuck you, and I’ll swear for the first time. I don’t vote because of my role in the media. Is my unashamed belief in a democracy the ability to vote? I love democracy. Tears come to my eyes when I see democracy. Simple. Even better than the World Cup.
Do we want a Breitbart country? Do we want a country where a Breitbart is here? Or do we want something where, you know, some broadcasters are outliers on their own programmes and we just let them be? We don’t want to go that level of partisan media. It’s just not where we’re at, it’s not what we’re about. We’ve got something that the rest of the world wants to get back to. So you’ve got to stick with it. But you’ve got to make it meaningful. Because if people don’t believe in it, it doesn’t exist.
But some people would say Patrick Gower is there to make a scene, and chase people down corridors.
They can say what they like, and look at everything. But I’m not here to fail Kiwis. I’m here to stand up for bloody Kiwis.
But don’t you also get a thrill out of chasing a story?
No one loves breaking a story more than me.
That’s a very Trumpy thing to say!
Look, I’m fantastic at breaking stories. Believe me, it’s huge. You would not believe what’s coming in about my stories.
But you do work in part in the entertainment industry.
You do, of course you do.
No, I do not. No, I do not. Never have, never will.
But part of the role you play is bringing people in.
And journalists have been doing that since the Guttenberg blimmin’ printing press, mate.
Sure, but watching you …
We’re really going for it now, aren’t we?
You’re in there, you’re chasing people around, and you are doing that …
OK. Why can’t it be entertaining?
But it’s a performance, part of that, right?
It’s parliament! It’s a performance of its own. Everyone’s performing all of the time. We will live in a world where – mate, what do you want us to do, be a bunch of boring shits? Just talk about the TPP all day long? What are you going to do? You want that on your grave: talked a lot about the TPP and was quite serious.
So you agree with me, you’re part of the entertainment industry?
You got me. You won this joust. No, no, no, actually: I won’t rule out that I’m part of the entertainment industry, slightly on the outside, maybe. That’s the political answer isn’t it? Here’s a question: Why are they in silos? Why are they in silos, news and entertainment?
Well, from a …
Oh, Jesus, you’re not being interviewed here, you don’t need to answer that …
From a …
That’s a quote that I’m giving you. You don’t need to answer it. It’s a rhetorical question.
The exchange above was fuelled by Foxes Island Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014, available at Vinomofo.
The transcripts were edited here and there but only a little, for clarity and, more than a little, for length. Patrick Gower co-presents The Nation end-of-year review with Lisa Owen on TV3 this Saturday morning.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.