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SocietyMarch 22, 2017

Hacks, devotees and cheese: the scene from the floor at the Hager book launch


Jess McAllen paints the picture from a Unity Books packed with media, activists and more, eager to discover the subject of the new book and the quality of the catering.

Hit & Run has dominated NZ headlines since its publication less than 24 hours ago. It contains a very serious allegations of SAS involvement in a 2010 retaliatory raid that killed six Afghan civilians and a cover-up that amounts to what the authors call a “dark and guilty secret of New Zealand’s recent history”. You can read the authors’ explainer here, Andrew Geddis’s op-ed here and Danyl Mclauchlan’s review of the book here.

Yesterday afternoon, amid frantic speculation over what the book might be about, the Spinoff dispatched Jess McAllen to the launch itself, at Unity Books in Wellington, to survey the scene.

What kind of a person would come to a book launch when they didn’t even know the title, let alone the subject of the book? A text written by the same person who – rumour has it – didn’t spring for any cheese at his last launch.

There is cheese this time, cubed. No brie, camembert, or even the soft stuff with bits of apricot in it that featured at the past three Unity book launches I’ve been to.

Your correspondent filed this photograph in an email headed ‘My phone camera sucks’

That is one loyal – and largely lacking anyone under 30 – fan base. Oh, and the media – from Vice to the NBR. Lloyd Burr from Newshub fans himself with a hot pink notepad. Blogger Martyn Bradbury is here. Also political commentators Bryce Edwards and Morgan Godfery. So is my old flatmate Ralph. It’s Tuesday night and Wellington is ready to party.

Hager, following Lorde’s PR strategy of less is more, recently announced he was releasing a new book but kept mum on the details – and, it turns out, the co-author, Jon Stephenson (which, when announced, produced an audible gasp from the audience despite him standing next to Hager the whole time).

Before Hager comes onstage people try to find vantage spots that don’t involve being jabbed in the face by a giant camera.

Among those crowded into the bookshop is Lou Hutchinson, who has heard all the rumours about the book’s subject. Her favourite? Spying and the GCSB.

“He knows what is going on,” she says of Hager.

“We all know there is corruption in the government but there is something building … we’re all hoping for a big revelation. John Key just vanished. We want to know why.”

Another attendee is Michael Pringle, who wonders if he should borrow a notepad to fit in with all the journalists, thinks “it is something to do with media and journalism access to government”.

Nestled between the science fiction and crime genres with a backdrop giant poster of talented poet Hera Lindsay Bird, Hager emerges.

Corin Dann’s livecross for OneNews, with Hera Lindsay Bird

It is very hot. The store has “beautiful air conditioning” one worker tells a couple of sweltering women. But this isn’t the normal capacity for Unity Books and Hager has a lot of groupies.

When Hager talks about three-year-old Fatima, whose death following the SAS raids is detailed in the book, they mutter and shake their heads. When he brings up the 22-year-old who had just graduated and had his life cut short they sigh.

Hager reads from a piece of paper held in trembling hands. When he mentions that John Key gave the SAS raids the “green light”, there’s a gasp.

I bump into Michael Pringle again on my way to the press conference

“I think it’s excellent. I feel anger and gratitude.”

Another attendee thinks the book won’t get as much of a reaction as Dirty Politics but it is actually “more important than what a bunch of bloggers are doing”.

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