He’s less TVNZ’s “shock jock” (as the PM called him) and more likely, as “The Life Of Brian’s” Mum says, “ Just a naughty little boy.”
Maybe his sleep deprivation had hit an all-time low, maybe he was showing off to someone in the studio, whatever the reason, Paul Henry’s ill-considered, stupid, embarrassing remarks have set off the usual You-Can’t-Say-That Crowd, aided and abetted by gleeful media enemies who are already crowing, “Off with his head”.
But before we get to them let’s look at how TVNZ handled this issue.
Institutionally, they’ve been there before. Seven years ago another Paul made insensitive comments (“cheeky darkie”) on his radio programme about another man with brown skin, Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Holmes refused to apologize and in doing so unleashed The Right Thinking Gods of Outrage. Dozens of academics signed a letter calling for his resignation. Both his radio station, Newstalk ZB and TVNZ came under increasing pressure to seek his resignation. TVNZ dithered believing that because Holmes had said the words on his radio programme it wasn’t their issue to handle.
This stalemate went on for about a month. The liberal Left pushed hard, demanding his head, only to be met in the latter stages by the Holmesian forces of the Right saying he should stay. Eventually, finally, when both sides were sated from tearing ideological pieces out of each other, sanity of sorts prevailed. Holmes went on camera and apologized.
Quite rightly, TVNZ were having none of that dithering this time round. This had happened on their patch.
Yesterday afternoon it issued a statement quoting Henry apologizing for “any offense I may have caused.”
Rule Number One of Crisis Management; apologize, sincerely and fulsomely. Was it enough of an apology? Definitely not but at least it was a start.
Then, inexplicably, the network tried to contextualise the issue with a second statement. “The audience tell us over and over again that one of the things they love about Paul Henry is that he’s prepared to say the things we quietly think but are scared to say out loud. The question of John Key is the same, we want the answer but are too scared to ask.”
Has TVNZ’s “spokeswoman” (aka mouthpiece) Andi Brotherston gone stark, staring, raving mad or has months inside the Death Star eroded her own sense of perception?
This second statement neatly wiped out any effect of the first and acted to make the network sound as if it trying to justify the actions of a naughty presenter that they can’t control – which they can’t.
Cue the said Right Thinking Gods of Outrage.
“Breakfast” lost its tech commentator Ben Gracewood, Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres questioned the way Henry apologized while the Green Party’s Keith Locke stood on the rocky outcrop of Moral Indignity saying Henry’s comments “fell well short of the mark”.
The tweeting community went into frenzied overdrive with much huffing and puffing all round. The funniest tweet came from the erudite brain of David Slack, “That must be a ton of makeup they put on WhaleOil each morning before they put him next to Pippa.”
Then TVNZ’s media enemies came out to play.
It was the magic “S” for Schadenfreude as National Radio climbed on the bandwagon. The next morning The Royal New Zealand Herald, that guardian of public morals, put none lesser a journalist than Audrey Young onto the story. The fact that the gaffe had occurred during Henry’s weekly chat with the PM is beside the point. What is the Herald’s doing allowing its Head of the Parliamentary Gallery to report on this kind of talk-back topic?
Henry apologized again this morning, wryly calling himself a “gypo” (or gypsy) in the process, which the Herald online dutifully recorded, tacking it onto his enemies’ jibes at the bottom of the story.
This third, more genuine, heartfelt, and self-deprecating apology should cauterize the wound and ultimately kill the irrational debate.
The essence of crisis media management is that, when you are in the wrong confess and repent, admit it fully, apologize sincerely and honestly, and you will generally achieve a measure of redemption.
Here’s the thing. Yes, what silly little Paul Henry originally said was reprehensible but should he be stopped from saying it? No.
If the price of free speech is that we have to allow idiots to say what they want, then so be it.
The unwholesome truth in the midst of all of this is that there are folk out there who would fervently agree with Henry’s utterances. For every well-meaning Liberal I’ll wager you there’s two Rednecks ready to staunchly defend him. They just haven’t had a chance yet in the rush.
Here’s the real truth when it comes to telly; if you’re truly offended by what Paul Henry said, vote with your remote.
Turn the bastard off.
Starve him of an audience and then his ratings and watch the network drop him like a hot-cake.
Fat chance. He’ll still keep two-thirds of his audience, the silent Rednecks, who’ll come slathering back for more.