Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wintec Press Club: Duncan Garner edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, politicians, famous sporty types, and me. The host is Steve Braunias, Editor in Residence on the course.

Present last Friday for the first lunch of 2014 were former National and Act leader Don Brash, independent MP Brendan Horan, local Labour list MP Sue Moroney and local National real MP Tim McIndoe. Sadly National minister Simon Bridges was a no-show, as was Labour’s non-candidate Julian Wilcox. I was seated at a table with two sparky students (Rachael from Otumoetai and Jason from Whakatane, so we bonded over our Bay of Plenty origins), Waikato Times columnist Joshua Drummond, Listener and Herald columnist Toby Manhire and a very nice chap from the Act Party called David Seymour.

David and I were the first to take our seats. Showing my deep interest in politics in this election year, I asked him, “Are you standing as a candidate somewhere in the Waikato?”

He replied, “No, I’m standing in Epsom.” Oh, that David Seymour. The David Seymour upon whose shoulders rest the hopes of Act getting back into Parliament and possibly National being able to form a government, so he is kind of central to the election. The poor bastard said he has knocked on 6000 doors in Epsom already but worse was to come – Josh and Toby took their seats, to his left, and climbed into him about Act policy. I suppose he has to get used to this sort of thing – people being either entirely ignorant of politics (me) or passionate about it (Josh and Toby).

Steve insists that at these events Chatham House rules apply so nothing that is said can be reported, but I have never paid attention to him before (see my accounts of the lunches starring John Campbell, Jesse Mulligan, Robyn Malcolm, Greg King, Paul Holmes, Michael Laws and Winston Peters) and don’t intend to start now.

In his witty introduction to the guest speaker, Duncan Garner, Steve used the phrase “temporarily sober” but my notes are unclear if this referred to himself or Garner. Possibly both.

Garner was very amusing. He told lots of stories from his career, in the order in which they happened, and seemed to be winging his speech without notes. But every time he lost the thread he finished the anecdote and shouted, “And that’s why journalism is important!” The students loved it.

He said that he at 22, after only three weeks in the Press Gallery, he was summoned to then PM Jim Bolger’s office with a few others. There was whisky. Bolger left at 2am, Garner and the others left some time later. Next morning Bolger opened a childcare centre in the Hutt Valley, bright as a button, and grinned at Garner, knowing that he was suffering.

Later, Garner covered an election campaign when National hired a plane so the politicians and journalists could fly with Bolger and a chilly bin full of booze in the aisle, drinking their way around the North Island: “No one reported it.”

And this, he said, was one difference Helen Clark made, “the end of the whisky bottle”. She managed the journalists brilliantly, but didn’t depend on getting them pissed.

Garner had a great story about the Key-Banks tea tapes, which he had. John Key’s main worry about them getting out led to him ringing every night, asking “Did I swear? Did I swear?” And then there was waiting to doorstop Winston Peters in Parliament, hiding behind a pillar so Patrick Gower couldn’t see him as he would know that something was up.

Many of his stories were about collecting politicians’ scalps, e.g. David “tennis ball” Benson-Pope, and he was pretty much focused on political journalism. Rachael, the student next to me, had no interest in this kind of reporting, no interest in radio or TV: she wanted to be a feature writer for a serious magazine like the Listener. Probably, depressingly, all the other students see themselves as TV stars one day.

Garner is now working for Radio Live which, he says, is “not about scalps” but debating issues: “It’s not talkback, it’s interviews”. So he has covered print, TV and radio – all the different mainstream media the students will consider for their careers. From the students’ point of view, he was probably the most useful speaker of all the Wintec Press Club lunches I have attended.

Throughout his talk there was a bit of baiting of Brendan Horan. Well, you would, wouldn’t you. For example, on post-election coalition negotiations, Garner said, “You can’t trust Winston, can you, Brendan?” There followed some baiting about Winston’s shameful smears of Horan as a New Zealand Jimmy Savile. Horan did not take kindly to this and was heard to say – I didn’t hear it but trust my witness – “”I’m going to deck the c**t.” Afterwards Garner's people kept him away from Horan, while some locals kept Horan away from Garner. So, no decking.

Guyon Espiner was a bit of a theme, the friendship and rivalry between them. At question time Herald journalist David Fisher asked, “Guyon has been your main competition for a long time. What’s the best dicking you’ve given him?”

Random quotes:
I can’t recall the question about Key and the GCSB but the answer was: “That’s how I’d do it, two minutes every night, five nights a week, just to fuck him off.”

To Don Brash: “Do you remember this story, Don?”
“Not clearly, no.”
“Well, it’s true.”
Later, mid-story, “Do you remember it now?”

And then there was a question about journalistic ethics. Braunias quickly shut that down: “You know you’re coming to the end of the Press Club when people start talking about ethics.”

There were a dozen T-shirts as a give-away, courtesy of Brendan Horan, emblazoned “No Bullying”. As a distinguished graduate of the Wintec journalism course Josh Drummond was given one. I suggested he should get Horan to sign it but he wimped out and went to his wedding rehearsal instead.

Afterwards I made my excuses and left but all the others, apart from Brash, went to the after-match function at Bar 101 which Steve had advertised as having a pole. 

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