Monday, 10 November 2008

A story of two Johns

Normally I'm reluctant to criticise John Campbell because he's kind of endearing, but last night he earned my wrath. His half-hour interview with John Key was just so disappointingly vacuous. The two Johns smilingly exchanged banter, and there was almost no critical discussion of current issues whatsoever. Campbell has a habit of crossing that fine line between being personable and brown-nosing. Last night he deftly leaped over that line and didn't look back.

Really, the two Johns interview was symptomatic of the mainstream media's lightweight coverage of the entire election campaign. You wouldn't have guessed the world is in the midst of a credit crisis, food shortage or various military conflicts. Issues canvassed included John Key's chubbiness as a boy, and the fact that his daughter chose her own election night outfit. Hard-hitting stuff. The media's critiques of the election have over the last few years strayed away from the analysis of parties' policies, and towards speculation on the aesthetics of campaigns - who came across as more friendly in a debate, whose ads won awards, whose photo looked airbrushed. These details got far more scrutiny than, for example, the affordability of the financial packages released by both major parties to assist workers made redundant.

Campbell's most irksome moment occurred when he discussed Key's early life as the child of a solo mum. He suggested that Key's desire to be PM, formulated when he was a young man, was to do with the 'male leadership vacuum' of his home life. This was a moment of stunning intellectual laziness worthy of Paul Holmes. Woman-headed households have been held responsible for a great many things - producing truants, criminals and drug addicts are but a few examples - but they've never yet been blamed for producing Tory PMs, to my knowledge. Cambell knows better than to draw on reactionary gender stereotypes: it's hard to know why he did it, except to ingratiate himself. He seemed more interested in striking up some sort of personal rapport with Key than leaving viewers any better informed.

There's a place for lightweight, biographical pieces: Woman's Day. If we can't rely on our news and current affairs programmes to supply us with news and current affairs, we've got a problem.


Julie said...

I had a bit of a crush on John Campbell for a while, particularly after he said in an interview in the late 1990s (I think) that he was an Alliance voter. But since he got the 7pm slot he seems to have slowly moved away from the commitment to current affairs and news, sliding towards infotainment. I understand that the ratings for Campbell have been low so there's been management pressure to move to the soft and gooey, and I guess with time maybe that's shifted Campbell there too? Given the chance I suspect he'd go back in a heartbeat, but maybe he's lost track a bit?

I also wonder if now that we don't have a woman PM anymore there will be less discussion about people's appearances. Possibly not.

Anna said...

I'm sorry to hear the ratings are low - that explains a lot. I was kind of surprised that it ever got off the ground given it's in competition with Shorters and whatever shite is on TV1 at that time. At it's best, it's featured some pretty good journalism - I miss that!

Hugh said...

I don't watch TV much, but I was thoroughly turned off John Campbell when I did take the time to tune into his half hour tribute to Joe Strummer in 2002. He was appalling - he used it as an excuse to rabbit on about how cool he was in the early 80s, only peripherally relating it to Strummer. That really turned me off him.

He may be an alliance voter, but being politically on close to the same page as me doesn't make him good at his job, I'm afraid.

Anna said...

But Campbell is a good journalist when he chooses to be (or when circumstances allow) - he can be extremely sharp. I wonder if he was playing up his nerd appeal re the Joe Strummer interview - another ratings driven thing? TV do try to capitalise on his friendly, slightly dorky image.

Alison said...

I switched off John Campbell once and for all after he allowed an opponent of the s59 repeal to call it the "anti-smacking bill" for the entire interview. He wasn't alone in that, by any means, but there was a time when Campbell would have pulled people up, or questioned further on their semantics. The entire interview was lazy, and as we'd noticed a tendency in that direction for a year or so, we ditched him entirely. He got off to a good start, but quickly deteriorated to much the same level of fluff journalism as the Listener, which I've also ditched entirely. As one Facebook group points out, it coincided with his losing his tie.

Anna said...

Don't even start me on the state of the Listener...

Leo said...

Didn't see the interview but have to say that both channels bombed dramatically with their election night coverage, shocking tripe. There is a definite trend towards more fluff journalism across both main networks and as for the Listener.. very sad how low that has sunk. We need a kiwi version of Jon Stewart.

Anonymous said...

To me, Campbell, which had been often, if not always good, lost it around the time the show took up sponsorship from Telecom (even if the first or second show after that was one in which he took them to task about unbundling).

I wondered, as I half-pie watched the two Johns, if Campbell had taken Helen Clark's 'give him a moment to bask' type attitude into account?

In keeping with the tenor of the show under discussion, that is, on an entirely vacuous note... So, JK was a ginger eh?

JK is most commonly Kirwan's handle of course... Still, I've already heard folk referring to "Johnkey" (rhymes with donkey and shonky). And that's about the level of it.

Ben R said...

I didn't see the interview, but these post election interviews are generally feel good exercises to show the more personal side of the new leader. I remember Paul Holmes did one in 1999 with Helen Clark where he wandered around her house & had a cup of tea with her and Peter. I actually quite liked it, because I hadn't really seen Clark in a non-adversarial setting and it was good to see a bit of what she was like as a person rather than politician.

ideologicallyimpure said...

My liking for Campbell really stopped after he did a brilliant show on child poverty and horrific health outcomes in poor areas, and said "We will keep covering this issue as the election gets closer because this is really important."

Strange, how we just HAD an election and he hasn't mentioned it ever again.

Hugh said...

I wonder if he was playing up his nerd appeal re the Joe Strummer interview - another ratings driven thing? TV do try to capitalise on his friendly, slightly dorky image.

All I know is I wanted to watch a show about Joe Strummer and I got a show about John Campbell. Not cool.

Frankly I don't care if he's left of Karl Marx, no ammount of political synchronicity can make up for the fact that he's just not entertaining. I might want him next to me on the barricades, but not in my living room, thanks.

Jono of Whangarei said...

I remember John Key covering the U of A Registry Building occupation ( 1997?). When he and his crew turned up to cover the protest he was hailed with happy cries of "Tell it like it is, John!", a riff on his tagline of the day.

Well, did he tell it like it was that night? Did the coverage by this self-described Alliance voter and friend of the left matched what we all saw with our own eyes?

Or did he flog the "dirty student protestors" trope for his corporate masters and mmiddling middle class audience?

Still, I think I wised up a little that day :-)

Julie said...

Jono you seem to have you John's confused! ;-)

I think I remember that day too - it was an occupation of a wing of the Clocktower (Old Arts as it was then) though not the Registry? I was outside, having just missed out on making it into the building, and very excited about the presence of the surprisingly tall Campbell.

I don't recall the TV3 coverage of that day though. The TVNZ report blocked it out in my mind, because the reporter totally and utterly swallowed a complete lie from the police and university management that the students had trashed the staff common room. I remember clearly because we were so enraged that a certain someone who also blogs here rang TVNZ to complain, spoke to the reporter concerned (Jason Rhodes, who last I heard was doing PR for the police I think, I've never forgiven him) and took him to task for it. They had never asked us for our side of the story and we were totally stunned to see the news story focus on that because it hadn't happened.

Although you may be thinking of a different occasion from me?

Jono of Whangarei said...

Julie, no thats the one...the mists of time (and John Key overload) have fogged up my memory! I forget what particular offices of OA but it was a couple of floors of the southern wing wasnt it?

I also remember a particualrly grumpy cop, ginger-haired with a goatee who always seemed to be in the centre of agro at those protests.

I hate to say it but I never got involved at any level beyond turning out to protest; to be honest the student pols seemed mostly as bad the grown ups :-) Miriam Ballard was a friend of mine and she got chewed up and spat out...Whatever her mistakes, she was a smart, good person and didnt deserve the abuse.