NEALE JONES is to be congratulated. No, no – it’s okay – I didn’t hit my head. It’s just that I’ve always believed in giving credit where credit is due – and Jones deserves a lot of credit. Had I been on the front desk of the right-wing team of Kathryn Ryan and Bridgette Morten, like Jones was on RNZ’s Monday morning political panel, I’m pretty darn sure I wouldn’t have kept my cool too impressive than him.
Ryan is generally much more circumspect in revealing her personal opinions than she was on Monday (2/14/22). It is as it should be. Her role on the Panel is that of moderator – at least one hope it’s still his role! She’s there to pose the questions to the panelists and prevent them from interrupting, talking to each other, and generally trying to dominate the discussion.
That’s not what happened on Monday. Ryan threw herself, boots and all, into the debate over the protest blockade of Parliament. She interrupted, talked and – not to stress this too much – harassed Jones, to a degree that borders on unprofessional.
Unsurprisingly, Morten was quick to follow Ryan’s lead. She, too, interrupted and talked about Jones — apparently with Ryan’s blessing.
Jones, however, remained unfazed by this flagrant violation of the Political Group’s rules of engagement. He stayed steadfast on the message, stoically refusing to let Ryan and Morten shake him off. He didn’t get mean. He did not lose his calm. He just kept talking sane.
It would have helped listeners immensely if his levels had been set to match those of the two women – then we wouldn’t have had to strain our ears to hear him. But on Monday morning, everything seemed to be against him.
The most intriguing aspect of the entire encounter was the political line taken by Ryan and Morten. Both women consistently refused to accept Jones’ argument that the protest was inspired by individuals and groups plagued by outlandish conspiracy theories imported from the United States. They were also unwilling to accept the entrenched far-right provenance of these conspiracy theories. Throughout the half hour, Ryan and Morten attempted to portray the protest as the anguished cry of stressed Kiwi fighters determined to resist the government’s overreach.
The fact that the so-called ‘freedom convoy’ was always intended to establish a motor vehicle laager in which a protest encampment on the grounds of Parliament could be established and, more importantly, protected, did not in no way slowed down Ryan and Morten. They just didn’t seem interested in exploring the strategic purpose of the convoy organizers, or what lay behind their radical break with the norms of New Zealand political protest.
Even more disturbing was how they seemed to brush off unprecedented displays of aggression directed at New Zealand MPs and the press gallery. Wellington has witnessed many angry outbursts in its history, but very few in which the rhetoric of at least some of the participants was explicitly murderous. What made Ryan and Morten so determined to refocus the debate away from this deeply troubling reality?
I couldn’t help but recall the Peter Ellis case, where the most bizarre, outlandish, and obviously impossible accusations from questioned children were simply set aside so as not to “prejudice” the jury. It just didn’t sit well with what Ryan and Morten were trying to do to remind listeners of the murderous fury directed by protesters against politicians and journalists.
The least detrimental explanation for Ryan’s behavior is that it was overcompensating for what far-right and far-left critics have described as the Fourth Estate’s sneering, bourgeois dismissal of the smelly protesters who cluttered its environment with majestic work. On-the-spot reports from fearless far-right and far-left observers, reassuring New Zealanders that the overwhelming majority of protesters were just ordinary Kiwis exercising their right to protest, have, as expected , shamed a number of mainstream journalists to revise their original position. Ryan may be one of them.
Morten, however, is more than savvy enough to realize the detrimental impact that the poor behavior of protesters and the baffling failure of the police to move them forward is having on the government’s reputation. The longer the protest lasts and the more ineffective the government and police are perceived to be, the better it is for the opposition parties. Just because it wouldn’t be wise for Christopher Luxon to be seen siding with the occupiers, doesn’t make it unwise for Morten to do whatever she can to make it harder – from the point of view public relations – for Labor and the Police to resolve the crisis.
The boy Jones, just as savvy as the girl Morten, knows it. Hence his dogged determination to keep the minds of his listeners focused on the true character of today’s Freedom Riders.
These are not honest workers, they are people determined to get rid of the protections that Labor has imposed to keep real honest workers safe. They have no legitimate grievances – unless you consider thwarting the sociopathic impulses of unvaccinated extremists a legitimate grievance. They are, however, people acting under the influence of individuals and groups with far-right affiliations and aims. Scratch them and you’ll bleed.
In summary, Neale Jones was not “slammed” by Kathryn Ryan and Bridgette Morten. It was, however, interrupted, discussed and made extremely difficult to hear. Despite all these obstacles, he continued to fight the good fight for nearly half an hour with admirable clarity and patience. Unlike the other two participants in Monday’s political panel, Jones focused on the dangerous realities of the protest unfolding in and around the grounds of Parliament.
For that, he deserves our cheers – not our mockery.