We totally meant to do that: the WhaleOil story

There is no point engaging in argument with the WhaleOil crew, however many or few of them there are. This is taken as read by most people on the left, and was even before Nicky Hager exposed what a shallow, mercenary organisation “they” are.

A lot of our antipathy towards them has to be ideological. We’re talking about an extremely rightwing, vicious attack machine which actively seeks to destroy the lives of people who stand opposed to it.

But there’s no need to bring political opinions into this. The chief reason not to give even the slightest benefit of the doubt to WhaleOil is because nothing published there has any weight. It’s nonsensical and self-contradicting, and while I should really just not be writing this post and giving them oxygen, it may be helpful to have one canonical example of this as a warning to the next ten generations.

Holla if you get that reference
Shout out if you get that reference

So Cam Slater wrote a book about the terribleness of unions, and the first review posted on Amazon was a five-star paean, under a pseudonym, quickly discovered to belong to WhaleOil moderator Pete Belt. Immediately after publishing, free signed copies were sent, apparently to every Labour MP and other leftwingers who would presumably be outraged by its contents.

And yesterday this post [donotlink] went up praising the book for being #1 in Amazon’s Kindle/Kindle eBooks/Nonfiction/Politics & Social Sciences/Politics & Government/Specific Topics/Labor & Industrial Relations category. It is remarkable only for being a perfect example of Whaleoil doublespeak.

To accept the assertions of Pete’s post, you are asked to accept several ideas:

  • That seeing “many copies” at the CTU conference proves the book is popular among Slater’s enemies, while admitting dozens of copies have been sent for free … to Slater’s enemies
  • That “the media and the Left were very quiet” about the book (which may not ring true if you follow #nzpol on Twitter) and that this means there was a deliberate strategy of not talking about the book
  • That “the Left have outrage cornered”, but WhaleOil nevertheless had to “engineer” it because of our deliberate strategy of not talking about the book
  • That Pete Belt deliberately left a mild-sounding but favourable review with a “provocative” screen name in order to “engineer” outrage
  • That the Left then promptly forgot our strategy of not talking about the book and began talking about it
  • At which point Pete Belt immediately deleted the review, because its only purpose was to engineer outrage, not game the book’s rating
  • And this all proves that the Left are buying Slater’s book in droves – even though the Amazon figures are for the Kindle edition, not the hardcopy, which has been sent for free to many people.

It’s a classic case of someone saying whatever they need to in the moment to “refute” the arguments against them. It’s “I totally meant to do that” writ large. Of course it’s accepted without question by the WhaleOil commentariat, rejected out of hand by the Twitterati, and largely ignored by the rest of the country who have better things to do with their time.

By accounts from people who have read the book, there’s not a lot of new material. There’s not much material full stop. If you want to know why Cameron Slater hates unions, and what he thinks is wrong with them, he’s already told us, many times, for free.

Which is probably why no one had to create a “strategy” of not talking about the book. Though the cover is still pretty funny.

Protect Your Signature!

There’s always something comical about American corporations’ union-busting videos. They wouldn’t be out of place in between news clips on Starship Troopers. And if you’re looking for a conspiracy theory, there’s something eerily similar about all of them – with cries to “Protect your signature!” and dire warnings about the death of “our friendly open-door policy.”

The latest to come out is this offering from Walmart, your friendly, local, mom-and-pop US$200 billion business.


It would truly be terrible if vile union activism hurt Walmart. They’re the kind of community-minded business which closes stores with little or no notice citing “plumbing problems” – including stores which just happen to have high levels of union activity – and then forces its workers to re-apply for their old jobs rather than reinstating them.

Still, the video raises some good points. Why would unions target stores like Walmart, with its broad history of exploiting workers, aggressively responding to workers trying to form unions, and destroying local business? It just doesn’t make sense. Must be because unions are a big business that wants to steal all your money. Unlike Walmart.

The real question is, who falls for this rubbish? Who honestly goes “yep, the manager who slashed my hours after I took a sick day sure has my best interests at heart, unlike those terrible union organisers who want to help me secure better pay and conditions!”

But I don’t think that’s the point. The videos are just too friendly. Friendly the way a guy coming into your home and saying, “Nice place. Would be a pity if something should happen to it” is friendly.

A glitch in the Matrix


I’m sure there are rational explanations for the hilarious similarities between John Key (or at least, his office) stating that there is “no factual basis” to his allegations that the Snowden documents are fabricated, and a Republican senator called John Kyl excusing his allegations against Planned Parenthood by saying it “was not intended to be a factual statement” – explanations which don’t involve all human life being a computer simulation occupying our brains while robots leech our neural activity for a power source.

But that’s not nearly as much fun.

As the late, lamented Terry Pratchett wrote in The Truth,

‘A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’

Some politicians have always dealt to people or organisations they don’t like by smearing them. It’s even easier in our ridiculously fast-paced media and online environment, where the damage is done almost immediately, and any retraction or fact-checking is left trying to catch up.

But the tide seems to be changing on Key. Whether it’s journalists (and bloggers) buying into the narrative of third-term arrogance and unconsciously reinforcing it, or whether the disastrous start to the year – Sabin’s resignation, the Northland by-election, Amanda Bailey, the unnamed Cabinet Minister with a brother facing sexual abuse charges – really is just that disastrous, Key’s shine isn’t as shiny as it once was.

Just look at how painstakingly the media are transcribing him now:

“Well, I hope not. I mean we live in a global world where you know all sorts of stories do actually go round the world in varying form. I mean I didn’t pick up any single newspaper in any country I was in and saw it. So, the fact that something goes round the internet is quite standard these days.”

Paraphrasing cannot save you now, John.

And journalists like Tova O’Brien are getting a lot less forgiving when Key brushes them off with non-answers, as in this report on the Cabinet Minister’s brother. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone goes full Ed-Miliband-on-striking-teachers on him. (Hope I didn’t blow your election chances, Ed.)

It’s hard for anyone to look credible when all their weasel words and nervous smirks are just being put out there, unfiltered. Even the clearest speaker can look like a numpty in such circumstances, and John Key – whether by nature or design – has never been the clearest speaker.

But is this the beginning of the end? Is the “honeymoon” finally over? God only knows, but I’m of a similar mind to @LewSOS. The end never comes swiftly. The polls never shift 10 points overnight on the basis of one story (or four). But he isn’t getting those free passes any more.

lew on key(Original tweets start here.)

Key admits he’s using our troops as vote-bait

Yesterday in the House, John Key admitted that it’s “no” coincidence that our deployment to Iraq is scheduled to end at the perfect moment – right before the 2017 election.

Andrew Little : Why has he declared that the deployment to Iraq will end, whether or not its objectives are completed, about 6 months before the next election? Is that just a coincidence?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No.

The whole video is worth watching but the supplementary in question begins at 2:23:


As jaded as his opponents might be at this stage about Key’s utter political cynicism, game-playing and complete lack of real regard for our armed forces, this is shocking. Our troops should not be sent in to a chaotic situation where their lives are at risk, put in the situation of upskilling war criminals, and then pulled home – those who aren’t killed or maimed in the process – so John Key can get some sweet Churchillian photo ops on the tarmac.

Rob Salmond also has some thoughts about Key’s uncharacteristically calm demeanour during Question Time over at Polity.