Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wintec Press Club: Sean Plunket edition

The Wintec Press Club luncheon is staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts three times a year for the benefit of their journalism students. The guest list features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me. The MC is Steve Braunias.

It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students. I try to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something useful or lucrative. The industry veterans like it too because this is the last Press Club left standing. The speakers are usually eminent media types – last year’s speakers included musician Dave Dobbyn (whose band Th’Dudes controversially won the 1976 Battle of the Bands, ahead of me and Jenny Morris); controversial poet Hera Lindsay Bird; and controversial Herald columnist and professional angry person Rachel Stewart. This year we had Labour’s then deputy leader Jacinda Ardern. I was banned from the luncheon with the then deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, but here we are with the third meet of the year, on Friday 17 November.

The speaker this time was Sean Plunket. Back-story: born 1964; son of legendary Wellington newspaper court reporter Pat Plunket; co-presenter of Morning Report 1997-2010; more recently Director of Communications for Gareth Morgan’s vanity project, the Opportunity Party.

Guests included Don Brash and his partner Margaret Mary-Benge (whom I like because she is from Tauranga); Hamilton West Nat MP Tim McIndoe (whom I like because he is very rude about Tauranga, having lived there); Waikato Times editor Jonathan MacKenzie; Louise Wallace, “the real one not the Housewife”, she declared at one point; television persons Jono Pryor, Te Radar and Heather du Plessis-Allan; and Duncan Greive, the entrepreneur behind the Spinoff website.

Brash was runner-up for best-dressed male; the winner on the day was Barry Soper. The best-dressed female winner was a tattooed woman called Erin.

The best part of these lunches I always think is the pre-event chat. I was seated with McIndoe and MacKenzie so heard a lot from Tim about what it is like dealing with Winston Peters and from Jonathan what the future holds for Fairfax. Eye-opening, both.

In his opening remarks Braunias kicked off with: “I understand that I swear too fucking much.” He quoted my old Metro boss Warwick Roger saying there was a question every journalist should ask at least once in their career: “Are you by any chance insane?” He put that question to Sean Plunket and I don’t think he got a straight answer.

In his opening remarks Plunket kicked off with: “Duncan, lovely to see you, you fucking c—t.” This was a reference to a slight disagreement he and Grieve had during the election over (I think) whether Morgan was available for interview. Then he asked that there be no live-tweeting during his talk “because it’s fucking rude” – correct – but also because the tweets would lack context. Correct again.

He talked about his controversial tweet about Harvey Weinstein and the pile-on that followed: “If fifty people who hate you already hate what you tweeted, that is a controversy?”

The staff in the Opportunities Party all had PhDs so, he said, it was “quite nice not being the smartest guy in the room”. As far as I can tell from the internet Plunket did not attend university but went straight from school to the Wellington Polytechnic School of Journalism, so he may be more impressed by PhDs as a metric of intelligence than the rest of us. This also tells us a bit too how he regarded his colleagues at Radio NZ.

Talking about the election he was censorious about Metiria Turei: “Checkpoint has never said what were the nine questions they put to her and she resigned rather than answer them.”

And then along came Jacinda Ardern: “All the oxygen went out of the room”, he said. “Suddenly it was Bill vs Jacinda, pale stale male vs new chicky babe.”

Next, Gareth Morgan tweeted about “lipstick on a pig”. The Green Party declared war on us, he said, “largely on social media”. As he tweeted back “Bullshit, you were never going to vote for us anyway.”

There was a long rehash of the Duncan Greive/Spinoff story, which was possibly of interest to the students because of the politics/social media nexus. Then came a whole lot of politics, tax policy, snore. There was much more about Twitter and Weinstein, in which he used the phrase “wilful self-revulsion” of those outraged by it. The Broadcasting Authority, of which he was briefly a member, “was inundated with complaints – which means they had twenty. Fifteen of them were from Green Party members.”

Best line: “After 32 years in journalism you could probably use my ego as tiles on a space shuttle.”

Then came question time, during which Margaret Mary-Benge suggested that Sean Plunket, not Gareth Morgan, should lead the Opportunity Party. Plunket shyly demurred.

There was always going to be a Harvey Weinstein question. Asked if he had ever sexually harassed anyone at work, he replied, “Shit no!”

Eventually Braunias said: “We have five more questions while this train wreck lasts.”

In his wrap-up – these invariably begin with “What have we learned?” – Braunias compared Plunket’s account of working for Gareth Morgan with Pam Corkery’s chaotic account at this same event in 2014 of working for Kim Dotcom: “You kind of blamed everyone else.” About Plunket’s ban on live-tweeting his speech, he said, “There wasn’t really anything worth tweeting.”

He concluded, “Maybe the problem is when journalists stop asking the questions and think they have the answers.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I couldn’t agree more.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Spectator sentence of the year

From Dot Wordsworth’s language column about Bishop Heber’s hymn “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”:
He was a clever man and agreeable, leaving an account of the once-a-century Mallard ritual enacted on the rooftops of All Souls College, Oxford, in 1800, but dying upon taking a bath as Bishop of Calcutta, aged 42.
Are you as curious about what the “Mallard ritual” might be as I am?

Thanks to Stephanie in the comments we learn that the Mallard ritual involves the Mallard Song, which “was sung after a rude manner about 1658 about 2 or 3 in ye morning, which giving a great alarm to ye Oliverian soldiery then in Oxon they would have forced ye gate open to have appeased ye noise”. 

The lyrics may be found here at the Mallard Society’s website, which warns that the fifth verse “was expunged on grounds of decency in 1821”. If you are bold enough to explore, you will realise that “swapping” in the lyric meant something different in Middle English from what it means now.