There is not a lot of variety in the New Zealand media, given our size and the domination of a couple of key players. But today we have an interesting divide between the NZ Herald and the Dom Post on just what is on the agenda for discussions between Hilary Clinton and Murray McCully. Bear with me here, but it all started with the Herald’s in-depth coverage of the Clinton visit on Saturday, which included the cringe-making headline in the print edition ” They like us again”. That story tells us that military exercises between NZ and US are all set to resume and all will be revealed very soon.
The Weekend Herald understands it is likely to be announced next week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Kurt Campbell, visit New Zealand.
Now these sorts of stories do not come out of thin air and Audrey Young, the author of the article, is a highly respected journalist. The rest of the articles in the Weekend Herald extensively quote Murray McCully, so one could be forgiven for assuming him, or to quote one of my favourite journalistic euphemisms ” someone close to the Minister’s thinking” was the source.
Clare Trevett follows the story up today with an account of Mrs Clinton’s programme and informs us
High on the agenda is understood to be the United States’ review of the security relationship with New Zealand and plans to drop the US ban on military exercises with New Zealand.
However in the Dom Post today, Martin Kay has a story headlined ‘Defence ties with NZ ‘not in Clinton’s portfolio’. It tells us
Sources close to this week’s visit by American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have scotched speculation that she will announce an end to the ban on United States-New Zealand military exercises.
The article goes on to say that actually the question of military exercises is not even in the Secretary of State’s portfolio, and that a US review of our defence relationship had not yet been completed and quoted the US Embassy as saying
“The review is ongoing and no conclusions have yet been drawn.”
Hmmm, a curious case. I can imagine the Dom Post’s editors asked its reporters how they could miss a pretty damn big story, and they went and checked with the US Embassy and discovered it was just not happening.
Now this is all quite amusing, but it does raise a couple of serious questions. First, how on earth do we get two so contradictory stories? My experience always tells me to back cock-up over conspiracy. But you do have to wonder how it is that the NZ Herald could have gained the impression that there was to be a major announcement if it was not from someone in the NZ Government? Was there an attempt to get it on the agenda by raising it through the media? or just someone getting way ahead of themeselves? If it is either of these then it is bad politics and poor diplomacy from the National Government.
The other thing I do know from my MFAT experience is that the US will be less than impressed that the idea that there would be an announcement on military exercises has been made public if it is not going to happen on this visit. These visits are carefully managed and likely outcomes discussed well in advance. The rivalries in the US system are also a factor, and the notion that the State Department might be stepping on the toes of Defence will go down very badly.
Anyway, it will be most interesting to see what does get discussed/announced, and which of our daily journals of record is right about this.