The Washington Post falls for Ben Mack

A few weeks ago I devoted a post to an absurd article the Herald had run, by one of their “lifestyle columnists” (himself here on a work visa), Ben Mack.   It was published a couple of days before New Zealand First chose to join Labour in a coalition government, supported by the Greens.  Mack claimed that as a (temporary) immigrant, he was “terrified of Winston Peters”.  It was an absurd article, debasing any sort of prospect of intelligent debate, and really unworthy of a serious media outlet –  as the Herald still sometimes is.

But now he has, somehow, got a genuinely serious media outlet –  the Washington Post no less –  to run an article by him on “How the far-right is poisoning New Zealand”.  No one in New Zealand is going to take it seriously, but some Americans –  knowing pardonably little about New Zealand –  might.  If the article reflects poorly on Mack –  but then he is a “lifestyle columnist” who has only been in New Zealand for a couple of years –  that is nothing to what it says about one of the world’s better newspapers.

The article isn’t some considered analysis of that scattering of what might genunely be called “far-right” groups in New Zealand –  the tiny National Front for example, whose small group of lawful protesters (and the rather larger group of “counter-protestors”) were recently in the news.  No, instead we read that

A shadow is poisoning Middle-earth

But for all the excitement around Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her new government, the real power lies with the far right. And, more terrifying: The far right seized power by exploiting the very system meant to be a fairer version of democracy.

Little did you know.  But now you do.

It is, apparently “appalling” that a small party that, in principle, could have supported either side into government (and has in the past), got to decide which bloc ended up forming a government.  It isn’t clear why it is appallling: it seems a lot like MMP, which most New Zealanders (although not me) seem to like.  PR systems are how most European countries elect Parliaments, and thus put together governing coalitions.  It must seem strange to Americans, but it isn’t that hard to get your head round.  And had the Greens been willing to deal with National, or Labour and National been willing to form a “grand coalition”, New Zealand First wouldn’t even have been in play.  Parties made their choices, the voters made theirs, and on this occasion that left New Zealand First holding the decisive bloc of seats.  And Mack also has a go at them for taking so long, apparently not aware of how slowly coalition negotiations proceeded this year in the Netherlands, and are still going on in Germany.  It isn’t two months since the election.

But the pernicious influence of New Zealand First is already at work

The effects of the far right’s influence are already being felt. Amid pressure from New Zealand First, the government has vowed to slash immigration by tens of thousands by making it harder to obtain visas and requiring employers to prove they cannot find a qualified New Zealand citizen before hiring a non-citizen. They’ve also put forward legislation banning non-citizens from owning property,

But….but…….   New Zealand First didn’t get any of its immigration policies (such as they were) adopted at all.  The new government says it is adopting the centre-left Labour Party’s policy.  And that ban on foreign purchases (of existing houses)?  Well, it was supported –  going into the election –  by all three parties in the government, including the rather left-wing Greens.

It gets worse, US readers are told

Like American white supremacists in the age of Trump, bigots in New Zealand have also been emboldened by New Zealand First’s success into taking action beyond ranting on Internet message boards and social media. In late October, clashes erupted when white supremacists rallied in front of Parliament.

But apparently the National Front has a little rally every year.  What changed this year was the actions of a group –  led by two Green MPs –  to break-up a lawful protest.

It is all pretty weird stuff.  You might –  as I did –  read the Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Statement today, which lists the new government policies the Bank had specifically looked at.  There were higher minimum wages, new state-house building programmes, increased government spending (and reversal of tax cuts) and a larger fiscal deficit.  Oh, and the Labour Party’s modest promsed changes to immigration policy.   This, according to Mack, is the “far-right” setting the agenda.  He didn’t mention that the new government was going to reform the Reserve Bank Act to ensure that the central bank explicitly keeps an eye on keeping the labour market close to full employment.   The far right at work no doubt.  Because, you see

Put simply, while Ardern may be the public face, it’s the far right pulling the strings and continuing to hold the nation hostage.


What’s happened in New Zealand isn’t just horrifying because of the long-term implications of hate-mongers controlling the country, but also because it represents a blueprint that the far right can follow to seize power elsewhere.

Appealing to ethnically homogenous, overwhelmingly cisgender male voters with limited education and economic prospects who feel they’re being left behind in a changing world is nothing new for the far right. But what is new is its savvy at exploiting democracy by doubling down on these voters while mostly allowing larger political parties to attack each other on their own, thus positioning themselves as “kingmakers” who can demand concessions from those larger parties before carrying them into power.

As others have pointed out, like them or not, New Zealand First gets a larger share of its votes from Maori than many other parties.  In fact, Peters himself is Maori.

And haven’t we been here before?   As I noted in my earlier post

But –  and here is where a bit of perspective and experience of New Zealand might have come in handy to Mr Mack – not usually that much [clout] at all.   New Zealand First was in coalition with National in the mid 1990s –  Winston Peters as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer –  and it was in partnership with Labour for a few years from 2005 –  Winston Peters serving a Foreign Minister, and generally accepted as having done a reasonable job.   And what changed?  1996 is a while ago now, but I can recall:

  • a small increase in the inflation target, never subsequently reversed,
  • free doctor’s visits for kids under six, never subsequently reversed, and
  • a referendum on reform of New Zealand Superannuation, in which the cause Peters was advocating lost decisively.

Oh, and I think there was a Population Conference.

The 2005 to 2008 term was even less memorable, unless you were a Ministry of Foreign Affairs bureaucrat: their Minister secured them a great deal of additional money and the prospect of various new embassies.

I’m sure there was other stuff, but none of it was transformative.

New Zealand First’s vote shared peaked in the 1996 election.  But the far-right is rampant –  in control actually.

And looking through the Labour-New Zealand First agreement, quite what did New Zealand First secure?     There were some ministerial jobs, they saw off the possibility of a water tax, they got a “regional development fund” which will be used (among other things) to plant lots and lots of trees.  There were even more Police than Labour was promising, free driver training for secondary school students, a free health check for old people, and the possibility –  no more –  of some more capital for the state-owned bank.   And not a jot on immigration policy.

You might like the new government’s policies, or you might not.  You might like what NZ First specifically won, or you might not.  But that coalition agreement doesn’t seem to offer any support for anyone wanting to claim that the “far-right” was somehow in control of New Zealand, or of the government.  Indeed, if the (libertarian) right in New Zealand is celebrating anything in this government, it will be the referendum on personal use of cannabis, approval for medicinal cannabis use (Green causes) and the promise that the new government might free up onerous planning rules which drives house prices sky high (Labour policy).  If there is a genuine “far right” in New Zealand, I struggle to see how they’d find anything to celebrate in the new government, with New Zealand First or not.

Quite how a quite newly-arrived American lifestyle columnist so misreads New Zealand is a bit of mystery.  But how one of the world’s major media outlets, and serious newspapers, fell for this nonsense is a rather bigger puzzle.  It might be the age of “fake news”, but generally serious newspapers are supposed to be guardians against it, not the purveyors of nonsense to the world.

UPDATE (Friday): The Post has now published a response by a New Zealand journalist.


18 thoughts on “The Washington Post falls for Ben Mack

      • Yeah, surprised to see Mr Reddell still have regards for the Washington Post. It’s just like any other newspaper. Occasionally it publishes a good story, but otherwise it’s just the rabid left highlighting how politically correct they are.


  1. It is all very easy. Anything that isn’t complete open borders and free for all is now considered racist or worse by the main street media, not just in the US. Just check the European press how they treat anybody who has so much of a critical word about what is going down there.
    Having a defined gender (like in male or female) is now considered a “privilege” by these people for crying out loud.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “”Appealing to ethnically homogenous, overwhelmingly cisgender male voters with limited education and economic prospects who feel they’re being left behind in a changing world is nothing new for the far right “”

    Ben Mack should write an article about the DUP and their control of power in the UK parliament; he can predict a British invasion of Vatican City. And it is the UK that proves FPP does not prevent awkward coalitions.

    Had to look up ‘cisgender’ : denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. And that has left me wondering about the meaning of ‘personal identity’, the more one thinks about personal identity the more elusive the concept becomes since it is what you don’t actually think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Perhaps I’m naive – I thought outlets like the Washington Post still fact checked articles (even if they are opinion pieces).
    eg, “banning non-citizens from owning property”. I thought the proposal was to ban non-residents (except non-resident NZ and Australian citizens) from buying existing residential properties. This is extremely different from banning non-citizens from owning property.


  4. > Quite how a quite newly-arrived American lifestyle columnist so misreads New Zealand is a bit of mystery.

    You’re pulling your punches, Michael. This interpretation of kiwi society through an American lens is the very definition of cultural imperialism. Mack is a neo-colonialist.


    • “You’re pulling your punches, Michael. This interpretation of kiwi society through an American lens is the very definition of cultural imperialism. Mack is a neo-colonialist.”

      Please. I’m an expat American, and this statement has more in common with some nonsense Mack wrote than you’d probably like. There is no near-universal American “lens”, certainly not today, and if there ever was one it is unlikely to have resembled anything like what Mack is on about.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you may have the wrong end of the stick here.

        > this statement has more in common with some nonsense Mack wrote than you’d probably like.

        Not at all. I intentionally co-opted the language that Mack would use.

        > There is no near-universal American “lens”, certainly not today

        Perhaps not a universal one, but there is certainly an American lens. For example, I would put money on the concept “cisgender” originating in the US – and not NZ. Conversely, speak of a person’s “mana” or one’s “whanau” in the States and you will get a puzzled look. For better or worse, American culture has an impact on NZ – but not vice versa.

        > I’m an expat American

        Not sure why you point this out. FWIW so am I.


      • Countering hyperbole with more hyperbole is a disservice to the facts. I brought up being American because Mack isn’t articulating some American orthodoxy, to the extent such a thing may exist. And some clown writing a delusional puff piece for an American publication for American consumption hardly qualifies as any variety of imperialism, or even journalism. So many isms.


      • How did we get from “American lens” to “American orthodoxy”? The latter is far too strong. ‘Lens’, on the other hand, is an apt metaphor. Different people view the facts you speak of through a different lens.

        Mack’s interpretation of our election result adheres to the worldview (lens) espoused by the far-left movement (for lack of a better term) operating on many American campuses right now (Reed College, Evergreen State, Yale, among others). His language is testament to this.

        Recounting your (or my) interpretation of the facts will not convince Mack to stop writing delusional puff pieces. He will do it again. You have a better chance by using his own worldview against him. “Cultural imperialist” is quite the insult is his circle, however hyperbolic it may be.


  5. The (new) left would never privilege a fellow citizen over a non citizen just because of a border.

    “Well what you said about the nation, I agree with that. The nation is a racist mechanism both internally and externally in the way it includes and excludes, ah, the nation it comes form the word natio which means to be born is a racist concept. To move beyond that is one of the settled tasks.


  6. Like American white supremacists in the age of Trump, bigots in New Zealand have also been emboldened by New Zealand First’s success into taking action beyond ranting on Internet message boards and social media.
    Parr (2000) writes “[T]he views of New Zealanders are not conducive to the population of New Zealanders becoming more diversified globally.”

    From localism to globalism? New Zealand Sociology, 15(2), 304-. 335
    The attitudes of New Zealanders in the mid-1990s towards immigration may not have reflected the positive perspective on the value of diversity in our society that is contained in the Review of
    Immigration Policy August 1986. But this does not mean that the globalisation of immigration to New Zealand was an “unintended consequence of policy changes in 1986”. It was a deliberate strategy, based on a premise that the “infusion of new elements to New Zealand life has been of immense value to the development of this country to date and will, as a result of this Government’s review of immigration policy, become even more important in the future” (Burke 1986:330).
    The Globalisation of International Migration
    in New Zealand: Contribution to a Debate

    “I find your society genuinely admirable in many ways. For example, I met Helen Clark while I was in Wellington. I was invited to her official residence, and waved in by a lone policeman who didn’t even check who I was, then I had a barbecue with her. I congratulated her on the public’s enlightened attitudes towards racial issues, but she disagreed. She said to me that New Zealand was really a very racist country, and she was determined to do everything she could as prime minister to change that. I thought that was a very bold, honest statement to make to a foreigner, and I really respected her for that.”


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