The High Court yesterday ruled in the latest legal tussle between disgraced Conservative leader Colin Craig and disgraced blogger Cameron Slater. Sam Brooks reads the judgement and shines light on the shade.
Look, there were no winners in this case. Legally, sure. Morally, it’s like when the checkers team had a scrap against the backgammon team – you had no favourite and you didn’t care who either one was anyway.
Yesterday the judgment for Craig v Slater & Social Media Consultants came in, and Justice Toogood ruled that Slater had defamed Craig. But awarded precisely zero damages. An empty victory, and not even a moral one. Just as notably, he also ruled that Colin Craig had sexually harassed Rachel MacGregor, his former press adviser, who is currently embroiled in a separate case against the former leader of the Conservative Party.
But I’m not here to litigate the sins, alleged and otherwise, of Colin Craig. I’m here to translate the judge’s burns from legal-ese into masterclass shade. I will fully note that my legal training extends solely to watching all seven seasons of The Good Wife and the two available seasons of The Good Fight, and also my soul is amply drained after reading 250 pages recounting a truly vile and bleak period in New Zealand politics which should leave everybody who willingly perpetrated it thoroughly ashamed.
I digress! The burns follow (my italics):
The burn: I accept that Mr Slater and other publishers of blog sites like Whaleoil are of a different kind from publishers of record, such as major newspapers that have a large circulation and whose editorial and news-gathering functions are considered professional and typically authoritative. It is not to be expected, therefore, that bloggers and those who use social media to express their opinions would or should accept the constraints of the New Zealand Media Council’s principle that, on controversial issues, “a fair voice must be given to the opposition view”. But that is not to say that, if Mr Slater and Whaleoil are found to have made an untrue statement of fact, they should be held to a different standard of responsibility when seeking the protection of a defence founded on responsible communication. Mr Slater’s propositions, in my view, tend to conflate the distinct concepts of statements of fact and expressions of opinion.
Translation: Get your news from the Herald, not Whale Oil. According to Justice Toogood, not to be mistaken for skinny-jeaned singer Jon Toogood, Cameron Slater conflates the concepts known as ‘facts’ and ‘opinions’.
The burn: Under cross-examination by Mr Craig, Mr Slater confirmed that he had described Mr Craig variously as a “narcissist”, “scumbag”, “ratbag”, “weirdo”, “political spastic”, and “nutcase” and said that he thought Mr Craig to be evil.
Translation: I don’t think this particularly needs a translation, but it reflects well on neither of the parties referred to in this statement.
The burn: … I was not referred to any evidential basis for the view that Mr Craig was motivated as alleged, and it is clear that Mr Slater made no enquiry of Ms MacGregor, Mr Williams or Mr Craig before making the assertion he did. In the circumstances, Mr Slater cannot have had a genuine belief in the truth of the statement when he made it. That was reckless and irresponsible and the public interest defence fails in respect of that imputation accordingly.
Translation: Mr Slater is not a reliable human, you guys.
The burn: This cause of action also needs only brief discussion.
Translation: I’m tired of this shit.
The burn: It is difficult to understand Mr Slater’s position. His point that he could rely on a mainstream media organisation such as those to whom he referred to have conducted research cannot apply to questions which he took from a blog site operated by Mr Stringer. Mr Slater knew Mr Stringer was an outspoken critic of Mr Craig, both publicly and within Conservative Party circles, and highly antagonistic towards him. Moreover, Mr Stringer was somebody whom Mr Slater described in evidence in extremely derogatory terms, indicating that he thought he was unreliable, on some matters at least.
Translation: Mr. Slater said something shitty about Mr Stringer in evidence, despite using Mr Stringer’s blog for some fake questions he posed to Colin Craig on his own website, and tried to defend Mr Stringer’s blog as a reputable source.
The burn: The second cause of action brought by Mr Slater in reliance on the booklet relates to what purports to be an exclusive interview ‘with Mr X’ who is said in the booklet to be: “… someone who knows those involved. His observations and information is to the best of our knowledge accurate although his opinions are of course his own and not endorsed in anyway.”
Mr Craig acknowledged during the trial that the so-called interview was what he described as a “literary device”: there was no Mr X and no interview. The format had been adopted simply to express Mr Craig’s own views.
Translation: Colin Craig made up somebody to interview and wrote it off as a literary device, a completely normal thing to do in a political pamphlet.
The burn: Because the core allegations had received widespread publication throughout New Zealand, I consider Mr Craig’s decision to distribute the booklet to every New Zealand household was a justifiable response. While it may be improbable that another person would have thought such a response to be worthy of the expense, I accept that Mr Craig believed genuinely that he should take that unprecedented step to correct what he claimed were false accusations.
Translation: I wouldn’t publish a booklet to every household in New Zealand, but you do you, bro.
The burn: As to the allegation about the second victim, Mr Henry argued, first, that the allegations were relatively minor, never picked up and repeated by mainstream media and, from statistics produced by Mr Slater relating to his blog posts, not read by more than a few thousand people.
Translation: If that’s true it’s fewer people than voted for David Seymour or really any contestant, on this latest season of Dancing with the Stars.
The burn: Mr Craig pleaded that those statements would cause damage to his reputation as a prominent businessman and leader of a political party with serious parliamentary aspirations. I accept that allegations that he had acted in the manner alleged would inevitably damage his reputation, particularly since the Conservative Party’s 2011 and 2014 electoral campaigns were founded, in part, upon policies said to be consistent with Christian and family values. But because I have held the allegations about that behaviour to be true, the reputational damage suffered by Mr Craig leading to his political demise resulted not from any untrue statement by Mr Slater about those matters but from the fact that Mr Craig acted as he did. It is against that background that I must consider the effect on Mr Craig’s reputation of the untrue statements that he had placed Ms MacGregor under financial pressure to sleep with him, and that he had sexually harassed at least one victim other than Ms MacGregor.
Translation: What you’ve done is so bad that this defamation is like finding a lock of hair in a pie made of shit.
The burn: It scarcely needs to be said, therefore, that the reputational damage which Mr Craig suffered throughout the events traversed at length in this judgment resulted almost entirely from his own actions. To the extent, if any, that his reputation suffered further damage as a result of the two statements for which I have held the defendants to be liable, I am more than satisfied that the declarations that he was defamed in that way provide adequate vindication.
Translation: Basically, take your empty legal victory and spin on it.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.