In a bad week for the Government, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern retreats from some noisy protesters and earns the ire of popular US podcaster Joe Rogan. He gets labelled a 'extreme right winger' by Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson - even though he isn't. But why let the facts spoil the narrative you are trying to push?

WITH  JACINDA ARDERN confronting protesters for the first time as Prime Minister, there is division among her most loyal supporters about her proposed return to her hometown of Auckland. She has not visited the country's major city and economic heart in nearly three months. The demand that she should visit has grown louder in recent times to the point that the Prime Minister is really in no position not to agree to the demand. Otherwise any further attempts to identify and sympathise with a city that has been lockdown for eleven weeks will be viewed by many as self serving and insincere.  

Nevertheless some of Ardern's most ardent supporters still aren't convinced that the visit should go ahead. According to Martyn Bradbury, editor of The Daily Blog, 'bringing Jacinda to Auckland when radicalisation from the 13 weeks in de facto house arrest is running rampant is a terrible security risk.' Bradbury, a longtime critic of the police, warns that if Ardern does visit Auckland 'the security must be over the top. The last thing this country could take is some type of political violence.'

Political violence? Who said anything about political violence? Well, Chris Trotter did: 'The Prime Minister is not safe – as the events yesterday (2/11/21) in Northland, and this afternoon in Whanganui, have made amply clear.'

But all those two demonstrations made 'amply clear' is that they were not violent - unless you interpret protesters heckling Ardern and waving placards and banners about is potentially violent. I would of thought they were just exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly -  a right that Trotter has consistently defended in the past. But when you actually quote Martyn Bradbury's preposterous view that sending Ardern to Auckland 'is as irresponsible as sending Kennedy to Dallas' - well, it can only be downhill from here.

At least former Alliance MP Liz Gordon had a more rational response. Replying to both Bradbury and Trotter, Gordon wrote: 

'I watched the media footage at Whanganui several times. There is a shot used by Stuff that shows the protest there. The front row starts with a woman in a walking frame, another with a megaphone, two other women and four children.

'The signs said things like “When we trade freedom for safety, we lose”, which, however inaccurate, is not the most disturbing of messages.  Thinking back to the US Congressional attack of 6 January, where signs said “Hang Pence” etc, the protest was positively rational.

'And, frankly, to view Hunterville as a threat to anything (except, perhaps, methane emissions) is pushing things a bit far.'

Gordon's conclusion is that Jacinda Ardern should go to Auckland because 'Staying away from Auckland at this point, hiding away from the people, is the worst thing she can do.'

Given that Labour's political fortunes are inextricably intertwined with the Ardern brand, she will go to Auckland - but it will be a thoroughly stage managed visit with the Prime Minister kept well away from any potential meeting with protesters. The concern will not be potential 'political violence' but Ardern again left looking rattled by noisy protesters not particularly interested in being part of her 'team of five million'. Such a confrontation would not play well on the six o'clock news bulletins.

Meanwhile popular US podcaster Joe Rogan attacked Jacinda Ardern for shutting down a press conference after being heckled by a couple of anti-vaxxers.

'Have you seen that lady who’s running New Zealand,” he said. 'If she even gets asked questions at press conferences, if people yell out questions she goes: We’re going to shut this down, we’re going to shut this down if you keep yelling out. She just leaves, she’s like ‘accredited press only’.'

In the social media Jacinda Ardern's supporters inevitably rallied to the defence of their leader, declaring Rogan to be an 'extreme right winger'. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson repeated that claim at a press conference when he said that Rogan's opinions were the views of a 'right-wing extremist' who 'spread misinformation' and 'influenced the view of people that are sitting on the fence about getting vaccinated.' 

The problem with this view is Joe Rogan is not a 'right wing extremist'. He isn't necessarily part of the left either. Rogan himself says that his views don't all fall neatly into either the right or left side of the political spectrum.

This is true. For example, in 2016 he supported Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Four years later he endorsed the left wing Bernie Sanders for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

And for someone who is supposed to be a 'right wing extremist' he's had a healthy number of progressive and left wing guests on his show. They have included Bernie Sanders, Cornel West, journalist Glenn Greenwald, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Russell Brand, Henry Rollins and Abby Martin of The Empire Files.

In fact the US left generally gets better coverage from Joe Rogan that anything that is allowed by the US mainstream media. Rogan himself often attacks the docility of a US media that he views as pandering to the interests of the political establishment. He perhaps saw some of  that same media docility in New Zealand, where Ardern was marshaling the 'accredited press' as if they were just there to relay her views, rather than question them.


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