Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Paul Quinn’s rape comments, and health spending

May 27th, 2011

Now that the dust has settled on National MP Paul Quinn’s outrageous comments about women and rape made on TVNZ7’s Back Benches programme – “I think there’s a real issue with young ladies getting drunk” was the money quote – can we share some of the blame around? Of the four people involved in the discussion (Quinn, presenter Wallace Chapman, Act’s Heather Roy and Labour’s Trevor Mallard) only one of them came out entirely with credit.

Chapman in fact, came close to what in other contexts might be called entrapment. Sure, Quinn said it and he deserves everything he’s got on The Hand Mirror, and elsewhere for revealing the shabby contents of a mind already responsible for last year’s petty, vicious legislation denying prisoners the vote.

Yet Chapman – within the rowdy, hang loose atmosphere that the programme promotes – had been urging him to say something outrageous. In his question, Chapman virtually endorsed a Canadian police chief’s claim that what women wear these days means they’re asking for it, and also suggested that regardless of what the right answer might be, a lot of his viewers thought along those lines, too.

As in this question: Do you think there’s something to this idea that they kind of ask for it, just in a little way? Because I know that the viewers watching this will be saying that.”

Of course, all Quinn had to do was not indulge the rape excuse that Chapman was plying him with even if – as Chapman was also intimating – this could make Quinn look like a bit of a prig to viewers. Quinn tried (unsuccessfully) to shift to what must have looked to him like safer ground: the drinking habits of young women. In reality of course, he was merely wheeling up a different version of “blame the victim”. Alas, Act’s Heather Roy all but endorsed Quinn’s position (adding the drinking habits of young men for good measure) in yet another example of how this bunch is only a party of liberty and principle when the freedom to do business is at stake.

Chapman, has so far pretty much escaped scrutiny for what is really an age-old interviewing technique: to frame a bigoted position temptingly in the hope this will induce the politician to let down their guard and endorse the question, thus enabling them to be bagged for their bigotry. This form of asymmetric warfare must be a particularly tempting tactic in the noisy, unscripted climate of Back Benches. In this case, Quinn’s desire to look like one of the boys put him on side with the very worst male attitudes and actions. Should Chapman be praised for leading Quinn on to this revelation, or bagged for feigning being something of a fellow traveler? Journalism can be a dirty business at times, but someone has to do it.

As mentioned, the only person to come out entirely clean and shining from the entire episode was Trevor Mallard, who said: “I just want to, can I… It can never be an excuse to rape a women because of what she wears or what she’s had to drink. That is just wrong.” At which point, both Quinn and Roy could and should have swung in behind, and seconded that sentiment. But they didn’t.

As Mallard says, nothing – repeat nothing – absolves men from their responsibility not to rape. Yet since rape is about power, it is also a good idea not to be drunk, alone and vulnerable in a public space – no matter how unfair it is that women are infinitely more likely to be preyed upon. One does not have to endorse Paul Quin’s bigotry to hope women will protect themselves – and each other – in public, and that men will stop other men from treating drunk women as fair game.

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Sinking Lid Euthanasia?

Given the demographic reality of an ageing population, this RNZ report on Counties Manakau District Health Board research on the relatively high cost of treating patients during their last year of life is utterly chilling. Just as chilling were the comments made to RNZ by medical academics about whether such spending is a “wise and judicious” way of spending health money, and whether there may be better ways of spending it.

Interesting that none of the commenters in the RNZ report argued the need for greater health spending as being an ethical imperative if we wish to remain a humane society. Instead, the medical experts’ contribution to the ‘debate’ was to query whether spending quite as much money on dying people or sick children was sustainable, and to urge the public to regard this ‘debate’ as inevitable. Talk about framing the issue within the current political boundaries, even before a sham debate even begins. Depressing.

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