Document dump: Govt 'blinded' by its 'awesomeness' and 'hubris', critics say

The Government's clumsy handling of a massive release of documents regarding its COVID-19 response shows it's being "blinded by your own awesomeness", a public relations expert has claimed. 

Hundreds of papers were made public on Friday, which while described as a "real win for transparency", has been marred by the timing and a leaked email calling for ministers to "dismiss" requests for interviews.

"There's no real need to defend," the email from a senior advisor to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern read, "because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing. Instead, we can dismiss."

That email was followed up by a request for it to be deleted as it was sent in "error", but not before it was leaked to Newshub. 

"The dump of documents, that is about being transparent, but the email then cut off any good feeling around that at its knees," Trish Sherson told The AM Show on Monday.

"I felt for all of the press gallery journalists and the media as a whole actually, who have really worked their arses off through this in really tough circumstances themselves. I felt that email was a real kick in the guts."

Stuff reports the Prime Minister's office called it a "clumsy instruction" and ministers were still free to talk about their decisions, just not "re-litigate the past" by talking about the advice they'd received. 

"I think it's important to remember that it wasn't the Prime Minister who issued this order," said Chris Trotter, a left-leaning blogger and political commentator. "It was a staff member... were I the Prime Minister, I would be having a very long and very intense discussion with that person today. The comments that went out were full of hubris... hubris is punished, always in Greek mythology." 

Trotter and Sherson.
Trotter and Sherson. Photo credit: The AM Show

Sherson, who used to work for the ACT Party, said the email suggested the Prime Minister lacks confidence in her ministers, outside of Grant Robertson and David Parker. She had particular scorn for Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, who "might have been on holiday for all we know" during the lockdown, which has hit tourism hard.

As for the timing of the document dump, Trotter said the Government was "damned if you do and you're damned if you don't".

"You can hardly complain that a Government lacks transparency when it dumps so many pieces of information into your lap. Friday afternoon I will concede is an old and well-tested technique to bowl the media down."

News audiences typically dip over the weekends, and most - if not all - newsrooms have fewer staff on. Nevertheless, Newshub dug out some of the most interesting pieces of information from the dump, which you can read here.

"The Government released a huge amount of information and it's going to be providing journalists with a lot to write about for a very long time," said Trotter. "The whole exercise was spoiled partly by the timing, but mostly by a very injudicious email from a staffer."