Matt Heath: How Mike Hosking accused me of soft balling the PM


I’ve been accused of soft balling the Prime Minister on my radio show. A soft ball question is one formulated to be intentionally easy for a person to answer. The accusation came from the top — Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.

“On the day after the housing announcement, arguably the Government’s biggest of the year, she turns up on the Matt and Jerry Show — always a repository of kindness to her — but even she couldn’t take their questions seriously.”

ZB Drive time powerhouse Heather Du Plessis-Allan agreed.

“The Prime Minister is happy to appear on the Matt and Jerry Show because she knows she’ll get easy questions.”

These accusations of soft balling hurt. It was an attack on our professionalism. Next time I run into Mike Hosking, I’ll have a word. I’ll stare him right in the face and say, “Mr Hosking, you have accused my colleague Jeremy Wells and I of soft balling the Prime Minister. These are serious allegations. I want you to know, Micheal, your assessment is entirely accurate. We have been soft balling the prime minister. Good call. I hope the wife and kids are well.”

I wasn’t always a soft baller of Prime Ministers. I once asked John Key if he urinates in the shower. On another occasion, I spilt a glass of Oyster Bay 2001 Sauvignon Blanc on Helen Clark’s white leather loafers.

This week I was planning to address hate speech legislation with Jacinda. I was going to share the words of the late great English/ American Intellectual Christopher Hitchens.

“The right of others to free expression is part of my own. If someone’s voice is silenced, then I am deprived of the right to hear. Moreover, I have never met nor heard of anybody I would trust with the job of deciding in advance what it might be permissible for me or anyone else to say or read.”

My follow-up question would have been something like, “Prime Minister, are you concerned if we silence people we disagree with, we lose the opportunity to sharpen our arguments against them? Secondly, isn’t it better to debate bad ideas in the open rather than leaving them to fester in the dark?”

Unfortunately, the quote and question were too long for a 3-minute segment. Also, it didn’t fit the happy-go-lucky tone of the show. When the PM rang, Jeremy and I were talking about pies. Instead of an in-depth discussion on free speech, we asked her what her favourite pie is. Mince and cheese!

A few weeks later, we had the PM on again. This time I had sourced another Christopher Hitchens quote, this time on the effect of hate speech on the population. I wanted to question the assumption we know which words lead to which actions.

Sane people can take a lot of militant rhetoric about politics. Insane people can be motivated by believing themselves to be characters in The Catcher in the Rye, a book I am glad is not banned.

Unfortunately, we were deep in an ice cream chat on the show, and I needed to ask the Prime Minister what her favourite flavour is. It turns out she loves hokey pokey and hates rum and raisin.

The Prime Minister will appear on the Matt and Jerry Breakfast Show again in a few weeks. You’ll be happy to learn we’ve taken on the advice of our Newstalk ZB cousins. There will be no more soft ball questions from the Radio Hauraki Breakfast.

Hundreds of thousands of Kiwis tune into our show every day because they want to know what is going on in this great country of ours. It’s our obligation as broadcasters to uncover the truth.

Mark my words, we will be putting the PM’s feet to the fire — unless we are talking about deodorant that day. In which case, we’ll have to ask what underarm Clarke Gayford wears. My guess is Lynx Africa but it could be Brut 33 or Blue Stratos.

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