Hard News by Russell Brown

104

The perilous birth of the Psychoactive Substances Act

With the news yesterday of the attempted arson of a legal highs store in Invercargill, it's reasonable to ask whether we're on the verge of public hysteria about synthetic cannabis. The next question would be why it's happening now, when 95% of retail outlets for such products have been either shut down or forbidden to to sell the products -- and those remaining are closely monitored and, for the first time, required to be strictly R18 premises.

The Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, which administers the fledgling regime established under the Psychoactive Substances Act, has also not been shy about banning products deemed unsafe under its assessment guidelines. The entire JWH group of synthetic cannabinoids, which provided the psychoactive ingredients of most of the products that, before the Act, could be sold to kids from corner dairies, is now gone.

The list of products deemed low-risk and granted interim approval is a fraction of the nearly 300 legal highs sold in the past few years, before the new Act. It includes half a dozen fairly harmless pill products containing caffeine, guarana, kava, green tea and amino acids, and the rest is synthetic pot. When the full approval process gets underway, all of these will be banned subject to the Authority being satisfied that they present a low risk. It is quite possible that no products administered by smoking will meet the standard.

So, why now? Why now, when the prevalence of acute cases is reportedly beginning to fall? My guess is that we're reaping the harm of the years when the goverment was playing whack-a-mole, banning one substance after another without attempting to deal with the problem in the whole through regulation.

That certainly seems to be the case with 17 year-old Jesse Murray, whose tragic story has unfolded in the past week in The Press and other Fairfax papers. He and his mother say he has been smoking synthetic cannabis since he was 14 and he is now clearly addicted. But here's the thing I just can't process about that story:

His days are dictated by the opening and closing hours of the nearest legal high shop.

If he has the money, he will hand over anything between $25 and $80 a day - money he has begged for.

Despite it being illegal for him to purchase the drug because of his age, sometimes, out of sympathy, the storekeepers give it to him for free.

Let's be very clear here: whether they are selling Jesse synthetic pot or giving it to him for free, these storekeepers are breaking the law. The police should be informed and the owners' licence to trade revoked forthwith. Why on earth has The Press published three stories about Jesse but not identified the shops supplying him? Why is The Press sheltering criminals?

I'm not sure by what mechanism the currently available products might be directly causing the stomach bleeding reported by Jesse, but the Authority has already banned products found to be associated with "nausea and vomiting, insomnia, acute psychotic reaction, and prolonged withdrawal". If there are still products on sale that cause such harm, they need to be reported.

It's possible that the real damage was done to Jesse before the new regime, but that doesn't help with his withdrawal problems. Most people use these products without significant problems, but it does appear that some of them more than others cause addiction and other problems. The Wikipedia article on synthetic cannabis notes that the synthetic cannabinoids are full agonists to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, by contrast with THC, the chief active ingredient in marijuana, which is only a partial agonist -- and the belief that this is the key to severe adverse effects, including toxicity. The absence of cannibdiol (CBD), another cannabinoid found in marijuana, which has demonstrated anti-psychotic effects, may also be a factor.

You might think in light of that, that we're regulating the wrong thing -- that cannabis itself should be subject to the same strict regulation in the place of these new substances. You may well be right, and you might be surprised to find how many MPs are thinking the same thing, but the politics are such that it simply was not possible to apply the new Act to any drug currently illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

I do think that will happen, and that it might not be that long coming, but it won't be until after the Psychoactive Substances Act is fully up and running and has proved its fitness.

Meanwhile, in the illicit sector, we're seeing the same problems that prompted the pasage of the Act. LSD has been made too difficult to manufacture or supply -- so its place in the market has been taken by the NBOMe class of drugs, which are being sold in New Zealand as "liquid LSD". Users don't know what they're getting and, more importantly, how much. The NBOMe drugs have a scary dose-response curve, doses are almost microscopic and some toxic overdoses are being recorded. This keeps happening. That's why we're trying a different approach.

We're at an awkward stage with a legislative approach that is being watched around the world. This is something worth doing. And I hope that the news media can take a balanced approach to what's happening, and that local authorities do what is required of them under the law. Because failure would take us right back to square one.

251

The Language of Climate

In this month's New York Review of Books, the British author Zadie Smith commences an insightful essay headed Elegy for a Country's Seasons with the observation that "There is the scientific and ideological language for what is happening to the weather, but there are hardly any intimate words."

Instead, she says, Britons use "the new normal" as a euphemism when:

... a beloved pear tree, half-drowned, loses its grip on the earth and falls over. The train line to Cornwall washes away—the new normal. We can’t even say the word “abnormal” to each other out loud: it reminds us of what came before. Better to forget what once was normal, the way season followed season, with a temperate charm only the poets appreciated.

It's an interesting thought. So much of our art and literature is based in the archetypes of the seasons (and this is true in still-Anglophile New Zealand, where we have affixed British ceremonies to our own cycles, so the fertility rite of Easter means that winter is coming). She notes that society's understanding of the seasons has been transcribed in the works of Dickens and others. How long till someone writes a poem about climate change?

It may well happen first in Britain, where it is now plausible to attribute new, extreme weather events to a changing global climate. 

She continues:

The weather has changed, is changing, and with it so many seemingly small things—quite apart from train tracks and houses, livelihoods and actual lives—are being lost. It was easy to assume, for example, that we would always be able to easily find a hedgehog in some corner of a London garden, pick it up in cupped hands, and unfurl it for our children—or go on a picnic and watch fat bumblebees crawling over the mouth of an open jam jar. Every country has its own version of this local sadness.

But Smith also makes a deeper point about the barrenness of the rhetoric of the climate change debate. She tells the story of how she, in New York for Superstorm Sandy:

...  climbed down fifteen floors, several months pregnant, in the darkness, just so I could get a Wi-Fi signal and e-mail a climate-change-denying acquaintance with this fresh evidence of his idiocy.

I've been pondering this same to-and-fro, where "alarmists" and "deniers" swap epithets in a ritual that seems designed mostly to perpetuate itself. It's a difficult dance to leave. How else can you respond to Mike Hosking's risible pronouncements on climate change but with the kind of scorn Steven Price delivers here?

Sadly, Hosking's thoughts were not even his own. By some means I'm not entirely clear on, the new talking point of the doubters has become "We can't predict what's going to happen, because who can predict anything anyway?" Or as my friend Josh Drummond put it, when all else fails, demand "What is truth?"

I retweeted Josh, but I did not convince anyone who was not already convinced. The rhetorical dance shows no sign of ending. Is there are better way of talking about this? There must be.

As I wrote in my first blog post of the year, the global insurance industry has already left the dance and is acting on, as one industry risk expert put it, the reality that "the activity today is not simply the average of history." Things are changing, and the people with real money to lose (rather than just a media soapbox to stand on) are taking account of those changes.

Again, the cultural change is likely to take place first in those countries where unprecedented weather is a new reality. Christchurch has had a taste of things to come, with the land itself falling even before a predicted rise in the sea level. But in Britain, which sits adjacent to ocean systems that have a significant bearing on climate and are changing, the weirdness seems more evident.

Although it's less plausibly attributable to climate change,  London's toxic smog last week -- a collision of existing particulate pollution, strange winds from Europe and dust from the Sahara -- was certainly amply weird. I asked my London'based friend Jen Ferguson how people were feeling. She wrote:

When I made the decision to return to London two years ago, it wasn’t for the weather, but then I’ve never had any beef with the UK weather. It is what it is. Or was. The Great British Weather has always been variable, and this impacts on how people view climate change. Because it’s so unpredictable, extreme weather events don’t make the impact they should and folks don’t quite twig that we should be very, very alarmed at the state of things.

There’s an awareness that things are probably getting worse but it’s accompanied by a weird and dangerous inertia. Sadly it may take a disaster much worse than toxic smog or Somerset flooding to finally compel us to get our heads out of the sand and take action. We shake our heads and tut about things, while accepting the most palatable explanation.

David Cameron’s nonsense that the smog hurting our throat and making our eyes stream is simply “a naturally occurring weather phenomenon” is much easier to deal with than the reality - as John Vidal in the Guardian so eloquently outlined, a perfect storm of extreme levels of toxic particulates emitted by our own dirty diesel engines and untamed industry, combined with (here’s where Dave’s weather phenomenon comes in) pollution blown over from Europe and dust from the Sahara. But I don’t suspect the UK is alone in this inertia.

Over the past week, I've seen various social media posts from smug Kiwis along the lines of “Sitting on a pristine New Zealand beach, trying to imagine what level 10 air pollution would be like.” These are the same people who will probably vote John Key back in because they don’t like the look of that Cunliffe chap, and then wonder why their pristine beach has a rather nasty oily black coating...

That last, of course, is a different matter again, with different risks, although no less of a rhetorical dance in itself.

If climate change is about science, the "debate" is one of ideologies. "What are you, personally, doing about it?" the doubters ask us, "And how much quality of life are you prepared to give up?" Its a question to which most of us don't have a good personal answer, except to say, with every justification in the world, that the magnitude of the challenge is such that it can only be answered collectively; by nations, by the planet. It's an answer that anyone who places a philosophical premium on individual action may not even be able to hear.

We're currently at a point, in nearly every country, where governments essentially accept the evidence of risk, but where there is no public pressure for them to act on that risk. There aren't many votes in climate change, and even fewer for a centre-right government. The language of the apocalypse clearly doesn't work -- and sometimes, when things turn out to be not so bad, so soon, actually harms the cause.

So, again ... is there a better way of talking about this? There must be.

35

Friday Music: The Godfather of House Music

I got a little weepy on Tuesday. No, not for the departing  Geoff Robinson, much as I appreciate his fine service these past 40 years, but for Frankie Knuckles, who died suddenly at the age of 59 later that day. Although he's hardly a household name, people who felt it, felt it hard.

Twitter was flooded with tributes and even The Economist published a tribute to "the man most commonly credited as the godfather of house music". So exactly what is all the fuss about this Knuckles guy?

Some context: In 1979, in Chicago, 70,000 drunk dudes cheered as thousands of disco records (which effectively meant any records by black people) were blown up with explosives at a baseball stadium. The white folks got so out of hand that riot police had to clear the field. This is the environment in which Frankie was playing evolving forms of that marginalised music to equally marginalised communities -- black, gay or, like Frankie, both. The actual same city.

The term "house music" itself was coined by a local record store as shorthand for the music Frankie Knuckles was playing -- sometimes rearranged on reel-to-reel tape, or beefed up with an early drum machine -- at the Chicago club where he was the keynote DJ: The Warehouse.

The Warehouse didn't actually play house music, for the very good reason that it hadn't been invented yet. Proto-house music, harder and less musical, was the next step on at Ron Hardy's Music Box club, where Frankie also played. 

So what did it sound like at The Warehouse? Red Bull Music Academy put together a YouTube playlist based on the Warehouse Top 50 compiled by Bill Brewster with Frank Broughton for their book Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. The tracklisting is here. It's brilliant. I'd go and dance at a club playing these tunes -- Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers, Gwen Guthrie -- any time.

A few years later, that music, now fully evolved into something new -- house music and in particular the heavy loops of acid house --  leapt the Atlantic and thence became a dominant force in popular music. These days, EDM fills American stadiums -- and two years ago the Chicago White Sox held their first annual House Music Night at the stadium where the disco records were destroyed in 1979. As Brewster notes in his concise obit for The Guardian, Frankie liked to refer to house music as "disco's revenge".

Frankie's passing terminates a great pop-cultural arc. But it also takes a chunk out of my own youth. I first heard Chicago house music in London in  1986 and two years later, house music, as the saying goes, changed my life. 

Among the records I bought then and still own is Frankie's 1987 production of an unusual track by a teenager called Jamie Principle that had been kicking around Chicago clubs on tapes for several years by the time it was released:

I still play 'Your Love'. It's beautiful and primitive and one of my favourite records. But it was a 1989 classic that most clearly set him apart from all the chancers with samplers. 'Tears' had what became the trademark Frankie Knuckles sound, with its soft, pulsing bassline and floating piano:

Unlike his founding contemporaries, Hardy and Larry Levan, Frankie didn't destroy himself with drugs. Diabetes eventually got him, but he was always a working DJ and was playing a gig at Ministry of Sound in London only last week. You can download the set he played late last year at London's Boiler Room:

Happily, you can also download the mix of Frankie's own music created and posted in tribute this week by Dimitri from Paris:

You can hear his more recent work on his Soundcloud page (I'm going to buy that Candi Staton track) and most of his many remixes are on YouTube -- often, like this one, originally the spacious b-side of the 12":

But for me, none of them demonstrates his artistry better than his beautiful interpretation of Michael Jackson's 'Rock With You':

Thanks for the beautiful music, Frankie. Thanks for heaven on the dancefloor.

---

Feel free to post your own Frankie Knuckles  favourites in the comments for this post (YouTube and Vimeo videos auto-embed here if you just paste in the URL of the clip). You may also enjoy this short British documentary about him, in two parts:

And when you have some time, watch all 141 minutes of Pump Up the Volume: The History of House Music, which has pretty much everyone in it:

EDIT: WOAH HOLD THE DAMN PHONE.

I've just been pointed to this holyshitamazing short doco by Phil Ranstrom on the launch of the third of the triumvirate of Chicago house clubs, The Power Plant, in 1986. House, it is clear, was becoming the next big thing by that point. It includes a Frankie interview and a live performance by Steve Silk Hurley's JM Silk. Uploaded only this week (the day after Frankie died) and the nearest you'll get to actually being there ...

---

So, kids, you may be asking "what were you doing while all this was going on, grandapa"? Oh, you, know, hanging out in Vulcan Lane watching art ...

It must be 1984. That's me by the red door, all wrapped up, and that's Ian Dalziel next to me. The performer is Gill Civil, who is best known here for her work in Marie and the Atom, the most delicate and unusual of early Flying Nun acts. On this day, she pitched up oddly decorated in the lane, roped off a space and played a solo work on voice and banjo. I remember at the time thinking how bold it was. Perhaps that's why I look so terribly concerned in the picture.

I was delighted to reconnect with Gill this week via Twitter. She now lives in Canada's Sunshine Coast and, among other things, makes piano recordings for ballet classes. And, of course, yes, she has an arrangement of 'Royals':

---

A typically amusing James Milne press release heralds the news that Lawrence Arabia will be playing the three Lawrence Arabia albums in full across two night in Auckland and three nights in Wellington at the end of May. You can click through to buy season passes for each centre. I'm looking forward to this.

Also on the road next month, alt-country folkies Great North. They've released this lovely track from their forthcoming new album as a free download on Bandcamp:

And in the Sunday Star Times, Grant Smithies caught up with Flip Grater, who has just begun a national tour in support of the new album she recorded in Paris, Pigalle. It's an excellent read.

---

Tracks ...

Breaking: it's deep in the night, She's So Rad have returned from the disco, made a nice cup of tea/whisky/ketamine and got on the back-to-mine indie groove. It's warm:

At TheAudience, this twinkling little hip-hop instrumental from someone called pxlx. (Why all these short tracks suddenly? Should we blame Lontalius?)

There's more of this mischief going on at his Soundcloud.

Wellington DJ duo Eastern Bloc (it's not just a name -- one's Polish, the other Ukranian) are also in TheAudience's chart with this twitchy thing:

And wowzers. Bobby Busnach has posted an epic 17-minute remix of Donna Summer's 'Love to Love You Baby'. Bobby does his best work with Donna -- and that's the bassline from the O'Jays' 'For the Love of Money', amirite? Get the big fat WAV file before it hits the download limit:

Leftside Wobble dubs up a lesser-known version of 'Cry Me a River' to magical groove effect:

And finally, I might not know much about jazz, but I do like this jazz/funk/breaks mix:

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The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:

theaudience

207

Gower Speaks

On Monday and Tuesday this week I wrote posts analysing 3 News' and One News' respective reporting of their own political polls, conducted by Reid Research and Colmar Brunton respectively. In the second, I had some criticisms and a list of questions about the handling of a poll question about whether Cunliffe's use of a trust to channel donations was "worthy of a Prime Minister".

I prompted Gower for a response several times on Twitter: nothing. I got to the point of mocking his silence. But he called me this morning (his end was on speakerphone -- hi, Mark and Rachel!) and  it turns out he was offline because he'd had the day off for his birthday. I'd needled the man on his birthday! (He tried to deem the birthday part off-the-record after we'd been talking for half an hour, but what sort of journalist goes along with that?)

Anyway, it was a useful conversation in which TV3's political editor acknowledged my qualms about Monday night's story and eased most of them.

I had wanted to know exactly how the question was put to respondents. I now have the exact wording of the "worthy" question about Cunliffe, which is this:

David Cunliffe was found to be using a trust to conceal donations to his campaign for the Labour leadership. When the trust was identified, Cunliffe had to reveal the donors and pay back the money to those who wanted to remain anonymous. Do you think David Cunliffe's actions were worthy of a man who wants to be Prime Minister?

This is an appropriately-worded question. It doesn't beg a particular response. And it doesn't used the words "secret trust", which are common in 3 News's reporting of the Cunliffe, but, rightly in my view, not used by other media.

"The words 'secret trust' were not used in the question," Gower confirmed. "I used those in my report, but I'm an equal-opportunity secret trust guy. I called Key's Antoine's [dinner] secret. All politicians get furious equally on those. Key doesn't like admitting to golf games at the moment, so he's complaining about that. And my argument for that is that actually Cunliffe did keep it secret for four days and Key did keep his golf game secret. We would never have known about his golf game unless I found that picture in the Oravida office."

Crucially, the "worthy" question was asked after the Reid poll's regular series of perception questions, which always includes one on whether the subject is "more honest that most" politicians. (You can see the trends on those questions here on the Reid website.) So it couldn't have influenced the answering of the special question about Cunliffe.

I still think the reporting of the answers could have been better handled. Patrick was able to tell me that 54.6% of people who intended to vote Labour said no, his actions weren't worthy.

"They've already answered that they'll vote for Labour and who their preferred Prime Minister is. So it's about his actions at that point -- I don't think anyone is being asked to say he's unworthy of being Prime Minister. They're being asked whether it's a non-event or not. People did look at it and have a view on it and overwhelmingly they said it was not a good look."

I realise that time is tight in TV news, but including that information would have made the meaning of the answer clearer.

I'll also note this comment sent to me privately by a person who works in the research business:

Like you, I was incensed by the way TV3 reported on their David Cunliffe poll questions, albeit for slightly different reasons.  Specifically, they reported on the number who said that ‘more honest than most politicians’ applied to Key & Cunliffe.  What they didn’t tell us, however, was the number who said that that attribute did NOT apply, which matters because Key is still much better known than Cunliffe.  If Key was say 45% ‘applies’, 50% ‘does not apply’, 5% ‘unsure, that’s a very different meaning from if Key was at 45% ‘applies’, 30% ‘does not apply’ and 25% ‘unsure’.

The effect of the way that question was presented is that the lower profile politician, whoever it is, is always at a disadvantage.  It may have been that Cunliffe was 26% applies, 74% does not apply, or it may have been that he was 26% applies, 10% does not apply, 64% unsure, but we just don’t know.

This is why it would be good if the detailed responses were available on the polling firm's website. And that's an area where Reid could take a tip from Colmar Brunton, who have begun providing background data as soon as possible after the headine figures are reported each night (their social media game is pretty sharp too). That information could also go on the TV3 website, but I know how hard it is to get data up there in a specialised format -- and that the people who manage the website content already have a substantial workload

"I'd love to have it up there," said Gower. "Usually I'd have blogged on a lot of the stuff I've told you, because I like to give a bit more the next day in my blog.  We're working bloody hard on a lot of interesting ideas for things we do can with this information in the lead-up to the election, so watch this space."

There was, as Andrew Geddis noted in comments for yesterday post, also a question about Judith Collins and Oravida, and Patrick was happy to tell me there was also an Oravida question about John Key, and a fourth "policy question". Four is the contracted limit for "special" questions in each poll round. The unbroadcast questions are very likely to turn up in future reports.

Why was the Cunliffe question chosen over the others? Because, said Gower, the most interesting element of the poll was the "collapse" in Cunliffe's personal support.

"If it had been the other way around, if Key had gone down, I may well have gone with Oravida on Monday night. If there had been a drop that could be attributed to Oravida I would most likely have gone in with the Oravida question."

Interestingly, One's Colmar Brunton poll did show a drop for National and they did go with their Collins question.

And what of the the sketching out of a likely House on the basis of New Zealand First missing out by an essentially meaningless 0.1% of polled voting intentions?

"I stick 100% to what our figures tell us. I know that National's going down in the Colmar and we've got them going up, but there really is only one option in terms of that. Winston comes in at 4.9 and I instantly think, hey, he's good for 5% on election day.

"But you've got to stick with the information that you're given. And you've got to stick with it from month to month and pretend that there is nothing else out there, for the sanctity of that information.

"All the questions that you have in your mind about those numbers, I have those questions too. But it's bloody good information. If we started introducing different things, it would just be a clusterfuck. So everyone else can have their fun with the poll of polls."

I was also critical of what I called 3 News' "lazy" habit of featuring John Key as commentary talent in their stories, sometimes to the extent of using the Prime Minister to explain the angle of the stories. Gower said they've also had complaints about the frequent use of Russel Norman in a similar context.

"It's something we always have to keep watching. We always have to go and get comment, you always want a counter-comment. And, for want of a better description, you get guys having free hits.

"It's one of the true weaknesses of television that in order to achieve balance you have a counter-soundbite. So we have to watch how much we use Key, we have to watch how much we use Norman or Cunliffe, we have to watch free hits full stop. [But] we also have to have the opposite person in there.

"Key is in the media more often and I'll quite often watch the news bulletin here and see that there's a story, not done by my guys, that has Key in it. And suddenly we have Key in four or five stories and I have to say, 'hey, we've got to get him out of one of these bloody things'.

"But he was the right guy for this story. It was a story about Cunliffe and he's Cunliffe's opposite and that's why I used him in that. I'm not saying that he's not in there too much, because as I told you, I'm actively trying to get the guy out of there sometimes."

Because we were talking specifically about the comments and questions in my own post (and I hadn't expected him to call) we didn't range beyind those. But Gower concluded with a commitment:

"I'm always happy to answer any questions about [the polls]. We just want to get out and talk to people about what we're doing. And that goes right through with all of my work. I'm making a really big effort in the next six months to communicate with people and talk to them about what we're doing.

 "As political editor, the role has changed for guys like me in the last three years. There is a lot more interest and commentary and people able to talk about what I'm doing. That's great, okay? Bring it on, I love it. Twitter, everything. What I want to do is make myself more open to people so that when they do have questions about what I'm doing, I'm talking to them about it. And that's the changing level of accountability that someone in my job has to have.

"I'm not just going to do my news stories, say my piece and go home to Petone and turn on the TV and watch Shortland Street. I'm in a highly visible role."

So I could write up the "3 News political editor in 'not watching Campbell Live shock'" story for our gossip column. But hey, it was the guy's birthday, right?

106

Poll Day 2: Queasy

I noted yesterday that it's incumbent on media organisations who commission political polls to construct news angles around them. It also doesn't hurt to a few extra bangs for your buck, which both One News and 3 News did last night, with follow-up stories based on subsidiary questions in their respective polls.

TVNZ, it turns, out, had asked respondents whether Justice minister Judith Collins should remain a Cabinet minister in light of "the Oravida conflict of interest allegations" (I presume that was roughly the wording of the question -- it's not published as far as I can see). Thirty nine per cent said "No", 37% said "Yes" and 24% didn't know. Probably the most interesting part of the response was that only 55% of National voters affirmed that she should stay.

Michael Parkin's story quoted Labour's Grant Robertson and the Prime Minister, and he reported that Collins herself, while declining to appear on camera, said she wanted to "get on and do the job". He concluded by noting that any damage sustained by Collins was not reflecting on her party's poll standing.

3 News, on the other hand, focused on Labour leader David Cunliffe and asked a very different kind of question (again, I'm having to infer this from the report because the actual wording is unpublished), in respect of his use of a trust to channel donations for his party leadership campaign: "Were David Cunliffe's actions worthy of a Prime Minister?"

What does that even mean? That people think he's not fit to be Prime Minister? That it was an unworthy action of someone who aspired to be Prime Minister one day? It's actually a hard question for even a Cunliffe supporter to answer "yes" to. As a bit of emotional framing it works well, as a research question it's bullshit.

Notably, a similar question was not put to the actual Prime Minister, John Key. Well, One News focused only on Judith Collins, didn't it? But this was a bit different.

Patrick Gower's story not only put no questions to the Prime Minister, it was a particularly inappropriate example of 3 News' journalists' lazy habit of of using John Key as a freelance political commentator. Inappropriate because the secondary angle of the story was the same poll's question as to whether John Key and David Cunliffe respectively were "more honest than the average politician."

Cunliffe lost out badly on that question, and Key got to be both the victor and the race commentator.

But I would like to know a few things (I asked some of these of Patrick Gower via Twitter last night but haven't had a reply yet):

- What were the actual words in which the Cunliffe question was put to respondents?

- Were respondents reminded of the Cunliffe trust story, and in what words? Or were they, alternatively, questioned on their actual knowledge of the story?

- Were the words "secret trust" used in the question? (It's notable that 3 News stands alone -- or perhaps alongside Kiwiblog -- in its consistent use of the phrase "secret trust" around this story. The Herald, Radio NZ, NBR and others have generally referred simply to "a trust"-- which is actually correct. The trust itself was was not a secret; the issue was that it enabled anonymous donations.)

- Was the "worthy" question about Cunliffe asked before or after the general honesty question about both Cunliffe and Key? (I really hope it was asked after, because asked before it really starts to look like push-polling.) Was it asked before any other questions about Cunliffe? 

It may be that Gower has a zinger about John Key for us tonight. If so, I hope it's better and more fairly framed than last night's story was. I respect the right of Gower and his colleagues to be robust, even provocative in their work. It's important that they can be and if I'm watching TV at 6pm it's usually them. But last night's effort left me feeling a bt queasy.