“Prime Minister, there is a report that an elephant has escaped from the zoo and is sitting in your office,” said the Prime Minister’s first advisor.
“That’s terrible!” said the Prime Minister. “Voters will not like it at all.”
“We have denied it, of course”, said the second advisor.
“That’s a relief,” said the Prime Minister. “So there is no elephant?”
The Prime Minister’s first advisor looked at the Prime Minister’s second advisor, who looked at the Prime Minister’s third advisor. Feet were shuffled.
“Ah, with great respect, Prime Minister,” said the second advisor at last. “It may be doubted whether that is quite the right question. In the circumstances.”
“The real point is, these elephant allegations are all very speculative,” said the third advisor. “There’s no proof.”
“There is no evidence of an elephant then?” asked the Prime Minister.
“No, none” said the first advisor. “Well, some people who work for us say they saw it. But they are afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they give their names, so that hardly counts. And some others are foreigners, so they don’t count either. And there are others too, but they’re dead, and that’s all very sad but at the end of the day you can’t really call them witnesses.”
“There is a little smashed furniture,” admitted the second advisor. “And some peanut shells and elephant droppings have been found. But it’s all very circumstantial. There could be a thousand explanations.”
“Plainly there seems to be something there that’s large and grey and has a trunk,” said the third advisor. “That cannot be denied. But that doesn’t mean we have an elephant. Many things are large and grey and have a trunk. A station wagon, for example. An ash tree. A stout Amish woman going on holiday.”
“At best, we only have indications of something with elephant-like features,” said the first advisor.
“Unsubstantiated talk about something resembling a particular large animal,” suggested the second.
“Politically motivated allegations by elephant conspiracy theorists”, said the third.
“You see? It’s all quite confusing,” said the first advisor. “It hardly counts as reliable evidence of an elephant.”
“Besides, the report has got it all wrong,’ said the third advisor. “It says the elephant is in your office in room 904. But that’s not your office! Your office is 903! We can quite genuinely reassure the public that there is not, and has never been, an elephant in room 904.”
“Phew!” said the Prime Minister. “So we can tell them that the claim that there’s an elephant in the PM’s office is wrong, then.”
“Ah. That’s not quite what I said, Prime Minister.”
“The point is that the allegations are not credible,” interrupted the first advisor. “You can’t expect accusers to be taken seriously if they can’t even get the scene of the crime right!”
The Prime Minister looked confused. “But they did say it was in my office, didn’t they?”
“Well, yes,” the first advisor explained patiently. “But there doesn’t seem to be any need to emphasise that.”
“Anyway, we have the results of an investigation, and it found that there was no elephant in your office,” said the second advisor.
“Great!” said the Prime Minister. “Let’s release that.”
“Yes,” said the second advisor. “That is to say, no. We don’t have it.”
“Can we get it?”
“Quite possibly,” said the first advisor. “And we should most certainly give consideration to the possibility that we might request a copy. Strong, thoughtful consideration. Yes. Though it might be thought that the outcome of the investigation speaks perfectly well for itself, and a copy of the investigation might only muddy the waters.”
“There are nit-pickers out there, and mischievous people determined to take things the wrong way,” agreed the second advisor. “They might go around pointing out that the investigation was carried out by the zookeeper, who might not be perceived as wholly impartial, and who didn’t actually look in your office, and even then, actually concluded that there might be an elephant there.”
“I thought you said the investigation concluded that there was no elephant,” said the Prime Minister.
“Did we?” said the first advisor. “Well let’s not get cute about it. Of course, it’s not absolutely out of the question that there’s an elephant in your office.”
“Okay,” sighed the Prime Minister. “I guess I’d better go and have a look”.
The advisors looked at each other again.
“Oh, we wouldn’t advise that,” they said. “It might call into question the government’s honesty and security.”
Steven Price is a barrister specialising in media law and an adjunct lecturer in media law at Victoria University of Wellington’s law school. He has provided legal advice on several books by Nicky Hager, including 'Hit and Run'.