IF MARGIE Thomson is an expert on anything it’s books. She’s devoted a lifetime to them. Reviewing them and writing or ghost-writing more than a dozen titles.
The CV is impressive.
A Masters of Creative writing with first class honours and a recipient of the Sir James Wallace Publication Prize.
So here’s the question and it’s an important one in the context of this story.
Is a writer, even one with Margie Thomson’s credentials, also a journalist?
Former assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday Stephen Cook says quite simply no. The two, he says, are quite different species and with 30 years experience in the newspaper business he’s was qualified as anyone to pass judgment.
Like others, Cook can’t make sense of why Nicky Hager chose Margie Thomson to write the Whaleoil book, especially given her lack of credentials in the world of investigative journalism and the very nature of the issues involved – complex and convoluted.
“In journalism it’s about horses for courses. TV writers don’t cover crime stories. Food writers don’t moonlight in the parliamentary gallery – and book reviewers aren’t given demanding subject matter like this to deal with – and it’s with good reason.
“A good investigative journalist, and there are many in New Zealand, have the ability to get to the truth, no matter how deep it’s buried. They smell bullshit from a mile away and never allow themselves to be compromised. “What we have seen in the years since with multiple payouts for defamation is an illustration of how badly things can go when you get monkeys flying planes.”
The book was launched in 2019 to rave reviews from critics who described it as ‘a remarkable piece of investigative journalism’. But over time Thomson’s account of what went on unravelled with questions over the veracity of many of the statements made and alarmingly her failure to seek comment from those people accused of orchestrating the 2014 hit on Blomfield which is the focus of the story.
“It’s remarkable really. The right of reply is a right given to everyone – even paedophiles. But here everything was taken at face value without any checks or balances. Staggering,” Cook said.
“That is not investigative journalism. Not by any stretch. That’s a snow job and to categorise it as anything else is disingenuous.”
Cook said with books there was a higher expectation to present both sides in as much detail as possible as unlike newspapers there were not the deadline constraints or space restrictions to contend with.
“Why that didn’t happen here is baffling. How media law expert Steven Price let this stuff go is also puzzling. It would be nice to get some
answers about how this catalogue of failures came about.”
Right now those answers aren’t forthcoming. We have asked Margie Thomson repeatedly to explain what happened here but she continues to maintain a wall of silence. Steven Price also isn’t saying anything, nor are the people who employ him.
Marc Spring, though, has plenty to say. He was one of those defamed by Thomson in the 2019 book and three years on he still wants to know why.
Spring says the allegations levelled against him were quite unbelievable even in “Margie Thomson’s fantasy world’.
‘When you accuse someone of something this heinous you must have the courage to at least confront them with it. She did not have the courage or the courtesy to even pick up the phone,” Spring said.
“And that failure on her part has caused me no end of pain and struggle with people asking the question ‘could what she have said been true?”
“It categorically wasn’t and if she’d asked me I would have told her that in no uncertain terms and it would have been end of story.” Spring said like others he had been left with no option but to seek redress through the courts – and while there had been vindication the damage had already been done. Spring said given the Whaleoil debacle it was probably time for Margie Thomson to quietly fade into obscurity.
“She has caused a lot of hurt for people and she needs time to reflect on that and do better in future,” he said.