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Why Margie?

In the world of investigative journalism, the name Margie Thomson has many similarities, one might say, to an old Ben Lummis album. You don’t see it anywhere. Three years ago that all changed when she was commissioned to author the book Whaleoil. It was one of the messiest high-profile sagas of recent years. So, why was the book claiming to be the definitive account of this drama put in the hands of a novice?

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.” 

Cook is referring to the more than half million  dollars that has been spent settling  defamation lawsuits arising from Thomson’s  account of the Matthew Blomfield/Cameron  Slater saga. 

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.

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