These days, I make a point of reading the Herald for a particular reason – not, in order to get an accurate account of the day’s news, but to gain some insight into the mentality of those whose guiding principle is not accuracy or rationality but, rather, visceral hatred of those who oppose or differ from them.
In this quest, I naturally turn to those contributors in the Herald’s pages whose stock-in-trade it is to denigrate and rubbish those with whom they disagree, but I also take note of the efforts of the editorial staff; I like to identify the bias they show in story selection and in their use of various devices, such as repetition, misleading headlines and the positioning of those headlines to amplify that bias.
But it is not just the output of the Herald itself that engages my attention. Of even more interest is the “Comments” column that usually follows a tendentious item in the Herald’s pages, and to which readers are invited to contribute.
These ”comments” tell me so much about a particular section of Herald readers and – even more valuably – go a long way to explaining exactly for whom the Herald thinks it is writing. I get a clear idea of who these commenters are and, even more tellingly, exactly who it is that the commenters dislike so much.
The answer to that inquiry is not particularly surprising. What is guaranteed to fire them up, to new heights (or, perhaps, depths) of anger, hostility and hatred, is anything that – in their invented terminology – can be described as “woke”.
“Woke” (which, as far as I can gather, was a term first coined and still widely used as a term of abuse by the far right in the United States) apparently means any person, attitude or policy that sees any merit in taking account of other people’s interests, and any attitude that recognises that we are each of us individuals but that we also live in society ; and, further, (and here, I really do risk treading into “woke” territory) that we are all better off if we live in a society that pays regard to the interests of all its members.
The Herald, perhaps regardless of its own prejudices, presumably finds it necessary, by highlighting what keeps us apart and downplaying what brings us together, to pander to the prejudices of this particular section of its readers. In the long run, however, they risk doing damage not only to their own reputation and claim to independence and impartiality, but also to New Zealand’s cohesion as a society that is happy with itself.
Encouraging the rise of the “anti-woke” sentiment is a sure recipe for national decline. Sadly, that price would be paid not only by the Herald but by the rest of us as well.