The one way that Jacinda Ardern is behaving like Donald Trump

by Bill Ralston / 06 October, 2018
Donald Trump and Jacinda Ardern. Photo/Getty Images

Donald Trump and Jacinda Ardern. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Jacinda Ardern Donald Trump

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and US President Donald Trump aren’t a million miles apart in their approach to the media.

If I were to say that Jacinda Ardern is emulating Donald Trump, the left would snarl in outrage and attack me as deluded, and the right would snicker under their breath and shake their heads. Yet, curiously, in one aspect of her premiership she is following the Trump White House model.

Shortly before Ardern left the country for New York, National Party leader Simon Bridges accused her of behaving like Trump for giving a TED Talk-type address to party faithful after cancelling interviews on Three’s Newshub Nation scheduled for the previous day and TVNZ 1’s Q+A on the day of her speech, citing a “diary issue”.

In much the same way as Trump rejects speaking before general audiences, preferring partisan crowds wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats, Ardern has been tending to avoid traditional media scrutiny in favour of more supportive, non-confrontational public appearances.

During her UN General Assembly visit to the Big Apple, an advertising company employed by her office followed her, behind the scenes, into meetings where real journalists could not go.

The footage taken can be expected to show up on social media. Look out for a mini-documentary or two on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Unlike Trump, who uses Twitter to rant, bludgeon and threaten his opponents, Ardern’s account, which is followed by nearly 200,000 people, is milder, full of happy chat, concentrating on what she perceives to be the good news in New Zealand. She confines herself to two or three tweets a week.

Nevertheless, social media provides the Prime Minister with a channel for messages that can be beamed directly to you and me, unfiltered by journalists and editors. Some of you may think that is a good thing, but you’d be wrong.

Barack Obama pioneered political use of social media, successfully employing it to whip up grass-roots support in his first presidential campaign. Trump has embraced Twitter in an entirely different way. He throws out, seemingly at random, barbs in up to 280 characters for his followers and sympathetic media to chase.

A recent Trump tweet referred to long-running US comedy show Saturday Night Live: “Like many, I don’t watch Saturday Night Live (even though I past hosted it) – no longer funny, no talent or charm. It is just a political ad for the Dems. Word is that Kanye West, who put on a MAGA hat after the show (despite being told “no”), was great. He’s leading the charge!” SNL had mocked Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, who was having a gruelling confirmation hearing in the Senate.

There is nothing particularly wrong with politicians using social media to communicate with supporters, so long as they also make themselves available for serious journalistic questioning or appearances before audiences that might bite back.

Anything else suggests your media advisers do not believe you can hack the pace by discussing and debating the decisions and inevitable mistakes your government may make. The free interchange of views between politicians and the media lies at the heart of democracy. Anything else is just public relations.

This article was first published in the October 13, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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