Brian Edwards Media

Parents Nil, Media Nil, MP 8 out of 10

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A man on an Air New Zealand flight turns to his partner and says, ‘I wish those children would shut up’. His remark that night features on both major TV networks’ national news bulletins, both ‘current affairs’ programmes and prominently the next day in every metropolitan newspaper in the country. The Timaru Herald even devotes its leader to the story.

Since people on planes regularly express the wish that noisy or badly behaved children would ‘shut up’ – often in much stronger terms than that – and since those episodes attract no attention whatsoever in the media, we have to assume that there was something else to justify such extensive coverage. There was. The complainant was a Member of Parliament and he was gay. (I’ll come to the ‘gay’ bit in a moment.) 

Several stories noted that the MP was travelling at the taxpayer’s expense. I take this to mean that Members of Parliament forfeit their right to reasonable peace and quiet while flying or travelling on trains, buses, ships or ferries. It is all right to annoy them.

The complainant in the case, the children’s father, did not appear in any of the television coverage. This seems strange since his wife, who did all the talking, says she did not actually hear the MP say, ‘I wish those children would shut up’. Her entire evidence on that point was therefore based on hearsay. Or perhaps ‘not-hear-say’. This seemingly relevant fact seemed to escape the attention of the ‘journalists’ covering the story.

The children’s mother did say that use of the term ‘shut up’ was inappropriate and that she would never use it to her children. Poor delicate-eared little darlings. They will no doubt need counselling. As for me, I should be all over the news media. I cannot count the number of times I have told my children to shut up.

While admitting that her children had been responsible for ‘a little bit of ordinary noise’, the mother noted that the MP ‘would have no concept of how young families are and how they live’. Now why would that be? Wasn’t the MP once a member of a young family himself? Well, the only thing I can think of is that this particular MP is gay.  I take this to mean that being gay disentitles you from complaining about the bad behaviour of other people’s children.  

And, by the way,  what exactly is ‘ordinary noise’?  

Now the difficulty with this story for most of us is that we weren’t there and the prosecution and defence versions of what happened are diametrically opposed. Mum’s  evidence on what was said cannot be admitted, since it’s hearsay. And Dad hasn’t appeared in (TV) court at all. His evidence has merely been reported in print and is uncorroborated.  So it’s difficult to judge his credibility. The MP, on the other hand, did appear in court and his evidence is corroborated. He has a witness. The New Zealand Herald reports:

‘A person on the same flight said yesterday: “I was sitting in the aisle across from Charles and I actually said to my husband that I wished the parents would tell their children to ‘shut up’. They were pretty loud.”‘

Thank heavens the witness was married and to a person of the opposite sex.

But  before reaching a verdict we really ought to consider the question of possible motive for the charge being laid at all. Why would the father have gone to such extreme lengths to publicly attack the MP merely for having said to the person next to him, ‘I wish those children would shut up.?’

It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? But let’s throw caution to the winds and speculate widely: The MP is a member of the Labour Party. The father is a former member of ACT and a virulent right-wing blogger.  Hmmmm.

Unfair? Fanciful? Drawing too long a bow?

Well,  here’s what I think. I think this rather unpleasant fellow – read his blogs – saw a wonderful opportunity to damage a Labour MP by inflating an inconsequential and probably justified remark made about his children.

And I think the coverage given to this matter by the New Zealand media speaks volumes about the quality of journalism in this country. It is a disgrace.

I’m a Labour supporter myself of course, so you’re entitled to take that into consideration. But I’m also a father of five children, a grandfather of ten and a frequent flyer. I know about how young families are and how they live. And I’m all too familiar with small children’s behaviour on planes. I have endured  their shouting and screeching; I have suffered being kicked in the back for an entire flight by their restless little feet; and I have cursed their inconsiderate and useless  bloody parents.

I have enormous sympathy for the parents of a screaming baby on a plane. But there my sympathy stops.

As for the MP, he doesn’t come out of this lily white either. Instead of dealing with the problem in an assertive manner, by quietly asking the parents if they would mind asking their children not to make so much noise, he went down the non-assertive route of speaking loud enough for them to overhear his complaint. Not very courageous and more likely to receive a negative response and, as it turns out, widespread coverage from our now almost exclusively tabloid media.

But at least he’s stuck to his guns and not apologised. No apology is required.

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36 Comments:

  1. I’m no cheerleader for Labour MPs (or any MPs to be honest), but I applaud Charles Chauvel for this. As someone who has travelled with small children, I can say that they can be hugely annoying and unreasonable. So when I see other folk travel with kids I have some sympathy for them, but ONLY if they make some effort to control the child. If they blithely let the sprog yell, scream and jump about (as it would appear in this case) then they deserve no sympathy and can consider themselves lucky someone didn’t throw things at them.

    Of course, now that my own issue are beyond such ructions, I automatically assume that every child on an aeroplane (or other enclosed space) is a limb of Satan and a fiend in human form.

    • Of course, now that my own issue are beyond such ructions, I automatically assume that every child on an aeroplane (or other enclosed space) is a limb of Satan and a fiend in human form.

      Quite. Criticising other people’s kids is difficult at the best of times. Hearing criticism of one’s own children, even more difficult. After all, they are little angels.

  2. Astoundingly lazy journalism.

    A Member of Parliament who has worked to get rid of the ‘Gay Panic’ defence for murder in New Zealand, and is currently working to get appropriate regulations set up to protect people from Loan Sharks, gets to dance over coals for a mild comment.

    The story runs the views of a “… former member of ACT and a virulent right-wing blogger.” pretty much unchecked. Shouldn’t a journalist check their source’s motivations, before going with a story? And why is this story so prominent?

  3. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? But let’s throw caution to the winds and speculate widely: The MP is a member of the Labour Party. The father is a former member of ACT and a virulent right-wing blogger. Hmmmm.

    I was surprised to discover, having read his unpleasant blog posts, that the man is a surgeon. Clearly, emotional maturity isn’t a prerequisite for wielding a scalpel.

    Still, it’s been highly amusing watching Clint Heine — whose blog has been home to some of the nastiest political speech I’ve seen in this country — calling for respect and decorum.

  4. Except that while Chauvel may be gay…he is not childless.

  5. Dr. Edwards — you have summed this up, beautifully. Reminds me of a hand-built, blueprinted high-performance HSV engine: balanced, meticulously tuned and running on high-octane gas; to optimise the silky torque throughout the whole rev range. I am your biggest fan, on this particular topic.

    I see a gradual convergence of two mindsets :)

  6. This is possibly the most fatuous and vacuous story of the century. For God’s sake is the world so devoid of important news that the media has to spend time on this, not to mention set up some cretinous telephone poll? I suppose the latter helped reduce the TVNZ deficit so some good has come out of evil! Does not Mark Sainsbury feel a toe curling sense of embarrassment at having to front such stories? I can only assume that the pay must make him swallow any professional standards he might have possessed. Of course I am just as bad having sat transfixed watching this sort of trash.

    I was also left wondering why the mother of the kids so assiduously cultivated the publicity. Personally I thought she made herself look a prat. And why can’t her old man fight his own battles instead of hiding behind his wife’s petticoat? I see he is a surgeon. That does not enhance my opinion of the medical profession.

    On one matter I agree with Chavel 100%; kids should be seated at the rear of the plane so they can just annoy one another. I have travelled with young children and in spite of my efforts have been mortified at their behaviour; try amusing a three year old from Akl to London. It would be better to have them all grouped together, in fact perhaps there is a market for an aircraft creche.

    • It would be better to have them all grouped together, in fact perhaps there is a market for an aircraft creche.

      Now that is an idea. I wonder if they already have them in first class.

  7. That should have read:

    And apparently Chauval is a father, despite being gay. Who would have thought IT possible?

    A classic case of the media not investigating assertions but publicisng them as if they were fact.

    • A classic case of the media not investigating assertions but publicising them as if they were fact.

      I’m afraid I’m the one culpable for that particular error. See my reply to Ianmac.

  8. And of course Brian some are Hells Angels.I consider the father may have spotted Charles Chauvel,who could have dealt with it more appropriately,and said theres a nasty Gay ,Labour mp lets disturb him,or may have even arranged for his children to sit closer to Charles.Now that would have been a story.It saddens me that we cut down trees for this sort of rubbish.

  9. The noise of children can indeed be a bit much – it’s the drumming on the seat from behind that drives me nuts.
    Pure torture

  10. It was almost as facinating as having to be subjected to endless news reports on tv and print about some aussie cricket player and his bloody girlfriend!

    Talk about dumbing down a country.

  11. After travelling on two flights recently involving a total of 34 hours I was constantly amazed and impressed with the efforts that parents went to in keeping little kids amused and in reasonable order. Wow. They had books puzzles games food drink, and in the case of parents with 3 kids of about 3years, 2years, and I swear 2 weeks, they were so able to stay fair and reasonable. Amazing.
    In the reported case however, it is the weird way in which it was blown up by media that makes one concerned. Is their a conspiracy at work here to discredit? Incidentally I believe that Charles does have a 4 year old son.

    • I believe that Charles does have a 4 year old son.

      Thanks you, Ianmac, and others who have drawn this to my attention. I did ask a couple of people this morning whether Charles had any children, and sadly got the wrong answer. My apologies to Charles – and his son.

  12. On the Singapore leg of our OS trip, a few minutes out of Wellington the kids behind us started playing “SNAP!!” on the shelf behind our seat.This felt like a harbinger for the trip. Luckily their parents reacted well to a polite request for them to desist.

  13. The most satisfying ‘annoying child comeuppance’ I ever witnessed was on a long-haul AK-LA.
    Young lad had been kicking the back of seat in front of him for several HOURS! Man in seat had turned round and delivered numerous glares to boy (and mum) to no avail, so…
    refreshments arrived, boy placed drink on tray table…whereupon harrassed man in front promptly reclined seat with as much gusto as he could muster! Boy wore drink. Man wore smile. No more kicking for the rest of the flight!!!
    You GO, guy!

  14. To be blunt, if there’s a scenario designed to have me expressing the milk of human kindness bumptious children on a plane is not even on the longlist. Then again, there’s many an alleged adult who suffers from IAES (inflamed arsehole entitlement syndrome) and would be vastly improved by a ball gag hooked up to a remote controlled drip filled with drain cleaner.

    But if you have an issue with you fellow passengers, outsource the STFU to the charming, well-trained and preternaturally calm flight attendant. You might as well get something for your over-priced ticket, since you’ve got no leg room and the food contravenes various international conventions against torture and biological warfare.

    As for the bight idea about “kids should be seated at the rear of the plane so they can just annoy one another”. Fine, but don’t bitch about the fare hike when the airlines have to lay on extra trolly dollies to supervise what are, in effect, potentially dozens of unsupervised minors. And let’s review that policy when some cotton wool parent is convinced that being separated from their younglings is making them pervert bait.

    • To be blunt, if there’s a scenario designed to have me expressing the milk of human kindness bumptious children on a plane is not even on the longlist.

      Wonderful. I just love your intemperate outrage against the world, but particularly against Air New Zealand whose domestic service is the absolute pits. Carry on regardless.

  15. 15

    Soft light is your friend

    BE, you said both network bulletins covered this story. I believe only TV3 covered it in their 6pm news.

    • BE, you said both network bulletins covered this story. I believe only TV3 covered it in their 6pm news.

      You may be right. John Campbell certainly covered it by suggesting how preposterous it was that everyone else had covered it. What you might call ‘a win win position’.

  16. “Air New Zealand whose domestic service is the absolute pits.” Why start attacking Air NZ? I disagree with you totally having flown on a number of domestic airlines overseas. Personally I think the AirNZ service is good – yes, I know one can always find fault – but generally they provide a bloody good service. Try flying domestically in Australia, USA and UK to find out what it means to be treated like cattle. And no I do not work for AirNZ; I fly regularly and I just think your comment most unfair.

    • Air New Zealand whose domestic service is the absolute pits.” Why start attacking Air NZ? I disagree with you totally having flown on a number of domestic airlines overseas.

      Well, fair enough. However, my experience is different. I am, however, a huge fan of Air New Zealand’s international service.

  17. Right on, Ben. That was a wholesale, totally unfounded petulant rant with absolutely no merit. Whatsoever!

    Where the hell were you coming from, Brian? Maybe, you prefer the edge-of-your-seat flying experience with the other airlines, not knowing, if you’ll be departing “on time”?

    “Kick Air NZ in the Guts” week, is it?

  18. “A classic case of the media not investigating assertions but publicising them as if they were fact.

    I’m afraid I’m the one culpable for that particular error. See my reply to Ianmac.”

    I was thinking of the MSM when I wrote that, but if the shoe fits :-)

  19. Disgusted to hear snide remarks passed across the floor during Question time today Thursday, aimed at Charles as he attempted to ask his question. Sneaky Rodney managed to repeat the remark under the guise of a point of order. Dirty tricks Rodney.

  20. I just love your intemperate outrage against the world,

    Believe it or not, Brian, I spend a lot of time repressing my misanthropic irritability. Especially in airports, which are full of people who’d be aggressively literal-minded if they overheard me muttering “I’d love to put a bomb under these $#@!-wits!”

    Sadly, I early came to the conclusion that an essential requirement for full-spectrum misanthropy is a large private income. The rest of us just have to deal.

    • Sadly, I early came to the conclusion that an essential requirement for full-spectrum misanthropy is a large private income. The rest of us just have to deal.

      Good point. But be careful about those muttered threats at airports. You may end up travelling by land and sea.

  21. I read The Timaru Herald leader about 7am on Wednesday, and clipped it. It was posted on the paper’s web site at 5am Wednesday.

    I didn’t recall seeing any reference to Charles Chauvel’s being gay.

    I’ve just gone and looked at it again. Unless my eyesight is failing me, I still can’t see it.

    Nor is the paragraph you quoted there, either. Are you quoting from the correct paper?

    – Paul

    • I read The Timaru Herald leader about 7am on Wednesday, and clipped it. It was posted on the paper’s web site at 5am Wednesday. I didn’t recall seeing any reference to Charles Chauvel’s being gay.

      Nowhere in the post did I say that the Timaru Herald had made a reference to Chauvel being gay.

      The ‘Herald’ referred to later in the post is ‘The New Zealand Herald’, normally referred to simply as ‘The Herald’. To avoid confusion I’ve changed it in the post to the full name.

  22. I beg your pardon. Some wire-crossing.

    – Paul

  23. The complainant in the case, the children’s father, did not appear in any of the television coverage. This seems strange since his wife, who did all the talking, says she did not actually hear the MP say.

    I have heard, and it seemed reliable, given known facts, that the father was travelling overseas when the news ‘broke’, and that the reason the mother finally agreed to appear on “Close Up” etc., was that she was incensed at being accused of being a bad parent in the national press and wanted to defend herself.

    Perhaps not what you’d have advised, but probably not unreasonable.

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