Brian Edwards Media

Laws Loses The Plot

Wanganui Chronicle

Wanganui Chronicle

I’m rarely shocked by anything Michael Laws says or writes these days. His columns in the Sunday Star Times range from the merely intemperate to the odiously offensive. I’m never entirely sure whether these bilious outpourings represent the columnist’s  deliberate intention to outrage or are the fulminations of a deeply disturbed mind. The common factors in everything he writes and almost everything he says are irrationality and rage. In television interviews he increasingly comes across as someone who has completely lost the plot. His aggressive forward posture, his wild eyes and angry mouth, his belligerent answers all suggest a manic personality whose only response to those who criticise or oppose him is to seek and destroy.

The Laws I once knew had a brilliant mind, displayed an incisive wit and was possessed of a wonderful sense of humour.  That man no longer seems to exist. I have no idea why this should be or what it is that has turned Laws into a caricature of himself. At one level, I find the transformation deeply saddening. At another, I am angered by his often withering attacks on groups and individuals.

I have put off writing about Michael on numerous occasions, not least because I liked the man he once was and because he has been generous to me in the past. But the report in this morning’s Herald of his on-air comments about the death of 11-year-old Blake Fowlie who was hit by an oncoming car while riding a farm-bike, left me no choice. Those comments are beneath contempt and unforgivable.

Referring to Blake’s mother and father, Laws said:

‘And the difference between them and, oh, I don’t know, Chris Kahui and Maxsyna King is exactly what?  It is time to say enough is enough. For God’s sake. Let the Blake Fowlies of this sick country be protected from the inanity and the inadequacy of their parents.’

In other words, he compared the loving parents of a young boy recently killed in a tragic accident to the parents of two abused and neglected little babies, whose father was accused of their murder, while suspicion of having killed them still surrounds their mother.

That comparison is unsupportable, unforgivable and shameless in its cruelty.

Laws nonetheless attempted to excuse what he had said by referring to a false police report that the boy had been killed while riding a quad bike. But his comments would have been no less unsupportable, no less unforgivable, no less shameless in their cruelty, had the police report been true. As Blake’s mother observed:

‘Nothing we do is going to bring our son back, but we’re extremely upset about what he [Laws] said…  We can’t wrap our children in cotton wool; it happened … we bought him the bike, that doesn’t make us a murderer.’

And the irony of Laws’ comments did not escape her:

‘He’s broken the law with that child unrestrained in the car seat. What gives him the right to go condemning parents, when what sort of a parent is he?’

Laws’ reaction to all of this?  Well, the Herald reports: ‘Mr Laws said he would be happy to sit down with the Fowlie family to talk about the matter, and if any offence had been taken, “perhaps an apology may well be due”‘.

‘Perhaps’?  ‘May well’?  I would have thought a course in anger management and another in sensitivity might well be due. Perhaps.

45 Comments:

  1. Precisely my reaction, Brian. I have always given Laws the benefit of the doubt. Being a cynical journalist, I’ve chosen to be amused by his cutting wit and assume he’s going for effect, deliberately provoking outrage. But this one is beyond the pale. He’s a very, very smart man. But smart doesn’t excuse this sort of unprovoked viciousness. It is disturbing and indicates professional help, of the variety you suggest, is overdue.

  2. You’re too kind…

  3. Michael Laws wants to be New Zealand’s Glenn Beck.

  4. wonderfully well said Brian.

  5. I have not heard he item on Radio Live; nether have I read the article in question. However leaving aside the intemperate nature of Law’s comments we should not allow the tragedy to blind us to the sheer act of folly that led to this child’s death. Quad bikes are not toys. How many children have to die on these bikes before parents, mainly farmers, wake up the the fact that they are putting the chidlren’ lives at risk by allowing them to ride these bikes?

    It is ridiculous to say ‘we do not want to wrap our children in cotton wool’. There is the world of difference between wrapping children in cotton wool and deliberately and knowingly putting them in harm’s way.

    Laws’ comments were indeed lacking in compassion but if they serve to prevent just one parent from letting their child ride on a quad bike then they may have served some purpose.

    The farming community has a laissez faire attitude in general to safety, borne out by farm fatality and injury statistics. Unfortunately that attitude extends to teir children; witness the moaning from farmers about raising the legal driving age.

    And before you jump down my throat, I do sympathise with the parents of the boys; of course I do. No parent should have to go through this. But if we all pussyfoot around the sensitivites of the event nothing will change and more kids will die needlessly.

    • Laws’ comments were indeed lacking in compassion but if they serve to prevent just one parent from letting their child ride on a quad bike then they may have served some purpose.

      Ben, the boy wasn’t on a quad bike.

  6. Long ago I read Michael Laws book post National MP. He seemed quite reasonable and evoked some sympathy for his views. Maybe his apparently manic ravings as Mayor are a cynical means to keep his profile up? He is certainly outspoken about his views. You would have no doubt where he stands.
    But in the end who needs him after the next election.

  7. Brian as you know, I’m Michael’s producer – all I’m going to add to this (and not defend Michael in any other way)Michael’s comment about the type of bike wasn’t the issue. He’s been consistent in his criticism of parents allowing children to ride on bikes of any type on farms. When we found out the Herald report was wrong, he corrected himself, but at the same time didn’t back down from the general criticism of kids on farm bikes of any sort.

    Jeremy Parkinson

    • Brian as you know, I’m Michael’s producer – all I’m going to add to this (and not defend Michael in any other way)Michael’s comment about the type of bike wasn’t the issue. He’s been consistent in his criticism of parents allowing children to ride on bikes of any type on farms. When we found out the Herald report was wrong, he corrected himself, but at the same time didn’t back down from the general criticism of kids on farm bikes of any sort.

      Thank you Jeremy. As it happens, I wasn’t aware that you were Michael’s producer. However, my position is also that I will not resile from anything I said in the post. These parents had lost a child in a road accident. To compare their situation in any way to the deaths of the Kahui twins is simply monstrous.

  8. My apologies; it appears to have been a trail bike. However I do not resile from my comments. Such vehicles are still not toys and sholud not be used by children.

    • My apologies; it appears to have been a trail bike. However I do not resile from my comments. Such vehicles are still not toys and should not be used by children.

      This really isn’t the point. See my reply to Jeremy.

  9. PS Looking at reports it appears that the road concerned was a public road with a 100kmh speed limit.

    • PS Looking at reports it appears that the road concerned was a public road with a 100kmh speed limit.

      Also not the point.

  10. PS again – I did not know resile was such a popular word.

  11. Seems to me your last two excellent posts connect themselves.

    In one a foul mouth cameraman from Australia is stood down by his employers, with and some recent reports suggesting he has been sacked.

    You yourself then called for the censure to be extended to his news editor. On Friday I applauded both your post and your comments.

    Now , as I write – Sunday evening here in Auckland – we have Michael Laws, and his ludicrous attempt to justify the indefensible.

    Then we have his producer coming on to comment, and in the process extending the circle of contempt to the parents by his refusal to censure Laws.

    Seems to be me Australian media has some [internal] broadcasting ethics – as well as external broadcasting standards – while here in New Zealand ethics are abandoned.

    The result, a broadcasting landscape which continues to permit, and indeed encourage insensitivity and contempt by any loud mouth fool who thinks their broadcasting status gives the the right to say whatever they think fit without any interference or censure by their employees or peers.

    This is a sorry sad tale that says just as much about the state of NZ broadcasting ethics as it does about the idiocy of Michael Laws.

    I am appalled at both – as you rightly point out Laws seems to be beyond reason and responsibility. This is not true of Radio Live. Time they did the right thing – and stood this clown down!

  12. “This really isn’t the point. See my reply to Jeremy.”

    I am sorry to argue but it is the point. The fact that Laws’ comments were intemperate and lacking in compassion should not obscure the main message he had to convey and that is parents should not be putting their children’s lives at risk by providing them with adult toys. Laws was quite OTT in his comments but given the numbers of deaths involving farm machinery and equipment perhaps it is about time someone went OTT. Politeness is certainly not getting the message across.

    Incidentally I also happen to think that Laws and his partner were also quite irresponsible in carrying an unrestrained child. This does detract from his concern.

  13. I wonder if some of Laws’ comments on the subject of care of children are coloured by his daughter’s illness. In that regard I can give him some leeway – I’m sure that if my children were affected by an illness over which one had no control, then I might be scathing of those whose children were harmed in situations that were in their control

    • I wonder if some of Laws’ comments on the subject of care of children are coloured by his daughter’s illness.

      I don’t discount that possibility.

  14. The product is fine. It’s the marketing, which lacked refinement.

  15. I think his “compartmentalising” of his life could be to blame. He seems to think he is three different people all at once (an unholy trinity, perhaps): Mayor of Wanganui, radio shock-jock and Michael Laws, private citizen.

    When someone says the mayor shouldn’t, for example, call the Tongan king a “fat brown slug”, he leaps to his Laws the shock jock position and says he is not speaking as mayor, but as a DJ. When he insults people during his media appearances, he is – again – not the mayor anymore, but Michael Laws, fearless opponent on namby-pamby liberalism and political correctness.
    (oddly enough, he has no problem with issuing – as mayor and via the council PR department – stories about being nominated for a radio award.)
    When the media asks him about domestic incidents or being ticketed for having an unrestrained child in his car, he reverts to Michael “I’m a private citizen, nothing to see here, I’m making a complaint to the BSA/Press Council/police complaints authority” Laws.

    He’s a riddle and not a pleasant one.

  16. Michael Laws statements regarding the parents of blake Fowlie were of corse ill thought out and inexcusable.The subject of Children being killed by ill conceived notions of children and parents really does need to be addressed more fully. In this case the reckless atitude our country holds towards farm bikes and their use on farms should be addressed .The spokesperson for federated farmers when interviewed on the increase in driving licence ages seemed strangly agreeable and not at all what I would describe as laissez faire.
    Michael Laws must take stock of his problems and move into a more acceptable behaviour pattern.
    All of us must recognise the threats posed by intentionable miss use of machinery and take more care.
    Blakes death should not remain as just a statistic.

  17. Laws statement comparing Blakes parents to a murderer/abuser is absolutely inexcuseable. It is his personal opinion that Blake should not have been allowed to ride the bike, but it was his parents decision to let him, they are in a far superior position to make this risk calculation than Laws. As a parent you make these risk assessments on a daily basis, when to let them walk to school or to the Dairy alone, what to restrict access to on the internet, whether to let them stand and stir the pot at the stove. Life is laced with the possibility of “something might happen” we bring our children up to understand those risks and teach them how to take precautions but we cannot be there every time they make that split second decision that turns out to be the wrong one. It’s very easy to say “told you so” and “I wouldn’t have done that, how terrible” when something tragic happens. There but for the grace of god goes any of us that tread the fine line between letting our children live and learn to take responsibility for themselves and being overprotective to the point of limiting their growth.

  18. It is his personal opinion that Blake should not have been allowed to ride the bike, but it was his parents decision to let him, they are in a far superior position to make this risk calculation than Laws.
    I suggest that the law dictates that an 11 yr old child does not ride a farmbike on a public road for good reason.

  19. You ask, Brian, why Michael Laws has become a caricature of himself. The answer is that if you strike a pose long enough in life, sooner or later the pose will take, and what started out as a game, even a joke, hardens into the real thing. Laws could easily have been a left-wing intellectual, and probably at heart he still is, but he discovered early on that he could get a lot more attention by right-wing posturing and épatering the bourgeoisie. He’s not the first to have taken this route and he won’t be the last; the really sad thing is why he should be taken seriously at all by anyone else.

    • You ask, Brian, why Michael Laws has become a caricature of himself. The answer is that if you strike a pose long enough in life, sooner or later the pose will take, and what started out as a game, even a joke, hardens into the real thing.

      Very astute. And a hazard for people in the media – one tends to assume whatever persona works with the punters.

  20. When Michael Laws wrote his column in the Sunday Star Times at time of Lucy’s diagnosis and poor prognosis, I felt profound sympathy for him and his family. I dared to hope he might take the time to reflect on his behaviour and turn away from his increasing viciousness and and his personal attacks on people and professions with which he disagreed.

    Alas, the intervening time has seen no improvement, in fact the opposite. Yet Laws writes in the same newspaper yesterday that Lucy’s illness has made him a “better man”. Excuse me but saying something doesn’t make it so.

    He also talks of Christianity. Well being a Christian means being a witness to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that the ratings-driven nature of talk back radio and its incitement for people to express their views (however valid) in intemperate and abusive language is neither Christian or acceptable.

  21. We are all called to account for what we say about others at some point. This is now happening to Michael Laws, too – finally. A man of considerable talent, he must be under huge stress, considering his family life, with a very sick child. Having been through that twice, I know what it is like. He has a more than full-time job as shock-jock, columnist and self-publicist and also another full-time job as Mayor of Whanganui. It is no wonder that he is doing all three badly but I guess his income is rather fantastic. His friends need to advise him try to live without rage, before he blows a fuse.

  22. Laws seems to be a tyical right winger who can dish it out but certainly cant take it!

    Laws needs to grow up or be taken off air…

    • Laws seems to be a tyical right winger who can dish it out but certainly cant take it!

      Hmm. In spite of being a left-winger myself, I’m not sure that there is any such thing as a ‘typical right winger. I know a few right wingers who can dish it out and take it. Some of them are close friends.

  23. Yes, it is too simplistic to pigeon-hole him as a “right-winger”. He started life out as a political dilettante, traversing the political landscape in search of Self. Not so much your existentialist lone wolf anti-hero; more like someone who was out to claim his rightful position on the mainstream political continuum. But he was never quite sure where to stake out his claim. When he self-destructed, ending his parliamentary career, he emerged as a kind of L’Enfant terrible; a political commentator, radio talkback host and mayor — all rolled into one unbending persona.

    The Wild Child, now seems to have morphed into a dark, brooding and resentful figure. And with this transformation, brittleness has metastasised into a seething sense of self-righteousness and intransigence. This growing sense of self-regard is inversely proportional to his diminishing sense of self-awareness.

    Because of his personal trauma, he has attracted a lot of sympathy. And he’s been cut a lot of slack. He, now, needs to take stock, because he’s burning through his reserves of public goodwill at a rate that would make a pyromaniac blush.

  24. What sort of a parent…

    • What sort of a parent…

      I have not published this comment, Lisa, since I considered it went too far and was, in addition, potentially defamatory.

  25. Inadequate potty training. Arrested development. Sociopathic tendencies.

  26. “You ask, Brian, why Michael Laws has become a caricature of himself.”
    Reminds me of the sad, true story from the Colditz TV series, where a prisoner pretended to be going mad so that he would be repatriated. Eventually he was repatriated and the story ended with a message getting back to Colditz saying that he had had to be remanded to a mental hospital as he really had gone mad.

  27. Interesting that those most vehemently opposed to Political Correctness often appear to be the worst mannered members of our society … those most likely to rebel authority and conventions when applied to themselves. I offer ‘Michael Laws’ as a case in point: sensitive to himself yet oblivious to others’ needs and sensitivities. To attack parents during a time of intense grief, and further, to focus public attention on blame by using his position (whatever hat he thinks he wears on the day) in an inexcusable abuse of power. His self-defensive stance often smacks of narcissistic righteousness.
    Perhaps much of his early success was based on the requirement to edit his output for general consumption, while in free-fall he appears to have terminal foot in mouth?
    (Wh)Laws might benefit from a serious lesson in empathy, compassion, and appropriate behaviour through the provision of wiser counsel prior to impulsively expressing his personal opinions.
    Historically, Whanganui appears to attract the worst bigots (I’ve just read ‘The Fox Boy’, P. Walker 2002) … perhaps there’s something in the water?

  28. Am so pleased to see that this matter is finally being discussed intelligently, for so long now I have watched with alarm the medias treatment of Laws as something of and eccentric joke.
    It is no joke when you are a citizen of a town in which those who dare to stick their heads above the parapet are publicly torn apart by the mayor.
    Occasionally I pick up Radio Live while driving and on one such occasion heard Laws speak of his influential role in bringing in free health care for under six’s, it struck me then as deeply unfortunate that he will be remembered not for his remarkable wit and obvious intelligence, but rather for his increasingly alarming and very public decline into an offensive and nasty ego maniac.Unfortunately he appears to have no capacity for self reflection and so will not take on board any criticisms, I can only hope that enough people in Whanganui will have found access to the ‘thinking media’ to understand this and have him voted out at the next election.

  29. I stopped reading his columns or listening to his program a while ago. Well before giving him up I wondered if his childish attitude to sex was a sign of a personality problem.

  30. Poe’s Law, anybody?

  31. I submitted the following as a letter to the Wanganui Chronicle. For background let me state I’ve been a critic of Laws’ behavior from the moment he began his uncivil attacks and distortion of facts with respect to the citizens of Wanganui.
    I was one of the four citizens who entered Code of Conduct Complaints which his very compliant Council ignored. For further information I am a forensic psychiatrist and my experience and training have taught me that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
    Some of the posters here seem to rationalize or excuse his thoroughly reprehensible attack on the grieving Fowlie family or his other excesses as somehow the product of his family’s brush with death. I don’t accept that view as having much merit. Loss and the potential of loss leads to grief and in the presence of a functional cognitive apparatus, leads to development of compassion and empathy. That said, what is most despicable about this particular Laws behavior and what distinguishes this incident from his usual rants which man be passed off as “crazed right-wing” bloviates, is simply and horribly this: Any parent who has lost a child, anyone who has lost a loved one, asks himself, what did i do to bring this about? Even when the causes are extreme, inevitable and as outside of one’s control, as say, the Lockerbie bombing, a parent or a loving person feels some sense of guilt. So Laws, whose own child escaped death, rubs salt in the wounds of a family whose child is irrevocably gone. It’s monstrous.
    Those who excuse this man on the basis of some campaign against farm bikes should ask themselves exactly how does wounding further a grieving family advance some cause.
    And the Fowlies response regarding Laws own endangering his child by failing to restrain it is entirely on point. Laws is the last person equipped to lecture others about about responsibility of any kind where children or family is concerned.
    Those who like Jeremy Parkinson, enable this man, whether for personal profit or for some motive even darker should examine their consciences, as this episode points toward an even more ugly future of Laws behavior, if left unchecked.

    Letter Follows

    Editor
    Wanganui Chronicle

    HAS HE NO DECENCY AT LAST

    Some readers may recall that I’ve voiced opposition to the extreme right-wing politics of Michael Laws, and his antidemocratic methods that would be the pride of Robert Muldoon or even George Bush. I’m opposed to his race-baiting and views on eugenics that seem to come straight from “Mein Kampf “. But when his daughter was first diagnosed, and he was in danger of her loss, as may be recalled, I wrote a prayerful letter that such a family crisis went beyond politics and required common compassion.

    I neither expected nor received an acknowledgment from him. He was too busy that week
    posing with that child for an article in a woman’s magazine. Some brass–, but nevermind.

    Now this same person, our mayor, has treated the Fowlie family with the sort of contempt that crosses a line.

    The Herald reports that in his talk show, Laws compared the grieving parents, whose son, Blake, died in an accident, to the two parents of the Kahui twins who were variously alleged to have killed their children. This from a man who flouts the law and fails to restrain his own child in a moving vehicle, making of that child a potential projectile..

    Maybe the Fowlies can forgive this man. I can’t. Michael Laws is lacking in empathy.
    He is devoid of conscience and with this act demonstrated a profound lack of common decency.

    With these foul comments he has made another statement about race. He’s demonstrated that he is outside the human race.

    How much more disgrace can he bring to the mayoral office. Laws needs to go.

    Jay Kuten

  32. Jay, good to see you’re still fighting the good fight re Laws.

  33. Well I personally cannot stand this man. He uses the excuse that he is entitled an opinion to insult as many people, races and culture as he wants and can and then when you let him know that that is not a good way to set an example, he will turn on you with answers like “grow a brain” and so on.

    I personally am incredibly happy that for once somebody has gone and made an example that just because he is well-known, a mayor, actions like his where he did not restrain a child in his car will not be accepted.

    I have a child too who went through cancer, I have a child too who was terribly ill. I have 2 children and not once have I ever had to travel with them when they were not restrained. If a child needs comforting you find somewhere to stop, you comfort and you restrain them again before you set off on your journey.

    I’m glad he got fined.

    Personally I don’t believe he is entitled to even speak out about parents buying their kids bikes and things. For one he doesn’t restrain kids when he drives (as we have now learned) [shakes head in disgust], but second he is showing his kids through his very public display all the time how it is okay to insult others and to verbally abuse them.

    What makes him better than the caregivers of the Kahui twins or the people who were supposed to care for Nia Glassie? Sure he might not abuse his kids physically, but is it okay to accept verbal abuse in that way? No it is not! He is most certainly no better than those other parents who physically abuse their kids. I feel incredibly sad and sorry that his kids have to have him as an example. Whilst he may not actually treat his kids in this way point is his example to the whole of New Zealand is that it is okay to verbally abuse others and to insult and offend and that you don’t have to treat others with respect. Is this really the example he should be setting? Does he really want his kids to grow up believing this is the way to speak and deal with people.

  34. It’s amazing how much Michael Laws and Bill Ralston resemble each other, when reacting to criticism to their povs. Both are quick to fling insults, such as — “retarded”, “moron”, “grow a brain”, “cretin” etc. (“Moron” is a particular favourite of Ralston’s).

    I should know, because I’ve been on the receiving end of many of their vitriol. More than once, their nasty replies have left me feeling humiliated and in tears :(

  35. Well Osmosis, that’s what reading Catcher in the Rye can lead to. Problem is Laws is not 18 anymore. I agree with Brian’s general observation – Laws is bitter and angry and clearly has a tide of unresolved issues to deal with. Beyond that I think he has a huge streak of ‘look at me, look at me,’ in him. It is very small child behaviour and offending to get attention works as well for him as any other method. Mayor/radio guy/citizen – they all have the same name – unless he specifies he is acting in any or all of those roles he is just Michael Laws. Of course a multiple personality disorder could also explain the irrationality…

  36. I had not noticed any recent change in Michael Laws. I was thinking about his tangles with Napier City years ago, for example the “Antoinette Beck” affair detailed here:

    http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Michael-Laws

    Michael Laws had valid questions to ask about Blake – what was a boy of that age doing on a trail bike on a public highway where speed limit was 100 kph? If young minors must be given key to a motor vehicle of any kind, they operate it illegally once outside the front gate.

    However Laws sabotaged his cause as he is wont to do, by making absurd comparisons with child abusers. It amazes me that his constant poor judgements are attractive to voters – even in the backwater of local government in the backwater of Whanganui (with an “h”!)

  37. > Michael Laws wants to be New Zealand’s Glenn Beck.

    With a little Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin (makeup) stirred in.

    The thing is if you deprived him of attention he would wither and die. Hence his airing of extreme views that will excite comment and discussion.

    But I don’t think his persona is entirely based on cynicism. He really seems to relish putting the bully into bully pulpit.