Brian Edwards Media

The Herald offers the inside story on Darren Hughes’ ‘fateful night’. Read it and be there!


Andrew Gorrie/Dom Post

Here are the known facts about the Darren Hughes matter:

On March 2, after taking part in a humorous debate, MP and Labour Party Chief Whip, Darren Hughes, went with a dozen or so students to the Matterhorn bar and restaurant in Wellington’s Cuba Street. Mr Hughes was next seen with a group of people at The Establishment in Courtenay Place. The President of the Victoria University Debating Club, who saw him there, described him as ‘just having a chat to people around him, being a good guy. He wasn’t particularly drunk. He seemed fine.’

Mr Hughes left the Establishment Club with an 18-year old male student. The two went to Annette King’s home where Mr Hughes boards. Mrs King was in bed asleep at the time. The student left some time later and is reported to have ‘run into a police car’. He then made a complaint to the police about Mr Hughes. The complaint has been widely reported in the media as being ‘of a sexual nature’.

Police are reported to have  questioned Mr Hughes and to have  visited  Ms King’s house and taken items away. They confirm that they are investigating a complaint against an MP.

Mr Hughes, who yesterday volunteered that he was the MP concerned,  has been given leave by Labour Party Leader Phil Goff and has voluntarily stood down as Chief Whip and Education spokesman.

Mr Hughes is adamant that he has ‘done nothing wrong’.

[That explanation took 231 words.]

The New Zealand Herald devoted the greater part of its front page and all of Page Two  to what it called the ‘LABOUR MP SAGA’.

Its front page headline (and its billboard) read ‘Inside Accused MP’s fateful night’.  

It’s hard to find anything in the story to justify the use of the word ‘inside’. The Herald was clearly not present at any of the events it describes and what information it has, other than the largely non-committal answers from the police, is second hand.

‘Fateful’ is a word normally used of a past event whose disastrous outcome we now know: ‘a fateful decision’; ‘a fateful series of events’. The word leaves the impression that things must end badly for Mr Hughes, which in itself carries the implication that he must be guilty of whatever the 18-year old student has accused him off.

‘Night’ may seem an innocuous enough word, but what is it intended to refer to in the context of the story? Is it the series of events before Mr Hughes left The Establishment, or the events that took place at Ms King’s home, or both? If it’s the first, then ‘evening’ might have been a more appropriate term. But, taken with the headline as a whole, ‘evening’ would have been considerably less dramatic and titillating than ‘night’. Sadly, ‘Inside MP’s fateful night’  promises considerably more sensation that the story itself delivers. If it were a headline in The Sun we’d be expecting all the grubby details, quite possibly with pictures. So I’d say this was a piece of false advertising.

Just above the headline is what one would normally call ‘a sub-head’. It’s in scarlet, the colour of scandal, and it reads ‘Police Inquiry: politician and the teenager’. The formulation has echoes of tabloid headline shorthand for dirty stories: ‘the bishop and the actress’; ‘the commercial traveller and the farmer’s daughter’.

In the body of the text  the Herald tells us that ‘It is understood the complaint is of a sexual nature.’ ‘Understood’ by whom, and where did that understanding originate? Certainly not with the police.

And if you couldn’t be bothered reading all those column inches, the Herald offered you a diagram of ‘Inside MP’s fateful night’, a sort of GPS map with pictures of the various locations and a series of (red) arrows taking you from 6.30pm > Afterwards > Midnight to around 2am > Afterwards.

Reporting on an informal press conference with Labour Leader Phil Goff, deputy political editor Claire Trevett  refers on Page Two to Goff being asked ‘if the scandal meant the end of Mr Hughes’ career’.

‘Scandal’ is an interesting word which has two distinct meanings: slander or malicious gossip; a disgraceful circumstance causing public outrage. Neither of these would seem to apply to the currently known facts.

And finally, the Herald’saward-winning cartoonist Emmerson has a pink-shirted Darren Hughes cracking a whip and saying ‘stand back greehhorns’, only to end up with the lash wrapped around his own body. ‘Bugger’, he says. (I couldn’t possibly comment.)

All in all the language and tone of the Herald coverage of the Hughes story would suggest to me that Hughes took the 18-year-old student home, there proposed  or did something of a sexual nature which so offended or upset the young man that he rushed from the house, ‘ran into a police car’ and promptly made a complaint which led to the police interviewing Mr Hughes, searching Annette King’s house and removing certain items. And furthermore that this ‘scandal’ will almost certainly mean the end of Darren Hughes’ very promising political career.  About half of that is known fact. The rest is speculation and hearsay.

The Dominion Post required considerably fewer column inches to tell the Hughes story and its language was more neutral. But there was very little doubt about the intended reader appeal of its headline: ‘MP sex claim: Police search former police minister’s house’.  (My god, what had Annette King been up to?)

And finally, amid all the talk, including from his leader, about Hughes’ career having been irreparably damaged, aren’t we forgetting the principle that, like every other person under investigation by the police, Hughes is innocent until and if he is arrested, charged, tried and found guilty of a crime.

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  1. This story can only end unhappily: a sad and sorry time for Mr Hughes, Labour and the future political direction of this country.

  2. Has there ever been any doubt that the Herald is the voice of the National Party in Auckland?

  3. Didn’t the Dom refer to the 18 year old as a ‘teenage boy’ in para one?

    BE: Yes. It serves to make whatever happened (or did not happen) look worse. Not only is an 18-year-old not ‘a boy’, he is in New Zealand law ‘a man’. The complainant is also ‘a teenager’, but though this is technically correct, since he is eighteen, most of us associate the word with 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds. Again, ‘teenager’ is the more emotive term in the context of the complaint.

  4. Mm – night, bars, scandal, sexual nature, drink, saga, police, MP, fateful night, former police minister, career, 18 year old student. What a mix. Key words really (not John) I mean the word key as meaning identifying the critical words. You see when I was at high school I had an english (subject) teacher called Mr English (no he was not a relative of Bills) – he was actually from Ireland. Mr English would give us 12 key words (there’s that word key again) to build an essay around. It was homework and we had 24 hours to create something. AND THEN we had to read our garbage out in front of the class. Humiliating. I didn’t like Mr English and I am extremely dissapointed to see that his methods may have infiltrated the New Zealand Herald. Mr English died 25 years ago.

    I didn’t identify the red lines bit Brian – I’m colour blind.

    Let’s hope the truth prevails – I despise trial by media if you are in public life.

  5. Even without embellishment it still does not read as the type of behaviour I would expect to agree with, MP or not.If it ends with no further action I hope Mr Hughes takes note and does not allow any more incidents to occur.The Doms headline only appealed to me as a ironic comedic element.

  6. If what Darren Hughes did was not illegal I wonder if there will be as much space given to the apology for their trial by media?

    ‘Apology’? You must be joking!

  7. Pretty crap really. I thought we’d got past poofter-bashing. The only way this has any legs as a news story is if Hughes broke the law.
    On the other hand, Goff is now hoist on his own petard, squirming in the flyblown spotlight of media scrutiny and wondering why he was so mean to that nice Mr Key and that almost as nice Mr Worth…

  8. Is it because Darren Hughes is a ginger?

  9. Is it not more a question of Darren Hughes’s judgement? No matter what the truth of the matter is, inviting an 18 year old home late at night after drinking with said person earlier, carries considerable risk if you are a politician, and especially when you are the spokesperson for education. Its about perception. And percpetion has a tendancy to become ‘reality’ as we all know. Its certainly not politically smart.

  10. I’d just like to take a short moment to express some sympathy for the young man who is at the centre of all this, who’s yet to attract much concern or support from either the press or readers-in-response.

    Whatever happened that night – whatever the circumstances, or context, or outcome – he was obviously very, very distressed at the time.

    The poor chap’s only 18 remember – while technically an adult, almost certainly not attuned to the inferences and invisible signals of the adult world, let alone the political world.

    Let’s not abandon the consideration of his wellbeing as we begin positing political game theories.

  11. @ CitiZenParable
    What is the issue you are raising? An 18 year old IS a teenager, surely. Or is their use of the word “boy” the issue? Is some form of pederasty inferred by the word in this context? I doubt the semantic issue would have even crossed the writer’s mind.

    BE: ” I doubt the semantic issue would have even crossed the writer’s mind.” I’m afraid that shows a degree of naiveté about newspapers. May I just correct something you have written, simply because so many people make this mistake nowadays and you just happen to be the straw that broke my pedantic back. I’m reasonably sure you meant ‘implied’, not ‘inferred’. The person making the statement ‘implies’ something; the person hearing/reading the statement ‘infers’ something.

  12. Firstly, 18 = eighteen = teenager. It is valid to call the complainant a teenager.

    Secondly, I have yet to hear anyone making an issue over the fact that both Darren Hughes and the complainant are male. Its a non-issue.

    Thirdly, I recall Richard Worth wasn’t found guilty of any offence yet he was hounded out of Parliament and the newspapers (and television networks) ran coverage in extraordinary volumes from the moment the story broke. I don’t remember you, Brian, or anyone in the Labour Party for that matter, jumping to his defence at the time.

    Finally, moralising aside as much as possible here, are we all really that comfortable with a soon to be 33 year old Member of Parliament, (and the Opposition Education spokesman to boot), allegedly out drinking into the wee small hours, inviting an 18 year old first year university student back home afterwards? Sure, they are both adults in the eyes of the law. They can drink together and do anything together they wish, provding there is consent. But remember, Darren Hughes, occupying a position of authority and inevitably having a duty of care, first met the complainant less than a year before this incident when he was a 17 year old Youth MP visiting Parliament. This behaviour lacks political nous, was extremely unwise of Darren Hughes and is undoubtedly distasteful to a large number of New Zealanders including parents of other first-year, teenaged university students.

    Darren Hughes must be presumed innocent, yes. But the public is entitled to make early judgment on his behaviour. Its clear that drinking late at night in Wellington with lone 18 year old first year university students is simply not something we pay our Members of Parliament to be doing. Darren Hughes therefore richly deserves the media attention and current public criticism.

  13. Yes I agree with you Grant ‘it’s about perception’. However Darren Hughes is a good man who has worked tirelessly and I hope this affair does not wreck his career in politics. The problem New Zealand has with binge drinking isn’t confined to teenagers-it is in every part of our society. I’ll never forget Mr Muldoon’s rash alcohol-fueled decisions and slurring on national TV. We were more tolerant in those days. Even the local cop called into the pub for a few on the way home and no one thought anything of it. I am glad the public attitudes to drinking have changed. Alcohol is the most destructive of drugs but everyone makes stupid mistakes.Better to be empathetic than shaming.

  14. Alas, both Darren and the boy. Poor judgement, and trial by media – a disappointing display of human frailty. Age and persuasion; it’s hard not to have an opinion. And Darren has been a little too silent. Prehaps it is time for an apology, for creating a sideshow – at best. Age does matter, it is a factor. Maybe being a ginga is too…but i doubt it. Alas, poor judgement.

    BE: “And Darren has been a little too silent” With a police investigation under way he has no other option.

  15. 15

    @numbereleven I think it’s naive to suggest the writer of the lead article of the Dom didn’t consider carefully how to describe one of the story’s protagonists.

    Various media outlets have referred to a ‘man’ or a ‘male’. I think it’s intentionally inflammatory to choose the word ‘boy’ with it’s suggestions of minority. In a formal context – such as a newspaper – ‘boy’ very definitely means a male who is under the age of majority. A sub should rejected ’18 year old boy’ as incorrect use of language.
    So, I have to question the motivation behind using the phrase.

    It’s a sideline to the Hughes issue, but the post is about media coverage. This was disappointingly crass from a paper I respect.

  16. papers do not want to merely report news. they want to create it and they don’t care who they crush in the rush to generate sales. fraud, or is it defamation, is so much more serious than two grown men having a falling out – over what, i really couldn’t care.
    some people need to get back to their glass houses – but no, you’ll probably remain safe. boring regular people that are in ordinary street are never the profitable target of stone throwing media.

  17. I’m more upset by Ford Prefect’s photograph than Darren Hughes’ untidy social life. At least I think I am…

  18. Regardless of what may or may not have happened, its not a good look for the Labour Party.

  19. Oh how we love to stone our flawed leaders.
    What makes us think that just because they have been elected to parliament they will be without flaws, have impeccable self control and be shining role models to us all?
    We seem to expect the same from our sports heroes though perhaps we are a tad more tolerant of their foibles.

    Should we expect our leaders to be impeccable role models? I came across these quotes: Rosabeth Moss Kantor – “Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.” Walt Whitman – “All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor”

    Taking these thoughts further – a leader’s fall from grace, candidly accepted, publicly learn’t from – could lead to a greater public respect. I don’t believe any of us are flawless, its how we accept and work with our flaws that earns my respect.

    As for the media’s approach to this – the herald in particular – I simply despair.

  20. People are talking about how they don’t want this to be trial by media, and that that he is innocent until proven guilty.

    The care we must take here is that the same is true of the 18 year old. To say that Hughes is a good man and could not possibly have committed any offence is just as damaging as presuming his guilt.

    If people automatically back him, they are legitimising people from automatically backing others and not supporting the victim.

    Take great care to distinguish between presuming innocence and presuming that the “victim” is lying. Because some of the comments I have read tread very close to that borderline.

  21. It is certainly interesting that a comedian who was found guilty of an indecent act on a child has maintained name suppression throughout to protect his career (and family), while Darren Hughes’ name is already public mud over an alleged incident and his career is now at very real risk.

    Not necessarily saying the comedian doesn’t deserve name suppression, but Darren Hughes certainly doesn’t deserve this.

    If it is true that Hughes has done nothing (legally) wrong, but perhaps misjudged, then the media may have caused the end of a great career for being human.

    Why would anyone consider being a politician with the lurking threat of the media ruining your entire career?

  22. Reminds me of the story often told in PR about how supposedly Lyndon Johnson wanted to circulate a rumour about his opponent having sex with animals in the run up to an election.

    Legend has it when Johnson was told they couldnt prove he was a pig ****er, Johnson replied “I know, I just want him to deny it.”

    Moral? Mud sticks in politics. Even if it turns out to be baseless some will always believe what they want to believe – sometimes strongly enough to cripple you.

  23. The dark side of human nature I suppose is that there are voyeuristic people who want to see/read/hear “bad stuff” about people who are known and if it is someone from a different political party just increases the intensity.
    Mr Hughes was out drinking in pubs with young university students.
    One 18 year old male went to Mr Hughes home.
    The 18 year old male felt the need to lay a complaint against Mr Hughes about some event that happened there.
    Police are investigating.
    And that appears to be it. But the intensity of conjecture far out-ways the known facts. Sad really.

  24. BE: Apology’? You must be joking!

    The media need not apologise. The police are investigating a complaint made against Darren Hughes. That’s the gist of it. Nothing can be inferred, because no suggestions have been offered as to what has occurred. (The presumption is obvious, though).

    The matter is not all about illegal behaviour; it’s as much to do about the conduct of an MP with an 18-year-old boy at 2am at his residence, after a night of drinking and fraternising.

    Has Phil Goff asked the obvious:

    Did the youth appear intoxicated on arriving at your place?

    Was alcohol offered to him?

    Did anything of a sexual nature occur?

    If not, were there any advances and/or suggestions made by you, covertly or overtly?

    If there were no overtures, what were the reasons for the youth, fleeing from your place?

    If Hughes denies all of the above, Goff could ask if the complaints are not only a complete fabrication but also vexatious.

    No matter how this plays out, Darren Hughes’s judgement is found to be seriously wanting. Certainly, not the person I want as an MP. Even less so, as a potential Minister of Education.

  25. The variety of descriptions in this report by marshall defies belief.

    1 – naked man
    2 – naked youngster
    3 – university student
    4 – the boy
    5 – a young man
    6 – the naked teenager
    7 – a naked man (again)

    BE: Truly amazing!

  26. 26

    There is insufficient information for ANYONE to be casting salacious aspersions about what might, or might not have happened, and in any case the police are investigating and that is all that need be said on the matter. Regardless of what might have happened, trial by media is tacky, and beyond possible inferences on Darren Hughes’ character given the position he holds, I fail to see how some of the tabloid-level hysteria we are now seeing is in the public interest.

  27. 27

    And top bloke, I am not surprised at all. Marshall after all began his career with a gossip website a la Perez Hilton
    before reinventing himself as a journalist.

  28. Just shows you that when the real dramas subside like earthquakes & tsunami, our daily rags, in particular the Herald treatment of the story, have to resort to caffeine-fuelled theatre of the absurd

  29. Maybe I’ve been around Wellington too long, but I can recall all sorts of senior politicians getting up to all sorts of malarky, late night and otherwise, without a word of it ever appearing in the media. Some of them even subsequently got knighted. Can’t say our system of government suffered one way or the other.

    (Even two cabinet ministers who got drunk together and wound up unexpectedly on a plane to Brisbane, to their astonishment once they sobered up and realised where they were. That never made the papers either. And I heard it direct from the mouth of one of the horses, both now dead.)

    MPs’ behaviour is a lot tamer these days – it’s the media who have gone feral.

  30. I really wonder if the circumstances were, that a distressed naked 18 year old girl had layed a complaint against a National MP…. Would the Hughes supporters here, be equally appalled by media interest? ….. If the complainant isn’t gay then surely something is wrong…. otherwise it will be open season on comatose youth…. ” I thought she was consenting ”

    JC: Aren’t you rushing to judgement here? Reports said the police were involved with the ‘incident’ at 2am; the ‘naked young man’ was seen by members of the public at 5am; it’s Orientation Week. If the times are accurate, unless he was evicted from the police car and wandered round Hataitai starkers for three hours trying to get a lift, we’re talking about two different young men.

  31. What is wrong for a taxi driver is equally wrong for a politian…. nomatter how lovely a guy he is…… I think there’s a few ostriches talking through sand here.

  32. Whatever the truth, an MP out at night, in a bar, without his handlers, is likely as not going to end badly. Just as a well-known sportsman may be finally goaded into swinging a punch, an MP is also a moving target – it goes with the territory. Hughes’ primary crime appears to be naivity.

    BE: Very astute observation.

  33. Well while we are all bashing up hughes and making him out the monster how about reversing the roll what was this 18year old doing out at that time why did he go home with mr hughes we all make choices he made his surely this savvy student who is in to politics new the score what ever it was he did not have to go home with mr hughes but chose to that speaks volumes to me I wouldn’t be surprised if its a political ploy to ruin the up and coming election as I would hardly take a young man back to my friends house for hanky panky get real hughes has been made a scape goat.

    BE: Some pretty good questions there.

  34. It is not illegal for a man of 30+ to have sex with a man of 18. It appears to me to be extremely unlikely that a man like Darren Hughes would force himself on anyone. Therefore it seems to me that, for whatever reason, consensual male sex went wrong and a naked man ran out of the house and then had to explain his reason for walking the streets naked to a passing police car. It seems tome that the naked man is guilty of indecent exposure, while Darren was just looking to make a friend.

  35. Facts are facts regardless of whether emotive words are used.

    1. Senior (highly respected by all
    politicians)32 years old
    2. Late night drinks
    3. Invites 18 year old home to his place
    4. Teenager (allegedly the same one) flags down
    a police car in a naked state.
    5. Teenager is highly admiring of Hughes
    (teenager had previously appeared on
    regional tv progamme and mentioned Hughes
    according to Sunday paper).
    6. Something went wrong.

    Now speculation or fact.

    1. National leaked the incident (for absolutely
    good political gain).

    2. Goff chose to cover it up by not telling

    3. Party President Andrew Little wild to be
    told of incident by reporter or by
    reading it in paper.

    4. Goff dilly-dallied on whether he should make
    Darren resign.

    5. Goff shoows incredibly bad judgement in not
    involving his senior advisors.

    Result for all parties.

    1. Darren Hughes incredibly naive in asking an 18
    year old boy home.

    2. Wellington is full of consenting male adults
    who he could have chosen.

    3. Goff likely to go.

    4. Result not good for National as Labour
    will end up with a stronger leader.

    5. Labour’s most ineffective MP returns – Judith
    Tizard returns as top of list.

    6. Darren no longer in politics and he was a
    great polititian.

    Questions journalists should be asking Phil Goff and Helen Clarke.

    1. Is this the first time a complaint of this nature aginst this polititian has occurred?

  36. 36


    Is S Marshall going as far as suggesting this kid (sorry ‘man’) was a honey trap? A puppet trained by nefarious dark forces to derail Mr Hughes political career? A charming, witty ingenue that is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Such inferences suggest the same appetite for salaciousness and tabloid tropes from which this article recoils.

    BE: I suppose he is, but he hasn’t given rein to his imagination to quite the extent that you have. Have you considered writing for Mills and Boon?

    Anyway, the simple truth is that you’d have to be superhuman or a saint not to speculate on what happened early that morning. Either Hughes did something wrong or the 18-year-old has manufactured a complaint.

    Now here’s another ‘salacious’ scenario for you: There is a consensual sexual act which the 18-year-old afterwards regrets. So he lays a complaint of… something. In a heterosexual context this can happen. Why not in a homosexual context?

    Now, before you hit the typewriter, that is one of a number of scenarios, including the scenario that Hughes made an unwelcome sexual approach to the young man.

    What I object to is people who make their scenario fit their political views. I find that dishonest which is worse than salacious.

  37. We simply have not enough information to make an half accurate supposition as to what happened between Darren Hughs and the 18 year old complainant. Darren says he has done nothing wrong(which says very little), and we know very little of the young man’s side of the story. For all we know the young man may have been offered a bed for the night in the spare room and awoke to an unexpected and alarming scenario which led him to flee in panic. Such incidences are not rare where alcohol and libido are mixed together.

  38. Oh for god’s sake, what a bunch of judgmental people we are! What difference does it make whether the complainant is still a “teenager” as long as he was above the age of consent?

    The crux of the matter is a) whether any sexual advance was made that steps over the legal boundary of what is deemed acceptable in rites of courtship (I’ve had plenty of men ‘make a pass’ at me in nightclubs and never did it cross my mind to lay a complaint, I wasn’t particularly traumatised, but with the benefit of hindsight wish I’d slapped them) and b) whether consent was given or withheld.

    Why do we care about the age gap here? Hasn’t everyone had a dalliance with someone much younger or much older than them at one time or another? I know that I have, and I certainly didn’t feel guilty about it afterwards. Speaking as a heterosexual woman, your average 18-year old male is quite keen on matters of a ‘sexual nature’. Unless the male concerned was a) heterosexual or b) homosexual but not entirely comfortable with that fact yet c) homosexual and not attracted to Darren Hughes.

  39. No Kirsten, it’s not about age and consent. The crux of the matter is about Darren’s big fail in applying what he should have learnt at University about Prudence and Judgement. Considering his position as an up and coming MP,he should have exercised what he had learnt and kept clear of potentially uncompromising situations which could bring trouble to not only himself, but his party as well.

    BE: ‘uncompromising’?

  40. Well spotted BE: Of course I mean compromising. Just goes to show what smoking fags and drinking coffee all night and into the early hours of the morning can do to ones brain.

  41. How many police officers does it take to change a light-bulb? Fewer I suspect than required to investigate a complaint of a sexual nature.
    Either Darren Hughes did or he didn’t, and the victim was either making a genuine complaint or wasting police time.

    Given the profile of Hughes, they should have dealt with the complaint in a more timely manner than allow a trial by media and wild speculation.

    In a slow news country The NZ Herald has decades of experience in stretching out minor incidents into major events.