Brian Edwards Media

Unseemly and unhelpful speculation from the Herald on balloonists’ last moments


It is entirely appropriate that every possible effort should be made over the coming months to determine what exactly led to the ballooning accident that claimed 11 lives on Saturday. That knowledge may make a similar accident less likely in the future.

Less appropriate is ghoulish speculation on the victims’ last moments alive – were they electrocuted, incinerated or killed when they plummeted to earth? The events are simply too raw for the relatives and friends of those who died to see such horrific scenarios canvassed in the media.

The Herald, however, had no such qualms, sending its reporter Amelia Wade off to interview a clinical psychologist, one Barry Kirker, on what might have been going through the minds of the eleven people as they faced certain death.  

Mr Kirker of course doesn’t know the answer to that question. No one does. But he was willing to speculate at length not merely on what would have been going through the victims’ minds, but on how their friends and loved ones must be feeling as well.

Mr Kirker’s speculations, the Herald tells us, included the observation that “the scenario was similar to that of the 9/11 victims, and the terror attacks might have put the thought to jump in Chrisjan Jordaan’s and Alexis Still’s  minds.

“A bit like the people who jumped from the Twin Towers in New York, they might have thought, ‘What the heck, we’ve got nothing to lose – if we don’t jump, we’re definitely going to die.’”

And he had another fascinating piece of psychological ephemera to offer:

“Mr Kirker said it would usually be the man who would take the lead in that situation and would suggest jumping from the basket to the woman.”

Mr Kirker doesn’t actually know who told whom to jump or indeed whether  any “telling” was involved, but his  theory will certainly give the couple’s parents pause for thought. 

Having told us what the people in the balloon were (probably) thinking and feeling in the few seconds that ended their lives, the clinical psychologist had some helpful observations on what their relatives and friends were (probably) thinking and feeling:

The children who gave their parents a ride on the ill-fated balloon would be “consumed with feelings of guilt and regret despite others telling them it was not their fault.

“They would also be thinking that other family members would be blaming them for their parents’ deaths, even though that wouldn’t be true at all.” Mr Kirker doesn’t know that either and it’s quite an offensive suggestion about the mentality of those “other family members”. But what the heck!

 I was really appalled by this story which the Herald headlined Expert sees 9/11 link in decision to jump. “Expert” is not a word I normally associate with clinical psychology and Mr Kirker’s assertion that Chrisjan and Alexis, reflecting on 9/11, “might have decided much earlier that this was what they would do in case of an emergency” is fanciful at best. His speculations – “guesses” might be a more appropriate term – on what Diana and Howard Cox’s children would be thinking are crassly insensitive.

I’m willing to give Mr Kirker the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is inexperienced in dealing with the media and rather naively answered questions, and possibly suggestions, that were put to him by the reporter. “Do you see any similarity between this event and people jumping from the Twin Towers?” for example. He may be more cautious in future.

As for the Herald, I’m always reluctant to say that it can’t sink any lower. Remarkably it does so on page A5 of the same edition. In a story headlined Ex in shock at chef’s liaison with Watson, the paper reveals that Nicky Watson has been dating celebrity Sydney chef and restaurateur Pete Evans. His ex, one Astrid Ellinger, disapproves and has launched a public attack on Watson. The Herald joins in, reminding readers of Watson’s chequered past – not to put too fine a point on it, an exercise in character assassination. The only problem with this story is that Ellinger and Evans split some time ago and it really is neither her business nor ours who her ex is currently dating.

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  1. Agree totally Brian. The Herald has again seen the gutter as the highwater mark for its standards.

  2. I also agree Brian, my wife an I were discussing similar things yesterday about the drive of the media to find angles and “insights” to report on.

    Gone are the days when the facts of the matter were all that was required to publish some news.

  3. Thank you for recognising this appalling article for what it is and remarking on it. Likewise the tv news footage filmed inside St Mark’s Church, which was wrongly referred to as St Mary’s, orchestrated by Mayor Ron Mark and Rev Jenny Chalmbers. The support these two really have is evidenced by the pitiful congregation present of half a dozen or so, and the reason for that is the hypocrisy and cynical manipulation of their public relations exercises.

    The local media tout the virtues of their favorite political candidates and at the same time defame and slander the ones they don’t like, building up the public profiles of their rellies and mates who’ve got their snouts in the trough – that’s where the trickle down is happening – I’m sick of reading about Gary McPhee’s latest motorbike and Georgina Beyer’s latest plan to take over the world (or who Nicky Watson’s bonking lately)- the media should be reporting the national scandal regarding the Carterton Community Centre, Community Gardens, etc, and how that led to the Georgina Beyer’s resignation, the matter of the South End School Gardens and the current situation regarding our community centre and community gardens. The truth about the state of our community in other words, evidenced by fact, in black and white, faithfully documented since the turn of the century, not some ill informed speculation by a “psychologist”.

    Furthermore, the involvement of “psychologists” in the matter of shutting me up and preventing Transparency in NZ sharing REAL information in the community in accordance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights, is chilling indeed, and something all New Zealanders should be very concerned about.

    Evidence shows local police emailed each other about how “something needs to be done about Kate Raue’s blog and the statements she’s making on it about our staff”, referring to the fact that I was drawing attention to the gross corruption endemic within the local police, evidenced by the results of an inquiry into the deliberate concealment and destruction of hundreds of child abuse allegations.

    Here is a link to the latest matter, which is currently before the Press Council:

  4. It’s not only the Herald who have shamed themselves with this story. TV One’s news coverage of the disaster was appalling. Three journalists going “live” from the location some 11 hours after the accident, crossing to each other and doing their best to turn it into a major media event.

    I’ve worked in TV news and I know that this is traditionally a quiet news period. But that shouldn’t let the news editor’s judgement fail as badly as it did in this case with almost one third of the bulletin being devoted to the story. The worst moment for me was an excited little journalist going “live”, waving her arms around
    and breathlessly revealing…

    “A hearse is expected to emerge from the road behind me any minute now…”

    FFS! This was a disaster, especially for those families involved. The media have a responsibility to tell the story in a factual manner and to treat the victims with some respect. Instead TVNZ elected to beat it up and squeeze every possible ounce of emotion from it. It was a shameful display of poor judgement from our state broadcaster.

  5. A new low in New Zealand journalism.

    It reminds me of a line from Hitch-22, which from memory relates to foreign correspondent news coverage in war/disaster zones “Has anybody here been raped & speak English?

    What good, if any can come from writing & publishing dribble so low even a worm wouldn’t crawl over it?

    Worse still, how cruel to put thoughts like these into the minds of the immediate families who must now grieve.

    Sensationalist assumptions of the worst kind, dressed up in drag and presented as a news story. Amelia Wade, Barry Kirker & the NZ Herald hang you heads in shame.

  6. the problem is, Brian, that the ghoulish stuff sells papers…because so many of the sorry public have ghoulish instincts.
    Makes them feel better about their miserable lives.

    It’s actually interesting to speculate on why the ” editor” etc at The Herald have chosen to downbrand what was once a respected publication?
    She hardly deserves to be still called ” Granny Herald “….more like a “tart with no heart?”

  7. This is why the NZPsS suggests that ALL media enquiries/requests for comments etc are handled by the “media trained” group of psychologists. My office is always being approached for a comment by my boss and our stock answer is “NO WAY” The media will always twist the answers they get to make it more “newsworthy”

  8. I thought both stories were reported in a sensationalist manner not fitting of a major newspaper. Tacky stuff Herald.

  9. Believe it or not Granny has a couple of decent journalists- Bernard Orsman, Matthew Dearnely spring to mind.

    But then my mind starts going blank…

  10. As ghoulish as it may be, the first thought most people I’ve discussed this with actually had was precisely what Granny reported. These were horrific deaths, not too dissimilar to the Pike River situation. Thats why people are interested, empathetic to the situation and actually care.

  11. Brian, the media has evolved to a money making exercise rather than good journalism
    Why are TV presenters attractive?
    It’s to sell stories not news.
    New papers are written so that an average 10 year old can read it.
    Doesn’t tell much about the people that accept this trash.

    With regards to the psychologist, well all psychologists in my opinion are offensive.

    If you cannot get a proper degree, you study psychology, that’s the reality of it. They hand them out in Weetbix boxes these days.

    They talk shyte, and skilled lawyers take the piss out of them when they use generalisations as evidence in court cases.

  12. Totally agree, Brian. Have these journos never been at the heart-breaking end of a personal tragedy themselves? Something I learnt many years ago from you, old boy: Never let your journalistic thinking prevent you from thinking like a human being.

    BE: Actually Kev, I might just have learnt that from you. Happy New Year, mate.

  13. BE: You have articulated your case against the Herald with clarity and precision; it is well thought out and the reasoning is compelling.

    The Herald, in the main, do a lot of quality reporting; with much of it in the interest of public welfare and safety. Especially, at this time of year, when we tend to let our guard down. Whether it’s driving on the open road or swimming and other recreational activities, danger, injury and death are always present.

    In this instance of the balloon tragedy, the Herald have over-reached themselves by becoming multi-dimensional in their coverage. Contriving facets, to give the story more “legs” than is required (or is expected from the reader). By delving into the mindsets of the doomed vis-à-vis Mr. Kirker, at best, it’s just one individual’s speculation; at worst, psychobabble. Neither relevant, nor is it likely to offer comfort to those most affected. To his credit, Mr. Kirker didn’t include the possible permutations of a quick coin-toss as to who would take the plunge, first. But the story had unholy shades of that.

    Believe it or not: when I saw the bit on Nicky Watson, it did cross my mind that you wouldn’t like that.

    This isn’t newsworthy, whether it’s reported on page-A5 in the main body of the paper, or in the supplemental magazine section as a gossipy piece of title-tattle. To report on Watson engaging in a “threesome” etc., etc., makes for neither titillating reading nor a scintillating revelation. It’s unwholesome reporting as it is just, junk. And when we know who the news source was, you do have to wonder why the Herald bothered with it.

  14. “These were horrific deaths, not too dissimilar to the Pike River situation.”

    Yes, Cactus Kate, that is true. But I don’t think we need the minute dissection of how those in the balloon may have died. We don’t need this tragedy put under a microscope or compared to 9/11. Kirker makes any number of assumptions and we’ll never know if they are true. What’s the point of speculating? As many facts as possible will eventually come out.

  15. This makes me sick, the Herald should be ashamed

  16. The media provide what their readers/viewers/listeners want; a vicarious thrill. Rubbish like this sells newspapers and attracts an audience. I’ll bet the sales figures for the Herald shot up today.

    You may well find the reportage of this event distasteful but you are not the target audience. As long as I can remember the media have turned every tragedy into a circus. I deal with it by reading what passes for factual reporting, ignoring opinion and continuing my long time habit of not switching on the TV news. One thing that always puzzles me is why the relatives of those who have died allow themselves to be sucked into the circus parade.

    As for psychologists; another profession that seems to have proliferated as part of the disaster circus yet performs little useful function.

    BE: Ben, I think you would have difficulty arguinig that journalism standards have not fallen considerably over the last couple of decades, in the print media, commercial radio and television. The Herald has certainly moved from being a reasonably responsible journal of record, that from time to time engaged in really effective investigative campaigns, to the tabloid rag that it is today. Changes in editorial control have been a major factor in this. As for the paper’s ‘target audience’, its circulation of more than a million people would seem to suggest an extremely wide demographic, perhaps even including old codgers like myself.

    I need to add one more thing. I’m not sure whether the Weekend Herald has a different editor, but it is in every way superior to its weekday siblings and as close as you can come in this country to the quality journalism of, say, The Australian.

  17. Notwithstanding that this report was in very bad taste I thought it odd that the reporter sought comment from a clinical psychologist who specialises in industrial/workplace psychology!

  18. As usual, fuck the story. Sell advertisements.

    People do not matter.

  19. “Unseemly” doesn’t BEGIN to describe the way the media have handled this.

  20. “Expert” is not a word I normally associate with clinical psychology.

    Oh dear. Clinical Psychologists have expertise in the same way that … well, some have expertise in German literature.

  21. I feel really torn when I hear of a tragedy/disaster that has occurred in New Zealand. Of course I want to know about it – what and where, how did it happen, is it someone I know? And of course there is the sadness at the loss of life and at the grief of the family.
    But I know what inevitably now accompanies any such event is massive over the top reporting by our media to such an extent that is sickening and embarrassing. My anger at media overreporting takes over to such an extent that I get sidetracked onto my usual rantings about the ridiculousness and pointlessness of the outside broadcasts which rarely add anything to the story.
    Poor old Carterton was beseiged by these roving hordes of reporters, asking prurient questions, to which we inevitably already know the answer. 90% of the time, they add absolutely nothing to what we already know about the incident.
    Presumably news editors authorise this crap reporting because they think that is what the watching public demands. How do we know they want 4 TV1 reporters “live” in Carterton, rather than have some film footage for the visuals and the news presenter reporting the facts in the studio?

  22. I remember after 911 some expert was saying that people jumped rather than be burned to death. No shit Sherlock.

  23. Not news is what I used to think about granny herald, 1, 3 et al… Then I stopped consuming. I long for a guardian based here, not investigating the “human” and motivated angle, but have long ago given up on such a dream. Thanks Brian for letting me know what’s going on in our “media”.

    Btw beyonce gave birth…

    Not news

  24. My attention was drawn by a number of irate Carterton residents yesterday to evidence of a new low as far as reporting on this event goes, even lower than the one you write of Brian. It’s on the Stuff website, titled “Community in shock after balloon tragedy” by local scum journo Matt Stewart, also the subject of our current complaint to the Press Council regarding another matter. Here is excerpts from the “report” regarding the balloon tragedy:

    “Carterton has suffered its biggest shock since the murder of 23 month old Lillybing in 2000 after 11 hot air balloonists died in a fiery crash early this morning, a resident says.
    Veugelaers [a local shop owner] said she thought the town had been “hit hard” but said the community would “pull together” to “share their experience”. [I’ve lived here eleven years and never heard of this woman. And I can tell you, this town does NOT “pull together”!]
    Carterton was at the centre of a national outcry in 2000, when 23 month old Hinewaoriki Karaitiana-Matiaha, known as Lillybing, died from a brain injury after a severe shaking.
    She was covered in more than 90 bruises and abrasions, had a full-face burn, and was also suffering genital mutilation so severe that doctors said it could have killed her had the head injuries not done so first. The injuries were inflicted over three days.
    Her step-aunt Rachelle Namana was sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter, two charges of wilfully ill-treating the child and two of failing to provide the necessaries of life. Namana’s sister, Rongomai Paewai, 27, was jailed for two years for ill-treatment and neglect.
    – © Fairfax NZ News”

    We’re just speechless about this, and would like to take the opportunity of reminding thinking readers that this is the same “news”paper that tried to cover up the facts about the local police, of which I’ve posted one link above, but in view of this latest disgraceful slander, I will post this one as further evidence of the gross bias and unprofessionalism of the local media, who you might remember also published a lot of rubbish about Mayor McPhee’s drunken home invasion in 2007. If we might also point out that nobody was charged with the “murder” of Hinewaoriki Karaitiana-Matiaha (referred to by the lazy media as Lillybing), let alone convicted of it, and the police investigation actually failed to find who was responsible for many of the injuries because the local police have quite a reputation for failing children at risk in our community. Many locals are very upset indeed about this report on the Stuff site. Here’s more independent news from the Wairarapa regarding these matters, written in response to the paper trying to cover up that AD was the local policeman’s son.

  25. It is not hard to connect some of the comments above to conclude what has happened to the media. The vast amount of time given to the balloon story … journos interviewing each other (one in a good suit and tie, indicating seniority, the other talking like a trainee) … attractive reporters (equals very young reporters) and the ludicrous interview with the psychologist. Mainstream media is on the run. The money is drying up, so the journalists are younger, and cheaper in the hope that the public may be fooled for a few more years. But the whole business is sliding down the slippery slope exponentially.
    So here’s a thought…. since all reputable media will be on line within a decade, especially in a small uneconomic market like New Zealand, why don’t all the good writers and commentators form a co-operative (self selecting their membership) and produce an online paper such as the Huffington Post, the Washington based business which recently opened in the UK? Ads would flock there once the agencies faced up to the fact that their clients money is almost totally wasted on TV and national media here.

    BE: Interesting idea.

  26. I heard the first reports of this horrible event on Radio NZ – speaking to one of their news programme producers who was close by at the time.

    Their coverage was totally fine, and so totally at odds with the perverse TV coverage later in the day. TV had no need at all to even BE in Carterton given the huge cordon around the scene and the fact nobody was talking to them anyway. How much did the TV channels pay for that circus I wonder ?

    How did we get to the point where RNZ is slowly killed off thru funding cuts, and crass commercial news is pushed as the news service we want ??? Who the hell voted for that ??..speak up please !

    BE: A very good question. National governments have zero interest in public broadcasting. When TVNZ 7 goes later this year, we will be the only developed country in the world not to have a non-commercial, publicly funded television service. Meanwhile Radio New Zealand gets by on starvation rations. When ratings are the sole criterion in a broadcasting organisation, lowest common denominator programming is an inevitability. You might like to have a look at this previous post on the importance of National Radio.

    Since that post was written, TV3 added the excellent The Nation to its schedules. But it scheduled it on Saturday and Sunday morning, opposite Q & A. Heigh Ho!

  27. Thank-you, Mr. Edwards, for your article revealing evidence of how the mainstream media conflate entertainment with news. It is no wonder they’re in critical care and on life support, waiting for someone to pull their plug. That couldn’t happen soon enough!

    Some of my family members are haunted by Lance’s last few moments of life without The Herald employing staff whose emotions supercede logic and covet pseudo-science flatulence to disguise that as news. They only add to our grief. Shame on them!

    BE: Thank you Wayne. Judy and I appreciate your having added your voice to this issue.

  28. Of course we don’t know what the psychologist actually said to the reporter/ what context, etc.
    I agree that comments about the possible thinking of family members who gave flight as a gift were insensitive. However, discussion about what was going through the minds of those in the ballon may actually help families and the general public comes to terms with what happened. I think it is speculation to say that it was “simply too raw for the relatives and friends of those who died to see such horrific scenarios canvassed in the media” It could equally be the case that this article is helpful for them. Some people need to know such things in order to get closure.
    I believe psychologists base what they say on research and tested theories. The’re expertise is recognised in such matters so I don’t think it is fair to rubbish their contribution.

  29. How far could the envelope be pushed? Maybe further than Hack-gate. Maybe when TVNZ starts transmitting live gladiator snuff. Brought to you, of course, by the GEO Group and Smith & Wesson.

  30. And I’ve spoken with the convener of the Save TVNZ7 campaign on the possibility of a Royal Commission on public broadcasting. The mistakes of Lyprinol-gate, Darkie-gate, and Henry-gate are likely to be repeated.

  31. “TVNZ is standing by a reporter who was the subject of a police complaint for attempting to deceive relatives of Carterton balloon victims.

    Simon Bradwell was reported to police by a relative in the aftermath of the disaster which claimed the lives of 11 people on January 7.

    The police complaint has been passed to the Ombudsman’s Office, which overseas codes of conduct for public service organisations and will rule whether there was a breach.” More at this link:

  32. this story confirmed my prejudices regarding psychology…it’s all bullshit, jargon and speculation.