On Len Brown and the problem with halos
It’s a fact of life that there are some people we just don’t like. There may be no persuasive reason for not liking them. It’s the gut rather than the brain talking. But the gut operates at a deeper level than the brain and may often be the better judge of character.
In my own case, the best example of “gut judgement” is my reaction to Owen Glenn. The man almost literally turns my stomach. I can guess at some of the reasons, but I really have no hard evidence to convict him of anything. Recent events may suggest I am not alone in my reaction.
I feel less strongly about Len Brown. But I don’t like him either. It’s the gut again.
Some of my dislike may be put down to prejudice and should properly be discounted. He’s a god-botherer who wears his religious faith on his sleeve and I have very little time for that. He talks a lot and is not averse to talking himself up. Much of his conversation with John Campbell last night was talking himself up: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa… but I’ve been a bloody great mayor.
His reasoning seemed to desert him on the topic of whether, in the light of the revelations about his two-year-affair with Bevan Chuang, he should resign: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa… but by a substantial majority the people of Auckland re-elected me because I’d been a bloody good mayor.
He probably was and they probably did. But it’s also true that those electors didn’t have the full facts about Len Brown or about his character when they cast their votes.
Brown’s greatest difficulty now is to reconcile the almost saintly image which he has cultivated of himself with the sordid reality of his two-year affair. For that he must thank his former mistress who has been at pains to provide as detailed an account of their trysts as the mainstream media would be prepared to publish. The book cannot be far away.
Shane Jones might well survive such a scandal thanks to the ‘bad boy’ image which he seems delighted to embrace. His reputation might even be enhanced. Think of John F Kennedy or Bill Clinton. Poor Len Brown is condemned by the now tarnished halo above his head. For that reason alone I think it will be impossible for him to keep his job.
And what of Cameron Slater, Bevan Chuang and the political coterie behind all of this? I find them and their actions contemptible. I find them no better than those of the man whose career, and quite possibly whose life, they have set out to destroy.
That said, Brown remains the author of his own misfortune. His greatest mistake has been in failing to recognise that those who achieve prominence or fame, whether in politics or show-business, are in greatest danger of exposure if they breach society’s moral or legal codes. For the Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city, a position of significant influence and power, to express the view that a two-year affair with a council employee ought to be seen as private or “of an entirely personal nature” demonstrates the most extraordinary naiveté.
But he is not alone in that view. His indiscretion has produced a great deal of media chatter about the right to privacy of well-known or famous people. It’s a noble idea, but fame and privacy are uneasy bed-fellows. Several decades ago the late Mike Bungay QC gave me this advice: “The only failsafe way for someone in the public eye to avoid damaging exposure is never to do anything wrong.” He was absolutely right.
In the late nineties Judy and I attended a function in Christchurch to welcome American President Bill Clinton. There were gasps when he was introduced by then PM Jenny Shipley. Clinton was charisma on a stick. But there was another pervasive presence in the room, not physical but in the mind of every single person present. And her name was Monica Lewinsky.
You might say, “Well, Clinton survived the scandal, so that rather defeats your argument.” But we all knew Clinton was a bad boy, hugely attractive to women and had never sported a halo. And that’s the difference.
Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards posts at Brian Edwards Media.