01 March 2011

In which I defend John Campbell

So, John Campbell has landed himself in a bit of hot water over his interview last night with Ken Ring. Let me start by saying that I there are two things I should be upfront about because I am, in all honesty, biased. First, John Campbell is my favourite current affairs personality. In fact he's my favourite New Zealand celebrity full-stop (it would be safe to say, and Eccentric English Boyfriend would agree, that I have a bit of a schoolgirl crush on him). Second, I have no time at all for Ken Ring - I don't even want to waste space here talking about him. There are some excellent sites out there debunking his theories - a very good post over on SciBlogs does just that.

Rather than going over last night's interview in great detail, I'd like to ask you to stop for a moment and give some thought to this:

Over the last few months John Campbell (and indeed many other members of New Zealand's media) have seen and reported first hand the terrible things that both nature and humanity are capable of. He was there after the first Christchurch earthquake interviewing shaken residents; he was on the West Coast talking to the grieving families, police and Pike River employees who were hoping against hope that they could bring their 29 miners out from the collapsed mine; he spoke to the heartbroken widow of a murdered man while her now fatherless son played around his feet; and this last week he's been back on the ground in Christchurch interviewing the shell-shocked, the grieving, the rescuers and the authorities. All the while he's been calm, he's been compassionate and he has very obviously cared. And bless him, he's even managed to be funny (favourite quote from this last week, in reference to a newly-arrived Australian USAR team: "bloody Aussies, sometimes they just make you smile actually.")

It is in his compassion that I think John Campbell's great strength lies. It's what helps the people he interviews  to open up to him and it's what draws us as viewers in. But it also has me wondering how on earth, at the end of a day when he's been faced with so much tragedy and grief, so much evidence of how truly horrible life can sometimes be, he can still carry on and not just give up in despair.

So at a time when we are all of us heartbroken for Christchurch, is it any wonder that when faced with a snake oil salesman whose "stick in a pin in the calendar, colour in the days either side of it and call it a prediction" schtick is needlessly frightening already-scared and very vulnerable Christchurch residents, John let his anger boil over and his journalistic standards slide?

Sure we hold our celebrities to high standards and we quite rightly ask our media to be impartial. As a general rule I would say we are justified in this. But they are human and under such trying circumstances can we really blame them for just occasionally letting that humanity show?