1 Mar 2017

Pundits pile on to expat ex-AB's who let the side down

From Mediawatch, 9:10 am on 5 March 2017

Two former All Blacks have been pinged by police in Paris for drink and drug offences just a few days apart. This prompted an avalanche of anguished opinions in the media. But were they missing the point?

Mike Hosking and co-host Toni Street disagree over whether Dan Carter's trangression was worse than that of Ali Williams.

Mike Hosking and co-host Toni Street disagree over whether Dan Carter's trangression was worse than that of Ali Williams. Photo: screenshot

When news of Ali Williams' arrest for possession of cocaine broke in Paris last weekend, news websites broke out the red 'breaking news' banners.

TVNZ’s Europe correspondent Emma Keeling scrambled from her London base and posted a video shot in almost total darkness from the spot where it had happened hours earlier. 

With Williams in custody and French police not very forthcoming, British reporter Alex Lawson told TV3's AM show she had to be a bit circumspect for legal reasons, but she relished recounting what she had heard about the arrest.

She was chuckling as she said "a man of such sporting prowess" hadn't been able to throw the cocaine far enough from the car to fool the Paris police.

Arriving at the breakdown

A chorus of condemnation followed in the media here as the pundits piled in.

On Radio Sport, a wound-up Mark Watson angrily called Ali Williams "a dumbarse" and Hilary Barry tutted-tutted when opening TVNZ's Breakfast the following morning. 

Veteran sportswriter Kevin Norquay went in boots and all for Stuff.co.nz, putting Williams on a roll of All Black shame stretching back almost 50 years to Keith Murdoch.  

"Once an All Black, always an All Black," thundered Kevin Norquay. "Ali Williams has hauled the proud black name through the white powder dirt".  

For almost every pundit it was a black and white issue, it seems, even before the full facts were in.

"It's his choice if he want to keep Central America in business, but that's a really dumb decision to do it the way he did," said TV3's former sports frontman Hamish McKay, a guest on the AM show - shifting the centre of cocaine production from South America while he was it.

Newshub at 6 referred to the Australian player arrested alongside Williams as "Wallaby party boy James O'Connor" and Radio Sport''s Mark Watson called him "the Justin Bieber" of world rugby. 

But for the New Zealand media, James O’Connor was just a sideshow.

The focus on Ali Williams was more intense because clubmate and fellow ex-All Black Dan Carter had been charged with drink driving in Paris just days earlier. 

Jumping to conclusions

On Radio Live’s Sunday Sport show they wondered whether this was a conspiracy, rather than a concidence.

Host Jim Kayes took to Twitter to raise this question:

But the far more likely explanation is that anyone breaking the law on the streets of Paris after dark stands a much greater chance of getting caught these days because Paris a highly-policed city in the wake of recent terror attacks.

Dan Carter and Ali Williams.

Dan Carter and Ali Williams. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

With Ali Williams still in custody, pointless debates broke out over which players transgression was worse.  

"Would Dan Carter be headline news and Ali Williams on page three?" TVNZ Breakfast co-host Jack Tame asked Emma Keeling in Paris.

But France has far bigger issues than addled All Blacks for its the front sections of its newspapers. 

On TVNZ's Seven Sharp Mike Hosking was unequivocal.

"Cocaine is way more serious that having a couple of glasses of wine and driving down the Champs Elysees," he said.

On Radio Sport, Mark Watson - on a rolling boil by now - reckoned Dan Carter was the worst offender.

"Getting in a car drunk you can kill someone. We pick and choose our arguments in the country," he fumed.

On TV3 Duncan Garner asked his panel how much damage this had done to the reputation of rugby. No-one seemed to know.

But for the Herald’s provocative pundit Chris Rattue that wasn't the point. Alone among the pundits, he said the players arrested in Paris last weekend - not the All Black brand - were the victims.

"They will be condemned by sports bosses, men who care only for image and know nothing about what they talk about," he wrote.

"When drugs are an issue in people's lives, it is a health issue. It should not be a legal one," he said. 

He nailed his colours to the mast on the issue personally, in a way journalists rarely do.

"For many years, I put everything and anything into my body, without remotely believing that I deserved to be regarded as a criminal, or was a danger to society beyond the poor family and friends who had to deal with the consequences. I wish Williams and O'Connor well. Theirs was a victim-less crime, if indeed they are eventually found guilty under French law," wrote Chris Rattue.

Reflecting on this on Radio Live, media pundit Paul Casserly applauded his honesty and pointed out that some in the media could be throwing stones inside the media glasshouse.

"How many of the people involved in the broadcast of the news - and sports and entertainment - have taken cocaine? Probably at least 50 per cent of them," he said. 

That of course was just a guess. But an interesting point for the media to ponder among all the pure speculation and overwrought punditry about what happened in Paris.