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Tube Talk: John Campbell’s Angry Inch

TUBE TALK With John Forde

John Campbell’s Angry Inch

Like his immovable Ken Doll hairdo, John Campbell’s career seems to defy the laws of gravity. As chief anchor of TV3 News, he defies the norms of other newsreader sock puppets by actually attempting to do political commentary. And with an election looming, he’s all sleeves rolled up and sticky-out-ears to the ground, panting like a puppy to be in on the action.

This week, I’ve been overdosing on Campbell. To see him in action is to view schizophrenia as current affairs – one minute he’s perky as a schoolboy, the next minute, it’s all his furrowed brow, pursed lips and agonisingly earnest questions, delivered in that strangely intoned oboe-ish voice.

His intentions seem good, and the kid seems to know his politics – but why do his efforts so frequently make for embarrassing TV?

TV3’s Leaders’ Debate might as well have been called “Isn’t John A Clever Boy Now?” Admittedly, commercial TV is a crap medium to present complex political ideas, with candidates having to produce ad-friendly sound bites. In this show, they didn’t have to do anything – Campbell asked the questions, interrupted the speakers to half answer them, blew the whistle for ad breaks, and probably handed out orange slices at half-time. All very impressive, John cherub, but we want to hear the politicos, not you!

Still more hair-raising was Campbell’s interview with Helen Clark on Nicky Harger’s allegations about a government cover-up about genetically engineered corncobs. This was John’s big moment, and TV3 went for full Southern Gothic effect – placing them both in a dark room for a one-on-one Q&A (with some extremely unflattering close-ups.)

From the outset, John went for the jugular, asking the PM if her government had known about the GE crops. Apparently channelling a cross-examination scene from LA Law, John parroted, “I put it to you – and I quote….” Helen repeated with mechanical weariness that she wasn’t aware of the problem, and scolded John for not briefing her staff beforehand on the questions. And on and on they went – the belligerent journo and the Sultana of Spin - like a horrific Mariah Carey album on endless loop.

I don’t blame Campbell for wanting to catch Helen on the hop – after all, modern politicians are so PRed and spin-doctored to within an inch of their lives that scaring them might just prompt a spontaneous response. But Campbell was a fool to think badgering would get him anywhere, and arrogant to think that flogging a bored PM would win him journalistic kudos.

With TV3’s election coverage seeming so maudlin, I’m almost tempted to channel-hop to TV1. Their promo ad alone is priceless – Paul Holmes and Mike Hoskings sitting at a desk like a couple of geriatric gnomes, cheerily cackling, “Oooh yes, we’ve got the leaders’ debate coming up, haven’t we?”, while Kim Hill looms, monster-like, on a giant TV screen in the background. “Yes, I’m LIVE from Parliament,” she purrs in her honey-and-gravel voice. Yikes. Kimmy unleashed live on TV. That’s a threat AND a promise.

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