- Media sympathy towards Whanau may be influenced by her left-leaning affiliation, discouraging calls for her to step down and seek help.
- In 1984, Keith Allen faced pressure from Muldoon to remain in office, which contributed to his death.
- Both Whanau and Allen experienced personal challenges.
- Whanau’s decision to stay raises the question of whether it is similar to Allen’s situation decades ago, where not addressing problems had severe consequences?
The media’s impact on public figure narratives
The media’s role in shaping narratives around how public figures are portrayed during times of personal crisis can have a profound impact on their lives. The situation currently unfolding with Wellington’s mayor, Tory Whanau of the Green Party, has the media providing sympathy and cover, making it perhaps harder for Whanau to step down and seek help.
Whanau’s story raises the obvious comparison of the unfortunate fall of former Labour Justice Minister Kiri Allan. However, Whanau’s story also shares some eerie similarities to the tragic story of a similarly named Tauranga MP, the late Keith Allen – a Minister in Robert Muldoon’s National Government.
On 21 July 1984, Allen died, reportedly after a night of drinking. Allen wanted to retire from politics because of health and stress concerns, but was reportedly pressured to stay on during a challenging time for the National Party.
Whanau’s current situation
Whanau’s recent admission to having a problem with alcohol has been widely reported. In a previous public acknowledgment of drunken behaviour, where she skipped out on a restaurant bill, she expressed her commitment to seeking professional help. She has not done so and the incidents (and rumours) keep piling up.
Media’s sympathy may not be the right medicine
Most of the mainstream media is decidedly sympathetic, and seems keen to defend Whanau, for instance from rumours of videos, even though Whanau herself voiced the possibility of her alleged behaviour potentially being filmed.
However, after several incidents of disorderly and unprofessional behaviour, perhaps it doesn’t matter which rumours are true and which are not.
Is the media coverage influenced by ideological alignment between a left-leaning media establishment towards a left-leaning mayor? Is this leading to a reluctance by the media to encourage Whanau to resign and seek help?
Comparing Tory Whanau and Keith Allen
In 1983, Allen faced a controversial late-night incident in Tauranga where he was filmed by a TV crew, sparking debates about whether he was hallucinating or intoxicated. Similarly, in Whanau’s case, speculations surround the existence of a video capturing her alleged inappropriate behaviour at a Wellington bar.
In Allen’s instance, the pressure was, reportedly, not from the media, but from then-Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, to stay put in a job despite his rapidly deteriorating mental and physical health. Allen died after the stress of work, the impact on his physical and mental health (he had diabetes), alcohol, and a lack of support (his marriage had fallen apart) came together to end his life. When the drinking problems of Betty Ford – wife of then-US President Gerald Ford – began interfering with his public duties their family staged an intervention and she entered rehab. She went on to establish The Betty Ford Centre and bring the issue of alcohol abuse to global attention.