Newsroom Special Inquiry

Ray, Whaleoil and exposing an expose

The controversial blogger Whaleoil is taking up the cause of LifePod developer Sir Ray Avery - sending Newsroom an email accusing this site of an unethical hit-job on the former New Zealander of the Year through our extensive inquiry into his products, fundraising and record.

The blogger, Cameron Slater, has evidently been fed information on Avery's email dealings with Newsroom over the past month - not from us - and the blogger promises "articles" which will show Newsroom has "decided to listen to claims of various low-rent ratbags that cast aspersions on a New Zealander of the Year and a person with an exemplary record of public service".

The two-page email names a variety of people Slater thinks talked to Newsroom, including some unknown to us, and proceeds to make claims about their personal lives and accuse them of an assortment of behaviours which, even if true, would have had no bearing on the reports on Avery.

Slater seems excited to have been given a photograph of Avery with the former Prime Minister Helen Clark, a critic of Avery's proposed fundraising concert at Eden Park which has since been cancelled. He claims she told a radio host she had never met Avery but his smoking gun photo is "photographic evidence that she has indeed met the man".

Slater complains that he sought comment from Clark over the bombshell photograph, in which both she and Avery look about 20 years younger, but her only response was to block him on Twitter.

He questions the motivations of philanthropist Sam Morgan, who loaned Avery money for an earlier project but asked for its return, with interest, after frustrations over the transparency between various Avery entities. In Slater's eyes "Sam Morgan in fact got all of his money back and then some. To portray this as some sort of philanthropic endeavour is disingenuous to say the least." But Slater ignores the $600,000 in donations Morgan had provided earlier to Avery's ventures.

Slater claims Newsroom is running a jihad or vendetta against Avery "on behalf of other people", including his Labour Party bete noir, Clark. Obviously her neighbourhood objection to the concert was a red rag to a Whale. He highlights her role with an NGO focused on alleviating neonatal and postnatal childhood deaths to suggest her criticism of Avery's concert was a conflict of interest.

"All the man wants to do is save a million babies."

The blogger anticipates any thought that his actions might be paid for. "Before you accuse me of anything, let me assure you that I am not being paid in any way by Sir Ray Avery. I am simply an expert in hit jobs. [Then follows a riff where he accuses this writer of trying to "get me when at the NZ Herald"]. 

"I know a hit job when I see one," he says. "So I want to know why are you doing this, running this, and who are you in the pay of."

Slater, who was widely discredited after publication of the book Dirty Politics which revealed "hit jobs" as he calls them could be paid for via his site, has one final question for Newsroom:

"Why did you approach Sir Ray Avery with the story that you wanted to profile his achievement when it is clear that your organisation had no intention of doing that which you said you were doing, when in fact you used unethical subterfuge to gain entry into Sir Ray Avery's world in order to gather information with which to attempt to smear him?"

Slater says he is preparing articles "about the unethical approach of Newsroom to stories".

Briefly and for the record, Newsroom made no claim to Avery of wanting to present a positive or negative view of his work and achievements. 

Our approach to him, from science editor Eloise Gibson, said, among other things:

"We’ve been following the news in other media about the concert plans for next year and I’d like to write an in-depth piece about the LifePod itself and its progress towards manufacturing.

"This would be a more detailed piece than what’s been in the media so far, and I’d like to talk to you about how the technology works and what you’ve learned going through what I imagine has been a tough process towards ISO certification and (hopefully soon) manufacturing. The story would touch on what’s gone well, what’s been challenging, how you actually test a device that’s intended for use with newborns (presumably at some point you’ll need to put a baby in one?) and which countries and hospitals are first in line to receive these.

Has it cost more or taken longer than you expected so far and if so why? And is it harder making things happen when you’re reliant on volunteers and have limited-to-no paid staff? These are the kinds of questions I think would be interesting to explore in a longer piece for our website. I’m wanting to write something that tells people more than just the basic explanation of what the LifePods do and why they’re needed."

This approach was before Newsroom had interviewed numerous others who had been involved with Avery over the past two decades. Our explanation of why we began the inquiry and a summary of its findings is here.

Towards the end of our inquiries, Avery answered numerous questions put to him and commended Eloise Gibson on her level of research, even suggesting we might put a link to his fundraising effort on the Newsroom site. Gibson emailed back: "Also, realised I didn’t reply about the fundraising link. It’s unlikely the boss will allow it - bear in mind we went into this aiming to write a more critical appraisal of the LifePods journey and it won’t be PR."

The Whaleoil involvement comes after Newsroom has been approached by a number of people, post publication last week of our inquiry into the Avery incubator project, the LifePod, raising issues over his dealings with them and media claims being made about products.

A summary of the findings of Newsroom's reporting from over a month of interviews, including time with Avery and detailed correspondence asking him to supply information and answer questions, and interviews with seven people expressing concerns is here. We also have substantial written communications between some sources and Avery over many years.

Newsroom continues to seek further information from Avery and others over the fundraising and progress on products promoted on his Medicine Mondiale website. 

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