New Zealand journalist feted for brutal takedown of minor party politician

By Eleanor Ainge Roy in Queenstown

A New Zealand journalist is being praised around the world for her determined effort to shut down the spread of Covid-19 conspiracy theories during an interview with a minor party politician.

Newshub’s political editor, Tova O’Brien, interviewed the leader of the Advance New Zealand party, Jami-Lee Ross. The party failed to secure enough votes in Saturday’s general election to enter parliament, after peddling rumours and misinformation on social media about the coronavirus.

At one stage during the interview O’Brien held up her hand as Ross was talking about the mortality rate of Covid-19 compared to the flu, telling him she would not allow him to spread lies on her programme.

The exchange, which was posted to Twitter, quickly spread around the globe, attracting 7m views.

“You know exactly what you were doing; you were whipping up fear and hysteria among vulnerable communities,” O’Brien told Ross.

When Ross began responding with misinformation, O’Brien interjected: “No, no, no, I do not want to hear any of that rubbish”, before swiftly moving to her next question.

She finished the interview telling Ross he would not be invited back and with the sign off: “You’re dreaming, mate.”

Her performance earned her plaudits from journalism academics and reporters in America and around the world.

CNN’s Jack Tapper said O’Brien “had some fans in the US” as a result of her skilful political interviewing, while journalist Glenn Greenwald called it a “masterclass”.

“An absolute masterclass in interviewing a politician by New Zealand’s @TovaOBrien - one of the best interviews of a politician I’ve seen. Also one of the most entertaining,” Greenwald tweeted.

Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84)

One of the most amazingly savage interviews you'll ever watch. She has no chill whatsoever. It's like watching someone's anxiety dream

October 18, 2020

O’Brien is based in the press gallery at the parliament building – known as the Beehive – in Wellington, and previously worked as the station’s Europe correspondent.

Throughout the pandemic she has drawn the ire of some New Zealanders who witnessed her quick-fire questioning style during the prime minister’s daily stand-ups, which were live-streamed during lockdown.

She has received hate mail and frequent trolling for her work, but has refused to change her style.

After realising that her interview with Ross had gone global overnight, O’Brien tweeted: “Whoa!”

Tova O'Brien (@TovaOBrien)

Whoa! That’s quite something to wake up to

October 18, 2020

This article was amended on 19 October 2020 to correct the spelling of Jami-Lee Ross’s first name.