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Tory media manipulation backfires

John Bell

June 27, 2013

It is not unusual that as deadline nears I wrack my brain for a story idea. I mean, aside from massive uprisings in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt, global warming-related natural disasters in India and Alberta, and whistle-blowers being accused of treason by governments that are illegally spying on the mass of their population, nothing much is happening.
So imagine my delight when I got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa.
Imagine the PMO calling
“Hello Mr. Jabber, I am calling to reach out to you, to offer you information for a story that your readers are simply clamouring for. We have in our possession—don’t ask how we came by them—receipts from various charities and organizations that paid Justin Trudeau to speak to them. Some of them are angry because they feel the PoWaWQ was inadequate for the money involved.”
To which I could only reply, “The which-what now, Mr. PMO?”
“The Pearls of Wit and Wisdom Quotient. The Stephen Harper government leads the nation—nay, the world—in PoWaWQ. We have produced a number of highly effective advertisements at great public expense extolling the fact, that have been running frequently during the Stanley Cup playoff broadcasts.”
“Sorry,” I replied. “I missed them. I never watch hockey—can’t stand that shit.”
I imagine the resulting silence at the other end of the phone is what they call “stony”. After a rock-strewn interval Mr. PMO continued: “Yes, Mr. Jabber, just making a note in your dossier in case we ever want a journalist to write an exposé on your lack of patriotism. To the business at hand. When you see our material we are sure you will agree that Justin Trudeau’s PoWaWQ weakness is proof the he is in ‘way over his head’ (copyright) and worthy of your blistering and, ahem, amusing front page story investigative journalism. For instance, are you aware that Justin Trudeau received $35,000 in speaker’s fees from various trade unions, and subsequently voted against our Bill C-377, which we call the ‘union financial transparency bill’. As you know, the Stephen Harper government is all about greater democracy and transparency. This is proof positive that Justin Trudeau was in conflict of interest and guilty of a breach of ethics. I’m sure you agree, there is nothing that the Stephen Harper government holds more sacred than ethics.”
“Well Mr. PMO, I am sorry I have to reject your kind offer of a pre-written, highly partisan and barely rational story just when I am fighting both a deadline and writer's block. But here’s the thing… One, your own PoWaWQ is abysmal, your expensive yet strangely ineffective advertising notwithstanding. Since when does recycling Ayn Randist talking points and knee-jerk ‘we love our troops’ rhetoric qualify as either wit or wisdom. Two, Bill C-377 isn’t about greater accountability, it is about attacking workers’ democratic right to organize and fight back against your corporate friends. And if we want to talk about conflict of interest let’s talk about the cozy financial relationship between your party and the fossil fuel industry. Three, on the topic of ethics, perhaps you are familiar with Bruce Carson, Maxime Bernier and Julie Couillard, Pierre Poutine, Robocalls, Peter Penashue, campaign expense law breakers, Kory Teneycke, F-35s, Patrick Brazeau, Rob Anders, Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Saulie Zajdel… We could be here all night. And finally, if unions paid Justin Trudeau $35,000 for speaking engagements, it is not Trudeau who should be investigated. Rather I wonder which union officials had their head so far up their ass as to spend a dime of their members’ money on that empty-header scion of privilege and corporate power.”
“Well I must say, Mr. Jabber, that I am most disappointed to find that you are obviously someone who spits on our veterans, would destroy the vital 16-cylander engine of our economy, hates Canada and should be looking for a new country to live in. Your dossier is now complete and we plan to reach out to the media for exposure of your treasonable views. Look forward to reading about yourself in the Barrie Advance. Good day, sir.”
Pre-scripted stories
Alright readers, the above is a bit silly but not that far-fetched. In mid-June the Barrie Advance newspaper reported that it had been directly contacted by Harper’s headquarters with a file of material on Justin Trudeau’s speaking engagements. The PMO gave instructions to say that it had come from an “anonymous source”.
The paper rightly concluded that the PMO’s less-than-subtle attempt to manipulate the media was a bigger story than the Trudeau tempest in a teapot. As the Advance noted: “When asked in a telephone interview why Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office was sending out unsolicited documentation, Meekes said the PMO routinely reaches out to the media.”
Only after the Barrie Advance broke the story did other newspapers come forward to say they too were solicited with the story. Would they have used the story if the Advance kept silent? We’ll never know.
Questioned about his office meddling with the media, Harper responded: “Look, my view is, in terms of my own comportment, my view is that what is not appropriate, I, you know, as someone who is paid by the public, I get good remuneration from the taxpayers of Canada, as a public servant, I don't think it's appropriate for me to then take money from charities.”
What an orator. Taking money from charities: bad. Taking money from corporations: good.
The whole affair tells us several things. The PMO is in the habit of “reaching out” with pre-scripted stories to manipulate the headlines. How many newspapers, with staffing cuts and layoffs, happily regurgitate the Tory line as news?
And Stephen Harper’s regime is so beset by scandals that they are becoming desperate to divert attention to something—anything. Even their pathetic attempt to change the channel exposes them as incompetents who can’t find the remote.

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