Wednesday, January 11, 2006

How to loose friends and piss people off, or John Duffy is an idiot

There are days when you don't know whether to laugh or cry. I had one of those days yesterday evening as I watched Duffy and Co.'s pre debate coverage on Newsnet, before I said screw it and decided to catch-up on the backlog of sitcoms and Law and Order episodes on my PVR instead.

Communications 101

I'll get to the content of the military ad in a minute, first I want to talk about the fallout. I missed the JD/MD intimidation exchange (watching South Park by that point), but what I saw up until then from John Duffy was asinine. He was flailing pathetically like a wounded gazelle, and MD and the party hacks, well, hacked him to pieces. The ad was never aired so it's not a real ad, it was posted accidentally, waa waa.

Shut up, John! The fact is you geniuses had a meeting, came up with the concept, approved it, shot it and produced it. This wasn't some kid in the war room writing a press release saying Paul Martin supports child porn and hitting send on the e-mail. This is a television ad; some idiot(s) at a much higher level thought this was a good idea.

I actually met John Duffy once and he didn't seem like a total moron. It was in Vancouver, before the Liberal leadership debate a few years ago. I went to dinner with a group of Young Liberal execs/Youth for Martin types (same thing really) and Duffy came by to pump-up the troops. I think he had a chicken ceaser salad and a beer, no popcorn though.

Although Duffy seemed alright, I think it was at that dinner I began to grow disillusioned with the clique surrounding Martin. They're young but they know it all, they've had life handed to them and they expect it should always be so. You might say a culture of entitlement. But anyway, I've digressed.

BS excuses don't matter John. As I've said I work in the media, and I've dabbled in communications. From a communications POV you had two choices: own it, or apologize. Here were your choices:

1) We're going to run the ad because it's accurate, what's wrong about it? He did say he wants to put soldiers into cities. And don't soldiers have guns? No, we're not saying he's planning a coup, you're an idiot!

2) The ad has been pulled and never should have been made. Sometimes in the heat of an election…loose our judgment, … I (or Scott Reid or David Herle, someone big, they'll all be out of work soon anyway) OK'd this ad and that was obviously a mistake. I (or whomever) have resigned….apologize…utmost respect for the work and professionalism of our solders…and so on.

Pulling it without apologizing is bonecrushingly stupid. You tacitly admit you screwed-up but won't admit it. It's like standing on an anthill, stripping naked and smothering yourself in honey.

And trying to threaten the media? Speaking as a journalist, kiss my ass John!

The Ad itself

I grew up as a military brat. My father served in the Air Force so I lived on bases across Canada and in Germany. I was also an Air Cadet in my teens, so I know the military, I respect the military and I care deeply about military issues. Liberal policies around military issues have long been a sore point for me.

I've watched this ad a number of times now. The first time or two I thought well that's a little much, but they're just making fun of Harper's policy. I thought his doling out army divisions (or whatever, I was an Air Force brat) to different communities as political plums was stupid.

But as I watched it more and more I began to feel this goes way the hell over the top. I think the coup talk being read into it is BS, let me say that. That's a figment of a fevered right-wing imagination. But the ad is trying to paint a picture of a police state, Canadian soldiers accidentally firing off their clip into a crowd at Portage and Main. That's (I'm running out of words for stupid) insane, insulting to our soldiers, and, well, it's just stupid.

Someone (big) needs to take the fall and be fired, not asked to resign (West Wingers think Toby and the shuttle leak) but fired, and the PM needs to apologize. NOW. If the Liberals want to salvage this election they need to end this and move on, or this will be the next two weeks.

But beyond that, it needs to happen because it's the RIGHT THING TO DO. Paul Martin got credit with me, and with a lot of people, when he called the Gomery Commission and took sponsorship on. Politically stupid, yes, but the right thing morally to do. You said that was how you were going to operate, doing the right thing.

Well Paul, it's time to step up and prove it. We're waiting.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Anonymous said...

Wow. That was good to read. Maybe the Liberals have a (small) future afterall.

Jason Hickman said...

Well said.

I hope I have as much integrity next time a higher-up with the Tories pulls a similar stunt :)

Anonymous said...

I agree entirely with your comms analysis, but I actually think the ad is good and shouldn't have been pulled. The Canadian Armed Forces have a perfect record of addressing natural disasters in major cities across the country. Floods in Winnipeg. Ice Storm in Quebec. Hurricane Juan in Halifax, and Mayor Mel's Toronto Snowstorm. In fact, they are SO good at it that many parts of Mississippi and Louisianna had Canadian help days ahead of seeing any American military presence after Hurricane Katrina.

So why do the Conservatives think so lowly of our soldiers as to feel the need to remove them from their current postings and place them on street corners? Harper calls them "tactical units". For what tactics? We don't live in 1980s Belfast or 1990s Sarajevo.

Of all the Conservatives' stupid policy choices, this is one of the dumbest, and we ought to be running with it.

Jeff said...

Thanks anonymous 602 and thanks Jason, I hope you will be too. Sane and reasonable voices seem to be so rare in all parties these days.

And anonymous 609, I agree with you in the sense that the Con military platform is ripe for attack. For example, they've promised the same units to Goose Bay and Trenton. I think their proposals have been more around getting votes and bribing communities with military jobs than doing what's right for the military.

But my point is this ad wasn't about that. I watched it again and again, trying to see if there was some way to spin it any other way. But it's not. It was about scaring Canadians with the thought of dangerous soldiers in the streets. That's just wrong.

Koby said...

I see you have bought it into the Conservative mythos about the child porn being the work of some over zealous staffer. It was a talking point. This is one reason why Harper never agologized.

Harper June 2003 for example "This same argument applies equally to a range of issues involving the family
(all omitted from the Throne Speech), such as BANNNING CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, raising the age of sexual consent, providing choice in education and strengthening the institution of marriage. All of these items are key to a conservative agenda.”

Jeff said...


I brought up the child porn release thing for two reasons:

1) It's an example of why the current Liberal spin won't work. Harper was cruising along in 04 until that release nudged his train off the tracks. He should have apologized, and said something like:

"Obviously the headline is inappropriate, I don't share that view and Paul Martin deserves better, I apologize and the person that wrote it is no longer with my campaign. However, I do have serious issues with Liberal policies around the age of consent..."

If he had, the story is a one day wonder. Instead, he let Canadians believe he believed that headline, and they began to question again the truthiness of his new moderate clothing. Liberal scare tactics work, and a Conservative minority becomes a Liberal Minority.

2) There's a difference between an ad and a press release. The war rooms send out scads of releases and fact checks every day, they don't all get approved by David Herle or Tom Flannagan. A television ad is a whole other ball of wax. You have meetings, pitch ideas, discuss concepts, write scripts, etc.

Harper should have apologized for the release, but he didn't, and it reinforced a vision of arrogance and meaness that Canadians were long harbouring. It sent the media again on the hunt for Conservative loonies, and with some effective Liberal negative ads it was game over.

In 06, it's all just a little bit of history repeating, but for the Liberals. With weak spin and by refusing to apoligize, it reinforces for Canadians the talkingpoints the Cons and Dippers have been spewing about Liberal arrogance. It shifts the story from the very real points raised in the other attack ads, and dilutes their impact. And it takes up still more news cycles, and the Liberals don't have many to spare if they're going to turn this thing around.

Harper should have apologized. Martin should apologize. I may be alone in this, but I hold my party leaders to the same standards I expect others to follow.

Koby said...

Look the promise to "ban child porn" was not a one shot press release. It was a long time party talking point and it was used by Harper again and again. I cited the now infamous Rediscoring the Right Agenda Speech. However he mentioned it in any number of speechs over the course of a year. Although the rhetoric is truned down, it also found its way into the Conservative party platform this time around. “The conservative government will eliminate all defenses that are currently used to justify the possession of child pornography.”

Globe and Mail; the paper took Harper to task for wanting to eliminate such “defenses” in June 2004.

“The exception Mr. Harper refers to is the “public good defense, which wouldexempt writers, artists, researchers and legal authorities from prosecution in
such circumstances. Without it, the police could potentially break down your door for owning a copy of Nabokov’s Lolita. Is that the kind of Canada that Mr. Harper wants? To include such a sensible and necessary clause in a bill does not make the Liberals soft on Porn.”

As for the ad, it goes without saying that it is stupid and it is further evidence that the beer and popcorn boys do not know what they are doing.

Koby said...

Speaking of Rediscovering the right agenda: Why has nobody in the media gone after Harper for what he said about the Aylmer case?

Harper: “Children there were seized for no reason other than the state disagreed with the religious views of their parents.”

These are the facts as I understand them:

Acting on a tip that one of the children had a wound that was not being attended to properly for a number of days the CAS paid a visit to the home. It was discovered that a pot of scalding hot coffee had been accidentally been dropped and that the child had received burns to his hip and thigh area. In examining the wound, the care worker noticed bruising. The care worker was told the boy

“was slapped by his farther on his injured thigh while squirming under a treatment of diluted bleach and ointment.” (The London Free Press/ July 2, 2002)

Although plastic surgery was deemed not necessary, the wound required “seven medical attendances before there was confidence that the wound was healing properly.”

Having discovered bruising the worker was obligated to inquire further. It was determined that the kids were hit at various intervals with among other things a hair brush, a “spanking stick”, the handle of a broken fly swatter, belts, and electric cords, but that an exhaustive list could not be provided and besides the mother admitted that she hit the kids with anything that was ready at hand. It was also determined that these objects sometimes left marks on the kids and bruises that would sometimes lasted up to a week.

After a period of time the family stopped cooperating with the CAS. Subsequently, a decision was made to apprehend the children. They were returned after the parents agreed not to use corporal punishment and the they would subject to check ups.

The parents filed suit against CAS alleging that they violated their charter rights, but the judge rejected them on all counts. Several aspects of the complaint where called “absurd” by the judge.

As for religion, in filing their grievance the family had not sought to challenge the prohibition against excessive force on religious grounds. Nevertheless the judge felt compelled to mention the issue in her decision. She noted that the pastor asserted that it was the church’s belief that when spanking or hitting a child a hand should not be used; objects should instead be used. The judge found this defense was not an affirmative one and furthermore was inconsistent with the facts. The dad had on a number of occasions used his hand and it was only after the pastor asserted such a “defense” that the family latched onto it. Prior to that, the family made no reference to such teachings in justifying their behavior.

The family appealed the verdict, but a judge dismissed the appeal just before the Conservative convention in March of 2005.

One could forgive Harper if this was some off the cuff remark, but it was not. It was a prepared speech that was given a full 3 months after the judges ruling became public.

Jeff said...


I'm not talking about the veracity of their position on child porn. I was talking about communications strategy.

Anonymous said...

Some of the comments here show the ignorance of the average Fiberal: stationing of units across the country makes it more likely that the CF can respond to a natural disaster quickly: I know I was a combat engineer with 1 CER when we were stationed in Chilliwack BC. We had the right equipment to build bridges, rescue trapped people, make a camp for refuges, and heavy engineer equipment to get the job done. That was back in 1996. The Fiberals moved us to Edmonton. So if an earthquake breaks the Fraser Valley, do you really think a unit from Edmonton will get through a mountain pass in the Rockies to Vancouver? Frankly if I was a BCer, I would be pissed at the Fiberal party for making disaster recovery less likely in Vancouver than Pakistan. Chuck Strahl of BC fought for years to reverse that decicion: he wasn't successful.