Thursday, May 14, 2009

UPDATED: Anonymous Conservatives unmasked

The Conservatives had a secret, background briefing with the media yesterday to unveil their shiny new attack ads and ensure they get plenty of free media. But by george, you better not name the spokesthingies, they said, and most media caved and dutifully followed orders.

Such as Steven Chase from the Globe and Mail:

Tory officials, introducing the ads on condition they not be named, refused to say how much they're spending or where exactly the ads will run.

Yes, Steven, it's really important you agree not to name them. Because otherwise, what, they won't tell you about their new attack ads? Makes sense.

Also playing along was Kathleen Harris from Sun Media:
Senior Tories unveiled a series of bilingual Internet and television ads today, along with a new website..."This is politics - you can't just attack and not expect to be attacked back," said one top Tory. "We're not in the business of unilateral disarmament."

The Star's Bruce Champion-Smith still played along and gave them anonymity, but he wasn't keen on it, and did offer one interesting clue as to their identity:
In a curious move, parliamentary reporters were invited to a briefing to be held by officials from the Prime Minister's Office. But once there, those officials declared they were taking "unpaid leave" for the day and asked to be identified as "Conservative" officials as they unveiled the new ad campaign.

Of course, Bruce still went on to quote them and protect their anonymity.

His colleague Susan Delacourt, who wasn't at the presser, at least noted the stupidity of the whole thing:
It's that deciding-how-much-to-be-manipulated thing that makes all of us go back and forth on whether to do stories when political parties, such as the Conservatives this week, unleash some ads. Of course they want us to write about the ads. It's called free media. And everyone loves free stuff. That's why the Conservatives held a press conference about the ads today, complete with shadowy people who won't allow reporters to use their names in the free advertising reports on the ads. We love shadowy people. They are exotic and dangerous, like those guys who dropped out of high school in Grade 10 and still hung around the parking lot at school all day.

It seemed only one reporter though had the balls to actually call bullshit here AND name the Conservatives in question, and it was Andrew Mayeda from Canwest:
In a new twist, two senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office — Harper's director of communications Kory Teneycke, and press secretary and senior Quebec adviser Dimitri Soudas — provided a background briefing to reporters on the campaign.

The officials said they took unpaid leaves of absence from the PMO, and were acting as Conservative party officials in delivering the briefing. It is unusual for government officials to unveil attack ads, a task that usually falls to party staff.

Good on Andrew. Was that so hard, guys? Don't worry, I'm sure Dimitry and Kory will still invite you next time they "take the day off" to brief reporters on nasty and negative personal attack ads.

And interesting they tapped Kory and Dimitri for this one. Is there no one over at CPC HQ that Harper trusts to talk to the media anymore?

UPDATE: Susan Delacourt weighs-in with more on the anonymous briefers, and the Star's decision to respect their grant of anonymity, but be more circumspect in the future. I'm sympathetic with her rationale -- she goes much further than her colleagues in even raising the issue -- I've had these ethical debates too while wearing my journalist hat, and once you've agreed to grant anonymity its ethically dicey to revoke it.

But its also ethically dicey for the Conservatives to abuse that trust, as Dimitry and Korey did here. And in my mind, that opens the door to revisit the anonymity decision. I think CanWest made the right call in naming them, but while I disagree with their call I can see where the Star was coming from.

The bigger issue, for me, is the readiness with which media organizations routinely grant anonymity to people of all parties, as a matter of course. In my mind, they need to be far more circumspect with the use of anonymous sources. Whistleblower fearful for their job? Sure. Hack with an axe to grind? I don't think so.

So, if this incident does indeed lead the Star to be more circumspect in granting anonymity in the future, that's a good thing.

Anyways, I did enjoy this line from Delacourt:
It's not every day that taxpayer-financed public servants are allowed to jump into a telephone booth, and leap out of it as caped crusaders for the Conservative cause.

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MERBOY said...

I can't believe the MSM continues to allow the Conservatives to get away with SUCH crap... if the ads are paid for and pushed by the party... have some F ing balls and stand behind what you do.

burlivespipe said...

Those ads are also subsidized by Canadian taxpayers (political donations).