Liberal reaction full of holes

Too illustrative, too offensive? The Liberal comms strategy on this IS full of holes I’m sorry to say.

Yesterday, I went on Evan Soloman’s Power & Politics show to talk Photoshop faux-pas and the illustration that was put on the Liberal Party website showing the PM in a Liberal partisan “assassination fantasy”. I mentioned that ad hominem always fails in communications; personal attacks such as the Liberal photoshop failed and the Conservative poopin’ puffin failed too.

Soloman mentioned another illustration (which was not available at airtime) of “bullet holes” around Stephane Dion’s head that appeared on the Conservative Party website.

Here is the is the illustration in question, held up by Kinsella on P&P yesterday and today on CTV’s Canada AM:

One of the tools in a web designer’s toolbox is the stock photo. For a buck or two, a designer can grab a professional illustration or photo to accent a base illustration or photo. In this case, a Conservative web designer grabbed a stock photo of
“holes” from a website called iStockphoto (a website I highly recommend, btw).

Here is the image from iStockphoto:

and the name of the file on the iStockphoto website? Not “Bullet Holes” but “Paper Holes“:

Holes in Dion’s plan, holes in Dion’s platform?

Why do the Liberals only see death?

Let’s consider the process of the Liberal apology:
1) An apology from “The Web Team” at Liberal.ca if the assassination photoshop may have offended some people.
2) An apology from Ralph Goodale suggesting that social media does not allow for editorial control. This is so absolutely wrong and misleading. The Liberal.ca photoshop contest had a screening process (ie. “editorial control”)
3) An accusation from Warren Kinsella that the other guys are just as bad so let’s all just forget the Liberal transgression.

When the poopin puffin was released, the Prime Minister apologized to Stephane Dion. When will Michael Ignatieff apologize to Stephen Harper for a mock assassination photo that appeared on the Liberal leader’s website?

CBC Board member is Iggy’s newest recruit

Joseph Handley, who is still listed on the CBC website as a member of that crown corporation’s board of directors was named today as Michael Ignatieff’s newest candidate for the next election.

Handley was also a former cabinet minister in the Northwest Territories.

The embarrassing thing? This Conservative government appointed him to the Ceeb’s board, a board whose bias against Conservatives I’ve written about in the past.

That’s the same CBC that took a shot against the Prime Minister for partisan patronage “hypocrisy” during the last election.

To my friends over at Canadian Heritage and PMO: you get a free pass on the partisanship of your next “patronage” appointment at the CBC to replace Handley. Nobody who has a serious voice will blame you for it. And frankly, it’s time to make more partisan appointments to the public service. Yes, today we also learned that Iggy was courting former Clerk Himmelfarb to be his Chief of Staff.

Some would argue that Prime Minister Harper should stay away from politicizing the bureaucracy and making the civil service more “partisan”. Those people would be the same that don’t differentiate between “Liberal” and “non-partisan status quo”. Indeed, a change can only be made to the right. Conservatives, your opponents will either criticize you or undermine you — critics are more easily identified and deflected.

Seen on Parliament Hill – despite Michael Ignatieff’s best wishes

This fellow was just off of Parliament Hill today showing passers-by a portable video playing the video clip of Michael Ignatieff saying “You have to decide what kind of America you want. Right? You have to decide. It’s your country [the US] just as much as it is mine.” The clip can be seen in the Conservative Party’s “definition” ads on the Leader of the Opposition.

Aparently, the man dressed as Uncle Sam was protesting Michael Ignatieff’s attempts to goad C-SPAN into ordering a cease-and-decist against the Conservatives for using video from their network.

Glen MacGregor of the Ottawa Citizen reports from an interview with C-SPAN’s Bruce Collins,

“He wanted to know if we were aware if our video was being used in this way,” Collins said. “If our rights were being violated, he wanted us to enforce them.”

Collins goes on to say,

“There’s nothing legal to do with it, Collins said. “Given the way video is used throughout the world, with YouTube, it would be fruitless.”

Collins says he watched the ad and believes it falls within the fair-use provisions in copyright law because of the short length and subject matter.

“It’s the highest form of speech — political speech,” he said, adding there would be no economic loss to C-SPAN resulting from the ad.

One might have thought that Michael Ignatieff would have read the first amendment to the US Constitution protecting speech during the decades he was abroad. For someone who claims ownership of the United States as Ignatieff does, he should believe in political free speech, even if such rights are generally not afforded Canadians when it comes to using CBC and CPAC footage.

CBC cuts

To address their $171 million budget shortfall (total budget just north of $1 Billion), CBC has made a number of cuts.

From what I’m hearing, job losses will affect Windsor, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Québec City, Moncton, St John, Sydney, Corner Brook, Labrador, Gander, and Grand Falls.  Two one-person bureaus in La Ronge, SK and the Thompson, MB bureaus will close.

Television programming will be affected as CBC cancels Steven and Chris, and Fashion File and reduces budget for 22 minutes, Little Mosque on the Prairie, The Border, Being Erica, Living In…, Fifth Estate (20% budget cut), and Marketplace.

The state broadcaster has recently faced criticism from the Minister of Heritage concerning their American programming.  The network has committed a freeze on purchasing new US television programming.

CBC.ca is receiving more funding as more content as more audience goes online for content.  More bandwidth will be purchased for audio/video streaming and a focus will be placed on user-generated content.

CBC radio will cut The Inside Track, Out Front, In the Key of Charles, The Point, and The Signal (weekend edition).  The Current will have its budget reduced by 10%.

On the French language side, Téléjournal‘s show will go from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, Windsor morning programming will be replaced by Toronto content.  Saturday’s programming is also cut.  Ottawa’s noon news program will also be axed.

The cuts are focused more on television than radio.  CBC still will not sell advertising on radio although they are cutting 121 total jobs in that department.  In the Maritimes, 26 jobs are cut from CBC Radio.

CBC Sports will cut 313 jobs while CBC News (English) will cut 80 and will face a budget cut by $7 million.  The CBC will drop showing Toronto Blue Jays baseball, will reduce coverage of figure skating, soccer and world aquatics and will significantly reduce coverage of amateur sports.  Also, 20 communications jobs and 12 marketing have been cut.

More cuts will be announced soon as CEO Lacroix has deemed that the network will shrink by 800 jobs total (out of 10,200 total).

Leaked CBC memo shows Mother Corp will ask for more cash

According to my source that sent me this unsent internal CBC memo, this was intended to hit the inboxes of CBC employees tomorrow:

(emphasis mine)

Of course, as noted, this occurs within the context of the global economic crisis. Despite this, CBC received $1.1 Billion from the taxpayer last year. According to the CRTC, CBC employs 10,200 people paying out $771,074,000 in salaries and benefits. This means that the average payout per employee at the CBC is $75,595.

Comparatively, the total numbers of employees at private broadcasters in this country is 7,402 with total salaries and benefits of $576,900,000. The average payout per employee is $77,938.

Is the CBC trimming the fat, or do they need some central planning from the government to help them do so? Months ago, it was reported that the executive VP for French-services expensed over $80,000 for travel, meals, and theatre tickets.

If any of this is making you sick, the next fact won’t make you feel any better. The CBC lost $15 million in 2006-2007 paying for 68,000 sick days for its employees.

In any self-respecting story about taxpayer abuse, there’s a no-expense-spared trip to Paris. The CBC doesn’t disappoint as that same executive VP that billed $80,000 in expenses also bought a $6,000 plane ticket to the French capital and billed over $2,000 in hotel, meal and cab expenses. Nice work if you can get it.

This lagresse is offensive when private news outlets such as Canwest and CTVGlobemedia are slashing jobs, dropping bureaus and cutting expenses. For example, CTV opted out of the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner this year while Canwest has cut 5% of their workforce and even asked reporters and staffers to voluntarily return their cellphones because the company can’t afford to equip everyone that needs one. Jobs have also been cut at the Globe and Mail. The news business is hurting across Canada and CBC asks the government for “financial flexibility”.

The press gallery won’t let old partisan attack go

From the Obama visit to Parliament Hill yesterday, the CBC’s Susan Bonner assesses what made an impression upon her and her media colleagues,

“The impression seemed to be that Stephen Harper had a message that he wanted to deliver directly to Americans about the border and about security and about trade and he was pushing those media messages directly to talk to an American audience. So those were the money comments from my point of my and from my colleagues in the room’s point of view, from the Prime Minister of Canada. From the President, the stand-out for all of us in the room was “I love this country”, President Obama saying that. Remember back to a couple of election campaigns [ago], one of the first questions asked of Stephen Harper was if he loved Canada because he seems to be, at the time it was seen that he was awkward with this kind of language and yet you saw the President of the United States volunteering this and saying it quite casually and warmly so that was the buzz among the media as we waited, penned up, to be released to get out here and talk to our various outlets.” — Susan Bonner, CBC

A couple of noteworthy items here. What made an impression upon the media was the Prime Minister’s talk about bilateral policy issues. What made an impression about the President was his emotion — “I love this country”. While the PM made an impression about public policy, the press was swooned by Obama’s love.

Also, you’ll remember, the Prime Minister was asked “Do you love your country” and he was asked this in 2005! This was two election campaigns ago! So, when the pack mentality of the Parliamentary Press Gallery got buzzing amongst themselves yesterday they remember Obama’s toss away line most clearly and also the finer details of a partisan attack from 2005.

Get over it guys. Focusing on the unsubstantial, equating Harper’s public policy positions with Obama’s “love” as the take two take-home messages, snapping pictures with your cheap digital cameras during a bilateral meeting with the President of the United States so you can tag it on Facebook and email it to your friends reflects upon your professionalism. I’m surprised I didn’t see a flack standing behind Obama talking on his cellphone waving at his buddies watching on television. The guild has strict policy against using “media tools” for “non-journalistic purposes” (this is a subjective and institutional definition) in the Parliametary precinct. For instance, you might see Press Gallery officials chide tourists for taking pictures of a scrum as they pass by on their tour. For this press conference, it was predetermined that there were to be four questions asked from four reporters but yet there were 40 members of the media present. I watched the news conference on the pool feed. I suppose this freed me to watch like everyone else instead of playing political tourist on Obama day.

But the biggest impression of reporters at the press conference? That Obama states that loves Canada “casually and warmly” and Harper, well that guy shakes hands with his kids, right?

Does Harper love Canada?

Let it go.

CBC gets Obama

There are reports today that the CBC has secured a pre-visit interview from US President Barack Obama.  Congratulations to the team at the public broadcaster, for any network that’s what they call an exclusive in the biz.

These sorts of of coups are usually a combination of networking, of credibility and of audience, but to be serious, it’s mostly like anything else in politics, media or business; it’s the strong interpersonal contacts that one builds up that open most doors.

This reminds me of when I found myself at the intersection of US politics and the media.  Last year, during the election at which Obama would ultimately succeed, his GOP opponent John McCain took a history-making detour to Canada.  Never before had a major-party candidate for President visited our country during an election.

Since the event was political, and in Ottawa, the political flacks of this town registered through their centralized guild that is the Parliamentary Press Gallery.  Since the press conference would occur off of Parliament Hill and outside of the sphere of control of the Gallery, I called the press office of the McCain campaign.  Could a blogger get credentials for a press conference with a presidential candidate? Yes.

During McCain’s speech at the Chateau Laurier a producer from CBC spotted me and was puzzled by my media credentials and asked how I got credentialed.  I told them that I called the campaign and easily set it up.  The producer then explained that it had been very difficult for them to get a one-on-one interview with the GOP nominee and asked if I could make a call to set up an interview for the CBC.  Political capital is a real currency in both Washington and Ottawa.  Though I have some friends over at the public broadcaster, I wasn’t about to spend any capital on the CBC that day.

At the press conference, I asked a simple question to get McCain on record for his first foreign trip if he should become President.  I asked if it would be Canada, he cracked a joke but then mused seriously, “why not?”

This week President Obama will make that first foreign visit of the 44th Presidency.  In the tradition of Presidents Reagan and Clinton, Canada will be his first international destination.  And, as in most “gets” in news media, it does come down to who you can get on the phone.

My congratulations to the CBC for their good connections — already established and newly formed — into the Democratic Party, it will serve them well as they cover the Obama administration in Washington.  However, nobody was shocked when Fox News scored exclusives with the 43rd man to serve as POTUS during his two terms.

I wouldn’t be surprised if CTV and Canwest are now looking into the rights to such CBC favourites as “Fahrenheit 9/11“, “The World According to Bush“, and “The Unauthorized biography of Dick Cheney: Ascent to Power“.  It’s a pity that CBC’s invested capital in “The Arrow“, “Trudeau: The Man, The Myth, The Movie“, “Trudeau II: Maverick in the Making” and “The Fifth Estate: Mulroney” isn’t paying dividends in the domestic market.

FINALLY: Partisan bickering and CBC institutional teasing aside, the Obama interview is a great get and the people who set this up deserve a lot of credit.

Rally for Canada budget consultation survey results

On Friday, I sent out an email to the tens of thousands on the Rally for Canada email list asking them to participate in a small survey concerning the upcoming federal budget.  I asked people four questions concerning the government spending and their public policy priorities.  Over three thousand people responded on Friday and over the weekend.  I will be passing on the results to the office of the Minister of Finance as promised.

Q: On the question of Canada’s upcoming federal budget to get us through the economic crisis, which balance within the following options do you think is best for the government to implement? (n=3003)

Q: Which issues are most important to you from a government policy point of view? (n=3051)

Here is the same graph sorted in descending order (n=3051):

Q: What should be done with the Senate? (n=3007)

Q: What should be done with funding for the CBC? (n=2998)

Some notes: “n” is the number of respondents to each question.  Data was gathered from 8am Friday through midnight Sunday night.  Sample data is gathered from a population set that registered on the anti-coalition website RallyforCanada.ca between December 4th 2008 and January 9th 2009.  Answers were not randomly cycled.

That said, this data gives us insight into the priorities of Canadians who are against the concept of a Bloc-supported NDP-Liberal coalition government.  The first question was a careful balance on both sides of the spending vs. taxes debate.  On one hand, the answer set does not include an option to decrease spending and on the other, four out of five answers prompt at least some tax relief.  Most analysts believe that the federal budget will include some tax relief and stimulus in the form of government spending.  The largest group believed a balance spending/tax relief approach would be best while the second largest group favours substantial tax relief and no new spending (given the options presented).

The second question had 24 options.  Each option was a yes/no checkbox to pick public policy priorities.  There was little surprise on the distribution of public policy interests as the generally right-of-centre respondents selected jobs, economy, crime, tax cuts, healthcare choice, and military spending as priorities while passing on foreign aid, culture and arts, and native affairs.  Wheat board reform is generally a conservative priority yet this question is likely too regional for a national survey.

On the specific questions, it is of particular interest that 90% of respondents believe that the Senate in it’s current form must change.  Only 10% of respondents thought that the Senate ought to be left as it is.  On the question of spending for a particular budget item, respondents indicated that funding for the CBC should be decreased (61%) while only 6% thought it should be increased.

CBC Ombudsman findings on Krista Erickson and those planted questions

Main findings/opinions from Vince Carlin:

“In my reading of policy, both written and unwritten, Ms. Erickson clearly did go “over the line” in allowing the appearance that she was providing “script” for certain sources to use. However, it appears to me that she lacked the experience and sensitivity to realize where the line was. There is absolutely no evidence of any partisan interest on her part—she is an aggressive reporter who will pursue a story no matter whose interests are at stake. But, as I found in a previous conversation with her, she is not fully versed on the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. She should not have been placed “in harm’s way” without a better understanding of CBC policy and proper background or training in the difficult business of Parliamentary reporting.

In addition, News management, going back to my time in a position of authority, should have taken steps to elaborate a clear policy and apply it to all CBC personnel who cover legislative bodies. I note that the Globe and Mail policy manual has the simple and direct statement, “No reporter or editor should plant questions with members of any federal, provincial or municipal legislature or council for any purpose without the prior approval of a senior editor.”

To sum up: Ms. Erickson was pursuing a legitimate and newsworthy story. In her desire to expand her “source” base, she unwisely sent questions to a Liberal source who appears to have moved them through the Liberal Research Bureau. They formed the background for the questioning of Mr. Mulroney, as they might have had she broadcast those questions in a report. I should note that Pablo Rodriguez appears to have written his own questions based on material supplied to him by his colleagues. Due to the nature and specificity of the subject matter, it is not surprising that the language would be similar to the original questions shared by Ms. Erickson.

There is no explicit prohibition in CBC policy of the conduct in question, although it has been the practice of the CBC Ottawa Bureau for the last 30 years to avoid such conduct.

According to Carlin:

It is clear, however, that there was no bias at play, no matter how perceived by partisan interests.

What is your opinion? Is Mr. Carlin fair and accurate in his opinions and/or findings?