Patrick Muttart sustains pressure on CBC regarding Frank Graves

Patrick Muttart used to be the director of strategic communications in the Prime Minister’s office and was the strategist behind Prime Minister Harper’s successful 2006 election, the result of which saw the Conservatives replacing the Liberals in government. Muttart crafted the strategy behind finding accessible voters and “activating” them for the Conservatives with specific policy planks.

Muttart was on the Roy Green show yesterday where he continued the Conservative narrative against the CBC’s affiliation with pollster Frank Graves. Graves came under fire when a column from the Globe’s Lawrence Martin quoted Graves recalling his strategic advice that he gave the Liberals. His advice, to start a “culture war”, wedging against Albertans and Conservatives, depicting them as xenophobic racist homophobes who would vote for Sarah Palin.

And therein lies a bit of a contrast between strategists, one Liberal and one Conservative (though Graves will tell you that he’s part of the Canadian mainstream and thus his Liberalism is implicit). Muttart helped Harper win elections by performing strict addition while Graves is advising Liberals to perform addition by division.

Here’s a transcript of “Harper’s brain” on the Roy Green show:

ROY GREEN: The president of the Conservative Party of Canada sent a letter to the ombudsman of the CBC questioning the CBC’s practice of hiring EKOS pollster Frank Graves after Mr. Graves, among other things, said this concerning the Liberal Party of Canada to the Globe and Mail, quote: “I told them that they should invoke a culture war, cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy.” Then Mr. Graves is quoted as saying, “If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.” And EKOS executive director Paul Adams is quoted in some newspapers as having described those words as Frank Graves providing, quote, “hypothetical advice”, end quote, to the Liberals. It’s also been reported on the Elections Canada website that Mr. Graves donated just over $11,000 to the Liberal Party while giving $449.04 to a Conservative candidate in Ottawa. EKOS maintains it has never polled for any political party or been under retainer to a political party. Now, with me on the Corus Radio Network is Patrick Muttart. He is a Conservative Party strategist and former deputy chief of staff to the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Harper. Patrick, the concern of the Conservative Party, then, is a perceived relationship between EKOS, the Liberal Party and the CBC, if I understand it correctly, so what is it you want from the CBC, and then perhaps more importantly, what are you expecting?

PATRICK MUTTART: Well, I think you hit the nail on the top of the head when you introduced me as a Conservative, and as a former advisor to Prime Minister Harper. That was the right thing to do because your listeners deserve to know that I have a partisan affiliation. It’s relevant to everything I say on this program or any other program. And that’s the problem that a whole lot of people have with the CBC right now. Their pollster on party politics, Frank Graves, as you said, is not only a regular financial contributor to the Liberal Party, but he’s giving strategic political advice, and you know, that’s a clear conflict of interest, and I would argue that he shouldn’t be the CBC’s pollster on party politics, but at the very least, the CBC should provide full disclosure to its viewers. This is something that you done…you did on this radio program with me, but that the CBC does not do on television with Frank Graves.

ROY GREEN: Now, EKOS says there’s no professional relationship between it, the CBC or the Liberal Party, and that Frank Graves was only offering hypothetical advice to the Liberals during the interview with the Globe and Mail.

PATRICK MUTTART: Well, that seems to be contradicted by Frank Graves’ quote as quoted by Lawrence Martin in the Globe and Mail, and we see the journalist who wrote the column, Lawrence Martin, sticking by his story. I mean, look, it’s clear: he admits to being a Liberal supporter. The record is there in terms of his donations. Not only is he giving them advice, he’s giving them advice which is, you know, inflammatory and incredibly divisive, and it just strikes me as being extremely odd, extremely inappropriate that the CBC, which is there to serve all Canadians, would actually put this guy on as a neutral pollster on party politics.

ROY GREEN: On Friday the Globe and Mail also quoted Mr. Graves, this was the follow-up quote: “I do believe,” and this gets more subtle, “that there’s a higher incidence of people who are less tolerant to homosexuals and more wary of other races within the Conservative Party. I can demonstrate that empirically. That does not mean that Conservatives or Albertans are homophobic or xenophobic, but it does mean that many people, and more people statistically that have those points of view, end up in that party than in other places. That may be a statement that people don’t want to hear, but it’s empirically accurate and has been for a long time.” What do you say?

PATRICK MUTTART: Well, I think it demonstrates further why he shouldn’t be the CBC’s so-called neutral pollster on party politics. You know, this guy is telling the Liberal Party that they should go out and attempt to divide Canadians by, you know, putting the Liberals on once side of tolerance and the Conservatives on the side of racism and a whole bunch of other things. Now, Graves, in his half-hearted apology, said he doesn’t believe that the Prime Minister is a racist. He simply believes that the Prime Minister attracts a disproportionate number of racists as party supporters. It’s offensive, it’s inappropriate, and it just demonstrates how unacceptable it is that the CBC has him on as their neutral pollster on party politics.

ROY GREEN: If we look at the CBC specifically, do you believe that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation provides the same consideration and same objectivity to the Conservative Party and stories, new stories that concern the Prime Minister, as the CBC would provide to, say, the Liberal Party and their leader, or the NDP and their leader?

PATRICK MUTTART: A lot of people have had concerns about the CBC’s biases for a long time. There’ve been three incidents over the last number of years which have caused me and a lot of people to kind of look at the CBC and shake our heads. There was an incident in 2004 when a CBC producer was actively looking for people who, you know, vehemently disagreed with and disliked the Prime Minister to participate in a town hall meeting. There was a controversy in 2008, I believe, where a CBC reporter was writing questions for Liberal members of a House of Commons committee, and now we have this latest incident, which is Frank Graves, where he’s making Liberal contributions and providing strategic advice to the Liberal Party, and there’s no disclosure from the CBC.

ROY GREEN: There was another story as well where on The National the Prime Minister was shown to be saying one thing in a clip, in a news clip, then the reporter came back, and then they showed another clip without identifying that other clip from being from a completely different story at a completely different time. They tied them together to make it look as though it was one story and it made the Prime Minister look very bad, and then the CBC had to apologize on The National for doing that.

PATRICK MUTTART: Yeah, they did apologize, and I think the CBC has…

ROY GREEN: But it shouldn’t be necessary. That is…you know what, that is deceptive journalism. It’s not journalism, it’s just deceptive broadcasting.

PATRICK MUTTART: It shouldn’t be necessary, and I think the CBC has to remember that it is owned by the people of Canada. It’s a crown corporation. It’s a national public broadcaster, receives over $1 billion a year from the taxpayers. The CBC belongs to all Canadians, whether they’re Liberal, Conservative or supporters of other parties, and I think that just gets back to the core issue here, which is how unacceptable it is that Frank Graves can be their neutral pollster on party politics when he’s so clearly identified as being both a financial supporter of the Liberal Party as well as an advisor to them on their political strategy.

ROY GREEN: Well, I haven’t done any objective studies of the CBC, but I do watch to see what’s going on, see how my money is being spent, and I have to tell you, Patrick, that when they go to experts for so many of their news stories, when they go to people to provide input on a basic news story, it will more often than not and significantly more often than not in my observance be people who are very much to the left of centre they go to, and unabashedly.

PATRICK MUTTART: I think what you’re seeing is over time the CBC has been losing viewers for its news coverage. There’s a steady downward trend of viewership for CBC television news programs. They have spent a considerable amount of money on revitalizing their news operations. It doesn’t appear to be paying off in terms of new viewers, and I think this demonstrates that there’s a growing disconnect between the CBC and large numbers of Canadians.

ROY GREEN: So what is it specifically the that the party wants, the Conservative Party wants? You’ve given them a deadline of April the 28th to respond. The CBC (inaudible) will respond in, quote, “due course”, end quote. What do you want from them?

PATRICK MUTTART: I think first of all the Conservative Party simply wants an explanation. I think the bigger issue here is that Frank Graves should not be the CBC’s pollster on party politics, or at very least, if the CBC insist that Frank Graves should be on its programs, they should be providing full disclosure to their viewers that when Frank Graves gives an opinion, offers analysis, provides commentary, that he is speaking as someone who not only has been giving money to the Liberal Party, but also has been providing strategic advice in terms of their election positioning.

ROY GREEN: Thank you for the time, Patrick. Appreciate it.

PATRICK MUTTART: Thank you, Roy.

ROY GREEN: Patrick Muttart on the Roy Green Show on the Corus Radio Network, Conservative Party strategist, former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and again, Frank Graves, through his executive director, has said all he did was provide hypothetical advice to the Liberal Party of Canada.

CPC keeps pressure up on CBC, shifts focus to Liberals

Conservative Party is keeping up the pressure on the state-funded broadcaster and asks some tough questions for the Liberals:

LIBERALS MUST COME CLEAN ON CBC COLLUSION ALLEGATIONS

December 17, 2007

CBC must also explain disturbing pattern of anti-Conservative bias

OTTAWA – The Liberal Party of Canada must reveal the scope of the party’s alleged collusion with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on House of Commons committee business, and explain the party’s denials of collusion given contradictory statements from senior members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the CBC itself.

“The Liberal Party must reveal the full extent of its cooperation with the taxpayer-financed CBC,” said Conservative M.P. Dean Del Mastro. “And Liberals must explain why they�re the only organization denying the collusion allegations.”

According to former Liberal Cabinet Minister Jean Lapierre, now a political reporter with the TVA network questions asked by Liberal members of the House ethics committee on December 13th were “written by the CBC” (CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007). CTV’s Mike Duffy later added that Liberal researcher Jay Ephard admitted that the CBC and Liberals worked together on the Liberals’ committee questions (Mike Duffy Live, December 13, 2007). And now, according to Canadian Press, the CBC has launched its own internal investigation into what it described as “inappropriate” practices (Canadian Press, December 14, 2007).

Yet the Liberal Party’s has denied that there was collusion between his party and the CBC and called the allegations a “total fabrication” (National Post, December 15, 2007).

“Are the Liberals saying that Jean Lapierre, Mike Duffy and the CBC itself are fabricating their stories?” asked Del Mastro. “More importantly do Liberals believe that it is appropriate for their party to actively collude with the country’s public broadcaster?”

While Conservatives welcomed the launch of an internal CBC investigation into the alleged Liberal-CBC collusion, the party remains concerned about a disturbing pattern of anti-Conservative bias from the public broadcaster. During the 2004 election, the network was caught soliciting anti-Conservative participants for a town hall-style meeting. And the network admitted “regret” in 2006 after airing a report that negatively portrayed Stephen Harper by using out-of-context footage.

“The CBC receives over a billion dollars a year from taxpayers and is there to serve all Canadians,” said Del Mastro. “Canadians who want fair and balanced reporting are going to be asking some tough questions about why the CBC was working with the Liberal Party on parliamentary business.”

Some people have been saying, “but reporters suggest questions with committees all the time”.

The most striking problem with this instance is that the questions under Conservative complaint here are questions that go beyond the scope of the committee’s scope, which is actually defined as: “Study of the Mulroney Airbus Settlement”. Suddenly questions about Maxime Bernier and the wireless spectrum auction came up.

The Prime Minister instructed his caucus to put a freeze on communications with Mulroney so that the opposition could not suggest or imply that the former Prime Minister, who continues to be under fire, is linked to the current crop of Conservatives.

It is interesting that it was not the opposition that was the genesis of the attempt to link Mulroney to Harper, but allegedly it was the CBC.

The Liberals, however, are ultimately to blame if this report of “collusion” is true. That party and their MP Pablo Rodriguez were the ones to channel the CBC’s request(s) into the committee. To the CBC (and the reporter following the wireless spectrum story), the sole opportunity to question the former Prime Minister may have proved too tempting to pass up, even if it meant inappropriate influence of a committee far beyond “the airbus settlement” to “Mulroney and everything Conservative”. Conservative committee members termed Rodriguez’s line of questioning as “a fishing expedition”. The Chair (also a Liberal) was quite liberal himself in his ruling in allowing the unrelated questions to continue.

What is the extent of influence of the CBC on the Liberal Party? How high does Trudeau’s party jump when the public broadcaster tells it to?

Frankly, this wouldn’t be a scandal in the eyes of the CPC if the Liberals had laughed at the CBC’s request/demand and had proceeded by staying within the mandate of the parliamentary committee on access to information, privacy and ethics. The Liberals were ultimately the precipitators of this scandal by showing that they could be influenced to brutally stretch the committee’s scope. It is also troubling to know that the CBC itself is party to the political process on the Hill.

Here are the questions from CBC that Jean Lapierre alleged (and Jay Ephard, a Liberal researcher confirmed) were given to the Liberals to ask:

CPC wants answers over alleged CBC-LPOC collusion

Situation escalated, CPC demands answers from CBC ombudsman. Click here, or scroll down for the update

CBC announces internal investigation. Click here, or scroll down for the update

Official Conservative Party press release just received:

Conservatives Demand Answers from the CBC over Alleged Collusion with the Liberal Party

OTTAWA – Today, former Liberal Cabinet Minister and current TVA journalist Jean Lapierre made shocking allegations about strategic collusion between journalists at the CBC and Liberal Members of Parliament at the House of Commons Ethics Committee.

According to Lapierre Liberal Members of Parliament asked former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney questions written by journalists at the CBC regarding any involvement in the spectrum auction for cellular and wireless devices.

“I knew all about those questions. They were written by the CBC and provided to the Liberal Members of Parliament and the questions that Pablo Rodriguez asked were written by the CBC and I can’t believe that but last night, influential Member of Parliament came to me and told me those are the questions that the CBC wants us to ask tomorrow.” (CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007)

If proven true these allegations would mark the third major case of orchestrated anti-Conservative bias from a broadcaster that is financed by all Canadians for the benefit of all Canadians.

In 2004 an email from Stephanie Matteis of CBC’s The National exposed the CBC’s search for Canadians that would not vote for the Conservatives because they were “scared, freaked out or worried about the Conservatives, the Conservative agenda or its leader.” (http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/archives/003009.html )

The CBC was also forced on August 21, 2006 to express “regret” over a story by CBC reporter Christina Lawand that misrepresented an answer given by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (http://www.stephentaylor.ca/archives/000645.html )

“This is a very serious allegation that the CBC must provide an answer to,” said Conservative Dean Del Mastro.

- 30 -

Here is the clip:

UPDATE 12/14, 3:53pm: Just was forwarded this letter by the party. It’s addressed to the CBC Ombudsman:

Vince Carlin,
Ombudsman
CBC
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6

December 14, 2007

Dear Mr. Carlin,

I am writing about allegations made by former Liberal Cabinet Minister and current TVA journalist Jean Lapierre.

According to Mr. Lapierre Liberal Members of Parliament asked former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney questions at the House of Commons Ethics Committee written (or suggested) by journalists at the CBC regarding any personal involvement in the spectrum auction for cellular and wireless devices.

“I knew all about those questions. They were written by the CBC and provided to the Liberal Members of Parliament and the questions that Pablo Rodriguez asked were written by the CBC and I can’t believe that but last night, influential Member of Parliament came to me and told me those are the questions that the CBC wants us to ask tomorrow.” (Mr. Lapierre, CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007)

On the TV program Mike Duffy Live, Mike Duffy stated the following.

“Liberal researcher Jay Ephard approach him and say, no, Jean, it’s not true. The CBC didn’t write those questions that were asked by the Liberals. We wrote them. Yes, the CBC phoned us up and suggested questions we should ask but we actually typed them out ourselves.”(Mike Duffy, Mike Duffy Live, December 13, 2007)

Regardless of who wrote the questions the fact that our national public broadcaster was actively cooperating with a political party in an attempt to embarrass the Government raises serious questions about the impartiality of Canada’s publicly funded national broadcaster.

We would appreciate your immediate assistance in getting to the bottom of this matter and hopefully providing Canadians with answers to these troubling allegations by December 20th, 2007.

Sincerely,

Doug Finley

Director of Political Operations, Conservative Party of Canada

UPDATE 12/14, 6:06pm: CBC has launched internal investigation: CP

Dec 14 2007 17:55:00 – Source: CP [The Canadian Press]

CBC reviewing claim reporter fed questions to Liberal MP (CRAFT-CBC-Reprimand) OTTAWA _ The CBC has begun an internal investigation and possible disciplinary process after one of its parliamentary reporters suggested questions to a Liberal MP on the Commons ethics committee.

The probe follows a formal complaint by the Conservative party.

The complaint centres on claims that Liberal Pablo Rodriguez directed questions from the CBC to Brian Mulroney during a highly anticipated Commons committee hearing on Thursday.

CBC News says the reporter, who it did not name, “may have been in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story.”

But the broadcaster says it was an “inappropriate way of going about it and as such inconsistent with our journalistic policies and practices.”

Rodriguez was accused of going on a “fishing expedition” by Tory MPs after he began questioning Mulroney about possible lobbying efforts on wireless regulation during a hearing into the decade-old Airbus affair.

The Liberal party denies there was anything untoward, saying it gets “bombarded” daily with comments and ideas for questions from Canadians and from reporters.

CBC’s ‘B Team’

Many months after the this unfortunate report from CBC concerning the Prime Minister’s caucus retreat in Cornwall, Ontario last August, I had the random chance of sitting down and have a couple of drinks with a senior CBC staffer. Introducing myself and expecting to duck soon after, the nice fellow instead recalled my involvement in the aforementioned report and ombudsman review that followed and we had a friendly and quite forthright conversation about blogging, the national broadcaster, and what exactly was it that happened that could have led to such a botched report. Of course, regarding the CBC, conservatives describe the personal and institutional biases of the state-run broadcaster against the Tories. While at times conservatives have a case, other times a number of other factors may be at play.

Nobody is entirely sure exactly what went wrong in that report whether it was unconscious (or potentially conscious) bias on behalf of the reporter, rushed and sloppy production/reporting or even institutional bias of the broadcaster to be blind to such an error through the various levels of approval before the piece went to air. In fact, it could be one or more of the above.

In my friendly discussion with the senior CBC staffer, he didn’t discount bias but he did seemed to mention poor standards when he described the CBC phenomena of the ‘B team’ that tends to work in the last couple of months of summer.

I had forgotten about our discussion until I read a post today by Ouimet at The Tea Makers blog. Tea Makers is a blog written anonymously by a CBC insider and often offers internal criticism of the institution. Here’s an excerpt of the post:

Have you ever watched CBC-TV and said to yourself “WTF?”

Or listened to CBC Radio. Or watched CBC Newsworld. Next time it happens look at the calendar and you’ll find that it’s July or August. Probably August.

Because the summertime is when the A-Team takes a much-needed vacation and leaves the reigns to the B-Team, a rag-tag band of not ready for prime-timers who finally get their chance to be in charge. This happens from the top down, from the “on-air personalities” to the lady who doles out the money through the petty cash wicket.

In fact, some of your favourite CBC stars go on UI in the summertime, waiting for their shows to be renewed. It’s true!

So, the ‘B team’ phenomenon is actually part of the common lexicon at the CBC. Should it be an excuse for the sub-standard quality of broadcasting?

As for the caucus report last August, was it a matter of poor standards in reporting and/or production? Using Windows Movie Maker and Youtube, I was able to cut a more accurate representation of what went on in a few hours and I wasn’t even in Cornwall. So was it various levels of bias, the B-team, or both?

Whatever the reason, let’s continue to insist that the CBC sorts it out and raises its game.