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.

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?

Who needs the MSM to debate? New media brings populism to political coverage

Yesterday, Green Party leader Elizabeth May learned the news that she will not be featured in the leader’s debate broadcast on the Canadian television networks. The arrangement by May of former Liberal MP Blair Wilson to form a Green caucus of one was risky given his infraction of section 83 of the Canada Elections Act. The Green Party argued that they met the same standard set by Deborah Grey of the Reform Party which allowed Preston Manning to join the leader’s debate in 1993. Differences that I would underline is that Wilson was elected as a Liberal while Grey was elected as a Reform MP and that the Reform party opposed all other parties while the Green Party supports the Liberals.

I was on TVOntario last night on a tech-politics panel with Dr. Greg Elmer, Warren Kinsella, Kady O’Malley and Andrew Rasiej of TechPresident.com (formerly of the Howard Dean 2004 campaign). My friend Kady and I dusted it up a bit when the topic of the mainstream media came up. I argued that social and new media is creating accessible tools to reject the purpose of a gatekeeping middleman between stakeholders in a democracy and the politicians that speak to them. I have my own experiences with this as the unaccountable and unelected Parliametary Press Gallery – the media guild that reins supreme over Parliament – used the state to enforce its monopoly over news as it relates to politicians on Parliament Hill. I noted at the time that it is disturbing in a democracy when those that fought for press freedoms become the gatekeepers to access. These are the same folks that bellyached when Stephen Harper made them sign up for a list for his own press conference and the same group admit journalists that write questions for MPs with the rare occasion to compel a former Prime Minister to answer partisan questions under oath.

The tools of new media that we discussed on the panel create the possibility of reducing one of the burdens that necessitate the organization of news producers and reporters into a corporation. Digital video cameras are becoming ubiquitous these days as anyone with $150 and a YouTube account can capture news in video format. Sites like Ustream.tv even allow “citizen journalists” like myself to interview the likes of Preston Manning or John Tory live online while visitors submit their questions. However, the wiser minds of the Parliamentary Press Gallery would disagree and as its President Richard Brennan told the Hill Times,

“They will be ejected and if they continue, they’ll be prohibited from coming into the main block, particularly here, I should say, the Foyer of the House. You’re not to use anything collected in the Foyer of the House, be it video or voice that could be used in some kind of a nefarious way. That’s what these guys want to do. They want to collect tape, video, voice, people making mistakes or saying something that’s not exactly correct, they want to use it for some kind of an attack ad. That’s what we’re afraid of. They’re not supposed to be here anyway. They’re not members of the Press Gallery. This area is for the members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery or visiting media only.”

As Dr. Greg Elmer stated on the program last night, capturing these sorts of moments is good for democracy because it increases the accountability of politicians. But the unaccountable PPG has their territory and this group will protect their turf if it means eroding the principles of free press and institutional transparency.

What stands between Elizabeth May and a debate (Stephane Dion has agreed to debate her) is the mainstream media. This elite cadre of corporate (CTV, Canwest) and public (CBC) interests seems to have shut out May and the 4.6% of Canada that voted for her party during the last election. But, this is their right. They are not obligated to broadcast any political debate by law and they can set the ground rules. CBC could invite me to debate Jack Layton and there are no election laws or rules that govern this (of course, this would be a bad decision for CBC).

Why not use the tools that promise to bring populism to the media? We can make the broad scope of media available (blogs, television, radio etc.) “mainstream”. Though they were broadcast on television networks, Youtube and Facebook sponsored debates in the primary cycle of the 2008 Presidential race in the US and MySpace will sponsor one or more presidential debates between Obama and McCain. As Clay Shirky writes in his book, Here Comes Everybody, the advent of user-generated content has the potential of doing to journalism as a professional class that which movable type did to the few elites known as scribes that copied books by hand. Scribes used to have an honoured and privileged position in society, but when the printing press was invented, the cost of printing books plummeted and society’s literacy rates increased. New media has the potential of tearing down the barriers set up by elite gatekeepers in the mainstream media. The tools of web 2.0 restrict May’s ability to debate by only those that would agree to debate her (now the singular limitation but one that she would face on television as well).

Elizabeth May should challenge the federal party leaders to debate via ustream.tv. The live debate (and subsequent video produced) would be easily embedded on blogs, on the Green Party websites, on other party websites and even on Blogging Tories. Democracy is literally the power and strength of the people and by its very definition, does not integrate the concept of an elite class. The internet has bandwidth in abundance and is not a scarce resource like the bands owned by corporate and public media. Further, the internet has the advantage that it is accessible to whomever would access it, whether a voter in Yellowknife or an absentee voter on the Yellow river in China. As stakeholders in democracy, we could choose (or choose not to participate) by extending the discussion online via twitter, blogs and other forms of social media. As site owners, if we opt not to feature May’s debate, there are many others that would.

In an evolving media ecosystem, the MSM may not be entirely replaced but perhaps the word “mainstream” will be redefined. No longer will the coverage and restriction of coverage be decided by elites that were the only ones capable of organizing and controlling vast networks of satellites and cable to distribute information. The network of media distribution and production is available to the people and as a nascent party, Elizabeth May should take advantage.

Krista Erickson update

This blog has followed Krista Erickson’s story with the Mulroney-Schreiber testimony, the subsequent scandal which erupted from it and CBC’s reaction surrounding the story. There’s an update today, via email that Erickson sent to updates friends and colleagues on the latest. This email was broadly distributed.

In January, this was among CBC’s response to Doug Finley, director of political operations for the Conservative Party:

Following an investigation by senior management of CBC News, we have determined that our reporter Krista Erickson did, in fact, provide questions to a Member of Parliament in the lead up to the Ethics Committee meeting in December. Those actions, while in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story, were inappropriate and inconsistent with CBC News policies and procedures, specifically under our Principles, Sec. 3

Given the potential risk to the journalistic credibility of our Ottawa bureau, its reporters and CBC News generally, we have chosen on an exceptional basis to make the detailed outcome of our disciplinary process available to you, our employees and the public at large.

22 Minutes on CBC bias and blogging

Airing a week ago on January 22nd, CBC’s This Hour has 22 minutes weighed in on the complaints that CBC received from Doug Finley, Conservative Party chief of political operations (background and first letter, second letter).

CBC ended up reassigning the reporter at the centre of the collusion allegations to Toronto. CBC’s news publisher John Cruikshank explained, (read the whole response)

When, as in the present instance, it is revealed that a reporter has been collaborating, even if only obliquely, with one party or another, an appearance of partisanship emerges that cannot be dispelled by claims that this is how political reporters interact with their sources. — John Cruickshank, CBC News

CBC’s recognition of Conservative concern and it’s action on the complaint shows that the CBC is at least reluctantly receptive to complaints of impartiality when discussed broadly by senior political officials and other news media.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the horribly biased news team at 22 minutes.

We must demand accountability in fake news!

Please write them on their website with your complaints, or spew your crap all over the comments below.

Krista Erickson reassigned

CBC just sent out this release:

TORONTO, Jan. 21 /CNW/ – CBC News today released the following letter:

Doug Finley,
Director of Political Operations
Conservative Party of Canada

January 21, 2008

Dear Mr. Finley:

This letter is in response to your complaint to the CBC Ombudsman about “collusion” involving one of our reporters during the recent Mulroney/Schreiber hearings in Ottawa, during which questions were asked about lobbying efforts by Mr. Mulroney directed toward the current federal government.

Following an investigation by senior management of CBC News, we have determined that our reporter Krista Erickson did, in fact, provide questions to a Member of Parliament in the lead up to the Ethics Committee meeting in December. Those actions, while in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story, were inappropriate and inconsistent with CBC News policies and procedures, specifically under our Principles, Sec. 3:

“Credibility is dependent not only on qualities such as accuracy and fairness in reporting and presentation, but also upon avoidance by both the organization and its journalists of associations or contacts which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality. Any situation which could cause reasonable apprehension that a journalist or the organization is biased or under the influence of any pressure group, whether ideological, political, financial, social or cultural, must be avoided.”

Our investigation determined there was no bias in related news coverage.
However, our reporter, acting on her own, used inappropriate tactics as a
result of journalistic zeal, rather than partisan interest. CBC News
management has made the decision to reassign its reporter from the story and
to Toronto, effective Jan. 21.

Given the potential risk to the journalistic credibility of our Ottawa bureau, its reporters and CBC News generally, we have chosen on an exceptional basis to make the detailed outcome of our disciplinary process available to you, our employees and the public at large.

I trust this addresses your concerns.

It is also my responsibility to inform you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC’s journalistic policies. The Ombudsman may be reached by mail at the address shown below, or by fax at (416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at ombudsman@cbc.ca

Sincerely,
John Cruickshank
Publisher
CBC News

Box 500, Station “A”,
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1E6

cc. Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman

CBC journo out?

Tonight, I’m hearing from a very well-placed source that Krista Erickson has cleaned out her desk and is going on “stress leave”. Whether this indicates a hushed firing or a quiet reassignment outside of Ottawa politics after a short leave is unclear. (see update)

UPDATE: I’ve heard that she is moving to CBC Sports. (see update)

I should also mention that everyone that I’ve spoken to at the CBC about this has, for the past few weeks, told me that they do not approve of the ways by which Erickson pursued this story. From an outside source I’ve heard that she will issue an apology tomorrow.

I think it would also be important to note that the Liberals should shoulder a lot of the blame for this. Erickson’s pursuance of the story, while over-zealous and inappropriate, would never have made the floor if a Liberal had not raised the issue. It was Pablo Rodriguez, Robert Thibault and Chair Paul Szabo, not Krista Erickson, that tore up the mandate of the ethics committee.

I should also say that I emailed Erickson the weekend after the Mulroney testimony for her comment on the story, but received no reply. Frankly, a frustrating element of this story was the silence coming from the CBC on this. While I don’t blame Erickson for not commenting on the story (in fact, she probably received some sage advice not to talk to anyone), CBC did not respond except to release a tu quoque-ish letter in response to Conservative concerns. CBC management owed it to other reporters (especially in the Ottawa office) to dispel the dark cloud which hung unfairly over their heads. Yet management was quiet. As I’ve said before, there are a number of good professional people that report and produce news for CBC. Management that writes their cheques paid with our money should not use these people as a shield for its own comfort. Management should never shirk accountability.

So, will the Liberals now be called to answer for the damage that they have precipitated? While it was inappropriate for Erickson to hope that they would have contempt for Parliament, it was wholly inappropriate for the Liberals to go through with turning the committee into a free-for-all.

We should always demand better of our public institutions, especially the CBC. The state-funded broadcaster should always seek a balanced product when it reports the news. But it should go without saying that the institution of Parliament should never be abused.

UPDATE 1/9, 5pm: A well-placed source at CBC has amended some of the details given above. Erickson’s reassignment to sports (or anywhere else) has not been confirmed (reassignment has not been acknowledged by CBC management). At this time, I believe that a reassignment to CBC Sports will not happen. Further she’s on vacation (not stress leave) and still has her desk at CBC Ottawa and that she has not yet issued an apology today.

Outside of that, what remains is that Erickson has been the topic of meetings held by senior management for the past couple of weeks and that a disciplinary review has been held. She was the reporter who passed on questions to Liberals regarding the wireless spectrum (well outside of the committee’s mandate on the Airbus settlement). CBC senior management has been very tight lipped about the proceedings of those meetings. What is known is that management must consider the appropriate balance between Canadian Media Guild concerns, political fallout, and details of the employee contract with respect to discipline. I expect a decision to be announced soon.

CBC-Liberals update

Conservative Party of Canada Director of Political Operations Doug Finley has sent another letter to CBC Ombudsman Vince Carlin. Finley demands satisfaction!

January 8, 2008

Mr. Vince Carlin
Ombudsman
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1E6

Dear Mr. Carlin:

Back in December I wrote to you and asked that you, in your capacity as CBC Ombudsman, look into an allegation of CBC-Liberal collusion made by former Liberal cabinet minister and current TVA reporter Jean Lapierre. As you will recall Mr. Lapierre told a national television audience that CBC wrote questions for Liberal members on the House of Commons ethics committee.

On December 15th, Canadian Press reported that CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay admitted that a reporter pursued a story in an “inappropriate way” that was inconsistent with the Corporation’s “journalistic policies and practices”. Further, Canadian Press reported that the particulars of the matter were being investigated by the CBC and that disciplinary action was possible.

Given Mr. Keay’s admission to Canadian Press back in December, I was troubled to read his comments in yesterday’s edition of the Hill Times. Not only did he refuse to name the reporter who allegedly wrote questions for the Liberals he said he wasn�t sure when the CBC would be willing to do so. Further, he said he was unwilling to characterize the type of discipline the reporter could face.

Mr. Carlin, the CBC has already admitted that inappropriate practices were followed by one of its reporters. Given this I believe it is incumbent upon the Corporation to:

* Update Canadians on the status of the investigation and estimate when the investigation will be completed; and

* Commit to releasing the name of the reporter in question and outline what disciplinary measures have been or will be taken.

While recognizing that Mr. John Cruickshank has, according to CBC policy, up to 20 working days to respond to the substance of my December 14th e-mail I’d ask that you specifically assure me that the Corporation will commit to releasing the name of the reporter in question and outline what disciplinary actions have been – or will be – taken to ensure that Canadians view the CBC as a non-partisan source of news and information.

Sincerely,

Doug Finley
National Campaign Director
Conservative Party of Canada