Monday, September 6, 2010

Fake Names, Fake Lakes and Swat Teams

Our campaign efforts were also energized by the initiative of some younger Reformers, headed up by Kory Teneycke, who took it upon themselves to help "win Ontario." They raised enough money to finance a month-long bus tour ... Dubbing themselves "The Reform SWAT Team ... the team campaigned vigorously, helping out in every way possible, from dropping literature to chanting and waving banners at Leader's events, to mounting counter-demonstrations to quell the occasional group of protesters.

For a little variety and stim­ulation (this was an energetic bunch), the SWAT Team would also drop into the campaign offices of opposition candidates to see what they could stir up. -
Preston Manning (1)
Kory Teneycke has remained a Reform movement supporter, following them through their metamorphosis to Alliance and then the Conservative Party of Canada. In 2008 he was named Stephen Harper's spokesman, and in 2009, with Harper in tow, met with Rupert Murdoch and on our dime, finalized plans to launch a Fox News North.

This has met with a lot of opposition in Canada, especially from those of us who are politically engaged and have witnessed how Fox News has destroyed political debate in the United States.

And much of this opposition is now focused on a petition, started by a group called Avaaz, that now has over 71,000 names. Sun Media cried foul because this group is U.S. based, (whereas their group is Australian based and runs U.S. Fox News)

For me as a Canadian, the issue is that I was inspired to sign the petition, no matter the source, and not because of the preamble, but because I know that this kind of vitriol is wrong for this country, that is already suffering the effects of right-wing whiplash.

Susan Delacourt wrote an excellent column for the Star, on this issue: Journalism, petitions and activism, and while she questions the motive of U.S. involvement, brings up several other important issues.

One is fraud:
Fake names* -- including those of some well-known Hill journalists as well as Conservatives and fictional characters -- were added to the petition sometime on Thursday. The head of business development for SunTV wrote a column for Friday's paper, slamming the petition because of the existence of fake names. Problem -- Kory Teneycke seemed to have inside knowledge of the fake names on the petition, and thanks to some dogged inquiry by O'Malley and Avaaz, we learn that these fake names were submitted by one person -- either known by Kory or Kory himself. (Kory did say on TV last night that he didn't do it, but he does seem to know who did.) Conservatives say the issue is the validity of the petition. Avaaz, and those whose names were appended to the petition without their knowledge, say the issue is forgery/fraud. On the issue of the fake names, I'm in agreement that the issue here is fraud -- not the validity of the petition. I think there should be an investigation into who submitted the names and the person who did it should be punished. This isn't high school here; we're talking about people's jobs and reputations.
Another is the "creation" of news:
On the road this summer aboard the "Liberal Express", I witnessed several occasions where Sun reporters in the regions produced a piece of paper with a question for Michael Ignatieff. They would read this query, sometimes saying they'd been told to ask the question by their bosses. Funnily enough, the questions mirrored Conservative talking points that were also sent by email to reporters aboard the bus. Then we had stories in the paper the next day saying that Ignatieff's tour was being "derailed" by questions about his candidates. The "derailing" (which was a bit of an overstatement) came from journalists' questions, nothing else.
And the third is according to Delacourt, when journalism strays into activism.

In 1996, David Taras at the University of Calgary, wrote an article: The Winds of Right-wing Change in Canadian Journalism. In it he discussed a new phenomenon in the Canadian media: the increasing number of journalists who had become "ardent political activists". It was in reference to the Winds of Change conference that was taking place to try and unite the right wing parties under one banner.
The Winds of Change conference, which took place in Calgary in May 1996, brought together approximately 70 leading right-wing thinkers and activists in an effort to bring unity to conservative forces before the next federal election, expected in 1997 ...... The conference's real significance, its real meaning, however, may have little to do with whether the goal of unity on the right is ever achieved. More important perhaps is that the conference highlighted a phenomenon that has been taking place for quite some time in American politics, but seems only now to be emerging full-blown in Canada: that an increasing number of journalists have become ardent political activists. Where objectivity was once the gold standard on which the professional credibility of journalists rested, today the rules seem to have changed. Some journalists have been able to enhance their status by openly championing partisan positions and causes. (2)
And the number of journalists who have been able to enhance their status by openly championing partisan positions and causes, is growing.

This doesn't mean that journalists have never been partisan. But there is a difference between writing with a partisan bent, and openly creating news stories, in an attempt to promote a political party, as Sun Media has recently done.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines journalism as: "writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation."

What Teneycke and Sun Media have done is not journalism. But it goes back to the days when Teneycke's "Reform SWAT team" dropped "into the campaign offices of opposition candidates to see what they could stir up." (1) Nothing more.

And this is what Fox News North will be all about. Single party campaigning and attacks on the opposition. Do we really need that 24/7?


Popular columnist Greg Weston was fired from Sun Media for breaking the "fake lake" story.


1. Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy, By Preston Manning, McClelland & Stewart, 2002, ISBN: 0-7710-5675-3, Pg. 163

2. The Winds of Right-wing Change in Canadian Journalism, By David Taras (University of Calgary), Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 21, No 4, 1996


  1. Good analysis of Fox News North actions to date.

  2. The world would be a better place without the "integrity lacking" Kory Teneyckes and the lying/libelous right wing TV stations posing as news networks.