01.06.2011 07:36 AM

When senior strategists are neither senior nor strategic

This morning: the Star’s Susan Delacourt tilts against anonymous “senior Liberal strategists.

She’s right, of course. As a rule, I insist on always being “on the record” with whatever I say to the media. I also tape every encounter.

There’s a bit more at work here, however. Susan’s brother – who is a smart, amazing guy – works for the Liberals. So I think there is some familial frustration surfacing in her opinion piece, which is totally understandable.

There’s also an Ottawa Bureau vs. Toronto tension at play. At the Star and the Globe in particular, there is always a lot of resentment when someone who isn’t part of the Ottawa bureau is assigned to an “Ottawa” story. Thus, I know Susan et al. don’t like it when Linda et al. write “Ottawa” stories. They see them as competitors, even though they work for the same paper.

I could also say something about the media’s role in this – ie., if they think “anonymous sources” are so bad, why the Hell do they use them all the time? – but it’s just stating the obvious. It’ll never change.

Anyway, as I say, Ms. Delacourt has a point. If you have a criticism to make, attach your name to it. It’s better for all concerned.


  1. James Curran says:

    I think with the exception of that one line, One Toronto Liberal went so far as to say: ?I really think we?re going to get our asses kicked.? She neither calls this person senior or a stategist.
    I think Linda went out of her way to name names. I will say however that Dryden is in York Centre and not Toronto Centre. I’d also say we have all seen the data that she writes about with the GTA and the story and the comment are deemed to be generally accepted by both the media and members at large.

  2. I think the media eat this stuff up because they’re hard wired for it. Sort of like how the PPG is hard wired to continually speculate on when the next election will be.

    Scratch that. I think they’re just f—ing lazy.

    Anyone besides me tired of hearing about when the next election will be? I’d like someone with more time than me to hit up the web and just count how many stories about election speculation there’s been in the past twelve months.

  3. Bill King says:

    She makes good points about “anonymous sources”. Why do they need to hide their identity? Does this not undermine credibility? I feel the same way about posters on this website.


    • Namesake says:

      Hey, I resemble that remark.

      I agree, of course, with the concerns about the insidious nature of citing unnamed sources who are being quoted in virtue of their allegedly strong party affiliations — but who may actually be working for the other camp, e.g.

      But for those commenters like myself who make no pretense of being a party insider, re: the challenges / questions,

      “If you have a criticism to make, attach your name to it. It’s better for all concerned;” and “Why do they need to hide their identity?”

      …well, if I may be so, er, bold, I’ve observed that a lot of the people who DO use their real name on this & other political blogs or media sites are either self-employed or retired or have tenure, and/or their employers, clients and community members are likely comfortable with whatever political views they are expressing, themselves.

      But some of us don’t have that luxury: if we have or want to get public service employment, e.g., we have to pass an enhanced reliability security check and can’t be seen to be partisan; or our employers or customers may be of a different political persuasion; or we can’t be seen to be messing around on the internet all day when we’re supposed to be working; or, or….

      Here are some others’ blog or news site posts which address the virtues of pseudonymous comments, with the most salient nugget (from the first one) being,

      “Pseudonymous writing is ethical as long as the purpose of the pseudonym is to prevent retaliation, interpersonal conflict, or financial harm, and is not to deceive readers as to the blogger’s true interests or motives.”

      “Blogs with pseudonyms add to discourse,” Arizona Star: http://urlm.in/gosm

      “Pseudonyms on the Web,” by Davd Frum: http://www.frumforum.com/pseudonyms-on-the-web

      “What’s in a Name? The Virtues of Pseudonyms,” by Dana Houle, at the Daily Kos: http://urlm.in/goso

      • Namesake says:

        um, yeah, which is why conbots like Observant/Consistent/ Harry S. has been running around spreading them far & wide like the Ancient Mariner for two years running; and why Vic Toews quoted part of one of MI’s books re: Ukrainians out of context to badmouth him to his constituents; and, and…

        which is why someone said something to the effect of, “Turnabout is fair play,” to do just a relatively minor jibe at the teleprompter guy.

        So what’s your point: it’s a revelation to you — or a threat — to do more of this at MI? Like that’s not going to happen, anyway: those negative ads have probably already in been in the can for two years, now.

        • Namesake says:

          Geez, you’re like a dog with a bone, on this one.

          Look, I don’t think anyone here was really out to make much hay out of that clip about Peter Kent introducing the concept of greenhouse gases to the nation; certainly not to suggest it disqualifies him for the position — if anything, it gives him a bit more cred than the ‘vacuous Ted Baxter’ comments he’s getting in some places.

          It’s more like the teasing Jay Leno does of the current TV or movie star guests, showing the “I bet they wish they’d never done this now” commercials & bit parts from their early days.

          But if you really want to debate how utterly inappropriate it is to ever mention this again, take it to Aaron Wherry’s blog:


        • Namesake says:

          Oh-oh: don’t look now, Gord, but it looks like the very result you feared has already come to pass:

          Evan Solomon gave Peter Kent the chance to disavow that 1984 report of his on greenhouse gases & global warming in this, his first major interview since being briefed as the new Environment Minister, and he didn’t — he embraced it:

          “At that time it was a new theory,” Kent said. “In the last couple of years the intergovernmental climate change panel has concluded that there is overwhelming evidence, 95 per cent probability that in fact all of the suppositions in the theory have in fact happened and continue to happen now.”


  4. Bob Larocque says:

    Any stories based on “anonymous sources’, “senior party officials”, “background briefings by government officials”, or from “party strtegists” should not be published in the main-stream media. If they don’t have the integrity to attach their names to the information, I don’t want to hear about it. Otherwise I feel we, and the media, are being used.

    • I don’t think you quite grasp the point of “Deep Throat.”

      Woodward and Bernstein used the man as “deep background,” which means he could give them information that could *only* be attributed to other sources. He could confirm the validity of certain information, explain some of the process they were looking at, point them to other information sources — but they would never refer to him in the stories they filed. Not even as “an anonymous source.” People only found out about Deep Throat when All the President’s Men was published.

      What we have, in the Diebel story, are people grumbling about the Liberal leader, but refusing to allow themselves to be identified as “grumbling.” No “deep background,” no explanation of whatever process was in place, no real education about the backroom — just some disgruntled people. The only reason why the story ran is because it fit into the prevailing mainstream narrative of Ignatieff as weak leader — which is to say, under normal circumstances it shouldn’t have run at all.

      • Mr. Chamberlain says:

        Agreed. I would add that I think there is a some attention-seeking behaviour at work here — on both ends of the phone. The source wants to see their tip in print, with the tag of being a Liberal source and the reporter wants the professional esteem that goes along with being someone who has an in with a “senior Liberal stategist”.

        On the level of party, this is also about particularly-Liberal attention-seeking behaviour in that the Liberals want to be players and well, when they’re not, they need to invent some buzz about themselves. There is that notion that all press is good press, as long as they spell your name right, in that people are talking about you… The Liberals need to be the centre of attention and when there is an absence of substance, this is what being the centre of attention looks like.

        And to be fair to our good Liberals, people give tips on what the media want to hear. A tip that says all is swell and morale is strong is not going to be printed. A tip saying a full-out caucus mutiny is in the works will find its way to a story.

        The bottom line is if there are tips going out that are not sanctioned then there is a problem with discipline and heads must roll.

        • Namesake says:

          yeah, well, except this reads like more of the ‘Sock
          Puppet’ / Concern Troll / disinformation that Delacourt was warning
          about / bemoaning… you’re asserting — and she was questioning —
          whether it’s really Liberals that are throwing this grumbling buzz
          out there at all, as opposed to Conservative operatives posing as

      • Namesake says:

        A tip of the hat to you, there, BTW, Mr. Phantom: I gather
        you’re an avowed Conservative, so kudos for speaking out sincerely
        about wanting to have no truck with disreputable journalistic
        ethics, even if it’s at the Liberals’ expense.

        • Mr. Chamberlain says:

          Are there “Conservative operatives”? Sure. Why not. That’s politics for you. Should reporters be more discriminating in their use of sources? Probably. Blame the news editors as well though. Do the Liberals need more discipline? Most definately. P.S. Doesn’t the whole notion of being under attack from within by “Conservative operatives” part and parcel of attention-seeking victimhood? The Liberals of course DESERVE to have a problem like Conservative operatives because they are the most special of the ABC parties, right? The best thing the Liberals could do for themselves is to own their lack of traction with Canadians and not waste time making excuses for themselves. It’s up to Liberals if they want to suit up for the game. Seems they’ve grown fond of being on the injured list. Perhaps that’s why Canadians have benched them. (Just trying to help!)

        • Namesake says:

          “Help”? with these “insights” into the inner workings of the party you’ve gleaned somehow? well, mind your appease and cues, there, Mr. Chamberlain.

        • Mr. Chamberlain says:

          … And yet it seems that I touched a nerve. That’s revealing.

        • Namesake says:

          Don’t read too much into it; it’s not like I’m actually crediting you with any true insights.

          You only “touched a nerve” because of the nerve — yours, in just making shit up to try to demoralize the Libs & undermine their support by portraying them as disloyal media sluts, etc.

          The CPC caucus & supporters would be equally aggrieved if I just made shit up about them & posted it on political blogs, too, like (purely hypothetically):

          “The PM is such a rageaholic that he routinely screams obscenities and abuse at caucus members — even Cabinet Ministers! — during cabinet & caucus meetings, such that the sick days, medication use, & stress leave of Government Members is the highest it’s ever been in all of recorded history. But it’s partly an act; he was both selected for and taught to do that by senior Party mandarins to enforce discipline; they even codified it in a manual.”

  5. CQ says:

    One day I would like to see less quiet nepotism in Canada. Scratch the surface and everybody’s got an in with everyone else (either thru same company or interwoven industry competitors) it too often seems. Only a month ago from our national journalism field it was the the Star side-dredging up Andrew Coyne of Rogers/Macleans employment and his extended familial linkage to Liberal royalty.

    • CQ says:

      And also, The Globe and Mail’s politico blog published a biographical career success feature on Warren himself this past fall alongside with a handful of his fellow elite-grade University chums.

  6. PoliticalPundit says:

    Congratulations must go out to Susan Delacourt for offering a critical analysis of what passes for political journalism these days.
    All parties, including the Mulroney/Clark/MacKay PC Party, the Reform/Alliance party in the pre-2006 days, and the Liberal Party since 1984, the Bloc Qu

  7. Susan has an interesting version of history in her defence of Chretien. I am confident John Turner did not find the letter and outside advice helpful regarding his leadership. I also don’t remember JC punishing those disloyal to John Turner whose names were on that letter.

    Funny thing about history is some people refuse to learn from their previous mistakes.

  8. PoliticalPundit says:

    Congratulations must go out to Susan Delacourt for offering a critical analysis of what passes for political journalism these days.
    All parties, including the Mulroney/Clark/MacKay PC Party, the Reform/Alliance party in the pre-2006 days, and the Liberal Party since 1984, the Bloc Qu

  9. PoliticalPundit says:

    Why is my full comment not being shown?

  10. PoliticalPundit says:

    Congratulations must go out to Susan Delacourt for offering
    a critical analysis of what passes for political journalism these
    days. All parties, including the Mulroney/Clark/MacKay PC Party,
    the Reform/Alliance party in the pre-2006 days, and the Liberal
    Party since 1984, the Bloc Quebecois, have their malcontents who
    pretend to speak on behalf of their party and who curry favour with
    unsuspecting, very shallow and often lazy journalists. What Susan
    Delacourt fails to mention is that every party always has
    operatives in every other party – people who are strategically
    planted to spy on their opponents and to generate factionalism
    among the militants and rank-and-file of the other parties. This is
    an important topic that is seldom if ever discussed by journalists.
    Spying on one’s political opponents is a tried and true method of
    winning and maintaining power. And Harper is well aware of these
    methods since the Reform/Alliance was spied upon by its opponents.
    He understood all-too-well that if the Reform/Alliance/Conservative
    coalition was to ever gain and hold power it would have to spy on
    all of its opponents. And, I would venture to say that some of
    these so-called Liberals are really Blue Grits working for the
    Harperites. What I am saying is that journalists worth their salt
    should always examine carefully the nature of their sources and ask
    themselves why certain operatives want to remain anonymous. It is
    unethical for journalists to build their stories on anonymous
    sources especially when they don’t do their homework on these
    sources and reveal their agendas. They are simply being manipulated
    by these operatives, many of who might just might be spies doing
    their dirty work. RRYT

  11. H Holmes says:

    Anonymous sources are used because they are sexy or the person spreading the information would dilute the story.

    For example, if Delacourt’s brother was listed as the source, the story would be a lot less forceful.

    if the leak about the census changes came from the PMO, it would be much sexier if it was a an anonymous source, which makes everything sound so much more insidious.

    I think they are lame and lead to many examples of horrible journalism that never gets properly corrected, but I understand why they are used.

    • H Holmes says:

      Of course they are times when they should be used, but these examples are exceedingly rare.
      For example if your life is on the line, or if their story would result in a mistrial for someone.

      However, in the case of a mistrial, they shouldn’t be speaking until after the case is heard anyway.

  12. Rome says:

    I think it’s admirable to attach your name to any and all things you publicly say. However, who am I (or anyone) to judge why someone requests anonymity. There are whole host of reasons a person may require secrecy. Whether that reason is ridiculous or not is irrelevant. That person feels the need for discretion, at that time.

    We cannot fault a reporter for calling the source anonymous. After all, it is there duty to protect their sources when requested. And, without persecution. It’s a principle tenet of a free media. A protected source is not a reason to think the information is any less true. (This, of course, doesn’t resolve a reporter of due diligence.)

    Now I think the use of “anonymous” is so over-used, it’s not funny. Don’t these sources remember their mothers teaching them to “not say anything, if they don’t have something nice to say?”

    • The Doctor says:

      People have been spilling ink and arguing about this “anonymous sources” issue for eons now. It’s never going to go away. The bottom line for me is this: good, responsible journalists will use anonymous sources carefully and judiciously; lazy, irresponsible journalists will not. The problem is, while there are good journalists out there, there are also a lot of bad, lazy ones. And there always will be. Thus this problem will always be with us.

      • JenS says:

        I think a line must be drawn, though, between “anonymous” and “unnamed” sources. The two oughtn’t be confused. Few are anonymous to the reporter, and that’s where the reporter must use best judgment in using them — there must be a very good reason for the individual to be unnamed, and case law is showing more and more that a promise not to name them in print might not mean a court will allow the reporter or his or her publication to protect their identity. A truly anonymous source ought only be used as a starting point — they tell a reporter something, then the reporter must either find supporting, reportable information to back the claim, or not publish it.

        • The Doctor says:

          Good points — I was not being careful about the distinctions that you point out, and they are important.

          I guess a related point is that, while “serious” journalists aim to report news, there are a lot of junk journalists and junk outlets (e.g., TMZ) that really pretty much deal in gossip. And they’re probably the worst offenders in this area.

  13. The Doctor says:

    I found it interesting that Susan Delacourt refers to the Liberal Party of Canada as “this dysfunctional party.” That’s that kind of thing that people used to routinely say about the old Progressive Conservative Party.

  14. orval says:

    I noticed that S.D. attributed the “tip” phoned into CTV that Fantino would win Vaughan byelection by 10,000 votes to an anonymous alleged “Liberal” (S.D’s quotes). This “prediction” sounded to me at the time of being Liberal disinformation.

  15. cynthia says:

    Iggy’s celebrating in Budapest
    Russian Orthodox Xmas best
    Much French wine to ingest
    From Canada he needs much rest.

    Iggy’s going to the French Riv
    Cause that’s where he does live
    In a nearby villa in Provence
    Cause he’s no Canadian dunce.

    Iggy ponders, to be or not to be
    Prime minister from sea to sea
    Why oh why can’t I just be
    A colourful Canadian maple tree?!

    As Iggy’s European vacation ends
    He must return to his Liberal “friends”.

  16. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Cynthia, Sometimes mere words, even in verse, are far more
    telling about the author than the intended subject…

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