Categories for Feature

Go neg, sure. But don’t lie.

Here’s a little snippet from next week’s column, about this ad.

Because the media scrutinize attack ads like no other form of political communication – and because voters don’t want to admit they’ve been motivated by an attack – attack ads must be 100 per cent accurate.  There can’t be anything in them that is factually wrong.  Nothing.

In the 2000 federal Liberal campaign, for example, a colleague and I spent an entire day agonizing over whether the placement of an ellipsis in a quote in an attack ad was going to get us in trouble.  And it did.  The impact of the ad was lost to a ton of process stories.

The campaign crew helping out Kathleen Wynne are the ones who cooked up the federal Grits’ “soldiers in the streets” spots in 2006.  Those ads, more than any other factor, contributed to Stephen Harper’s subsequent victory.  Because they were bullshit.

The Working Families ad is bullshit.  The notion that Patrick Brown – who has voted with the Liberals on every single tolerance/diversity issue in the Legislature – is Donald Trump is, well, crazy.  And anyone making that claim, with a straight face, is either a liar or stupid.  Or both.


#RecipeForHate featured in Publisher’s Weekly!

Their story below – and their review, which called my new book a “riveting, unflinching page-turner,” here.

YA Novel Inspired by 1980s Punks Who Brought Down Neo-Nazis

Warren Kinsella has been a persistent figure in Canadian politics and media for decades, as a strategist for various Liberal Party politicians, and even working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He has also been a commentator in newspapers including the Globe and Mail and the National Post, and is now a partner with Daisy Consulting Group, a consulting and crisis management firm in Toronto. But as a teenager in mid-’70s Calgary, Kinsella was deeply entrenched in the punk music scene, as a member of a band called the Hot Nasties.

He has written a handful of adult nonfiction books over the years — Web of Hate: Inside Canada’s Far Right Network and Fury’s Hour: A (sort-of) Punk-Rock Manifesto, among others — whose titles form a logical path to his newest book, his first young adult novel. Recipe for Hate (Dundurn), available now in Canada and next month in the U.S., is a murder mystery set in Portland, Maine, about a group of punks in the ’70s dealing with their community’s “anti-punk hysteria” and the fallout after two of their friends are murdered by a gang of neo-Nazis.

According to Kinsella, the book is inspired by the Silent Brotherhood, a white supremacist terrorist group that he covered in the 1980s as a reporter for the Calgary Herald. The theme of neo-Nazis, however, is one that he’s unfortunately seeing echoes of again today.

“The election of Trump and the passage of Brexit have obviously made it easier for these hate groups to be active and prominent. They’re bolder now than ever before,” Kinsella said. “And that’s because, in my opinion, Trump is a white supremacist and a bigot, and many of the people who supported him and are involved with him have the same views. The book’s timing is perfect to warn people about how these groups work and how they are a danger to civil society.”

Recipe for Hate — named for a Bad Religion song — launches a trilogy of books, with the second title, New Dark Ages, expected next fall. Kinsella said it takes place with the same group of people at a later period in time, and features a character “who looks and sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump.”


The intangible, impracticable, irrational National: ten reasons it fails

The missus was away.  The dogs had been let out.  I had a Man Cold. I’d finished the Holocaust Week panel at the ROM.  So I collapsed on the couch at Chez Kinsella and turned on the new and improved National on CBC.

So.

Here are my ten observations, in no particular order.

  1. Four anchors?  Seriously?  That’s not a newscast, that’s a sequel to Split, the movie.  Multiple personality disorder makes for memorable horror flicks, but not so much a serious newscast.
  2. The sum of the four is less than one part.  I’m sorry, CBC, but Ian Hanomansing is not just better than the other three – he’s actually one of the best newsreaders on Earth. He is authentic, he is authoritative.  The others simply aren’t.  Sorry.
  3. It’s too busy.  It feels disjointed and disorganized.  It feels chaotic. Just when you get the hang of one of the anchors, another one would pop up on your screen.  That’s not a newscast – that’s 90s-era MTV, folks.  Which, um, no longer exists.
  4. The graphics bugged me.  They are too big, and too simplistic. I could almost picture the moderator at the CBC focus groups: “Hey! Our viewers are vision-impaired mental defectives, so let’s communicate with them with two-syllable words in 100-point fonts!”
  5. It was seriously unserious.  Why did viewers stick with folks like Walter Cronkite or Lloyd Robertson or Knowlton Nash or Lisa LaFlamme?  Because, per above, those people radiate authenticity and authority.  They are serious people, talking about serious stuff.  They have gravitas. Precious few people have that – and Hanomansing is one.
  6. It was CNN-y. And possibly not in a good way.  On CNN, everything is BREAKING NEWS, which eventually means that nothing is BREAKING NEWS.  CBC isn’t making that mistake, yet, but it has already adopted another regrettable CNN tactic: journalists interviewing journalists, instead of having journalists doing, you know, journalism.  The segments with Paul Hunter, Keith Boag and Gillian Findlay were like that, and therefore kind of meh.  Ipso facto: stop talking about the news.  Show me the news.
  7. The set looks like it was designed by Sprockets.  (Am I dating myself? You remember Sprockets, don’t you? Mike Myers on SCTV, black turtlenecks, all Bauhaus-y. Funny. Okay, I am dating myself.)  It was all blacks and blues and angular and about as inviting as a two-day celebration of Blank Verse.  Probably cost a jillion dollars.
  8. Click schtick.  Early on, CBC seemed to be intent on making the National a revolutionary new content provider for its myriad online platforms.  They may still be planning to do that, but – to be sure – I clicked over the main CBC web page this morning, and it looks the same as it did yesterday.  No change.
  9. TV is pictures. That’s what George Frajkor taught me long ago at Cartoon U., and I never forgot it.  TV IS PICTURES, he’d holler, and we’d all nod.  TV is an emotional medium, one that works best when it is delivering powerful visuals.  Not, I note, journalists talking with journalists about the news, instead showing us the news.
  10. It didn’t blow me away.  And, with their ratings plummeting ever-downward, it needed to.  The new and improved National looked like the tall foreheads at CBC didn’t want to make any actual decisions – about one anchor, about one format, about one feel to it all – so they just threw everything into the blender, and are expecting us all to consume the results.

My hunch?  We won’t.


In the Sun: the Recipe For Hate

Life imitates fiction, sometimes, and not in ways that you’d expect.

This week, for example, I published a book called Recipe For Hate. It’s a novel.

Without giving away the plot, I can reveal that Recipe For Hate is about fanatics insinuating themselves into positions of power and influence. It’s about radicals clashing in the streets. And it’s about some people believing that extremism can be a virtue.

Sound familiar?

As I was writing the book, I would love to say that I foresaw Brexit, President Donald Trump, and the rise of extremism on the Left and the Right – extremism that resulted in murder in places like Charlottesville. But I didn’t. 

Last week, when touring to promote Recipe For Hate, I ran into my friend Adrienne Batra, editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun. She suggested I write a column about how, nowadays, life is indeed imitating art.  
There are three reasons for the political and social upheaval we are seeing across the Americas and Western Europe. Three reasons for why our assumptions about politics have been upended.

One, the racist Right – whose leaders this newspaper has long been at the forefront of exposing, by the way – have gotten smarter. Starting with Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, far Right haters have dispensed with the Klansmen’s robes and the cross burnings. They have changed their public image. Now, they march in polo shirts and carry Tiki torches – and they offer slogans that are “pro white” and not “anti” minorities.

These racist leaders have studied, and copied, the proven PR techniques of mainstream political parties. They have presented a kinder, gentler face to the media and the voting public, and it has paid off (see Trump, Brexit, above).

Two, their timing has been impeccable. In the Seventies, the extremists railed against fluoridation and the metric system. In the Eighties, it was abortion and gay rights. In the nineties and beyond, however, the racist Right have targeted immigrants and refugees. And it’s paid dividends, in a big, big way.

It isn’t racist, of course, to oppose higher levels of immigration. It isn’t intolerant to want to debate how many refugees a country wishes to welcome.

But a variety of factors – Middle Eastern wars, Islamic extremism, severe climate change – have resulted in millions of immigrants and refugees looking for better places to live. Many North Americans and Western Europeans have grown uneasy about the immigrant wave. And that, more than any other factor, has resulted in stunning political change – from Brexit in the U.K., to the National Front in France, to Trump in the U.S. 

Thirdly and finally, the fanatics at the fringes know that solutions, these days, are pretty hard to come by. In 2017, the challenges we all face are complex, as are the solutions. So, the “alt-Rightists” and the “white nationalists” offer simple and seductive promises. They push emotional buttons, not moral ones.

And that’s why the haters are on the march, everywhere.

I wish I had foreseen all of that when I wrote Recipe For Hate, but I didn’t.

Now that Western society is being shaken to its foundations, however, all of us will be affected, in one way or another.

And that’s not fiction.

Warren Kinsella is the author of Recipe For Hate, published across North America and Europe by Dundurn Press.


Holocaust Education Week event, in pictures


Sold dozens of books, and had the great honour to meet some extraordinary people, including Holocaust survivors. Quite a night.


Tonight at the ROM: confronting Holocaust denial

Please come!  I will be there after the discussion with a limited number of copies of Recipe For Hate!  The panel starts at 7 p.m. in the Eaton Theatre.  Link here.

Holocaust Education Week Program
Confronting Holocaust Denial: A Canadian Experience

Just over thirty years ago, the infamous Holocaust denier and rabble rouser Ernst Zündel (1939 – 2017) published and disseminated pamphlets promoting Holocaust denial from his home in Cabbagetown, Toronto. Zündel was eventually charged under the Canadian Criminal Code, section 181, of spreading false news through his notorious publications. The lengthy and complex legal proceedings of the 1980s galvanized the Canadian Jewish community and defined an era characterized by social justice, an increased awareness of Holocaust education and the fight for the truth. To explore this pivotal moment in Canadian history, the Neuberger in partnership with the Royal Ontario Museum presents a panel of esteemed speakers who witnessed these events unfold and were part of the history making process. Panel moderator Bernie M. Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) was at the forefront of fighting Holocaust denial in Canada and is a recognized expert on hate crime. Among his many publications is From Marches to Modems: A Report on Organized Hate in Metropolitan Toronto (1997), a seminal work on the changing landscape of Holocaust denial in Toronto. Panelists include Gerda Frieberg, Holocaust survivor, business woman, activist and former chair of the CJC’s Ontario Region; Warren Kinsella, a Toronto-based journalist, political adviser and commentator; and Bill Dunphy, a veteran investigative journalist who extensively covered the trials.

Program Partner:
Holocaust Education Week
Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre


Making fun of people who you think are beneath you

One night, we were gathered around the kitchen table in Calgary, me and my pals were, and my Dad was listening to us. The conversation turned to astrology. I started making fun of people who believed in it. 

“What a bunch of idiots,” I said. “They actually believe their personalities can be determined by the position of stars jillions of miles away. Morons.”

My chums joined in. Soon, we were loudly making fun of psychics, homeopathic medicine and the religious, too. 

My Dad, who was a scientist, spoke up. “Gentlemen,” he said, in that quiet way he had, “there is nothing more cruel than mocking others for their harmless personal beliefs.”

And that stopped us cold. 

Anyway. We have a new Governor-General, and she is a scientist too. In recent days, she got together with some fellow scientists and mocked people who believe in God, homeopathy and astrology. 

Here’s direct quotes of what she said:

“Can you believe that still today…we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.

…[or that] taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here’s personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations.”

According to the CBC, here, the folks there all had a good laugh. They thought people who believe those things are idiots, too, and  are therefore worthy of ridicule. Ho, ho. 

But, you know, they’re not. And, just for the record, I’ve always thought astrology was kooky and that holistic medicine was goofy, too. I’ve always lacked proof that God, you know, exists. 

But. 

Since that long-ago day my Dad taught us a lesson, I’ve religiously believed this: if a person believes something imaginary is real, and they’re not hurting anyone else, they should be left alone. If someone thinks they’re a “Leo” (as I apparently am), who fucking cares? Would it kill anyone to let them keep believing that?

People get through tough times by believing in imaginary things. For example, can you believe there is actually someone in Canada  who believes her title is “Her Excellency, the Right Honourable, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M, C.D.”? Can you believe that this unelected person believes she is the “vice-regal” emissary of a family in Britain who are “royal” because God personally chose them?

Ho, ho. Can you believe that? Don’t you want to mock a person who believes that? 

Personally, I don’t intend to. If she wants to believe in harmless fictions, let her.


The pivot: Rod Phillips, and why Patrick Brown needs to emulate Jean Chretien

My old friend (“old” because we’ve known each other for just about two decades, not “old” because we are both, you know, older) Rod Phillips is running for Patrick Brown’s PCs in the riding of Ajax in the next provincial election.

Is it a huge pick-up for Brown?  It is.

Is it good for Ontario politics? It is.

I (and many, many others) encouraged Rod to run.  He is precisely the kind of moderate, fair-minded person we need more of in public life.  He can work with people of all ideological persuasions (e.g., Ontario Liberals appointed him to a senior position at the lottery corporation, and he leads the non-partisan CivicAction), and he has a proven record of success in the business world (e.g., he leaves Postmedia after lifting the newspaper giant into a net earnings position, as opposed to the net losses they encountered in the Paul Godfery era).

We got to know each other best when working for our mutual friend John Tory during John’s first mayoral run, in 2003.  I came to see Rod as a sober, sensible second-thought kind of guy – the kind of person we have precious few of, in these dark and dangerous Trump times.

His candidacy, then, is a big win for Patrick Brown.  But Brown needs to do more. And, for help, he need look no further than my former boss Jean Chretien.

In the difficult 1990-1993 period, Chretien faced three persistent criticisms.  One, he didn’t have any good ideas.  Two, he had a hidden agenda – what he was saying he’d do wasn’t what he’d said he’d do in the past (on everything from abortion to deficits).  And, three, Chretien didn’t have any star candidates, and his party was at war with itself.

So what did he do?  He did this.

  1.  To those who didn’t like him, Chretien would say: “Take a look at my Red Book and my team!”
  2. To those who didn’t like his platform, he’d say: “Take a look at my team – and you know me, you can trust me!”
  3. And to those who didn’t like his team, he’d say: “I’ve got the plan to make things better – and I’ve held every major government portfolio, and I know how to make it all happen!”

He pivoted.  And, three back-to-back majorities later, I’d say he kind of did okay, you know?

Patrick Brown is beefing up his team with the likes of Rod Phillips and Caroline Mulroney.  Next, he needs to start teasing out his policies, to address the “hidden agenda” and “empty vessel” criticisms.  And, most of all, he needs to get better known – and convince voters that he represents (per Clinton) change, versus more of the same.

Can he do that? We shall see, soon enough.  I’ll only say this: if Kathleen Wynne could prove all the pundits wrong (including this one), and win big in 2014, Patrick Brown can win big in 2018, too.

Just hire more guys like Rod.  And, you know, copy that Chretien guy.

 


Column: oppo works – and it can work against Trump

Hate him. 

The 70 per cent of Americans who self-identify as Democrats or Independents share one thing: they hate, hate, hate Donald Trump. They want him gone. Impeached, indicted, whatever. Gone.

The 30 per cent of who still call themselves Republicans, however, love him. They adore him. They stick with him.

No amount of controversy, no new outrage, deters them. They remain devoted to the Unpresident. As such, elected Republicans are afraid to oppose him. Those who detest Trump (cf. Senators Flake and Corker) fear the wrath of the lunatic Trumpian media (cf. Fox and Friends, Breitbart, Alex Jones). So they choose flight over fight.

Politicos and political scientists are frustrated by the stubborn Trump voter. Entire forests have been felled to print analyses about how pry lose Trump’s core voters. Racism allegations didn’t work (mainly because a lot of them are racist). Sexism allegations didn’t work (ditto). Allegations about mental instability didn’t work, either (sigh).

But, this week, something revisited the public consciousness. Something that just might work. And it was the product of “oppo.”

This writer has been doing oppo for political parties for decades. Oppo, however disparaged it is by the mainstream, persists because it works.

Now, notwithstanding the many mythologies that have developed around James Carville’s Clinton-era war room, and just about every other war room since, opposition research – “oppo,” as it’s called – is neither new nor glamorous. It is, instead, frequently boring work that has been done in political campaigns since the beginning of time. 

Sometimes it wins campaigns, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always worth doing.

Oppo is just one part of a large and complex campaign organization, drawing together press relations, polling, field organization, debate preparation, advertising and the candidate’s own retail politicking. At best, an oppo team’s damaging revelation will throw an opponent off his or her campaign “message” for a day or so. But rarely will it win a race on its own.

By the early 1990s in the United States, oppo started to come into its own. Larry Sabato, one of the most acute observers of the unloved species that calls itself a political consultant, estimates that there was a 200 per cent growth in opposition research firms in the U.S. in this period. Such paid, full-time professional political consultants, as opposed to the ad hoc, decidedly amateurish political consultants that had preceded them, had become a big, multimillion-dollar business. 

Oppo is ubiquitous now. Technological advances have enabled the media, and politicians, to do things that had been previously only dreamed of. In the case of politicos, technology and the Internet (and its dangerous progeny, Facebook and Twitter) permitted even the most modest campaign to develop crucial databases containing information about opponents. 

James Carville once told me he doesn’t agree with the naysayers say about oppo. “Look,” he told me, “the best way to do this game is to get all your information, and then get all your information out. The voters deserve more information, you know? We’re not in this business to be mean or negative. We’re in it to draw distinctions, and to draw distinctions that favour our side. So we just go out and try and be very honest about these distinctions, these differences.” 

Which leads us, in a circuitous fashion, to this bit of oppo: there is a tape that exists, that real people have really seen. It shows something that happened in room 1101 at the Ritz in Moscow on November 9, 2013. Here, according to one of the people who has seen it, is what it shows:

“There were other aspects to [the target’s] engagement with the Russian authorities. One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit [the target’s] personal obsessions and sexual perversions in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him. According to Source D, where s/he had been present, [the target’s] conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel where he knew President and Mrs. Obama (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under [Russian federal Security Service] control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.”

The target of the oppo effort – initially paid for by Republicans, later by Democrats – was one Donald J. Trump. 

So, read that passage above again, and then ask yourself: when this oppo work ever becomes public – and it will, guaranteed – will Trump’s voters stay with him? Will they remain loyal?

This war room guy’s hunch: they will do what has been long-predicted, and is long overdue. Namely:

Drop him.