Musings —11.08.2010 07:55 AM—
Last Friday, I spoke to an Ottawa Citizen reporter. He asked me general questions about criticizing one’s opponent in an election. I said to him – I keep records of these things – a politician’s “personal life is off-limits.” That’s a quote.
On Saturday morning, the reporter’s story showed up in the paper. To call it bullshit is to understate things. So I wrote a note to his editors, both of whom I have had the pleasure to work with.
Dear Gerry and Drew:
I hope you are both well.
Yesterday, I spoke with the paper’s Lee Greenberg. This morning, he has a story that has the following hed:
“McGuinty Liberals take aim at Tory leader’s wife as pre-election messaging heats up“
Within the story, the words that Lee apparently feels support the allegation above are:
“In what promises to be a bloody political war in Ontario this year, one of the first targets could be Deb Hutton, the wife of Conservative leader Tim Hudak.”
“Now, a senior Liberal strategist is hinting she is fair game in the ongoing battle between Ontario’s two chief parties.”
“Warren Kinsella, who has run the Liberal war room in the past two provincial election campaigns, says a recent Tory advertisement might have opened the door to attacks.”
“Kinsella also took a dig at the couple, saying Hutton “has, quite frankly, had much more involvement in politics than Tim,” while also questioning the party’s choice to put her in an advertisement.”
(I’ve added emphasis to make my point clearer.)
Those words seem to be the sum total of the evidence Lee marshals to support the headline, which is not factual.
In my conversation with Lee, a record of which I kept, I clearly stated to him that a politician’s personal life should not be the subject of criticism. At no time did I state what the headline does – namely, that the Liberals are “taking aim” at Ms. Hutton, who I know and like.
I also told Lee that I have no title with any future Liberal campaign, I have been a volunteer on past ones, and I have no idea – none, zero – about what will be the focus in the election that is about a year away. Speaking as a proud alumnus of the Citizen newsroom, I would say that peppering a story with “could bes” and “hintings” and “might haves” is lousy journalism, and something that would not have been permitted when I was there (and I fail to see how stating that Deb has lots of political experience is a “dig” at her, by the by; from my perspective, it’s not an insult). None of this speculative writing assists the paper’s readers in any way.
I would therefore ask that there be a correction published, as soon as possible, to make clear those readers that, at no time, did I state that Deb is going to be “targeted” by any future Liberal campaign. That is flatly and outrageously false. In the meantime, I won’t be speaking to Lee again, and I’ll be encouraging my political friends – of all stripes – to do likewise.
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible, and hope you have a nice weekend.
Anyway. I quickly got a note back from the paper’s editor, who said “I think the head does go further than the story and should be amended.” The story – which had not shown up in the paper edition – quickly disappeared online.
Today, the Citizen has published a greatly diluted version of the original story. In it, there is this line, which the reporter had perhaps forgotten to include in his original story:
“[Kinsella] added that he does not support broadening electioneering to include family members.”
So, um, I guess that is the opposite of what the reporter originally wrote, isn’t it? As in, what he wrote the first time was unadulterated bullshit?
I’ve spoken to Conservative friends about this reporter. They now tell me that this reporter was trying to whip them up, and falsely told them that my words were far worse, in order that he could get a suitably outraged reaction. They didn’t fall for it.
So what’s it all mean, Virginia? Well, it’s a cautionary media tale, I guess. Sometimes you can say one thing, and a dishonest journalist will print the exact opposite.
The moral of the tale?
Don’t ever talk to Lee Greenberg. I sure don’t plan to.