Ignatieff campaign attempts to interfere with public broadcaster's editorial policy
Warren Kinsella, a senior aide to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, attempted to interfere with an editorial decision made by a public broadcaster today.
TV Ontario invited Kathy Shaidle, who blogs at Five Feet of Fury, to debate the "atheist bus" campaign. Kinsella, who was hand-picked by Ignatieff to head up the Liberal war-room, immediately went ballistic, contacting the show's host, Steve Paikin, and demanding that Shaidle be un-invited.
Then Kinsella continued his hysterics, e-mailing provincial MPPs and staff, screeching that Shaidle must be persona non grata. He tried to get an online "campaign" going to stop her.
To their credit, the Liberal government of Ontario ignored Kinsella.
Kinsella had objected to some of Kathy's spicier comments, especially about multiculturalism. I think Kathy would probably agree that sometimes her choice of words is rude -- I think that's often her deliberate choice. It's her style, and people can take it or leave it. But whether TVO, or the CBC, or any other news organization, public or private, chooses to interview her is their own independent editorial decision. For the senior advisor to the Leader of the Opposition to demand that a news outlet declare anyone a non-person is outrageous. It's un-Canadian for politicians to tell us what we can or can't hear.
Is this a sign of how Ignatieff and the Liberal war room will operate during the campaign? Will they try to bully and harangue reporters who dare to report news that Ignatieff doesn't like?
Will they e-mail producers and editors lists of who are approved people to speak with, and who are on blacklists?
Will they attempt to use levers of government power -- as Kinsella did here by contacting TVO's responsible MPP in the Ontario government -- to force journalists to comply with Ignatieff's demands, if the reporters and producers, like Paikin and his producer Dan Dunsky, are too non-partisan to take their marching orders from any political party?
These are not hypothetical questions. After the APEC scandal, where Jean Chretien's PMO was found to have ordered the RCMP to pepper spray peaceful protesters at the University of British Columbia, Liberal political staffers tried to cover up the PMO's foul moves by putting political pressure on Terry Milewski, the CBC's reporter on the file. They were relentless, both politically and legally, especially as Milewski got closer and closer to the truth about Liberal interference with police decisions.
The CBC, to their eternal discredit, caved, taking Milewski off the story.
That was a dark chapter for the CBC and for press freedom in Canada. It's deeply troubling that, right when the Ontario Human Rights Commission is proposing a government agency to monitor journalists and to "correct" them when they're politically incorrect, Ignatieff's campaign jumps on the idea and tries to take it for a spin.
Did Michael Ignatieff approve of this heavy-handed move by his senior aide? Or was he suprised and embarrassed, again?
At least when Chretien's PMO muscled the CBC, they weren't so stupid as to do so via a public campaign of intimidation. Instead, it was a more surgical, quiet attack on the CBC behind the scenes. Kinsella, by contrast, announced his every move -- including his e-mails to TVO's political bosses -- for the world to see. That's about as stupid as, oh, say, when Kinsella worked at the Public Works ministry, and he put in writing his demand to the civil service to funnel all advertising and polling contracts through Chuck Guite. Not subtle, this one.
A thought experiment: What would be the reaction if the head of the Conservative war room, Jason Kenney, had done the same thing? What if Kenney had written to the CBC, demanding that they no longer interview someone who had uttered bigoted remarks (oh, say, someone who had said that Chinese people eat cat meat, and serve it in Canadian restaurants)? And, if the CBC's producers and reporters had studiously ignored him, what if Kenney would have then contacted the federal minister in charge of the CBC, and demanded that they blackball that same Liberal bigot?
Of course such a scenario would rightly be a political scandal.
Which brings me back to a theme I've been on for a while: why is the professor allowing the frat boy to embarrass the Liberal party on a weekly basis?
It's one thing for Kinsella to go off on his nutty tangents on his own -- to smear Chinese Canadians, to attempt to bully public broadcasters, etc. That shows his own bad judgment and his own lack of respect for intellectual diversity and freedom of speech.
But he's doing it in Ignatieff's name. He's doing it in the Liberal Party's name. Because -- as he so gleefully announced to the world -- he was hand-picked by Ignatieff to head up the war room.
You can't be both an independent pundit and a partisan hack without people confusing the two. When I worked for the Tory war room last fall, I stopped blogging. It wasn't that I was worried about embarrassing the party with a gaffe, though that was a possibility. It's that blogging on my own favourite issues would confuse my readers: was I speaking for myself or for the party? It's a pretty obvious problem.
But not obvious enough for either Kinsella to control himself, or for Ignatieff to control him, or for any other grown-ups in the Liberal Party to do something about it.
Week after week, Kinsella's increasingly erratic and extreme antics keep grabbing the news. Sometimes it's big news -- like the massive media coverage of Catscam. Sometimes it's smaller news, but news that sticks to the Liberals, like this whiff of media interference. What will it be next week?
I am sympathetic to the Tories, so I suppose I should cheer this lack of professionalism in the Liberal ranks. But it's still deeply troubling to me as a Canadian that any political party that aspires to be government would countenance the kind of journalistic censorship exhibited today by Kinsella.
POSTSCRIPT: There is a touch of comedy to this. Kinsella went apoplectic all day, whipping up the masses against TVO's journalistic independence. He exhorted his multitudes of readers (he once claimed to have a quarter million hits a day!) to demand Kathy's ouster. As of midnight tonight precisely twelve people have commented on TVO's web page for the episode -- six for her ouster, six against. Methinks the Liberal war room is a touch rusty.