Defending public manipulation? Really, Macleans?


For Heaven’s sake, Fritzie! If we ever stopped lying to each other, how would we ever get to the truth?

—Brenda Leigh Johnson to Fritz Howard in The Closer


If you actually think that reporters are free agents out to find facts and present them neutrally, you ought to take a good look at this article in Macleans:

The right (and wrong) way to leak to a journalist

Stephen Maher: The recent leaking of a draft bill by the Ontario NDP was amateurish in the extreme. Here’s how these things are supposed to work.

It is this passage with the paragraphs I underlined that are truly remarkable:

Typically, oppo researchers decide who will get their leaks based on their experience with the reporter and the reach of their outlet — they give a good Toronto story to the biggest Toronto outlet and a difficult story to a good digger at a big paper.

This system allows opposition politicians to stand up in the House, point to the scoop and demand answers, without ever letting on that people who work for them had a role in the whole thing.

It is a fine system, and works pretty well no matter who is in charge, which is why smart journalists do their best to suck up to oppo researchers of all parties while maintaining a healthy skepticism about their bosses.

A fine system? Suck up?

Sorry, you cannot “suck up” to operatives and be skeptical of their bosses. They are a package deal — and you do realize their bosses are on to that, oh, decades ago.

Advocating public manipulation? Really? Let’s fool the little people by pretending that a reporter is not some sort of quasi-agent to an opposition party?

Memo to Macleans: you are not supposed to play along, where you are given strategic dirt on behest of another party, and you act as their proxy so they can then claim you found the scoop, and then they can vogue during question period to “demand” answers.

That’s rigged.

And it’s deceptive.

Because that calls everything else you do into question.

I am not naive. There is always an element of give and take. People don’t do things out of the goodness of their hearts, particularly not when it comes to an Establishment property.

The NDP were careless and not focussed on anything else but getting publicity and keeping on the good side of unions who voted for them. Throwing their source under a bus is a serious misstep, and will make future disenfranchised saboteurs wary of trusting them again. They got off topic, and they should know better by now.

But it is not journalism’s place to agree to take a script from a vested newsmaker and then pretend they didn’t. You become tainted. Many leakers have a vested interest and are manipulating public opinion — and many leakers are not some unpaid intern — they are The Man, or The Man is just using a proxy. This is the reason leaks are extremely problematic. Not useless, but are used as bait to push an exploitative agenda, or manipulative public opinion through the shadow of fear through cloak and dagger means.

It is often used to inoculate the public or test public response — what is known as a kite flying.

There is no transparency, and you are missing critical pieces of the puzzle, that, if you knew what was hidden, you would have a vastly different and more accurate response.

It is a manipulative hot mess, and as usual, the press and the politicians are involved up to their eyeballs in it…