Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The media, Vander Zalm and the HST-cut rumours

What we're supposed to offer, those of us in Sarah Palin's "lamestream media," is quality assurance.
A wild-eyed blogger - as opposed to a steely-eyed one - might report an unsubstantiated claim the premier was about to announce a cut in the HST rate, for example.
But professional reporters would carefully check out the rumour. If the sources were shaky or non-existent, the story wouldn't make it - or at least it would make it clear that the information was one step above coffee-shop gossip. (Though really, why report something one step above gossip? Not reporting seems the best option.)
That quality assurance wobbled last week. A little before midnight last Wednesday, Bill Vander Zalm and the Fight HST forces issued a press released headlined "Rumours abound Campbell will reduce HST rate on Friday."
That's when the premier was to address the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The Vander Zalm release cited "reliable sources" who also confirmed Campbell would announce the HST referendum would be held earlier than next September.
The CBC and CTV bit with news stories Thursday. The CBC report noted the premier's office called the rumours "completely untrue." CTV reports had similar denials and a weird quote from Vander Zalm that "sometimes these very reliable sources may not be that reliable."
But the chance of an HST rate cut was reported seriously based solely on Vander Zalm's e-mailed news release.
Well, not solely. The Province's clever columnist Mike Smyth, in a piece written before Vander Zalm dropped his bomb, asked "could Gordon Campbell announce a reduction in the harmonized sales tax at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention this week?" And CBC reporters said the capital was buzzing with rumours Campbell would announce the provincial share of the HST would be reduced from seven to six per cent.
I'm sure rumours were buzzing. But that could mean one person was spreading the same rumour to anyone who would listen, who would then say, yeah, I heard that too.
Campbell didn't announce a reduction in the HST. Finance Minister Colin Hansen said Vander Zalm must be hearing voices.
Over at pacificgazette.blogspot.com, perhaps the most consistently interesting B.C. blog, the Gazetter believes the evidence points to some successful media manipulation.
The Liberal government floated the rumour of a cut in the HST to draw attention to Campbell's speech, the theory goes, and Vander Zalm and company spread the rumour of an earlier vote on the HST to make mischief.
I expect he gives almost everyone involved too much credit. The reports of an HST rate cut didn't help the Liberals. Anything Campbell had to offer at UBCM - and he didn't have much - would seem anticlimactic after the rumours of big announcements.
And Vander Zalm ended up looking goofy - the man whose reliable sources were not.
Vander Zalm said it wasn't his problem if the media chose to report his claims.
Which does seem like the issue in all this. As a young reporter, in the last days of typewriters, I learned from Harold Evan's five-book series on newspapering and All the President's Men, the Woodward-Bernstein book on Watergate.
Two sources, was the rule. Two credible people, in a position to know, who could vouch for the accuracy of the information to be reported.
None of this is simple. Vander Zalm is a public figure right now; if he says a big tax change is coming, should the media refuse to report that?
If they do, they can be called irresponsible. If they don't, they're keeping information from the people.
What we should bring to the relationship with readers, viewers and listeners, are judgment, experience and intelligence.
I can't discern any guiding intelligence behind the HST rumours.
But I also don't think it was a great week for the paid media workers.
Footnote: Two other points. As the Gazetteer notes, the focus on the rumour came at the expense of other reporting, including on StatsCan numbers that showed the Canadian economy shrank in July in part because of the HST's impact.
And why the rush to report on speculation about the speech, when by the next day everyone would know exactly what Campbell said.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the announcement has made Vanderzam look goofy. Brilliant would be more like it. But a concerted front of Liberal leaning pundits, telling everyone
that taking $2,000,000 out of consumers' pockets during a recession, and putting it into the bottom line of a few big businesses is such a good thing for all of us - that's goofy. Especially considering that the same folks, just a few years ago were saying that cutting taxes for the richest British Columbians was the best thing for the economy. Now that's goofy too. And more lately it sounds like the folks at CKNW Radio have their marching orders, and have now stooped to personally demonizing the volunteers who organized the anti- HST referendum. That's not goofy, it's deplorable.

Raymond Graham

DPL said...

Whomever raised the story managed to outflank Gordo's big event at the UBCM. As Smythe said maybe not at the convention but it will be lowered. Gordo is getting desperate as more and more folks are telling his its time to go.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Vaughn Palmer went to the same "school" as you did on the importance of getting two sources for a quote for his columns?

eg. ""Mr. Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun had written an article that contained what appeared to be confidential information -- that he wouldn't otherwise know," McCullough said, going on to read the e-mail into the record.

"Subject: Palmer. Mahoney: Where does Palmer get his stuff?""


Anonymous said...

I think Campbell’s days are numbered. Having attended UBCM this year and listening to the speech from every BC leader I can tell you that Campbell’s speech was the only one that got multiple standing ovations’ and a thunderous applause on many occasions from those in the audience.

Now to some of you, that may come as shocking, because after all the media has reported this was an empty speech and offered nothing in it. So how could it possibly be so well received when it apparently contained nothing? Well it might interest you to know that two of the reporters who were first to proclaim it as an “empty” speech didn’t even attend or hear the speech in person. That’s right, both Paul Willcocks and Vaughn Palmer were not even there to see the speech, or the reaction from the audience (which was basically ALL of our local government mayors, councillor’s, and regional district directors.)

Now, I am not writing this comment to defend Campbell or his speech, but I will say I am not the only one who was rather shocked to see reporters who were not even there in the audience reporting in such an “expert” (and very negative manner) for something they clearly made no effort to attend. And now to see Willcocks, one of those guilty of not attending the speech (but casting judgement on it) is lecturing other media on the lessons apparently to be learned from Harold Evan’s is a bit much.

I know the defence will be that “the speech was heard over a telephone” but the phone does not show you body language, facial expressions, and certainly does not show you standing ovations and likely probably didn’t truly indicate the level of applause. But clearly, people like Willcocks could care less, and yet VanderZalm, we are told by Paul, is the one apparently looking goofy.

Anonymous said...

Stop attacking Paul Willcock who has written his usual thoughtful balanced column.

From Jeff Lee's Vancouver Sun blog who definitely was at UBCM:

"The premier's speech wasn't heard by the throngs of municipal politicians who usually crowd into the assembly hall to hear him speak. This time, there were many empty chairs and the applause was sometimes desultory."

I heard Campbell's speech and applause (and any laughter) was pro forma.

The overwhelming media consensus is that the speech failed: the joke about the HST, 20 minutes about the Olympics. Of course there were the grand transportation re-announcements including extending Skytrain to Langley (both Mayors are publicly, albeit politely, scoffing about that and noting lightrail is the way to go anyways).

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/Premier+promises+transport+projects+says+Liberals+fell+flat/3614572/story.html#ixzz11aWeMsAn

Anonymous said...

11:36 PM Anonymous

What are you, a politician, elected by the people to represent them, attacking a reporter who at least heard, word for word, what the Premier had to say in his speech.

You, however, I can't quite make out who you are, are hidden from view, and sound.

If you haven't read the Vancouver Sun's editorial comment this morning on Wally Oppal being the right man for the right job on the Pickton inquiry, they say that "we trust he will use his effective communications skills - which contributed to his effectiveness as a politician - to make sure that his findings form the basis of action by governments.........

Surely Gordon Campbell, a third term Premier has far more communications skills than a one term MLA, the former Attorney General of British Columbia, to get his message across to all British Columbians.

You're blaming the messenger here. Right?

Guess what, you're the messenger!

Anonymous said...

You might find
story interesting, wherein Murray Dobbin reports on a meeting between Carole James and Jim Pattison that never happened.

Murray Dobbin responsibly posted a
mea culpa
, including Glen Clark's refutation of the report.

Anonymous said...

Here's a better link of what happened before the mea culpa, during the mea culpa and after the mea culpa on Dobbin's site:


Your first link, 10:03, goes to a site not related to Murray Dobin, therefore theres's no way to get a proper overview of what Mr. Dobin was writing about.

"For the record, your suggestion that Jim Pattison and I had a conversation regarding a Carole James visit is incorrect." - Glen Clark

You'll note, that although this is only a small quote from what Mr. Clark's said its a far cry from your claim that "a meeting between Carole James and Jim Pattison" ever took place.

Here's the whole story:


RossK said...

Like Mr. Willcocks, I first read "All The President's Men" when I was still banging a typewriter (non-electrified version)......

I'll respond to Paul's suggestion that I gave the putative spinners of the 'HST Reduction Rumour(s)' too much credit as soon as I get a chance over at my place.

In the meantime, I can't help but wonder if Mr. Woodward himself, now that he doesn't have Ben Bradlee looking over his shoulder everyday, still only runs with something if he has two verifiable sources.

And just a slightly off topic question before I get back to my real job for the moment.....Paul wrote a story that talked about why it is dangerous, or at the very least foolish, for proMedia types to wurlitzer rumours, regardless the source. Given that, why is he being attacked and smeared for partisanship I wonder?