Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Lying in politics? Everybody does it

Further to my Queen’s Quay Karen post, here are some remarks uttered Friday by Nick Kouvalis,  who managed the campaign of Toronto’s mayor-elect Rob Ford.

From The Globe and Mail:

Rob Ford’s campaign took steps to ensure John Tory wouldn’t enter the mayoral race – and it worked, the mayor-elect’s campaign manager says.

Mr. Tory, who first announced he wasn’t running for mayor in January, 2010, says he’s flattered someone thought he warranted the attention but wasn’t rattled by attempts to reinforce a decision he’d already made.

The campaign had someone from Mr. Ford’s team phone up Mr. Tory’s radio show to slag him on the air as part of a four-point strategy to ensure he didn’t run, Nick Kouvalis told a room of the electorally curious Friday morning. The breakfast gave campaign managers from the mayoral race a chance to discuss their strategies.

“They were talking about some issue that had nothing to do with the campaign, but the first call they took was from one of our guys,” Mr. Kouvalis said. “That person called into the radio show and challenged John’s integrity, and then John decided not to get in the race. And that was a huge victory for Rob. We kept John out and Rob won because of it.”

The fictitious woman who phoned up Mr. Tory’s radio show to impugn his integrity identified herself as Karen Philby.

That was the same name fronting a Twitter account that Ford campaign staffer Fraser Macdonald created to trick an HIV-positive man suffering from chronic pain into giving up a recording of Mr. Ford offering to “score” him street OxyContin.

But maybe I shaketh my head too much. Maybe I’m judging politics by the wrong criteria.

Councillor Peter Milczyn, who had been encouraging Mr. Tory to run but later threw his support behind Mr. Ford, said the strategy doesn’t make him think less of Mr. Ford as a mayor.

“Politics is a dirty business,” he said. “I think they ran an excellent campaign. It was a very disciplined, focused campaign.”

As for Tory?

… He insists the Ford campaign’s tactics didn’t change his mind – they only reinforced his conviction that the city’s political scene is too mean-spirited and sordid to accomplish anything constructive.

The Toronto Star added this insight in its version:

In a post-forum scrum with reporters, Kouvalis refused to divulge who called Tory’s show. He has said the fake Twitter account was set up by Fraser Macdonald, a 24-year campaign staffer about to enter law school.

Kouvalis denied the anonymous call and fake Twitter account were “dirty tricks,” portraying them as a normal part of campaigns done by all sides.

Fake tweets from the queensquaykaren account continued throughout the campaign, long after Macdonald obtained the recorded call, and included attacks on Sarah Thomson after she quit the race and endorsed Smitherman.

In his presentation, Kouvalis said Ford’s mayoral rivals “are far more articulate than Rob and most words, when you’re talking about transportation, have four syllables or more.”

He then choked up and appeared near tears while describing Ford going out in the middle of the night to help a player he coaches on a high school football team who had been arrested and had nowhere to stay.

“Give Robbie a chance. He means well. He wants to do the right thing for the taxpayer . . . He’s going to be a good mayor.”

But you can see one flaw of journalism. It’s probably true that Kouvalis said the anecdote about Ford. The anecdote itself might even be true.

However, keep in mind that it came from someone who defends dishonesty and subterfuge by saying everyone does it. The amusing thing is, Ford said the following during the campaign: “There are people out there that will do everything in their power to make sure that I’m not mayor of this great city.”

Don’t believe me when I say he said that? Watch the report by CTV Toronto’s Natalie Johnson from the OxyContin controversy on June 17. The quote starts about 28 seconds in. I guess what Ford said was true when viewed through the lens of his campaign team. What he didn’t say is, “My team will do everything in its power to make sure I’m mayor of this great city.”

Should the Star have even included Kouvalis’s anecdote about Ford in its story without engaging in some verification?

What happens in a world where the lies and exaggeration outpace the ability of news organizations to verify? Is that the world we have now, or will it be even worse?

Another problem for journalism is the fact that a person has lied or engaged in dirty tricks quickly becomes old news. It would look weird to say, “political official X, who lied about Y on date Z” over and over again.

Message-tracking works. People believe consistency, even if the politician is consistently spouting nonsense to them. And if the politician is being amplified consistently across earned media platforms, it won’t matter if a few nattering nabobs of negativism prove his statements are bogus.

The only time a politician will really pay a price for lying is if they piss people off on a massive scale. The prime example of the moment is B.C.’s Premier Gordon Campbell, who announced Wednesday he will be resigning.

Campbell had said in the 2009 B.C. provincial election that an HST wasn’t on the table. After his Liberals were safely re-elected,  the government introduced a HST. Information came out that showed the government was indeed thinking about an HST before the election. The public doesn’t roll like that in B.C. (here’s a story I did on the difference in HST anger between B.C. and Ontario).

Maybe Campbell and his team thought the risks of not getting  re-elected in 2009 by running openly on the HST were higher than lying about not doing it.

I would guess politicians often calculate that they’ll be forgiven for breaking trust, or at least that people will forget. So it’s worth taking the risk of lying.

And in any event, everybody does it — right? Just ask Kouvalis.

I found some comfort in this Onion headline: “American public gets what it deserves for 112th straight election.”

Sat, November 6 2010 » Main Page, Media, politics