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Outing a Tory dirty trickster: Helmets off to Sun Media’s Peladeau

Posted by jsallot under Election 2011, Election 2011 Campaign strategy, Election 2011 Faculty links, Election 2011 Media commentary, Media Commentary, Uncategorized

Jeff Sallot

The Sun Media Corp., which now includes the Sun News Network on TV, likes to mix some fun with its political coverage.  So it wasn’t any great surprise that the flagship Toronto Sun ran a Photoshopped picture of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff on its front page last week to go with a story inside the paper.

Labeled (in small print) a “photo illustration,” the picture showed Ignatieff wearing a desert camouflage army helmet. It might not have been immediately apparent to readers the photo was a spoof, a digital equivalent of an editorial page cartoon.

The accompanying story suggested that Ignatieff was in bed big time with the Pentagon and the Bush administration in the run up to the Iraq invasion by the U.S. Ignatieff has always acknowledged his political support for the invasion. But the Sun story suggested Ignatieff, who ran a Harvard think tank at the time, helped with Pentagon war planning.

The story didn’t have the kind of legs it needed to become an election issue last week. But in a strange twist that could change with Sun Media’s acknowledgement today that the story was peddled to the news organization by a Conservative political operative, Patrick Muttart,  who used to be Stephen Harper’s deputy chief of staff.

Moreover, the package of info included a compelling digital photo showing someone looking a lot of like Ignatieff “in American military fatigues, brandishing a rifle in a picture purported to have been taken in Kuwait in December 2002,” says Pierre Karl Peladeau, the president of Sun Media.

Muttart passed along this package, including the spurious photo, to Kory Teneycke, a Sun Media executive, three weeks ago, Peladeau says in a piece posted to the Toronto Sun web site this morning.

Yes, that’s the same Kory Teneycke who was once Harper’s director of communications. (The political right in Canada is a small world.)

Peladeau says Sun Media journalists did their due diligence and couldn’t establish the provenance of the photo Teneycke provided. So they didn’t run it.

“Bad information is an occupational hazard in this business,” Peladeau says.  “And fortunately our in-house protocols prevented the unthinkable. But it is the ultimate source of this material that is profoundly troubling to me, my colleagues and, I think, should be of concern to all Canadians. It is my belief that this planted information was intended to first and foremost seriously damage Michael Ignatieff’s campaign but in the process to damage the integrity and credibility of Sun Media and, more pointedly, that of our new television operation, Sun News.”

Whew. When right-wing romances are over they are really over.

As refreshing as it is to see a news organization out a political dirty trickster, Sun Media isn’t entirely off the hook. Sun Media could do more to make sure its Photoshopped “photo illustrations” are better labeled as being a spoof.