Did blogosphere influence vote?

Corruption inquiry covered only on Web might have tipped Canadian election

Jan. 28, 2006

by David Kopel

On Monday, Canadian voters elected a new government, led by Stephen Harper and the Conservative party. Without the Internet, Paul Martin and the Liberals might still be ruling Canada.

Last year, Canadian Judge John Gomery was conducting an investigation of a money-laundering and kickback program in which the Liberal government had given $85 million to Montreal advertising firms. Rather than spending the money on advertising for government programs, the money was apparently distributed as payoffs to political allies. Gomery allowed the public to attend the public court hearings on the scandal, but forbade publication of events at the hearing. He hoped to be able to prevent the public from becoming prejudiced about the matter in the event that some of the alleged perpetrators were put on trial.

But a Canadian citizen who attended the hearing provided accounts to Minneapolis Web logger Ed Morrissey (who blogs at www.captainsquartersblog.com).Morrissey then published reports on his Captain's Quarters Web site. Canadian media continued to obey the publication ban, but Canada's CTV reported on the existence of Morrissey's site, which soon was attracting hundreds of thousands of readers daily.

Because Canada (unlike China) has not coerced major Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft into implementing a pervasive censorship system, Canadian citizens could easily read about their government's corruption. The diffusion of information about the Gomery inquiry critically weakened public support for the Liberal government, which lost office primarily because of corruption, rather than because of policy choices.

It would have been possible for an American newspaper Web site to have given Canadian readers the same information that Captain's Quarters did. When the newspapers failed to act, Captain's Quarters showed that bloggers can do more than just critique; they can report suppressed news and change the course of history.

The Rocky Mountain Newson Jan. 18 ran a New York Timesarticle that went far out of its way to mislead readers. The Timesaccurately reported that a newly declassified 2002 State Department memo stated that, because of logistical problems, it would have been difficult for Saddam Hussein to receive delivery of uranium bought from the West African nation of Niger.

Yet the writer spun the story as proof that Bush misled the American people when, in his 2003 State of the Union, he said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The Butler Report, an extensive British investigation of pre-war intelligence (which the Denver media ignored when it was released in the summer of 2004) affirmed that Bush's statement "was well-founded." Contrary to The New York Times'spin, neither Bush (nor British intelligence) claimed that Saddam had succeeded. Saddam's attempt, however, proved that he was attempting to restart his nuclear weapons program.

Because government is insufficiently intrusive, people are dying in Colorado. That was the message of a small group of people who rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday, urging that police officers be given the power to conduct traffic stops and issue tickets solely because an adult in the car is not wearing a seat-belt. (Current law forbids seat-belt- based traffic stops for persons over 16 years old; the police may issue tickets if they discover a beltless adult during a traffic stop for another purpose.) A Wednesday Newsarticle spent 16 paragraphs expressing the viewpoint of the proponents of the more intrusive law; but the article offered not a single word of balance from critics who argue that seat-belt stops could be employed discriminatorily, and that data from other states show that forcing some people to buckle up gives them an excess sense of security, so that they drive more aggressively, and cause more accidents.

Contrast the Newscoverage of the Tuesday Capitol event in which a few people made a point about 282 annual deaths with the much larger Saturday Capitol event in which hundreds of people protested against many thousands of deaths every year in Colorado. The Saturday event was an anti-abortion rally at which the keynote speaker was Brian Rohrbough, the father of a student murdered at Columbine High School in 1999. He argued that legal abortion helped create the culture of callousness toward the helpless that was responsible for the Columbine murders.

I don't agree with Rohrbough's theory, or with greater governments controls on pregnant women (or unbuckled drivers). But his point does deserve debate, and he is an established public voice on Columbine issues. It's hard to see the logic of the News paying so much attention to the small event while writing nothing about the large event with a well- known speaker, either in a pre-rally or post-rally story.

At least The Denver Postwas consistent: it ignored both events.

On Tuesday, both papers covered the pro/con abortion rallies in Washington; theNewseven put a Washington picture on the front page, to accompany a pathetic four-paragraph story on Page 25. On Monday, the Newsalso gave four paragraphs to pro/con abortion rallies in San Francisco. By covering faraway demonstrations and ignoring a significant local demonstration on the same subject, both papers displayed terrible news judgment.

More by Kopel on Canada.

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Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to Independence Institute, 727 East 16th Ave., Colorado 80203. Phone 303-279-6536. (email) webmngr @ i2i.org

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