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Back in 1999, when hip politicians like John Manley were gushing about the Internet, the Philadelphia Inquirer David Bold asked “If we are living in the middle of an information explosion, how come so few people are getting hit by any of it?” Well, fear not. Because now it seems every third news story carries the certification “experts say”.

Oddly, they always seem to say liberals are right. Including on the COVID file where they always favour more restrictions, for instance the Guardian’s Nov. 30 “Boris Johnson contradicts expert advice to curb Christmas socialising”. Or NBC’s August 14 double dip: “DeSantis and the GOP claim Covid is ‘pouring through’ the border. Experts are debunking them…. Experts say the rhetoric falls in line with a history of falsely blaming immigrants for the spread of disease in the United States.”

Sometimes it’s just vacuous, like the National Post headline “Pandemic will shape Liberal spending: experts” which I filed under “Thank goodness for experts” because “any idiot can see” would have worked too. But at least that one was true. Normally it’s just tendentious.

For instance NBC’s Dec. 6 “Fresh off the win in Texas, the anti-abortion movement could eye contraceptive access or in-vitro fertilization choices next, experts say.” And NPR’s Sept. 3 tweet “Texas law bans abortions after a ‘fetal heartbeat’ is detected, but doctors say that term isn’t based in science.” Doctors. Not “Some doctors”, or “Doctors we called until we got one to say what we wanted”.

Then there’s this 2013 gem from the Ottawa Citizen about “heavy lobbying from Israel to kill the recent nuclear deal with Iran by imposing stronger sanctions”. But see “Any new sanctions would scupper the deal and thereby seriously set back negotiations, profoundly upset U.S. allies and possibly lead to military action that could inflame the entire region, experts say.” And of course no experts say appeasement fuels further aggression. At least none we call.

Now you may think I’m cherry-picking. And NBC is a singularly chronic offender, with stories like “The 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is on Wednesday, and, once again, it will be absent any inductees of Asian descent. Historians and sociologists say that a combination of Major League Baseball’s racist roots, contractual constraints and ideas of language and belonging have contributed to the disparity.” Or “As some states move to ban critical race theory in schools, education experts say restrictions may spill over to textbooks.”

If I keep multiplying examples I’m going to run into one of those “editors say” situations. But it’s like these warnings now about a “far-right” politician in France. A Google search “far-right politician France” yields 2.38 billion hits. Wow. Pretty right-wing place. But this one is Eric Zemmour.

Frankly I don’t know whether he’s a reprobate, dunce and xenophobe, a sage and a saint or some typically human mix of good and bad qualities. But I do know I could read mainstream news feeds for a year and not be told someone is “far-left”. Not even Saule Omarova, of whom the New York Times said instead “Bank lobbyists and Republicans painted her as a communist because she was born in the Soviet Union” not because she wanted to nationalize banks and worse. As I could read them for a year without hearing that experts say we need more choice in Canadian health care, minimum wages hurt minorities or anything “right-wing”.

Reporters are rarely experts on anything, especially younger ones with joint degrees in journalism and grievance studies. At the Climate Discussion Nexus we have endless fun with “scientists say” claims from people whose backgrounds invite the riposte “How would you know?” But they consider themselves experts, in the deep truths of structural oppression if not messy details like who Martin Luther King Jr. actually was or Boyle’s Law. And here there’s a sociological component noted by Paul Kingsnorth about COVID, that the mania for controlling people stems in part from elite discomfort with the populist uprising that led to things like Brexit and Trump.

It’s one thing to have ordinary people make disapproved choices among options put before them by their betters, like George W. Bush over Al Gore. It’s quite another to have them reject the list of choices altogether, raising the panicky fear that they might do it again. And here most journalists, whatever their intellectual accomplishments, are in the elite in terms of college educations and lifestyles as well as shared assumptions. Including that no intelligent, civilized person could dissent from orthodoxy on climate, gender, COVID or, well, anything really.

There’s a long history of leading with “critics say” when you don’t like someone. But back in 1999 I was confident there were adults in newsrooms who knew they had a thumb on the scales.

Nowadays experts say otherwise.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


Now that I’ve had a few days to poke through the smoking wreckage of the Conservative Party’s crash site, I feel safe in saying that one key cause of the disaster was pilot error.

To put that in a less metaphoric way, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole doomed his campaign when he decided that his main objective in the race was to curry favour with the media by being a nice guy.

Indeed, O’Toole “niceness” in the campaign was exemplified by his communications strategy which was notable for its lack of aggressive anti-Trudeau attack ads; throughout the race, his messaging remained mostly positive.

Yes, I know being positive might sound appealing, but from a strategic communications perspective it’s an approach that, in my view, didn’t make a whole lot of sense in this particular election.

After all, attacks ads are proven to be an effective weapon when it comes to degrading opponents and certainly the Conservatives had plenty of ammunition to use against Trudeau – scandals, incompetence, weak foreign policy, black face, etc.

They could have had a field day!

Plus, given the tightness of the race, the Conservatives really needed to pull out all the stops, including demoralizing and disillusioning “soft Liberal voters”.

Thus, the only reason I can think of as to why O’Toole went this positive route is that he hoped it would earn him praise from the media, since journalists oppose the use of negative campaigning.

As matter of fact, the media’s initial reaction to any negative ad that’s released during an election is to instantly hate it – especially, it must be said, if that ad is put out by Conservatives.

One often repeated media complaint, for example, is that Conservatives are too “dark” in their “tone.”

Editorial writers, journalists and columnists will go on and on about how Conservative negativity debases our civic discourse, coarsens debate, and appeals to the lowest common denominator, all of which will lead them to openly pine for a Conservative leader who’ll unabashedly embrace the moral high ground.

O’Toole, I think, wanted to be that leader, he wanted the media to see him as a “kinder and gentler” Conservative, so they’d say things like, “Wow, O’Toole is the kind of positive politician we can get really get behind. Finally, a leader who gets it!”

So, I understand what the Conservatives were hoping to achieve, but unfortunately, for them their plan laid the ground for electoral defeat.

I say that for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, it wouldn’t matter if O’Toole was the most positive guy since Norman Vincent Peale, as long as he operates under the label “Conservative” the largely left-wing-leaning media will have a hard time liking him.

What’s more, and this is an important strategic point, the Liberals, for their part, had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about using negative messaging to degrade the Conservatives. (Please note, the media is usually much more forgiving of Liberal negativity.)

In fact, during this race the Liberals relentlessly hammered away at O’Toole, depicting him as a monstrous troglodyte who would supposedly take Canada back to a horrible and hellish dark age.

Essentially, the Liberals spooked voters into abandoning the Conservatives.

Now, O’Toole could have parried these attacks by fighting fire with fire, i.e., he could have blasted Trudeau with attacks of his own, but he didn’t do that because he wanted to remain positive so the media would like him.

As a result, the Conservative campaign came across as passive and defensive, and it ceded all the initiative to the Liberals.

Worse yet, O’Toole came across as a weak leader, who was unwilling to defend himself.

That’s a recipe for losing.

So, what’s the lesson from all this?

Well, anyone putting together a political messaging campaign, should never let media opinion dictate strategy. Keep in mind, most media people have zero experience when it comes to running a political campaign. Don’t listen to armchair strategists.

At any rate, my point is, if the strategic circumstances of a campaign demand you go negative against your opponent, then you gotta do it.

If the media doesn’t like it, let them squeal.

Who cares if journalists don’t like you, as long as you win, right?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.