Sun family values

Photo courtesy of Tom Magliery

I was determined to let this slide but the facts that have emerged are too loathsome to ignore.

The CBC has been taking a lot of criticism for its Vote Compass, an online quiz that asks you questions about where you stand on various questions of public policy, and then tells you which party you should vote for. Lots of people, from the right and the left, have been complaining that the result it gives is biased, or somehow misrepresent their political views. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe these sorts of quizzes are just very poor devices for sorting the population by party.  I don’t know, and at this point I don’t care. What I do care about is the way Peter Loewen has been treated by Sun Media.

Peter’s a poli sci professor at the University of Toronto. He’s involved in the Vote Compass, mostly in preparing analysis of the data for the CBC. On March 31, in a story that ran on front pages across the chain, Brian Lilley broke the “news” that Loewen had also written some policy papers on equalization for Michael Ignatieff when he was running for the Liberal leadership in 2006. The rest of Lilley’s article goes on to list various half-assed accusations that the Vote Compass has a Liberal bias. Lilley never writes it straight, of course, but the implication of the article is that Loewen is deliberately torquing the Vote Compass results in favour of the Liberals.

The next day, Ezra Levant wrote a column making the same allegation, namely, that the Vote Compass has a default Liberal setting. He also insinuates that Loewen is some sort of covert agent feeding information back to the Liberals (he calls Ignatieff Loewen’s “former boss”, which is ridiculous).

It’s amazing what sort of character assassination you can get away through chickenshit use of question marks (in Levant’s case). Or in Lilley’s case, through the deliberate withholding of facts. As Peter Loewen himself told Lilley when Lilley interviewed him for his March 31 story, Loewen did the same sort of work for Harper in 2004 that he later did for Ignatieff. Loewen was also a staffer for a Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leadership candidate in 2005. And he once donated money to Pierre Poilievre’s nomination campaign.

This information was available to Brian Lilley, his editor, and to Ezra Levant. It is thoroughly despicable that it was not included in the stories that were published. What is going on here? In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, Simon Houpt suggests that Loewen just got caught up in a broader anti-CBC campaign by Sun Media, as it prepares to launch its new television station.

If so, that’s disgraceful enough. But I actually think something more basic is at work here: Intellectual prostitutes like Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant are so used to selling their brains on the cheap in journalism’s back alleys, they find it literally incredible that everyone else’s intellect is not similarly for sale.

For the record: Peter is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for about six years, we met when I was a postdoc and he was doing his PhD at the University of Montreal. I’ve had drinks with him in bars and been to parties at his house. I have also gone to him, on a number of occasions, for his thoughts on a number of issues relating to Canadian politics, especially voter behaviour – turnout, national and regional patterns, shifting party support, that sort of thing.  He has always been extremely helpful – Peter’s a really, really smart guy.

And unlike the vast majority of academics of my acquaintance, I haven’t a clue how Peter votes. But more importantly, his academic work is irreproachably non-partisan. If you don’t trust me, give Peter’s work a read. Here’s his CV.  Or ask Tom Flanagan – who tried to get Sun Media to kill the story for the very reasons I’ve given here, and was pointedly ignored.

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