Dealing with the Conservatives' carbon tax farce

Bruce Cheadle reviews the political and journalistic challenges created by the Conservatives’ carbon tax farce.

The tactic is becoming an issue for journalists in what is being called the “post-truth” era of political messaging, especially during a heated U.S. presidential race. Major publications such as the New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly are having anguished discussions, played out on their editorial pages, over how to report fairly and accurately in the face of relentless distortion campaigns that don’t pause when fact-checked.

“The media thinks that once they’ve said it once, they’re bored with it,” said pollster Allan Gregg, the chairman of Harris-Decima who once advised Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney. “So if you’re only relying on an earned media strategy to rebut this stuff, you’re going to lose.”

For the NDP, the challenge of responding to this charge is probably the same as the challenge of responding to any charge: How do you counter an opponent’s message? Do you respond directly? In what proportion? In what ways? What options are available to you? How capable are you, financially and organizationally, of mounting a response (be it a response that directly addresses your opponent’s charge or a response that presents a different message of some kind)? The basic questions are probably the same for any political party responding to any kind of attack.

For journalists and media outlets, this is more complicated than usual. There is important context that needs to be presented to report the matter fully and accurately (although it seems really silly to identify that as a challenge). There are questions of language and policy—”carbon tax” versus “cap and trade”—to be navigated. And there are existential debates to be had about the media’s role in pursuing the truth and covering partisan politics.

In this case, I wonder if we’d be having this discussion if the issue of carbon pricing had been covered better and more exhaustively in 2008. I say that without having gone back and reviewed what was written and reported at the time. But four years later there does seem to remain a great deal of confusion around the idea.

Here, again, are the reasons why the Conservatives’ current position is farcical.

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