For a moment or two there, it felt like a scene from His Girl Friday.
There, amidst the stack of mail that had been piling up in her Hot Room cubby, was a genuine brown envelope. Stamped with a Royal Mail postmark and loaded up with £1 ninepence worth of British stamps, the possibilities seemed endless — at least, before she tore it open. But the enclosed contents, alas, turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax: a copy of “No More Mister Nice Guy”, New Humanist editor Laurie Taylor’s 2005 article on the “acrimonious battle” between Michael Ignatieff — “once … [an] intellectual leader of the global human rights movement” — and “some of his closest friends” over what Taylor describes as “[his shared] vision of the US government’s vision of the violent and compulsory promotion of democracy … and the use of instruments, for example torture, which are apparently in need of revisionist treatment.”
Stop the presses? Not quite. Not only had ITQ been tipped off in advance to its imminent arrival by another reporter — the same package had been sent to every member of the press gallery — but, as indicated by the above link, the article in question is already available online, so it’s not as though her anonymous correspondent was providing her with previously unpublished — or even particularly hard to find — material. At the same time, she couldn’t help wondering why whoever was behind the mailing would have expended so much time and effort — not to mention money — to print out and send off several hundred full colour copies of a four year old article — complete with helpful yellow highlighting of key passages — via transatlantic post.
It’s possible — likely, even — that there are at least a few Britons with misgivings about the one-time London dweller turned Canadian political leader. But if that was the case here, you’d expect them to include a name, or at least a contact number, so journalists sufficiently intrigued by the issues that the article raises would be able to call them up for an interview. Instead, though, the only identifying information is the return address that appears on the envelope:
Which, to save you the trouble of googling, traces back to BBC headquarters, although at the moment, there’s no particular reason that is anything other than a sly reference to Ignatieff’s pre-political career as a television host.
As for who might behind it, although she maintains that Republicans for Ignatieff is almost certainly the product of one of Ignatieff’s leftwardly-leaning critics, this seems far more likely to be a bit of mischief making from the other side of the political spectrum. In fact, she wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that the Conservative Party itself picked up the tab for printing and postage — and maybe even airfare for the lucky operative sent to London in search of a mailbox. What can she say — it just feels like a Tory trick to her, whereas R4I has a different style.
Regardless of the ultimate source, it’s clear that, for at least some of Ignatieff’s adversaries, the question of where he stands on torture is seen as one that has the potential to do considerable damage his credibility with Canadians, but – as yet – has not lived up to its promise, which could be due to a number of reasons: for whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to have been able to embed itself in the public political consciousness as tightly as the constant undermining of Dion as a leader (which, let’s face it, turned out to have been far more effective than anyone predicted) or, alternatively, that it simply hasn’t yet garnered enough media coverage.
The latter possibility would explain why they would take such a circuitous route to reach the gallery, instead of simply putting out a press release — there’s a much better likelihood that a reporter will follow up on a classic brown envelope tip, even if every one of his or her colleagues received exactly the same one. Unfortunately for the sender, despite the fact that the mailing went out to the entire gallery, not one of the recipients seems to have bothered to cover it until now, probably because — as mentioned above — the article in question, a just-short-of-anodyne postmortem of an academic feud — doesn’t really add much to the discussion. It’s not that we-the-media have unilaterally declared the debate over, and Ignatieff the victor — it’s more that both sides have made their respective cases, and it’s now up to the public — or at least, those who have followed the issue — to make up their minds for themselves.
From that perspective, then, it was a bit of a failure — a costly one, at that — but that’s why it’s smart to do a test run. At the same time, ITQ is – as she may have mentioned once or twice or a hundred times before – always interested in dissecting new lines of attack, regardless of the target or the source — or, as we seem to be seeing here, a new method of delivering the same old message. That’s why she decided to write about this latest gambit: the best way to ensure you don’t get lost in the smoke and mirrors, after all, is to flick on the lights.
UPDATE: Canadian Press is on the case, and gets a flat denial from the BBC as the possible source:
The British Broadcasting Corp., dismissed the address as a subterfuge, noting all BBC correspondence uses franked envelopes – not the postage stamps found on the anonymous mailout. “The BBC is a non-political organization so does not take a view on Canadian politics, so we would not comment further on this issue,” the BBC said by email.
Globe Politics has also posted pictures of the envelope and the insert(PDF).
UPDATED AGAIN: And we have an official denial from PMO spokesperson Dimitri Soudas:
Dmitri Soudas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s press secretary, responded to a query to the party with a pointed warning for Ignatieff and his staff.
“I’d suggest that the Liberal party be cautious about making unsubstantiated claims,” Soudas said in an email. “The Conservative party or government did not send these letters about Mr. Ignatieff.”