Wafergate-gate: Searching for a sliver of truth

So no less an august body than the New York Times has weighed in on Wafergate-gate, providing an enviably succinct summary of the events to date, but no new insight or additional information. At the moment, it reads like an unfinished cautionary tale, which, as far as ITQ is concerned, is pretty much exactly what it’s turned out to be. We still don’t have anything approaching answers to the myriad questions sparked by the now notorious apology from the Telegraph Journal, despite the best efforts of numerous reporters to find out the story behind the now partially retracted story.  Yes, “reporters”, in the plural — it hasn’t just been ITQ on the Wafergate-gate beat, although as one pointed out to her last week by email, “We just don’t blog on our progress”.

Which, as it turns out, was probably a wiser course of action, since so far, they’ve come up empty handed as well — at least as far as the most scandalous allegation to surface in the aftermath of the apology, when CTV’s Bob Fife claimed that he’d “been told” that “the Liberals” — or a Liberal, at least — had “passed the story” to now-suspended Telegraph Journal publisher Jamie Irving, who, in turn, “passed it” to the editor, Shawna Richer — also suspended — who “put it in the paper without checking it out.”  Who, then, passed the whole tale to Bob Fife? Nobody knows for sure. Is it true? Well, therein lies a still ongoing tale. For the last few days, ITQ has been trying her best to question the various Liberals labelled as prime suspects by similarly attribution-shy sources. In some cases, they’ve been only too happy to provide a categorical denial of any involvement, in others — well, she’s still waiting for a response. (In defence of those Liberals still not heard from, it was a long weekend, so it’s possible they’re only now getting her messages.)

The process, while still unfolding, has proven to be a frustrating — and, frankly, somewhat depressing — exercise.

Confronted by direct questions on any possible involvement by the party, the Liberals have been consistently shifty — a shiftiness that is just as likely a Pavlovian response to being accused of dirty dealings as  indicative of a guilty collective conscience; from what ITQ can see, nobody in a position to field calls from reporters seeking more information seems to have a clue what someone else in the caucus — or the party —  may or may not have done. As a result, nobody wants to issue a categorical denial on behalf of anyone but themselves, while clumsily attempting to cast the question itself as unimportant.

Here’s a newsflash, guys: Whatever the provenance of the allegation, it is important, and the longer you let it lie out there, the more it will fester. Pretending that if you ignore the whole thing, it will magically fade away — well, even if it would —  which, incidentally, it won’t — in what universe is that an acceptable course of action, particularly for a party that has only just managed to drag itself out from under the near universal public suspicion that resulted from the last time they followed the see no evil policy.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have done their best to exploit the swirl of suspicion and uncertainty – many indulging themselves in a viciously anonymous whisper campaign, sharing the names of likely suspects to journalists with malevolent glee. Some seem genuinely appalled at the possibility that any party — even the Liberals — would sink so low as to attempt to exploit a funeral for partisan gain, but far more greeted the news that the paper had apologized not with grace, or even shock, but like a pack of wild dogs that had just caught a glimpse of what might — or might not — be their bloodied but still breathing quarry — and injured, no less. What a marvellous stroke of luck! Quick, someone get Doug Finley to dash off a missive to the party faithful. Play to their most base paranoia about media bias – and make a killing for the next quarter. And, o irony, even as they decry such diabolical collusion between the Liberals and the fourth estate, they fall all over themselves to pass on the latest rumours, all but offering to write the stories for us themselves — all in the strictest confidence, of course.

Oh, and then there’s we-the-media. The media, which, at almost every juncture in this still unfolding saga, has made the story more dramatic and controversial, while raising more questions than we answer. From the torquing of the original article to the baffling, cryptic and entirely unsatisfactory apology, we have managed to achieve nothing but to muddy the waters, leaving our audience more perplexed – and suspicious of our motives.

Here’s the thing about what should more properly be called “unnameable” sources: They lie. They lie to your face, secure in the knowledge that, depending on how sensational and salacious the lie, you will, obediently, pass on as something you’ve been told. If it turns out to be false, or — worse yet — unverifiable — it doesn’t matter: the damage has already been done, and it is the credibility of the messenger — and, in cases like this, of the media in general — that takes the hit.

That’s not to say that everything we’re told is automatically on the record, of course — we’re allowed to gossip, to speculate, to trade theories and suppositions, not only amongst ourselves, but with politicians and political operatives, staffers and Hill hangers on of every partisan hue. But the more specific and serious the allegation, the more we have to weigh what we’re told against what we independently know – and, more importantly, don’t or can’t know – as well as what we can back up without resorting to the all-purpose “sources say”.

Sources, as noted above, say a lot of things. Some of those things are true, in whole or in part, but some just aren’t — ask any journalist who has finally managed to run a particularly delicious rumour to ground, only to find it dissolve under even the most cursory check of the facts.  Even a debunked rumour can be enlightening, though, provided you don’t get caught putting it forward as truth: What generates lies can, at times, inadvertently reveal the truth about the motivations behind the ruse.

Which isn’t to say that’s what has happened here — not yet, anyway — although as noted above, ITQ is far from the only reporter who has had no luck dragging those possibly nonexistent Liberal dirty tricksters out from the shadows. She’s fully aware, too, that those who are entirely convinced of the veracity of the claim will now accuse her of not trying hard enough to uncover the truth — or, perhaps, even of trying to conceal it. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that she, or any journalist can do to assuage such suspicions; there is nothing as difficult to dislodge as a meme that has taken root, particularly one that so neatly fits into certain previously held worldviews. That said, she’ll keep trying. At this point, that’s really all she can do.

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