Robyn Benson, PSAC

Media bias: an Ottawa Citizen case-study



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The subject: REVP-NCR Larry Rousseau is seeking the nomination for the NDP in the Montreal riding of Bourassa. Obviously we wish him well. But check out the Ottawa Citizen’s coverage of this announcement.

The print edition ran the sub-hed, “Will give Tories election fodder, expert says.” We see this all the time in the media, so often that we just take it for granted: some authority or other telling us what’s what.

But what is this “expert” saying, and what are his credentials for saying it?

In fact there are two “experts” cited in the article: one is Brooke Jeffrey, “a professor of political science at Concordia University with ties to the Liberal party.” Kudos, at least, to the Citizen for that last tidbit. We are told that NDP candidate Julie Demers came close to unseating Liberal Denis Coderre in 2011, the narrowest escape he’s ever had, but this Liberal “expert” says it would be a bad idea if she ran again. Well, sure it would.

The second “expert” is Professor Ian Lee, of Carleton University.

The Citizen doesn’t tell us that Lee ran for the Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa-Centre when that party was a thing, and among other things was a huge fan of Margaret Thatcher. But of somewhat more importance, Lee has no expertise at all in the subject on which he is pronouncing. Check out his credentials for yourselves.

Yet here we go:

According to Ian Lee, a Carleton University professor and political and business analyst, Rousseau’s decision to run for the NDP confirms a long-running subtext of the Conservative government’s message.

“When a person at a very senior level in a union runs for the NDP, it allows for the Conservatives to say, ‘See, those unions really are tied at the hip to the NDP, and when you vote for the NDP you vote for the unions,’” Lee said. “And I think in the 2015 federal elections, it will be one of the issues you are going to see the Conservatives use to differentiate themselves.”

But Lee also said that when someone like Rousseau runs for office, it’s a paradoxical win-win situation for each party. He said Rousseau’s union ties will appeal to the NDP base.


Now, on one level this is pretty obvious stuff—nearly any reader could make observations like that, with or without “expertise.” But it plants a seed: unions carry a negative aura that could cost the NDP, even if party stalwarts are OK with it.

Lee, as it happens, dislikes unions intensely, and public workers even more. That’s led him into problems in the past, as when he stated in a Citizen op-ed earlier this year that these workers received full payout of sick leave upon retirement.

Here’s what he said:

Many were likely even more astonished to learn that federal public servants can build up a bank of unused sick leave that the government must pay out to the employee upon retirement.


And when enough folks complained to the Citizen, this is how he amended that statement:

Many were likely even more astonished to learn that federal public servants can build up a bank of unused sick leave that effectively encourages public servants to use up their sick leave because it cannot be monetized upon retirement.


One is left simply open-mouthed by such blatant intellectual dishonesty. Lee was also a booster of C-377, the anti-union bill that the Senate recently gutted.

So Lee has lots of attitude—but no more expertise in labour relations or unions than someone off the street (and it shows). He’s an academic in a different field who, after 25 years of teaching, is still an assistant professor. Yet the Citizen goes on citing him as an authority anyway.

What we’re getting here might be called bias by proxy. The reporter would never editorialize like that directly, but Lee, the imported “expert,” will clue us in. Unions are secretive organizations; union connections are a bad thing. Public workers are overcompensated.

The Citizen needn’t bother writing anti-union, anti-public sector editorials of their own. All they have to do is let Lee and other “experts” do the job for them, in the context of so-called straight news reporting. It’s left up to us to read critically. And when we do, we can clearly see what’s going on—literally under our noses.


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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on August 20, 2013 8:30 AM.

Conservative attacks on workers continue was the previous entry in this blog.

Cheap labour and the lessons of the Plaza Hotel strike is the next entry in this blog.

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