Even the most ridiculous media shill can become unintentionally useful
(July 22, 2013)

Proof that Stephen Harper is not long for this political world comes not just from evidence of criminal and Parliamentary misconduct; it also comes from feeble attempts to defend him. For the most part, true believers, media whores and assorted sheeple have tried to downplay the seriousness of the Senate financial scandal, scoffed that Harper tried to cover it up, and vehemently denied the obvious similarity between Harper and Richard Nixon, who faced impeachment for his role in covering up the Watergate Hotel break-in.

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Dismissiveness and denial, however, do not an adequate response make, especially concerning Harper’s lying to Parliament, which is a matter of public record. Not only did Harper lie to the House of Commons that Sen. Mike Duffy met the residency requirement to be a senator from Prince Edward Island (Feb. 17), he lied when he claimed that neither he nor his office had any knowledge that his (now ex) chief-of-staff Nigel Wright gave Duffy a $90,000-odd personal cheque to cover illegitimate expense claims (June 5).

Concerning the latter, Wright’s lawyers have filed documents stating that Wright discussed the cheque with three other senior people in Harper’s office. Canadian Press identified these people as David van Hemmen, Wright’s assistant; Benjamin Perrin, Harper’s legal adviser; and Chris Woodcock, director of issues management in Harper’s office.

This admission has to be respected because of the specificity of the names, the fact that Harper’s office had already admitted that it knew of the cheque and because “The Lone Chequewriter” scenario doesn’t make the least bit of sense.

Evidence of misconduct notwithstanding, Harperites intend to brazen this thing out, though this is clearly a no-win scenario. There are two possible strategies. One, continue to obfuscate and deny any wrongdoing, in which case the Harperites will simply stay on the defensive as the evidence against them mounts, just as it did for Nixon. Two, mount an attack, but any aggressive attempt to refute the Harper/Nixon equivalency or argue against Harper’s removal from office would fail spectacularly. It would not only draw added attention to the charges, but the inability to respond to them competently would nail Harper to the wall. After all, the only thing stronger than a powerful argument is a self-destructed counterargument.

This last point brings me to Peter Foster, calumnist for The National Compost. As I tell my persuasive writing students, an argument needs to have three components: author credibility (ethos), effective appeals to the reader’s reason and understanding (logos), and appeals to the reader’s emotional or aesthetic sensibilities (pathos). Foster failed on all counts. His May 24 opinion piece, ostensibly a defence of Harper, bore a closer resemblance to a fit of Tourette’s Syndrome.

It was an unrelenting spate of ad hominems, false analogies, prejudicial language, straw-man arguments and insults, the result of which merely served to confirm that the Harper/Nixon equation is valid and that Harper must be removed from office. How did Foster accomplish this feat of unintentional utility? Let’s examine a few excerpts in light of each of the three above-mentioned components.

Credibility comes not only from specific expertise, but also from the manner of presentation and use of language. A journalist must rely heavily on the latter because his credibility comes from fair presentation of evidence and unbiased language. No sooner did Foster mention the scandal than he launched into an ad hominem attack on the Canadian media, in particular the CBC.

Harpergate, the rickety contraption hastily assembled by a team of the media’s worst handymen, has come off its hinges. Not even Mike Holmes, it seems, could “make it right,” which is to say make it wrong, attempting to build what appears at worst the mishandling of an expenses scandal into an existential crisis for the Conservative government.…

What this “affair” has exposed more than anything is a pandemic of Harper Derangement Syndrome, combining lack of proportion with an almost psychopathic desire on the part of the media to “get” a Prime Minister who won’t pander to their self-importance.”

“Media’s worst handymen,” “pandemic,” “psychopathic desire”—these do not depict a rational piece of writing, and since any infantile scribbler can resort to name-calling and wisecracks, there is no reason to respect Foster as a competent writer on this subject. Moreover, at no time does he offer support for any of his derisive comments about the CBC. What does he mean by “derangement?”

The tactic of playing the victim in the face of honest evidence of wrongdoing also happens to be what Israel does when it gets caught committing atrocities: “The UN is picking on Israel again! No Fair!” It’s as if condemnation, itself, were not allowed. The similarity gives added weight to the impression that Harper’s rule is also a fascist occupation.

In addition, is the simple act of expecting Harper to answer reporters’ questions a sign of “media self-importance?” Foster’s gratuitously abusive language is reminiscent of that used by the odious Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who ruined hundreds of lives by baselessly smearing people as communists. I would ask Peter Foster: “Have you no shame, sir?!”

Foster makes no attempt to appeal to reason because he knows he can’t. Instead, of recognizing his limitations, he proceeds to assert the fallacy of the charges against Harper and proceeds to stage a series of diversions, most notably the anti-CBC rant, in the faint hope the public will get caught up in with his rant and by extension swallow his defence of Harper. Reader comments after his piece prove he was somewhat less than successful.

1. For much of the middle of the rant, Harper takes second place to a personal attack against Barack Obama. Foster continued:

These twin aspects came excruciatingly together on the CBC’s The National on Wednesday night. The programme pulled out all the stops in attempting to compare Mr. Harper unfavourably with President Obama. Next to the President, Mr. Harper, according to Neil Macdonald, is “practically a hermit.” Just look at their relative stats. President Owe has given 84 news conferences, 110 Q&As, and more than 700 sit-down interviews. Mr. Harper, outrageously, prefers to get his message out in question period. How ironic, then, according to the report, that Mr. Harper’s style should sometimes be called “presidential.”

First, all prime ministers get their message out during Question Period in the House of Commons, so bringing up Harper’s refusal to speak to reporters merely draws attention to his contempt of accountability, which is outrageous. Second, we have more overheated language: “Pulled out all the stops” (really? all of them?), and the cheap shot “President Owe,” which again speaks to Foster’s bias and lack of credibility.

2. Later, Foster did mention Watergate:

But we haven’t yet reached the most stunning part of the CBC report, which was what it left out about the performance of a President who, far from being a model of accountability, has recently been compared to Richard Nixon.

After this declaration, Foster drops the topic of Nixon to go on about the CBC’s coverage of terrorism and Benghazi! The absence of any evidence that shows the Nixon parallel to be invalid makes the parallel all the more irresistible. What are readers supposed to think? Is this the best Foster can do?

Now, read the following observation from NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus about the Duffy cover-up:

“A plan was cooked up with key advisers and key senators to make a political problem go away, but where the plausible deniability falls apart is when the prime minister starts getting asked questions about what happened. Clearly, then he would’ve been briefed so he must have known [the correct facts]. There’s no possible explanation that he would not have been briefed once this story broke and so it was incumbent on him to come clean with Canadians and that didn’t happen.”

With but a few word changes, Angus’s comment could apply to the June 23, 1972, tape on which we hear Nixon colluding with H.R. Haldeman to cover-up the Watergate Hotel break-in.

3. When Foster does acknowledge the charges against Harper, such as betraying his principles, he hides behind excuses like: “Yes, Harper made mistakes but he’s no worse than anyone else, and besides, all governments have scandals and Harper’s only had a majority for two years.” How is that drivel supposed to convince the reader that Harper is not a crook?!

Foster didn’t really appeal to emotion, unless you count fearmongering:

Certainly scandal is endemic to government, and the bigger government, the bigger the threat, but big government is dangerous for far more important reasons. It is predatory, incompetent and a perpetual threat to freedom. I suspect that Mr. Harper knows that better than his political opponents, and may even still be prepared to do something about it.

By this time, the cover-up has long-since given way to right-wing apologetics and boilerplate tirades, including one against the bogeyman “big government,” which is standard right-wing jargon for federal spending in the public interest. (“Big” is never defined, of course.) But an intelligent reader must be wondering just what Foster’s real purpose was: Smearing the media? Attacking public spending? Insulting Barack Obama? Excusing Harper’s misconduct?”

At the end, the reader is treated to this choice piece of inanity:

Above all, however, the notion that this was ever an affair that might have justified Stephen Harper’s removal from power is about as unhinged as the CBC’s claim that “accountability [in the face of scandal] changes at the border.”

The only thing unhinged is Foster, who can’t even give the illusion of coherence.

Since Foster’s piece appeared, it has come to light that Harper drew up an “enemies” list of unfriendly bureaucrats for new cabinet members to avoid. Former Environment Minister Peter Kent said it reminded him of Nixon’s enemies list.

An assertion without evidence is worse than no assertion at all, and as a result Peter Foster all but convicted Harper. The Stephen Harper impeachment/resignation political death watch has begun!