Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who Edits Michael Harris' Columns, Anyway?

Recently, iPolitics columnist Michael Harris took some valuable iPolitics webspace to pout over a scathing letter to the editor by Peter MacKay. It was well-earned by Harris, who had bought into Amir Attaran's bizarre attempt to single-handedly re-write Canadian drug law. Whichever iPolitics editor decided it was a good idea to give Harris space to publicly mope over the tongue-lashing ought to have their heads examined.

Doubly so for his most recent work.

It's everything that Harris has managed to distinguish his work as: lazy, amateurish, and steeped in a Twitter-ized narrative that doesn't hold up to very basic scrutiny. It's less a coherent work of political journalism and more a list of complaints. But even as Harris piles on the complaints, he also manages to pile on the factual errors. To whit:

"During the Idle No More protests in Ottawa, PM Harper was as aloof as Louis the 14th, refusing to meet certain native leaders who were tired of the federal runaround on land claims and treaty rights. They learned that Stephen Harper doesn’t make time for nobodies.

The government attempted to humiliate Chief Theresa Spence during her protest by leaking an audit about her lack of managerial skills on her home reserve. That tactic was put in perspective when the Treasury Board later lost $3.2 billion in taxpayers money, but said that was okay because no one was alleging any misspending."

This is the kind of disaster that ensues when a would-be journalist takes their directions from social media.

First off, Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't refuse to meet with First Nations leaders as Harris claims. Harper did in fact meet with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo. Other First Nations leaders -- many of whom backed Spence's demand for such a meeting -- refused to attend such a meeting, and even threatend Atleo with political repercussions if he did attend. In fact, Spence herself attempted to emotionally blackmail Atleo.

Secondly, the Deloitte audit of Attawapiskat's finances was released at the time it had been scheduled to be released. Spence was fully aware of this, and decided to grandstand against Harper -- by faking a hunger strike -- anyway.

Then there's the biggest whopper of all: claiming that the $3.2 billion was "lost" only after the release of this audit, when in fact the money in question was budgeted between 2001-09. Which means that for approximately five years, that money was either spent or not spent -- the audit in question couldn't actually tell which -- under a Liberal Party government. (Update - the treasury board has tracked the $3.2 billion. Not a penny of it was misspent, misappropriated, or lost -- something Harris seems to have very little to say about.)

That's three staggering factual errors in just two paragraphs. It's enough to beg the question of just who does the editing at iPolitics -- or if Harris' work is subjected to any kind of editing at all.

One thing is for certain: if Michael Harris won't check his own facts -- and it seems clear that he won't -- someone needs to do it for him. Unfortunately for iPolitics, it was me.

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