Sun News, a Canadian network nicknamed Fox News North for its conservative leanings, is claiming independence from the Canadian Conservative party. It accuses the party of trying to undermine the network’s credibility by providing the network with a fake photo of Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff is the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party.
The photo in question pictured “six men wearing Santa Claus hats and American battle gear posing with weapons in front of an American military helicopter in Kuwait prior to the Iraq war,” as the New York Times described. But, even though one of the six men looks like Michael Ignatieff, upon close examination, the photo is not of Ignatieff.
Sun News CEO’s Editorial Blames Muttart
In an an April 27 editorial, the CEO of Sun News Pierre Karl Peladeau, revealed that the photo was leaked to the network by Patrick Muttart, a political consultant with Mercury Public Affairs firm. Muttart is a former Conservative Party strategist and deputy chief of staff for Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper. Muttart “suddenly left the Conservative campaign” in late April after the photo controversy, the Globe and Mail reported.
“It is my belief that this planted information was intended to first and foremost seriously damage Michael Ignatieff’s campaign but in the process to damage the integrity and credibility of Sun Media and, more pointedly, that of our new television operation, Sun News,” Peladeau claimed. “If any proof is needed to dispel the false yet still prevalent notion that Sun Media and the Sun News Network are the official organs of the Conservative Party of Canada, I offer this unfortunate episode as Exhibit A.”
Peladeau asserted that “due diligence was conducted” when Muttart turned the photo over to the network, and that Sun News’ vice president Kory Teneycke requested a high-resolution version of the image from Muttart.
The low-resolution image provided seemed to be real, and Ignatieff “never formally denied that it might be him” when Sun News showed him the picture, Peladeau noted. When Sun News did get that high-resolution image, it was clear that Ignatieff wasn’t in it.
As Peladeau told it, Muttart also “claimed to be in possession of a report prepared by a ‘U.S. source’, outlining the activities and whereabouts of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in the weeks and months leading to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.” That report indicated that Ignatieff worked with U.S. officials in strategizing.
“The report suggested that rather than being an observer from the sidelines, as he wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece after he entered Canadian politics, Ignatieff was in fact on the front lines and on the ground at a forward operating base in Kuwait, assisting U.S. State Department and American military officials in their strategy sessions.”
Muttart, Employer Respond
Muttart responded to the allegations in Peladeau’s editorial. “I’m completely baffled,” Muttart is quoted by the New York Times as saying. “For whatever reason, Mr. Péladeau wanted to make an example out of somebody to assert the editorial independence of the Sun Media organization.”
U.S. public relations firm Mercury also responded to Peladeau’s column and said it was “false and downright bizarre.” Mercury stated that Muttart never said “he had positively identified Ignatieff in the photo in question” and never did “mislead, or intend to mislead Sun Media, in his provision of information to them.”
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Peladeau has been criticized for not disclosing in that editorial that Muttart advised Sun Media in recent months. Rabble.ca reported that Peladeau “didn’t mention that Muttart was also on his/Sun Media’s payroll just a few months ago and continued to give Sun TV ‘expert’ advice, on a pro-bono basis, until last week.”
Likewise, iPOLITICS.ca reported that Muttart “gave periodic unpaid advice to Sun Media” as it launched Sun News TV. Muttart also reportedly helped find advertisers for the TV station. StinkyJournalism is writing to Sun Media to ask about their relationship to Muttart.
Fake Photo Came from Blogger Joke
As Global TV BC noted, the confusion with the photo appears to have originated from a blogger’s joke. The blogger, “gnotalex” wrote on Blog Quebecois about “how little old me almost threw the Canadian election.”
The blogger explained that two years ago around the time Ignatieff was made Liberal leader, he found the picture online and “noted that the soldier in the middle was a dead ringer for” the political leader.
“I thought they were most likely Americans (or possibly Brits). So I decided to make up a little story about Ignatieff and his rather muscular approach to foreign affairs.”
The blogger went on: “The original post is here. You can see that I pretty obviously intended it as a joke (if there’s any doubt, click on the ‘enhanced’ popup that I included with it).”
The blogger also noted that last year someone e-mailed him asking for more information about the photo’s veracity and that he wrote back saying “No, it was just some random photo that I came across in a Google Image Search. The guy in the middle looked like Iggy, so I decided to have some fun with it.”
In that brief March 2009 post, which isn’t labeled satire, the blogger described the photo as “Michael Ignatieff (third from left) in happier times, spreading the gospel of neo-colonialism and Christianity (or at least Santa Claus-ism) to the benighted Third World.”
After a few comments about the photo, the blogger concluded : “But should that not be proof enough, I’ve taken the liberty of magnifying the future Liberal leader’s face. Yep, that’s him, no mistake.”
When you click on the link to zoom in on what is labeled as Ignatieff’s face, it redirects to a picture of Count von Count, the cartoon character from Sesame Street.