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Scoop: How the Fraserites slip their propaganda reaction-free into the media

Have you wondered how the master manipulators at the Fraser Institute, those tireless missionaries of the market fundamentalist religion, always manage to get their stories into the media without any reaction from the vast number of critics of their shoddy, biased and ideologically motivated work?

One would think, after all, that journalists at Canada's few remaining serious news organizations at least would want to phone up the most obvious opponents of the Vancouver-based lobby group's questionable conclusions on any given topic and ask them what they think of them. 

A check on their methodology from an acknowledged expert in the field might also be appropriate, from a journalistic point of view.

Cub reporters are usually taught in their first Journalism 100 class to do this sort of thing as a matter of routine. And yet, the Fraser Institute's reports almost invariably appear without even a hint of the most basic reaction.

A typical example of this phenomenon was found in Thursday's slipshod "study" by the Vancouver-based corporate boiler room, wherein the Fraser Institute's crack research team made the dubious claim Canada's public employees are "paid 12 per cent more than their private-sector counterparts," and, what’s more, need to be brought quickly into line with the harsh discipline of the private sector.

Now, there was nothing at all new in this particular press release, which mirrored several others the Fraser Institute has produced over the past few months on individual provinces' public sectors. Each one masqueraded as a legitimate piece of research. In other words, every time it was the same pig, with a slightly different shade of lipstick.

Like all the others, this latest version uses the same flawed methodology, failing even to take into account the occupations supposedly being compared. The true spread, it's said by better researchers than me, is not 12 per cent but less than 1 per cent.

Using labour force data from just one month (April 2011), this particular example of Fraser Fakery came up with the 12-per-cent claim in effect by comparing Registered Nurses or government meteorologists with minimum-wage store clerks to gin up numbers that fit the Fraser paymasters' ideological preconceptions. 

Just the same, you've got to hand it to them. Whenever this happens, those of us who think the Fraserites are nothing more than full-time propagandists and unregistered lobbyists, paid to produce misleading and dishonest press releases done up as "analysis" and pass them off as legitimate, peer-reviewed research, are left to sputter and protest. Often, we will be advised by the reporters we call with our complaints to write a letter to the editor.

Alas, once the initial news hit has come and gone, the impression has been implanted in the minds of the public, no matter how meretricious the "research," that the Fraser Institute is not only a legitimate research group but that its destructive policy prescriptions ought to be followed for the good of the nation.

Well, here's the scoop. Here's how they do it. And I must say, their scheme is devilishly -- even admirably -- simple.

The Fraser Institute simply sends out its press release with a note slapped on the top that says it's embargoed until the next morning. 

Now, embargoed, in the argot of the newsroom, means a news release or some other document has been given to the media in advance of the release date on the first page. In return, the media are asked not to reveal the contents to anyone until the publication time.

Just to be clear, we're not talking about something like a budget lockup here, in which a journalist or news organization agrees not to release information until a certain time in return for an advance peek at the data.

Rather, it's just a note placed arbitrarily atop a news release by a PR person -- which is really all that the "researchers" at the Fraser Institute are -- with zero moral or legal meaning. At best, it's a request.

But apparently the naïve decision-makers in Canada’s "serious" media have concluded in their wisdom that this means they can't call anyone for reaction until the information in the release has been published the next morning lest they give the scoop away. Perhaps, of course, that conclusion simply suits their ideological agenda.

Regardless, by then the damage has been done, the falsehood has been implanted in the public's imagination and letters to the editor and follow-up stories are just so much "he-said-she-said."

It's said here that it's time for us in what's left of the Canadian reality-based community to demand an end to this shady and discreditable practice -- if not by the Fraser Institute, which is incorrigible, at least by the journalists who play along. After all, they have to know it's been designed to deceive. 

If you're a journalist and you think, "We can’t do that," our text today comes from the Gospel according to E.C. Phelan, author of the 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail Style Book, which resides to this day in an honoured place on my bookshelf.

"For several years we have refused to honour release dates on material (mostly handouts) delivered to us and other media outlets in advance," wrote Phelan, who no doubt would not have approved of the spelling of the word "honour" in the passage above. 

I do not know if the staff of the Globe still lives by Phelan's commands. If they don't, they should. The soundness of his advice on this topic is obvious when we see how an organization like the Fraser Institute uses arbitrary embargoes to exploit the honourable instincts of some journalists as part of its ongoing campaign of deception.

In future, when journalists who want to do their jobs properly receive "embargoed" material from the Fraser Institute or the other organizations like it that have sprung up like mushrooms across Canada, they will be doing the right thing journalistically and morally if they nevertheless seek immediate comment from the people whose oxen the Fraserites are plotting to gore.

And what, pray, would the downside be? Do you seriously think the Fraser Institute would stop sending out its news releases to any mainstream media operation that ignored its fatuous embargoes? 

Please! Press clippings are its fundamental reason for existence.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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