Sun TV’s near dupe debacle

If anything, Karl Peladeau has proven he’s hard to ignore.

On Wednesday, Sun Media’s head honcho published 751 words dripping with righteous indignation over his network’s near dupe regarding a bogus Ignatieff-in-fatigues-in-Kuwait photo. By Thursday, the source of the photo, Conservative Party political strategist Patrick Muttart, had been booted from the campaign.

According to Peladeau, three weeks ago the VP of Sun News, Kory Teneycke, was approached by Muttart, who is Stephen Harper’s former deputy chief of staff.

“He 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,” wrote Peladeau. “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.”

And then there was the photo: a low res shot of a group of men wearing military fatigues and Santa hats, brandishing rifles. Apparently, it was taken in December 2002 in Kuwait. In the front of the shot, there’s a man who could or could not be (as it turns out could not) Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

As Peladeau himself admits, during election time opposing political camps often forward stuff to news organizations, who undertake the normal due diligence required of any journalist before making the decision to publish said info as part of a story.

The Sun TV news team did their due diligence. They discovered that Ignatieff look-alike was just that.

They could have let it go there: the photo had not yet been published.

Instead, came those 751 words, in which Peladeau claimed sabotage:

“Bad information is an occupational hazard in this business, and fortunately our in-house protocols prevented the unthinkable. But it is the ultimate source of this material that is profoundly troubling to me, my colleagues and, I think, should be of concern to all Canadians. 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. 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.”

Though Muttart will now have no further involvement in the campaign, Conservative campaign spokesperson, Jason Lietaer, denied he had behaved improperly. He also denied the Conservative campaign had any intention of pulling one over Sun or harming its credibility.

That’s not the weird(est) part.

As Tonda MacCharles and Robert Benzie of the Toronto Star report, it has since been revealed that Muttart, who works for an American public affairs firm, was actually one of the key people behind the Sun News network’s design and marketing.

That employer, Mercury Public Affairs/IGR Group, released a statement defending Muttart late Wednesday.

According to the Star the release called Peladeau’s assertions “bizarre” and “disappointing” and continued:

“At no point did Muttart tell Sun Media that he had positively identified Ignatieff in the photo in question. And at no time did Muttart mislead, or intend to mislead Sun Media, in his provision of information to them … For the record, Mercury was hired by Quebecor to assist Sun News with its pre-licence branding and positioning. Muttart worked with a creative agency to develop the network’s original logo . . . And he was the original source for the network’s ‘hard news’ and ‘straight talk’ framing language …All things considered, it is ironic indeed that Sun Media has chosen to attack Patrick Muttart.”