Sun Media ignored Flanagan on VoteCompass prof’s objectivity

A former top aide to Conservative leader Stephen Harper tried and failed to stop Sun Media from suggesting a former colleague brought a Liberal bias to the CBC’s controversial VoteCompass political preference tool.

The Sun papers scored what seemed like a scoop by reporting that one of the VoteCompass creators, University of Toronto political scientist Peter Loewen, had worked with Michael Ignatieff in 2006. Tory bloggers went apoplectic… more Liberal bias, why are our tax dollars paying for this, etc., etc.

What the Sun did not mention, however, was that Loewen had also worked with Tom Flanagan, once an aide to Conservative leader Stephen Harper.

Indeed, Flanagan told Sun Media before the story was published that, “I have no doubts about his objectivity.”

An affiliation with one of the founding minds of the Reform Party movement might have mitigated the perception that Loewen is a Liberal stooge willing to skew VoteCompass to favour his former keepers.

Certainly his quote about Loewen’s objectivity would be germane to the story that suggests bias.

(My former boss, Andrew Potter of Maclean’s, explores this in some detail on his blog today.)

An email trail shows that, the day before his story ran in the Sun, Flanagan emailed Sun Media Ottawa bureau chief David Akin:

On 11-03-31 4:47 PM, “Tom Flanagan”<>  wrote:

David, Peter Loewen is one of the brightest young political scientists
in Canada.  He’s into data, not partisanship.  His interest in Iggy’s
leadership race was to conduct an experiment testing the efficacy of
direct mail.  The model on CBC’s website may or may not have problems; I
don’t know anything about it.  But Peter Loewen wouldn’t be involved in
etting up some partisan trick on the CBC website.  Tom

Then the response from Akin:

On 3/31/2011 2:49 PM, David Akin wrote:

Thanks for volunteering this, Tom. Brian Lilley has been covering this. Is
it ok if I forward this on to him and may he quote you? (I believe Peter has
indicated to Brian that he worked with you.)

And finally…

From: Tom Flanagan <>
To: David Akin <>

Yes, you can forward this to Brian.  Peter didn’t work for me in the
sense of being a paid employee, but I shared data and discussed things
with him.  I have no doubts about his objectivity.  I’d hate to see a
promising young guy like him become roadkill on the media highway.

Whether Brian Lilley ever got the message is unclear. But the following day, his story appeared in the Ottawa Sun under the headline, “Quiz creator worked for Iggy: Professor behind CBC’s VoteCompass was policy adviser in 2006.” It makes no mention of Flanagan.

I asked David about this and he declined to comment, saying he doesn’t discuss sources of a story. No response from Brian Lilley yet.

UPDATE: Lilley and Akin have both responded. Lilley addressed some of the points raised above in a blog rebuttal of  Andrew Potter’s column. Once you skim past the easy mocking of  Potter’s academic work and the title of his critically-acclaimed book —  elitist! elitist! — Lilley offers an explanation of why he didn’t include Flanagan’s comments about Loewen. I find the logic a bit  convoluted and difficult to paraphrase, so I won’t try. Read it for yourself.

Akin rattled off a series of tweets this morning (Thursday) in further response, which I include here:

Note 2 @glen_mcgregor: #CBC Compass tool annoyed the *left* and other non-Liberals. Inconvenient fact for you?

Note to @glen_mcgregor: Journos in YOW have bought sportscars with the cas[h] #CBC gives pundits like Flanagans. Inconvenient fact for you?

Note to @glen_mcgregor: Flanagan-Loewen relationship academic, not partisan. Flanagan says so: Inconvenient fact?

Note to @glen_mcgregor: Loewen-Ignatieff relationship not academic, but partisan. Inconvenient fact?

Suffice to say, we are now long into the extra innings of inside baseball on the VoteCompass story. I don’t mean to pick on either David or Brian. I have worked with them for many years and like them both.  David is a prolific and skilled reporter, a National Newspaper Award winner, and a champion of the use of social media in journalism. I have never detected any sign of bias in his work. Brian is a fearless interviewer, especially in scrums, and has a keen eye for hypocrisy. He’s also a funny guy.

I also dearly hope their TV venture is successful. A company hiring journalists is always a good thing, whatever its ultimate objective.

That said, I find Sun Media’s fixation with the CBC bizarre. Even though it is suspiciously congruent with QMI’s corporate interests,  I fully support holding a taxpayer-funded organization to account, even through unrelenting filing of Access to Information requests. But the incessant campaign alleging Liberal bias against CBC is off base and insulting to Brian’s and David’s colleagues who do good journalism there every day.  It’s the kind of “MSM” bunk that bloggers hurl at reporters all the time and David, at least, should know better.

(For the record, I’ve never taken a dime from the CBC, nor have I ever applied for a job with the corporation. I have been paid a couple of hundred bucks over the years for appearing on shows hosted by Mark Sutcliffe on CFRA and CPAC. And I get paid by the Citizen every week.)

If either David or Brian wants to debate this further, I suggest a one-on-one format at Massey Hall. Sun TV News can carry it live.


24 thoughts on “Sun Media ignored Flanagan on VoteCompass prof’s objectivity

  1. Lies by omission. Brilliant 😦

    I just hope that no one counters this revelation by saying “they all do it”. It’s schoolyard logic at best and we really need to discuss issues like adults for once.

  2. Pingback: All Roads Lead to Politics » Blog Archive » Campaign Day 12: Small Things, Big Drag

  3. there is a big article today saying the Conservatives are taking down every article
    published by press that is critical of Harper. The Star,

    I checked myself…Nationalnewswatch…..CalgaryHerald article…

    “Kids deserve Liberals day-care promise” ..N.Lakritz……(headline but article GONE)

    OMG …what has Harper done to us???

  4. Well Peter Loewen had better get used to controversy. Playing with genetic sociology and media messaging is a nice past-time but politics affects us directly and his software interface which gave no opt-outs for entering data that link the user to the electoral lists was downright immoral…

    • How do you know the data was linked to the electoral lists? I would find that to be highly unrealistic. Where can I find out more about this? Could this be more of an urban myth?

  5. Tom Flanagan has made some pretty outlandish comments in the past few months. He even comes across (to me at least) as being quite silly when in front of a camera with corny props and such. He also seems to be all over the map on various political issues, which is Okay I guess, but it leaves me scratching my sometimes. I would also suspect that he enjoys being somewhat controversial, and, when one takes that road, you also forfeit some of your credibility, simply, because no one really knows whether you believe what you’re saying, or just stirring the pot. To sum up, you have to ask yourself, was he just trying to save a colleague or does he really believe what he wrote to David Akin. My suspicion is the latter as is the Sun’s.Good call.

    • Well, that is quite the stretch! I guess you can find a conspiracy just about anywhere if you look hard enough. Flanagan has more credibility than the Sun editorial staff in this case and Peter Loewen is one of the most respected researchers in Canada.

    • And you have to wonder why he is a constant guest on CBC. He’s about as funny as Don Martin on CTV. Those props have to leave you wondering about his sense of balance. Saying that he is silly is being kind.

  6. Sun Media distort the truth and mislead people? Really? Wow….

    To my mind a day where Sun Media DIDN’T distort the truth and mislead people would be newsworthy.

  7. Facts are facts. Take the CBC Vote Compass and you’ll be a Liberal. If this piece of work had shown everyone being a CPC follower it would never had seen the light of day.

    Here is one that I worked on and it should answer some questions as to who you should be voting for.

    You’re A Liberal If…….


    If you know you’re better than everyone else…you could be a Liberal

    If you took one year at a University and call yourself a graduate….you could be a Liberal.

    If you look down on people who call their monthly income a paycheck….you could be a Liberal

    If you believe that everyone but you should share your paycheck…you could be a Liberal.

    If you believe the Oilsands isn’t the reason you have money in your pocket….you could be a Liberal.

    If you believe Al Gore is your friend… could be a Liberal.

    If you believe David Suzuki is your friend….you could be a Liberal.

    If you believe Canada’s Armed Forces are your enemy… could be a Liberal.

    if you believe the path to becoming PM of Canada is via the NDP….your name is Pierre or Bob.

    If you believe the LPC is Canada’s Natural Governing Party… need help.

    • You are everything that is wrong not only with Canada but with the world: a brainless, non-critical propaganda bag inflated by Harper’s odious emissions of vitriol, fear, and desperation.

      He is the worst prime minister Canada has ever had. He is not a legitimate conservative in any sense of the word. And yet embarrassingly, offensively dumb Canadians like your dolt self still hew to his bullshit reflexively. You are a stain on our country, just like your beloved oil sands, may you fall into them and meet oblivion to the benefit of the rest of the country.

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  9. Pingback: Sun Media ignored Flanagan on VoteCompass prof's objectivity … | Media Point

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  15. I suppose by now you’ve all read the truth from Ezra. All you lefties stepped into it right up to your knees. You probably won’t but give it a try. Especially you Maxie.

    It was a terrible day when they allowed us common people to read and use all these new fangled instruments.

    Oh, and

    B.C. Liberal candidate has drunk-driving conviction just to finish your day off.

  16. Pingback: Is the CBC’s Vote Compass skewing left-wing? (Or, Internet survey produces dodgy results? The Sun is there) | Election Whoas |

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