Friday, August 17, 2012

"It matters not Mr. Akin it matters not!"

Good Day Readers:

Found this interesting exchange on the internet and couldn't resist the temptation to comment.

To respond to Mr. Akin's three principal criticisms:

(1) Supposing The Sixth Estate is someone by the name of "John Smith" or perhaps "Mary Jones" who have been toiling in obscurity on the internet but are very good at what they do. So?

(2) The suggestion The Sixth Estate has not adequately identified the source of its material. It is not uncommon for The MainStreamMedia (MSM) to protect sources using feeble excuses - "So and so requested anonymity" or "Our source would only provide information on the condition they not be identified" or "....." Has the organization for which Mr. Aikin works ever engaged in such a practice to get the inside track on a story?

(3) Same argument as (2)

The identify of The Sixth Estate matters not, rather, the quality of the research, analysis and writing must remain the defining variables. Would Watergate have ever come to light had "Deep Throat" (William Mark Felt Senior) immediately self-identified? Probably not.

Organizational history is replete with examples of whistleblowers who have allowed their actual names to be used only to find themselves ostracized or even worse terminated. One would think their employers would appreciate being apprised of wrongdoing, unless of course they're in the middle of it, but in a perverse, twisted way often such is not the case. Can you blame these people for using the traditional, proverbial brown, unmarked envelope to deliver evidence to the media.

Sorry, Mr. David Aikin but on this one you've been clearly "touche-d" by Mr/Ms Sixth Estate.

On the broader question of political patronage, should we really be surprised or is this the way the system has operated since Day One? When a "volunteer" offers their services to a political party or candidate during an election, do you really believe in all instances they're driven by altruism or could there possibly be some expectation of a reward?

The longer political parties are in power the more political patronage.

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk

An Open Letter to David Akin

This letter is for journalist David Akin, whose work is uncommonly good but who also takes issue with me.

First of all, yes, Sixth Estate is anonymous. (Technically, because people around the blog refer to me as “Sixth Estate” too, I suppose now it’s pseudonymous.) This isn’t to hide anything sinister. I am young, I am not employed, least of all by any political party (nor am I a member of one), and this site isn’t sponsored or funded by any other organization. So believe me, my name wouldn’t interest you. Unless you’re a member of my immediate family, you’ve never heard it before. You are, however, welcome to email me, dialogue with me in the comments, or simply ignore me.

Second of all, David writes that the patronage list would have more credibility if it was published by a named professional journalist like himself. Yes, it would. But I’m not a professional journalist, or a partisan insider (though he seems concerned that I might be). The reason I have the list is because I can’t find anyone else who maintains a list. Every so often, the Liberals or the NDP publish a list of their own, and it gets some media play, and then it goes away until next time. Actually, in my admittedly biased opinion, my list is more useful than theirs, because theirs often include reappointments (i.e. the same person gets counted twice if their job is renewed).

As for the insider comment — David appears to be taking this from a link on my Disclosure page indicating that I volunteered for a Conservative website during the 2011 campaign. Yes I did, and I explained my reasons for doing so. If I joined a Liberal campaign site, I would announce that too. But I didn’t do that. In any case, I am not a member of a political party, federally or provincially, and I have never been one. The limit of my material support to a political party, ever, in my life, has been the votes I cast during elections.

Nor is the list itself a partisan exercise. If and when the Conservatives are defeated in an election, assuming Sixth Estate is still up and running at that time, the list will reset and start over with that party’s appointees. If they follow the precedents of Canadian history, they will use the appointment system the same way as the Conservatives do. And if they campaign on the promise that they will reform the system, then that will appear hypocritical.

David also thinks I need to clarify my “methodology.” It’s very simple. I read the News.gc.ca press releases and, more importantly, I read the Cabinet orders published by the Privy Council Office. I take down the names. I search for them in Google to see if they’re former politicians — unless I recognize their names outright. Then I put their names into the election finance databases. Then I publish the matches. I also count the number of Liberal and NDP people who receive appointments, and you can see that at the top of the page.

I also accept that this process isn’t perfect. It’s possible I’ve mistakenly identified someone as a Conservative. In such cases, I invite people to tell me to publish a correction. I will do so, along with a written apology for the error, if that is requested.

I also think I should make clear, especially because David refers to the list as evidence of a “trough,” that I don’t have any evidence of anybody on this list being corrupt, incompetent, or irresponsible, nor am I saying that any of them are. To my knowledge, every one of them is absolutely competent, responsible, and honest.

 That’s not the point of the list. In fact, if you were so inclined, you could read the list as evidence that Conservatives are very public-spirited people who just like helping out, and do so far more often than their opponents in the other political parties do. Do you suppose that explains the numbers? It certainly might.

The Conservative patronage trough
By David Akin
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So this is great — if it all turns out to be true. Blogger The Sixth Estate has the name, rank and serial number for the 1,135 Conservative donors and sympathizers who have received patronage appointments since 2006. (Versus the 78 Liberals, 4 New Democrats, 1 Bloc Quebecois and 1 Green Party member who have received a federal government appointment since then).

“Stephen Harper once denounced this system as the Prime Minister rewarding his “buddies,” but while in office has been uninterested in changing the system. Instead he has continued to appoint party insiders and supporters at a frenzied pace, even to the Senate, which he once demanded be fully democratized through elected Senators with term limits. Since the May 2011 general election, he has even appointed several losing candidates to the Senate, so that they could have a seat in Parliament anyways after being denied one by the public.” Sixth Estate writes.

Now I would say this is a great example of “citizen journalism” but — and I’m not trying to sound mealy-mouthed here — one of the reasons that traditional journalists have (or ought to have) credibility is:
  • The real name of a journalist is associated with the work
  • The source of the information is clearly presented to the reader and, where the source cannot be identified, the journalist tells the reader why that is
  • The source of the data is identified and, again, when the source of that data cannot be publicly identified, the writer explains why it must be hidden
Sixth Estate has a disclosure statement in which s/he seems to indicate the s/he was a volunteer for the Conservative Party of Canada. That’s a good start but I still think Sixth Estate’s readers are owed a real name or an explanation why Sixth Estate cannot reveal his or her real name. Also: Where does the money come from for the blog or the time to research and write the blog? My example (which I’ve not seen copied nearly enough among bloggers, if you ask me) for “disclosure” is at the bottom right corner of my blog: Disclaimer and fine print.

In any event, for this project, Sixth Estate appears to have combed through Orders-in-Council for appointments (very good idea) and then used data in the Elections Canada database to match OIC appointees with their political affiliation. (Indeed, if you read the comments in the post, Sixth Estate says just that.) But I would suggest that Sixth Estate and other citizen/amateur journalists could make his/her case stronger by explaining who s/he made that leap to the political affiliation of OIC appointments. In other words, just as scientists publish their methodology so that others can reproduce their results, I would encourage Sixth Estate to provide more details about his/her methodology.
Gemini Award-winning journalist David Akin is the National Bureau Chief for Sun Media and co-host of The Daily Brief on Sun News Network.

He has covered events as varied as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s annual tours through the Arctic to the uprisings in Egypt in the spring of 2011 to terror trials at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba. Akin received a Gemini Award for his reporting while he was a correspondent for CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson and he was a National Newspaper Award finalist while working as a contributing writer for The Globe and Mail. His 20-year career in journalism also includes being a member of the inaugural staff at the National Post. Akin has long been one of Canada’s journalism pioneers when it comes to exploring ways to use digital media and computer-assisted tools for newsgathering and publishing.

This blog, On The Hill, is nearly a decade old and he is a frequent speaker on the use of social media in communications. Akin has been named one of the 100 most influential people on Parliament Hill. A Montrealer by birth, Akin studied history at the University of Guelph.

He lives near Ottawa with his wife and two children. David Akin’s cell phone number, office number, BlackBerry PIN, and other contact information is here.

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