Imagine you are the leader of a national political party in the midst of a general election, and footage of you appearing to call your electorate "stupid" emerges online. What do you do?
a) Dispute the authenticity of the tape;
b) Threaten to sue a blogger who posts it;
c) Deny the quote and blame it on technical difficulties;
d) Claim it was taken out of context.
If you're Elizabeth May and the Green party, the correct answer is "all of the above."
This week, the Green leader got caught in a dizzying snafu after a Conservative blogger unearthed video of her saying "Canadians are stupid" in a February 2007 episode of the TVO current affairs show The Agenda.
May said, "All the other politicians are scared to death to mention the word ‘tax,' and they think Canadians are stupid." [Watch the video]
At that point, another panellist on the show added a comment, at which May interrupted herself to say, "I fundamentally agree with that assessment." It sounds, from the audio alone, as if she fundamentally agrees that Canadians are stupid. But it's clear from one viewing that that wasn't her intent.
That simple explanation would probably have sufficed, but instead May and her Green militia offered everything but.
First the Greens claimed that the "stupid" audio was digitally altered to embarrass May. TVO was then forced to release a statement saying there was no doctoring of the tape.
Then John Bennett, director of communications for the party, began the legal threats. "You are knowingly asisting [sic] in slander," Bennett wrote of the video posted by a progressive blogger from Regina named Leftdog. "Get it down or you face legal action [from] us & TVO. Journalism is more than repeating. You have a responsibility to verify the facts. Get get it down now."
Again, TVO had to step in to correct the record, stating that it would not be taking legal action against anyone. So instead of Green Party Of Canada V. Leftdog in the courts, Bennett was forced to issue an apology online.
Next comes the most perplexing explanation: May herself went on The Agenda to say there was microphone trouble and what she actually said is that she fundamentally disagrees with the assessment. Just an interview later, she flipped the script on CTV's Question Period, saying she did fundamentally agree with the assessment, but it was that of an another off-camera panellist and the quote was out of context.
This all seems to stem from the Greens' media response strategy. Every time the party faces a smackdown online, the Green media machine sends an e-mail blast asking members and supporters to immediately reply in the comments section. Such a rapid-response strategy can only result in poorly considered, knee-jerk reactions. Or, as in this case, poorly considered reactions from jerks.
Leak of the week