Saturday, February 05, 2005

Manipulation - Thy Name is Globe & Mail

I'm thinking of changing my pseudonym to John the Quite Sane, But Thoroughly Disgusted. Why? I just read this morning's Globe & Mail editorial on same-sex marriage (SSM). Frankly, I'm very weary of this debate and eager to post on subjects other than this one, but the advocates of SSM keep lobbing lies and half-truths into the political corral and the bull herd needs to be regularly gelded.

Let me be clear. I am a democrat. I don't mind any editorialists crusading for a change to the traditional definition of marriage, if that is what they want to do. But is it asking to much for them to be honest in how they address the issue? One has to wonder whether today's Globe editorialist is toadying for a Senate appointment? Whatever the reason, it is not very honourable.

What really gets my steam up is the selective use of information which bolsters their cause, while ignoring information which refutes the position they take. Today's editorial is a case study in manipulation of the public. How?

The Globe editorialist asserts that whatever difficulties the Liberals are having with this issue (apparently only a caucus management problem, says the Globe), it is the Conservatives and Stephen Harper who are in real political trouble by opposing the same-sex legislation. What evidence is given for this?

"But the most interesting finding in a hyped media poll this week on same sex marriage came when respondents were asked which policy priorities merit the most attention. Only six percent cited same sex marriage. Even among advocates of traditional marriage, only one in ten put voting weight [whatever that is supposed to mean?] on the issue. And this at the very height of the debate. Six months or a year from now those numbers are bound to shrink into a rounding error."
Message from the Globe. The public doesn't care about changing the definition of marriage, so get on with it.

What "hyped media poll" is the Globe writing about? Good question. It was a poll on the front page of last Thursday's National Post. Why the use of the curious "hyped media poll" phraseology? It is intended to lead one to believe that content of the poll is not really that important, or relevant. How do we know? The editorialist implies it is so, by calling it hyped, that's how.

Now what of the content of the poll itself? We bloggers are accused of mainstream journalists of not fact-checking stories, but in truth most of us here in the Red Ensign Brigade are rather assiduous about doing so. It is in our curmudgeonly nature.

Now the Globe editorialist was aware of the content of the National Post/Global poll as the poll results were carefully cherry picked to bolster the sly assertion that no one cares about the SSM. But a reading of the Post story, by Tom Blackwell, reveals that Canadians do care about the change to the definition of marriage. They care very much.

As MPs begin debating the government's same-sex marriage bill, a healthy majority of Canadians would actually prefer to see the contentious issue decided by a country-wide referendum, a new National Post/Global National poll suggests.
More than two-thirds said they would prefer a direct say on the gay marriage question, rather than a free vote in Parliament that lets politicians act according to their conscience, the survey indicates.

And the poll suggests the same-sex legislation might go down to defeat in a plebiscite, with 66% saying they support keeping the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

However, about half that number do favour creating a new category of "civil union" for same-sex partners. A similar percentage favour full same-sex marriage. The breakdown of support has changed little in the last year.
66% against! .... Just in case anyone missed it I will repeat it.

66% of Canadians say they are opposed to same-sex marriage!
Conrad Winn of COMPAS said the support for a referendum on the issue is unusual and much higher than the company generally finds, perhaps because it is a subject many people feel they understand and can offer a reasonable opinion about.
Also surprising, he said, was that the poll found public opinion on same-sex marriage had barely changed in more than a year, despite the extensive public debate over it.
That, ladies and gentlemen was the heart of the polling results and a newspaper editorialist, whose job it is to know about such things, chose to let it drift quietly by, unremarked, unnoticed and unrecognized. See what I mean by manipulation. Now note I'm not saying there was an outright lie here. Why?

The poll does say that the public is not happy with the priority the Liberals are giving to this matter.
...just 6% of respondents said same-sex marriage should receive the greatest attention from the federal government among a number of listed issues. Health care, at 48%, the economy and taxes, honesty in government spending and the environment were all rated as greater priorities. Only foreign policy and terrorism fell below same-sex marriage in the poll.
Now, I am a policy wonk by trade. I am moderately well paid by Her Majesty, in Right of the Taxpayer, to give advice to government. I can tell you that a cursory interpretation of that latter information would suggest, not that the public is unconcerned, but that an overwhelming majority are not happy that the Liberals are pursuing SSM at all.

As it happens, I do not get paid the Queen's shilling to offer advice to the Right Honourable Paul Martin. But if I was so employed, I'd tell him to high tail it to the backwoods and never speak of it again. Why? That poll tells me that SSM is a heap of political dynamite. The situation is relatively quiet right now but if someone, or something, were to light the political fuse, the whole shebang could blow sky high taking the Liberal government with it. Don't think for a minute that the Globe editorialists aren't aware of the fragility of the Liberal SSM political platform. That's why they keep dousing the issue with water. Keep it cool and wet and don't, for God sakes, let the public in on how many are opposed.

The Globe editorialist ridicules Stephen Harper "in the over-the-top way" he has opposed SMM in connecting SSM with polygamy. Meanwhile, the anonymous editorialist is completely silent on the two legal opinions on polygamy commissioned by HM government in B.C. As I note in my Thursday, February 3rd post on this matter, the Attorney General of B.C. does not think the federal law against polygamy will withstand a court challenge. In 2001 former B.C. Chief Justice Allan McEachern, "agreed that a religious freedom defence will probably result in the law being struck down." Over-the-top, indeed.

Lastly, I draw your attention to another disingenuous element of the Globe editorial. Read the whole thing (warning firewall) and it is very clear that it is the editorialist's intention to undercut Stephen Harper and thereby the political opposition to SSM, by emphasizing a Conservative split, and downplaying Liberal fractures on this issue. But is there a Conservative split?

The poll also hinted at what Mr. Winn (Conrad Winn of COMPASS) calls a "civilizational" divide between the spiritually devout and others. Among the one-third who said religion was very important to them, 80% opposed opening the doors to same-sex marriage, compared with 35% among those for whom religion was not important.
Of all the parties, the Conservatives were most united on the issue, with 83% saying gay couples should not be able to marry. It could be a helpful issue for the opposition party if it chose to seize on it, Mr. Winn said.[emphasis is mine]
Among the one third who said religion is very important to them (and who are 80% opposed to SMM), are huge numbers of practicing churchgoing Catholics who have traditionally voted Liberal. They are very unhappy with Mr. Martin and the Liberal Party. It is increasingly becoming clear to them that the Liberal Party, as presently constituted, no longer represents the family values they hold dear.

In the words of Bob Dylan, "The times they are a changing." Go for it, Mr. Harper. Two thirds of the Canadian people are with you.


At 4:22 am, February 06, 2005 , Blogger Chris said...

Great post John, and I have to concur as must as I abhor what's going on with SSM I'm getting rather weary with it as far as topics go. I find its mostly because its absolutely impossible to have an honest debate on the matter. All you get is some sort of glib statement about "it doesn't affect you, none of your business" or "you'd have to use the notwithstanding clause". There really is no positive argument ever marshalled in favour of it aside from "they want too". Nor does anyone for it appear to want to consider the argument against it, they simply want to label you a bigot and some sort of retrograde neaderthal. Its really terribly frustrating when you've actually taken the time to work out your position to have people simply dismiss it out of hand and on flimsy grounds.

Not to mention the disgusting media cheerleading that's been occuring for the most part, and the fictious creation of divisions within a party that overwhelmingly uniform on the issue. For once I'd like to see news that simply reported not distorted events.

- Chris

At 3:59 pm, February 06, 2005 , Blogger John the Mad said...

Thanks Chris. The left is fond of ascribing psychological infirmities to those they oppose on the right, e.g., George Bush does do what he does out of conviction but because he's a recovering alcoholic with unresolved issues.

They do this so much that I'm beginning to ascribe it to some pychological deficiency of their own, .... but that would be mean.

I enjoy your blog very much.

At 7:33 pm, February 06, 2005 , Blogger John the Mad said...

That was supposed to read, "George Bush does not do what he does out of conviction,....."


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