Accuracy in Media

In one of the most dramatic stories to date of blogger influence, an American blogger listed the details of inflammatory testimony in a Canadian government corruption case-testimony that was under a publication ban enacted by the judge. Soon the blogger’s website was inundated with hundreds of thousands of hits from Canadians hungry for information, but shut out of the story by the ban. It was a unique case of a lone blogger disseminating information the media were unable to publish.

Ed Morrissey, the writer of Captain’s Quarters blog, started reporting on the testimony on April 2 in an entry titled “Canada’s Corruption Scandal Breaks Wide Open.” The political scandal involved allegations of bribery, kickbacks and illegal campaign financing to the tune of tens of millions of dollars which found their way into liberal party coffers. Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed the Gomery Commission to investigate the charges and determine whether to bring charges against government officials. (Morrissey recommended the blog Small Dead Animals for “excellent background” on the case.)

Most of the testimony in the case had been public, but Judge Gomery instituted a publication ban on the testimony of three key witnesses. Blogger Morrissey managed to get a contact at the trial, which was later reported to be a Canadian journalist. Wrote Morrissey: “The potential damage of their testimony has so unnerved the Liberal Party that they have reportedly started working towards a snap election so that they will not have to face the voters once the facts surface from the record.”

He added. “If the Gomery Commission can corroborate Brault, [one of the witnesses whose testimony was under the ban] then the reek of corruption goes through all levels of the Liberal party and may explain their ability to out-campaign the Conservatives. After all, they’ve siphoned off hundreds of millions of government dollars to promote their own party and to guarantee their monopoly on power. They hijacked the Canadian tax base to fund their own campaigns and hide the financial trail.”

Canadian journalists at first were in a quandary as to how to report on Morrissey’s revelations. They themselves had been at the trial and indicated while incomplete, Morrissey’s information was accurate, and they knew Canadians were dying to know more. CBC Television chose to report Morrissey’s web address, so that interested Canadians could get the information without the CBC violating the ban. Soon Captain’s Quarters crashed, under the stampede of hundreds of thousands of Canadians kept in the dark about the testimony.

Bob Cox, night editor of the Toronto newspaper, The Globe and Mail told media, “There was a great desire amongst Canadians for the information. As a Canadian journalist, I can tell you it’s frustrating,” Cox said. “Every Canadian with a computer can sit down and read it, but we can’t publish it. We’re kind of envious that he [Morrissey] can do this.”

Linda Seebach writing in the Nashua Telegraph noted that “There’s been hardly any coverage of what the Canadians call “AdScam” in the U.S. press, although something that could cause the Canadian government to fall ought to be of interest to that country’s southern neighbor.” And on Morrissey she comments, “Are bloggers journalists?

Sure, when they do journalism, and Ed Morrissey, “Captain Ed” at the Web log called Captain’s Quarters, sure was doing journalism when he blew open a Canadian corruption scandal that was under a judicial publication ban in Canada.”

While insightful journalists have previously suggested no one yet can judge the future path and potential influence of citizen journalism and blogging, here is a truly unique incident whereby a blogger was able to inform the public when all of Canadian media was under a publication ban. In this instance, the flexibility and quick moves of a one-man operation trumped what all major media were able to do in Canada. It’s reminiscent of cases where ham radio operators have disseminated crucial information during natural disasters and political crises-information unavailable by other means.

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