Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ottawa-Centre: Paul Dewar's Blog Blunder

You can always tell from the way people handle little things, how they'll do when they handle big things. Based on NDP candidate Paul Dewar's recent group blog entry, I don't think we can trust him to be a responsible MP.

The trouble stems from his latest blog entry, "My Life As A Campaign Toque" (note to Paul's blog editor: you can use hyperlink targets per entry):
Admittedly, it was a little uncomfortable getting a Paul Dewar button forced into me, but all the campaign staff kept complimenting me, saying I looked 'hip' with the small orange pin. I mean, what's a polyester-mix toque supposed to do? ...

But a marvelous thing happened. People liked me. On the doorsteps, voters knew right away who I was. "Why, you must be the NDP!" and "Here come some Paul Dewar canvassers!" and "You don't have to worry about hunters finding you here on Bronson St." I felt a sense of recognition, and importance....

Yes, My true purpose has been found. From my humble beginnings as a hunting toque in a Sharbot Lake Gas Station, I have become something of a political icon. If only Paul Dewar would wear me, my campaign experience would be complete. Alas, the image managers keep us apart....
Yes, it's juvenile. And yes, it's embarrassing. I mean, it's "Scott Feschuk looks profound by comparison" embarrassing. So much so, in fact, that the official agent didn't want to assign credit for it.

And this was when the official agent committed his error. Previously, the blog entries had been credited to either some of the blog staffers (there had been three who made entries) or to Paul Dewar himself (he wrote the entry on "Human Rights and the Holiday Season"; bland but serviceable).

Now, the blog editor might have tried to attribute the entry to "Alan Smithee," the pseudonym which the Director's Guild assigns to films that are so butchered in the editing process that no sane director wants to take credit for it. But that could be considered dishonest.

So instead, the blog editor yanked the credits from all the previous blog entries, so no one person could be blamed for the entry.

This is an example of a fix that does worse damage to the candidate than the original embarrassment. There are two reasons for this.

First, it denies responsibility, which is what I alluded to earlier. Political candidates, like everyone else, are human and prone to error. And when an error is made, the temptation is to pretend it never happened. But it's far better to acknowledge the error quickly and take the immediate razzing, than to let it fester. Paul Martin learned this lesson the hard way in February. If Dewar and his people behave this way over such a juvenile matter, why should we trust them if they get in office and something really embarrassing happens?

Second, it shows a distrust of the readers -- and therefore, the constituents. Paul's blog has been around for two weeks now, long enough to build up a core readership. Naming the authors was a step in the right direction because it meant Paul was being transparent in his campaign. Yanking the credits suggests that the blog editor is hoping the readers weren't paying attention, or that any new readers wouldn't know that the blog was a group effort to begin with. It goes back to a classic "flogger" belief that the readers are gullible enough not to notice any changes, a concept dating back to George Orwell's 1984.

In politics, the most painful wounds are often self-inflicted. Paul's blog editor has done his candidate a great disservice. He'd've been better off giving the "Toque" author (who, based on the writing style, is the same person who wrote the "Campaign Jingle Bells" entry) a virtual noogie and keeping the credits.

By allowing and then pulling them, he has given the impression that Paul Dewar has something to hide. And that will hurt Paul far more than a tale of a gaudy toque.

UPDATE (08h53 15 Dec): Well, after a 24-hour period, they've brought the credits back -- this time, crediting the gaudy toque entry to "Orange Toque #4." (Personally, based on previous entries I think Kiavash Najafi wrote it, but let's not quibble.) I suppose it took that long to figure out how to credit the thing.