NATIONAL

Scoring points with phantom attack ads

PAUL WELLS March 10 2008
NATIONAL

Scoring points with phantom attack ads

PAUL WELLS March 10 2008

Scoring points with phantom attack ads

PAUL WELLS

Welcome to Conserva-

tive party election headquarters in Ottawa, where packs of seasoned political journalists are routinely duped like rubes at a game of three-card monte.

When Tory minister John Baird unveiled the sprawling high-tech loft last spring, reporters said the banks of computers and built-in television studio proved the party was ready for a snap election. What they weren’t told was that the computers weren’t connected and the room was shut down to save costs as soon as the last reporter left the premises.

The lights went on again on Feb. 17 for another show and tell. This one featured Jim

Prentice warning that Stéphane Dion’s spending promises would add $62 billion to the national debt. Prentice unveiled ads showing Dion to the tune of the old O’Jays hit For the Love of Money. Cue days of nationwide coverage of the attack.

But the coverage itself was the attack.

After days of free TV news exposure, the story of the ads got yet another breath of new life when the O’Jays’ music publisher complained the Conservatives had infringed the band’s copyright. That’s when Tory spokesman Ryan Sparrow admitted that the ad had never aired, as a paid commercial, anywhere.

Precisely. In recent elections, both the Conservatives and their opponents have attracted free attention by announcing ads they didn’t actually run—and avoided unwanted coverage by running ads they didn’t tell reporters about. Sources say the Conservatives plan to do much more of the same during the next election. When it’s so easy to make reporters do the party’s work, why dip into campaign funds unnecessarily? M