NAFTA-Gate - A Case Study
- From: Islander <nospam@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 06 Mar 2008 09:03:41 -0800
I will apologize in advance for the length of this post. If anyone wants to respond to this post, please delete the major part so that we do not burden everyone yet again. There are shorter versions of this on the web, but I wanted to thoroughly document what I found to be an interesting example of the slime machine and one way that it works.
Over the past week, a story surfaced that has come to be called NAFTA-Gate. It happened over a short period of time and fortunately
there is plenty of material still on-line to give us a good example of
one approach to deflect discussion from the issues and damage a candidate that you want to lose.
In what follows, recall that the Ohio primary was on Tuesday, Mar 4th, only 6 days after this story broke.
I would like to thank Jim for providing many of the links to this case
study. My comments in what follows are in brackets  in order to clearly delineate them from the quoted text.
[Late Wednesday, Feb. 27th, CTV, a Canadian television network under the byline of Tom Clark, broadcast a story stating: ]
"CTV has learned that within the last month, a senior member of the Barack campaign telephoned the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson. In that call the Obama operative warned the ambassador that NAFTA would become part of the debate in Democratic Primaries and that Obama would take some heavy swings at the trade deal. But told the ambassador 'Don't worry, it is just campaign rhetoric. It's not serious.' Canadian sources say that the message was taken to be completely authentic and representing the views of the Obama campaign. But last night in Ohio, where NAFTA is blamed for massive job losses, Obama promised the voters that he would do what his campaign privately told Canada that he would not. ... Late tonight a representative (Robert Gibbs) for the Obama campaign did not deny that the contact had actually been made, but said that the story sounds implausible. Sources have also told CTV that the Clinton campaign has made indirect contact with the Canadian government trying to assure Ottawa of their support despite her words. ... Late word tonight from the Clinton campaign, they say that nobody from their campaign contacted directly or indirectly the Canadian government about the Senator's stand on NAFTA. They say that it would not be sanctioned by their campaign, and, Loyd, they also said they give the Canadian government blanket immunity to reveal whoever it was in their campaign who supposedly called them, which the Clinton campaign says, nobody did. ... Hillary's political future rests on what happens in Ohio and also in Texas next Tuesday in the primaries and so the Clinton campaign is looking at this as a possible huge advantage because it goes to the question of truthfulness. In other words, did Barack Obama say one thing privately to a foreign government and then say something entirely different to the voters of Ohio and Texas and it appears tonight that that is exactly what he did."
http://tinyurl.com/yro3r5 OR http://time-blog.com/real_clear_politics/2008/02/obama_nafta_and_canada.html
[The next day, Thursday, the blogs had picked up the story, Real-Clear-Politics was one of the first and by Friday, the story was picked up by the rest of the American media. It spread like wildfire.
To their credit, the Canadian embassy responded quickly, releasing the following statement on Friday: ]
"I can categorically say that no one has contacted our embassy or our ambassador," said Canadian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andre Lemay. "None of our officials at the embassy discussed anything with the runners up in the presidential campaign. We realize that one of the Canadian networks mentioned yesterday that such a call had been made. The report is untrue."
When asked whether Ambassador Michael Wilson, the Canadian emissary to the U.S., had received a call from anyone in the Obama campaign, Lemay said he had not.
Wilson "was not contacted by anybody," said Lemay. "Nor was any official in our embassy."
"We are saying the story is untrue," Lemay reiterated.
[Note here that Lemay is referring to the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC which was what was implied in the CTV story.]
[CTV responded immediately with: ]
But on Wednesday, one of the primary sources of the story, a high-ranking member of the Canadian embassy, gave CTV more details of the call. He even provided a timeline. He has since suggested it was perhaps a miscommunication.
The denial from the embassy was followed by a denial from Senator Obama.
"The Canadian government put out a statement saying that this was just not true, so I don't know who the sources were," said Obama.
Sources at the highest levels of the Canadian government -- who first told CTV that a call was made from the Obama camp -- have reconfirmed their position.
[John McCain weighed in at this point, giving this statement to reporters: ]
"I don't think it's appropriate to go to Ohio and tell people one thing while your aide is calling the Canadian Ambassador and telling him something else," McCain told reporters. "I certainly don't think that's straight talk."
[Then, TPM reports: ]
But CTV, which first aired the story, is more or less standing by
their reporting, and also named the Obama aide in question:
The Obama campaign told CTV late Thursday night that no message
was passed to the Canadian government that suggests that Obama does
not mean what he says about opting out of NAFTA if it is not
However, the Obama camp did not respond to repeated questions from
CTV on reports that a conversation on this matter was held between
Obama's senior economic adviser -- Austan Goolsbee -- and the Canadian
Consulate General in Chicago.
CTV is also reporting that Goolsbee isn't denying this:
On Thursday night, CTV spoke with Goolsbee, but he refused to say
whether he had such a conversation with the Canadian government office
in Chicago. He also said he has been told to direct any questions to
the campaign headquarters.
The Obama campaign has reiterated his opposition to NAFTA and says
he's totally committed to reinforcing environmental and labor
standards. More soon.
Late Update: It's worth noting that CTV isn't at all clear about what
it is that Goolsbee said to the Chicago office; they only say that
there was a conversation "on this matter," which is pretty vague.
We're checking in with the Chicago office and will keep you posted.
Late Late Update: Obama spokesperson Bill Burton flatly denies this latest report:
This story is not true. There was no one at any level of our campaign, at any point, anywhere, who said or otherwise implied Obama was backing away from his consistent position on trade.
[At this point, the story is starting to unravel, but no one seems to be noticing despite the efforts on everyone's part to set the record straight. Instead, it has morphed into not only a story about an unsolicited warning to the Canadian government by an Obama "operative," but that Obama had *lied* about it!]
[But, Clinton's campaign has picked up on the story as evidenced by Howard Wolfson's comment to The National Review: ]
"I frankly have found the Obama campaign's responses to this less than definitive. Has Austan Goolsbee had any contact with anyone in the Canadian government, in the Canadian emabssy, or tried to send a message to individuals there to indicate that Senator Obama's criticism of NAFTA was not sincere? It's a simple question."
"If the Canadian reporting is true, it is a major development in this campaign. He is saying one thing and doing another."
[By Monday, the slime machine has shifted into high gear. It is all over the news and conservative commentators are having a field day. Is anyone bothering to run down the facts?]
[In an AP article, it becomes clear that the CTV story was based on a memo describing a meeting between Austan Goolsbee and members of the Canadian consulate in Chicago which was widely distributed in the Canadian government.]
[The memo is the first documentation to emerge publicly out of the meeting between the adviser, Austan Goolsbee, and officials with the Canadian consulate in Chicago, but Goolsbee said it misinterprets what he told them. The memo was written by Joseph DeMora, who works for the consulate and attended the meeting.]
"Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign," the memo said. "He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."
Goolsbee disputed the characterization from the conservative government official.
"This thing about 'it's more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans,' that's this guy's language," Goolsbee said of DeMora. "He's not quoting me.
"I certainly did not use that phrase in any way," he said.
"On NAFTA, Goolsbee suggested that Obama is less about fundamentally changing the agreement and more in favour of strengthening/clarifying language on labour mobility and environment and trying to establish these as more `core' principles of the agreement."
Goolsbee said that sentence is true and consistent with Obama's position. But he said other portions of the memo were inaccurate.
He said he has been surprised that such a banal and trivial meeting with a low-level consulate official has created so much controversy and resulted in such an inaccurate depiction. He said he was invited to the consulate to meet the officials and get a tour.
He said the visit lasted about 40 minutes, and perhaps two to three minutes were spent discussing NAFTA. He said the Canadians asked about Obama's position, and he replied about his interest in improving labor and environmental standards, and they raised some concerns that Obama sounds like a protectionist.
He said he responded that Obama is not a protectionist, but that the Illinois senator tries to strike a balance between the economic struggles of working Americans and recognizing that free trade is good for the economy.
"That's a pretty ham-handed description of what I answered," Goolsbee said of memo's account. "A: In no possible way was that a reference to NAFTA. And B: In no possible way was I inferring that he was going to introduce any policies that you should ignore and he had no intention of enacting. Those are both completely crazy."
[But, the issue has now been included in Clinton's stump speeches as the Baltimore Sun reports on Monday: ]
Clinton: Obama gave Canada 'wink-wink' on NAFTA
by Glenn Thrush and Rick Pearson
TOLEDO, OH -- Hillary Clinton -- fighting to hold a slim lead in Ohio -- is seizing on a leaked memo indicating that a top Barack Obama adviser assured Canadian officials the candidate's attacks on NAFTA were motivated by primary politics.
The former first lady -- ratcheting up her battle with the press -- suggested the Canada story would be getting more attention if the memo had referred to her campaign's activities.
Speaking to reporters here this morning, Clinton said, "If you come to Ohio and you go give speeches that are very critical of NAFTA... and then we find out that your chief economic adviser has gone to a foreign government and basically done the old wink-wink – 'Don’t pay any attention, this is just political rhetoric' -- I think that raises serious questions."
[By Tuesday, there is finally some serious checking of the facts: ]
Newsweek: It's now clear that a Canadian news report that started this flap wasn't accurate. No evidence has surfaced to show that any Obama "staffer" telephoned the Canadian ambassador in Washington, and all concerned deny that any such conversation took place. But it is equally clear that Obama's senior economic adviser did visit Canada's consulate in Chicago on Feb. 8, and that NAFTA was one of the several topics discussed.
Exactly what was said is not so clear, however. The memo says Obama's anti-NAFTA stance was described as just "political maneuvering," but the adviser says he said no such thing. The campaign says the adviser wasn't authorized to convey any message from the candidate anyway. No audio recording or verbatim transcript of the disputed conversation is available, and there's no reason to expect that any exist. So the best we can do is to provide readers with the essential details as they have unfolded over the past several days, with links to original sources when available. On this one, you'll have to be the judge.
[On Wednesday, after the Clinton win in Ohio, the truth finally comes out in the Canadian Public Broadcasting piece reported here by MYDD: ]
Canadian Public Broadcasting Exonerates Obama
by mattw, Wed Mar 05, 2008 at 03:01:30 AM EST
I think it's safe to say that the turmoil surrounding the so-called "NAFTAgate" played into Hillary's strong performance tonight. On the heels of "Super Tuesday II", CBC, Canada's Public Broadcaster, has done a piece on the NAFTA scandal.
The CBC piece details the involvement of the conservative Harper government in creating a sensationalized leak, which itself had almost no resemblance to the actual memo, which itself is now being disclaimed as perhaps not accurate at all. We peel off layers of deception, and there is nothing left at all, except a successful attempt to promote bloodletting among Democrats.
Video from CBC:
This piece details the sordid affair, that begins not with Obama contacting Canada, but nervous Canadians contacting the campaigns. Austan Goolsbee agreed to accept an invitation from Canadians, who pressed him for answers about protectionist sentiments emerging in the US Presidential election. He tried to reassure them that Obama did not want to do away with the agreement, but wanted to add labor and environmental protections.
Someone in the Harper government - Prime Minister of Canada and a member of their Conservative Party - apparently decided to leak a sensational lie that bears a very loose resemblance of the truth. A source leaked to CTV that the Obama campaign had called Michael Wilson, Canadian Ambassador to the US, and warned them that Obama was going to talk tough on NAFTA, but it would be just talk.
According to CBC, all the details were wrong. Canada contacted the campaigns. Michael Wilson was not involved. And, most damning, they are now admitting that the memo at the heart of the controversy "may not accurately reflect what they were told".
In other words, according to CBC, this scandal was manufactured out of whole cloth. Goolsbee said something consistent with Obama's official position - that he wanted protections added, but it wasn't going to be a fundamental change or revocation of NAFTA, and that Obama was not a protectionist. This was morphed somewhat going into the memo, and now the embassy admits they "may have misrepresented the Obama advisor". Even after the memo misrepresented Obama, the Harper government took it a step further and then leaked a completely fantastic version of the story to the press, in order to maximize the bloodletting.
In short, Chris Bowers was right. This whole thing is clever maneuvering on the part of the Harper government to bolster McCain by sowing dissent among Democrats.
We have long had many of these pieces. The sensational misrepresentation of the original CTV story was shocking. But now CBC has cleared the air, with the final note from the embassy that they "may have misrepresented the Obama advisor". In the end, there's nothing to the story but air. It all boiled down to a memo, which was far less dramatic in content than the first story that ran, and now they are even disclaiming the accuracy of the memo.
In short, people have been duped. With the memo disclaimed, there is nothing left to support this story.
Given this timeline, and the drastic change in the story, it is very easy to see why Obama was comfortable with a blanket denial. The claims of the original story bear so little resemblance to what eventually surfaced that it is unlikely Obama even connected the story to Goolsbee's meeting, given that the talk of NAFTA took up only a few minutes of that meeting - even if Obama knew of the particulars of that meeting. (Given his schedule, also not a given.)
In the end, the leak by the Harper government achieved its goal - it helped Hillary on her offensive and has helped ensure that the Democratic primary will drag on, causing Democrats to spend money fighting each other instead of John McCain, and giving McCain more time without a clear Democratic nominee, allowing him to catch up to our fundraising ability.
I don't think any of this casts any aspersion on Hillary's campaign or candidacy. She was the unwitting beneficiary, but not the cause. However, I think the eagerness of some to attack and tear down our candidates is something we - as people who want to see a Democrat in the White House - need to be cautious with. Having a spirited debate over an issue - like the difference in our candidates' health care plans - is one thing. Letting conservative forces drum up outrage with fake news stories, on the other hand, does not serve our interests. This will not be the last time we see tricks like this.
It is to the Republican advantage that we become so committed to our candidates, so myopic, so hateful of the "other side" that is keeping our candidate from their rightful nomination, that we are unwilling to use our vote or our money wisely in the general election. The Republican base is scattered. They are disorganized. They are dissatisfied with their nominee. Their last, best hope for a win relies on Democratic bloodletting reaching a historic level, leaving us too bloodied and battered to be on our game for the General Election.
[Now, if you think that the above is far-fetched, this was published this morning by Reuters: ]
Top aide to Canada PM sparked NAFTA spat: reports
Thu Mar 6, 2008 9:45am EST
OTTAWA (Reuters) - A major controversy over the sincerity of U.S. Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's attacks on NAFTA was triggered by the top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, media reports said on Thursday.
[The aide was identified as Harper's chief of staff Ian Brodie.]
The chances of Brodie losing his job would appear to be remote. Harper, who does little to hide his contempt for the media, is fiercely loyal to his staff.
The summary below is mine:
But, the damage has been done. The last poll taken in Ohio showed Clinton with a single digit lead over Obama with a large number of voters still undecided. In the final result, it is evident that most of those undecided voters decided at the last minute to vote for Clinton.
Was this a conspiracy launched by the Clinton campaign? No, but the Clinton campaign took advantage of the now discounted news story on CTV by Tom Clark that was based on a leak from Ian Brodie who had access to the memo by Joseph DeMura. Was it a conspiracy within the conservative Harper government to sow dissent among Democrats? Not unless you count the Chief of Staff to the conservative Stephen Harper who leaked the story to CTV.
The story only had legs because the press went into a feeding frenzy without bothering to check the facts. This is the problem with the slime machine. It feeds on the echo chamber of the blogisphere. Conservative commentators helped to amplify the story and the press dutifully repeated what was easy and sensational. Today, most people in America have missed the whole story and the belief that Obama lied is now widespread.
Some may feel that this was only smart politics on the part of the Clinton campaign. After all, she won. But, it is dirty politics in my view and regrettable that Clinton felt justified in sinking to this level. Based on her lead in that state, she would probably have won anyway, but this story, launched too late for an effective response by Obama, nailed it.
The message here is that when a sensational story breaks close to election day giving the victim of the story little time to react, it is probably a product of the slime machine.
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