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BC Election 2017
BC Politics

Please Advise! What’s with the Rah-Rah BC Liberal Ad Wrapped Around the Georgia Straight?

Don’t confuse ads for political endorsement, says Doc Steve. Newsfolk gotta get paid.

Steve Burgess 8 Apr

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Greetings! Just dropping a line to say Christy Clark has recruited a top-notch team of local candidates for the May 9 election. Why? Because B.C. needs a strong thriving Vancouver. More inside!

(This letter was paid for by the BC Liberal Party.)

BC Liberals

Dear Tyee Readers,

What? Come on, people. Don’t be naive. Times are tough. Layoffs at the Vancouver Sun and Province, local newspapers folding left and right — it is not easy to get by in this business. Revenue opportunities must be taken wherever they become available. Baby Dr. Steve* needs new shoes.

This certainly seems to be the case at the Georgia Straight, on which a front-page wrap-around ad for the BC Liberals graces this week’s issue. The text of the ad, coincidentally, is the same as the letter printed above. I assume the cheque was the same size too and if not, those clowns better have a good explanation.

Anyway, it’s just an ad. There’s no evidence the BC Liberals have purchased the editorial direction of the Straight. To cite one example, the Straight recently ran a piece about Paul Doroshenko and David Fai’s lawsuit against the Liberal government’s thinly disguised political TV ads. And say this for that Straight cover ad: it’s not a thinly disguised anything. It’s about as disguised as a naked SkyTrain busker.

Newspapers and magazines sell advertising. Deal with it. Still, the front page — or in this case, front cover — is supposed to be different. It’s the face of your publication, the statement of who you are. You mess with it at your peril. Yet the taboo against full-page front-page ads, if it ever existed, was broken long ago. The Sun and Province regularly feature wrap-around ad pages with the “real” front page tucked away inside.

Nor is this the only time political ads have fronted local papers. During the last federal election campaign, Postmedia papers like the Sun and Penticton Herald had their front pages replaced by a full-page Conservative ad reading “Voting Liberal Will Cost You.” So the Georgia Straight is not doing anything that has not been done before.

But it is still a fairly rare event. And if there is one thing the past few years have taught us, it is that the general public’s perception of just what constitutes genuine news may not be particularly acute. A front cover boasting a cadre of smiling Liberals and a rah-rah message might just be interpreted as representative of your publication’s official stance.

More on that in a moment, but first: Under Premier Christy Clark and her BC Liberal team, the provincial economy is booming. Only the BC Liberals have a strong plan for continued jobs and prosperity that balances environmental protection with good jobs for hard-working British Columbians. Let’s not go back to the bad old days of big government and slow growth. Christy Clark and the BC Liberals — the only choice for our future!

What? The letter said, “More inside,” and there it is. A deal is a deal. Unless that goddamn cheque bounces, and then I promise you the BC Liberals will feel the wrath of Dr. Steve and the full weight of his certified doctoral vengeance.

Wrap-around bullshit can be a powerful and effective tool. Last year, the Brexit team wrapped their travelling bus in a big message that read: “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS [National Health Service] instead. Vote Leave.” This was not just regular single-malt bullshit — it was a double-barrelled, extra strength variety. Not only was the £350 million figure a lie, but as smirking Brexit cheerleader Nigel Farage admitted immediately after the vote, there was no plan to deliver bonus money to the NHS. A poll suggested half of British voters believed the claim. Get your message out front. Worry about the rest later.

Ultimately, I am reassured to know political parties still feel the need to get their point across through paid advertising in print media. The way things are going, that middleman is being crowded out. Modern politicians will increasingly deal with their own partisan news organizations. No need for the Republicans to buy ads on Fox News or Breitbart — it’s gilding the lily.

Meanwhile, partisans on both sides will continue to muddy the waters by accusing reputable journalists of shilling for one party or another, clearing the way for those who claim there is no such thing as journalistic objectivity. Eventually there will be no need for political parties to buy ads at all. And that would make Dr. Steve and Baby Dr. Steve* very unhappy.

(* “Baby Dr. Steve” is a purely hypothetical construct representing Dr. Steve’s material needs and desires. It should not be construed as an actual baby. Do not call BC Child Protection Services.)  [Tyee]

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