Opinion

Please Advise! Did Duffy Testimony Spin Out of Control?

As trial wraps, too many desperate PR patients seek our spin doctor's aid.

By Steve Burgess 26 Aug 2015 | TheTyee.ca

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 PhD 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 politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

As regular Tyee readers are aware, here at the offices of Dr. Steve we field requests from the spin-starved public, responding to plaintive letters and offering PR help for their multifarious troubles. This week, however, there's been a systems crash. The Doc Steve inbox has been overloaded. There are too many desperate requests for assistance.

Part of the problem is the whole Ashley Madison scandal. Ever since hackers released user data for the cheaters' website I have been swamped with frantic pleas for personal spin techniques from husbands -- and let's say wives -- whose email addresses turned up in the data dump. Among my recommended responses: "AshleyMadison.com must have got my email address after I wrote that outraged email blaming them for the collapse of modern civilization;" "You mean Ashley Madison isn't a florist?" or in the case of a certain Christian TV star, "This transparent smear only shows the desperate tactics Satan will employ to stop my important work."

But Ashley Madison is only part of the overload. Many of the desperate requests for spin are coming from participants and interested parties in the Mike Duffy trial, which is now on break until November. So much pain; so many cries for help; so many exposed posteriors in search of cover. It's simply been too much for the email servers at Doc Steve Inc.

Desperately seeking Steve

Senator Duffy himself could use some spin, but please. Dr. Steve is not Dumbledore. Charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Duffy's defence was that he didn't know of any law against using the public purse to splash out like bears in a backyard swimming pool. It is the defence lawyer who argued for the existence of a conspiracy -- a nefarious scheme by the PMO to criminalize the senator's perfectly acceptable behaviour. Mike Duffy is un-spinnable, and that's no fat joke.

The prime minister's chief of staff, Ray Novak, seems to be spinning out of control at present. Novak took over from previous chief of staff Nigel Wright when Wright was pushed out after making a $90,000 payment to Senator Mike Duffy to cover Duffy's questionable Senate expenses. Novak arrived like a new dawn, like President Ford after President Nixon, that our long national nightmare might be over.

And then came the Duffy trial. According to the testimony of former PMO lawyer Ben Perrin, Novak was present at the original sin, listening in on the Speakerphone of Eden when the apple was eaten -- the conference call when the plan to repay Duffy was discussed. In other words replacing Wright with Novak was a little like replacing Mr. Evil with Mini-Me. It was like swapping Baggy Beagle for Bouncer Beagle.

Nigel Wright's testimony, believable or not, was a reflection of his admirable loyalty to the prime minister who placed him carefully under the bus, drove it and backed it up again. Those who waited for Wright to speak those sweet little words -- "J'accuse!" -- waited in vain. But never mind. Perrin was on deck. And Perrin would say he assumed the prime minister had signed off on the Duffy repayment plan -- was "good to go," as Wright's email said.

No one had to ask Perrin if lemonade sales are bucking economic trends this summer, if bears enjoy swimming pools, or if Toronto Blue Jay Josh Donaldson prefers to take the bases at a pleasant trot. And yet his other statement of the obvious was somehow big news.

Does it look bad, doc?

So the Conservatives are seeking post-trial spin. Although it's not like they don't have their own spin people. Earl Cowan, for instance. As a professional spin doctor I love Earl Cowan. I love him like a dentist loves candy. Cleaning up after guys like Earl is what pays for my Swarovski crystal toothpicks and my full-time staff of domestic ice sculptors.

Ultimately though, spinning CPC underlings is like blowing on so many PNE pinwheels. The really big spin -- the Orbiter, the Gravitron, the Large Hadron Collider -- is reserved for the biggest attraction. It's Prime Minister Harper who needs a ticket for the world's biggest Ferris wheel. The increasingly desperate attempts to re-frame Nigel Wright's statement that the prime minister was "good to go" on repaying Duffy's expenses has an increasingly familiar ring: "I was not 'good to go' with that woman.... Read my lips... it depends on what the meaning of 'good to go' is...."

The prime minister has not yet approached Dr. Steve for his professional advice. Nonetheless, I am busily preparing for that eventuality. If Mr. Harper calls, I have instructed staff to say I was killed in an unfortunate bear-related swimming pool incident. At this point, spinning Stephen Harper's story is not a gig I can handle.  [Tyee]

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