Would you like to play a fun game of Trained Monkeys Clicking? All it takes is the most basic knowledge of computers, and some free time on your hands.
First, read this excerpt from Tara Brautigam's Canadian Press story then follow the link to read the full text (and thanks to Wallace McLean for the link).
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams says a former public servant made "offensive and stupid" remarks when he told a public inquiry that radio call-in shows influenced the government's handling of an emerging scandal involving flawed breast-cancer testing.
In recent weeks, the judicial inquiry into the botched tests has put a spotlight on the tightly controlled communication strategy employed by Williams's government.
Former deputy health minister John Abbott told the inquiry that the government's communications staff monitored and manipulated the province's wildly popular radio call-in shows to deliver key messages to the public on various issues, including revelations there were persistent problems with breast-cancer testing in the province dating back to 1997.
According to Abbott, the government's strategy was a "fairly recent trend" that had a "significant impact on how government does business."
Williams angrily denied Abbott's testimony.
"I can tell you categorically, unequivocally, that John Abbott is completely wrong if he's implying that government decisions are made on the basis of open-line shows," Williams said in an interview.
"I find that offensive and stupid, quite frankly."
Over at Polemic & Paradox, Peter Whittle says the opposite; that there is nothing new about the political manipulation of open line shows, and that previous administrations have done it as well.
Along these same lines, I find it offensive when there are attempts to manipulate the VOCM Question of the Day. Sometimes, when the question veers onto sensitive political turf, someone gets itchy with the voting finger, as I've discussed previously.
Friday's Question of the Day was particularly telling. The question was "Do you agree with the premier that the Cameron inquiry appears to be more of a `prosecution' than an inquiry? Why or why not?"
To that, 74 per cent of more than ten thousand respondents apparently agreed with the premier, 23 per cent did not and three per cent were not sure.
Something closer to the truth is revealed in the comments section, which is far more difficult to manipulate. Here, there were 214 comments, by my count (on Sunday evening). Of those, only 45 agreed with the premier. That works out to 21 per cent a far cry from the 74 per cent in the easy click' poll.
It is clear that someone is working hard to fudge the results in the government's favour. I am not alleging that this is orchestrated by someone within the party or the government - I have no knowledge of this - but if someone on the inside wants to correct me on that, please get in touch.
In the meantime, let's have some fun just for today with the Trained Monkeys Clicking Game. It's easy to learn and fun to play.
First, you have to turn off the cookies in your Internet browser. (Cookies leave your digital calling card at other sites, which tell them that you have visited or, in this case, voted previously.) Just select the Preferences panel in your web browser and click Never accept cookies' or Disable cookies'. The wording may vary but the meaning is the same.
While this game is a great way to have fun and influence public opinion, I insist that you play it for today only. Because, honestly, it is offensive and stupid to do this every day.
Why is okay for today? Because we are doing it honestly and openly, in the name of science. And the question is irresistible! Here it is:
"Do you think radio call-in shows like VOCM Open Line influenced Government's handling of the breast cancer testing scandal?"
Never let it be said that the folks at VOCM don't have a sense of humour!
Right now, at the time of this posting (12:30 pm on Monday) there are just less than 2,000 votes at the site. Of those, a clear majority of 63 per cent say that, no, the shows had no influence. Just 30 per cent said otherwise.
So, let's all turn off our cookies (this is important), go to the Question of the Day and start clicking. To make the experiment more interesting, let's click the Yes' button. Let's see if those who are clicking the No' button actually notice. If so, they will start playing along, and the votes could go into the tens of thousands.
Have fun kids, but don't forget, it's for today only.