If there’s no scandal, we’ll make one up

Peter Jackson
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In a piece published Monday in the Montreal Gazette, Andrew Coyne notes that all three levels of government in Ontario are now snarled in some sort of scandal involving a perceived coverup.

Polls suggest most Canadians believe Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew at least something about his former chief of staff picking up Senator Mike Duffy’s overspending tab.

At the provincial level, reports now allege emails relating to the expensive cancellation of two gas-fired power plants under former premier Dalton McGuinty have mysteriously gone missing.

And in Toronto, well, Mayor Rob Ford says any video that may or may not show him smoking crack may or may not even exist.

All three situations have spurred police probes at some level.

Coyne makes the point that in each case, a bad situation was made worse by cumbersome attempts to cover up the obvious. When something doesn’t add up, the media, and in turn the public, get suspicious.

One can hardly expect politicians to spontaneously burst forth — Jimmy Swaggart-like — in tearful confession: “I have sinned against You, my Lord.” (And in any case, Swaggart knew his adulterous ways were already catching up with him.)

But to bunker down for days and even weeks while revelations of wrongdoing dangle in the wind is clearly the wrong approach.

Neither does it help to magnify the problem by kicking things off with false or misleading statements.

People are naturally suspicious. In some cases, too suspicious.

It’s possible Harper really did know nothing, that McGuinty’s miscalculations were genuine, and that Rob Ford really doesn’t do drugs.

But the way things have unfolded, few voters are still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

This is why it’s so hard to keep a good conspiracy under wraps. In fact, it’s nigh on impossible.

Newfoundland MHAs were lining their pockets back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But it only took one overdue peek by a government auditor to unravel the whole plot.

Republican-funded henchmen really did break into the Democrat National Committee headquarters in Washington in 1972.

But it took only two years for a couple of nosy reporters to bring down the entire Nixon presidency.

Real conspiracies, or at least attempted ones, tend to feed the public’s appetite for intrigue. And wild theories can be distributed widely these days with the click of a mouse.

In the States, for example, the “birthers” and “truthers” have run amok with absurd notions of faked births and faked terrorism.

The more inexplicable their theories get, the wider they cast their net.

Off in all directions

In the end, we’re left with a sea of diverging angles that could not have possibly survived the scrutiny of even one diligent investigator, let alone one of the thousands of supposed conspirators letting the cat out of the bag.

In his book on the JFK assassination, “Reclaiming History,” Vincent Bugliosi examines how conspiracy theorists have succeeded over the decades in turning a clear and provable case against one lone gunman into an unnavigable miasma of incompatible arguments.

Bugliosi writes: “The conspiracy community regularly seizes on one slip of the tongue, misunderstanding, or slight discrepancy to defeat 20 pieces of solid evidence; accepts one witness of theirs, even if he or she is a provable nut, as being far more credible than 10 normal witnesses on the other side; treats rumours, even questions, as the equivalent of proof; leaps from the most minuscule of discoveries to the grandest of conclusions; and insists that the failure to explain everything perfectly negates all that is explained.”

In short, it’s bad enough when irresponsible rumour-mongers start the ball rolling.

The last thing politicians should do is feed the flames with fibs and subterfuge.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor.

Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Montreal Gazette, Democrat National Committee

Geographic location: Ontario, Toronto, Newfoundland Washington

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Recent comments

  • Ben Turpin
    June 12, 2013 - 19:17

    "fibs and subterfuge" Much nicer than lying and deception "Newfoundland MHAs were lining their pockets back in the late 1990s and early 2000s." lining their pockets Much nicer than stealing and cheating "Irresponsible rumour-mongers start the ball rolling" when a cowered press fail to address the story in a meaningful way. "People are naturally suspicious. In some cases, too suspicious." People are naturally trusting. In some cases, too trusting. Stay suspicious Newfoundland. Keep your eye on the ball.

  • Virginia Waters
    June 12, 2013 - 15:51

    Maurice is right of course. This is a very lame article - so lame and disjointed, in fact, that it doesn't merit much comment. I will say that Andrew Coyne, whose views Jackson cites, is technically a good writer but one who eagerly embraces the National Post right wing bias. Only post-Duffygate has he and colleagues like Rex Murphy allowed themselves to move a tad further away from the Harper cheering section. No doubt they sense the water is rising rapidly and, like journalistic rats everywhere, think it's a good time to abandon ship.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    June 12, 2013 - 07:20

    This article works its way around to eventually point the finger first and foremost on the "rumour-mongers (that) start the ball rolling".............. What a poor attempt at spin doctoring and deflecting criticism away from those who made the wrong choices/decisions in the first place and then tried to cover them up.