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TORONTO – Sun News Network on Wednesday made a bombshell allegation that a former key aide for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper attempted to sabotage the upstart right wing news channel in the heat of a federal election campaign.
The network reported former Harper deputy chief of staff Patrick Muttart three weeks ago supplied information to the TV network that alleged Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in 2002 was in the front lines of pre-invasion planning by the U.S. military for its eventual war in Iraq.
“The report suggested that rather than being an observer from the sidelines, as he wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece after he entered Canadian politics, Ignatieff was in fact on the front lines and on the ground at a forward operating base in Kuwait, assisting U.S. State Department and American military officials in their strategy sessions,” Sun Media CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau wrote in a column published Wednesday in his Sun newspaper chain.
Ignatieff’s purported collaboration with the U.S. military came as he held a teaching post at Harvard University, well before he returned to Canada to enter federal politics.
Here’s where the apparent back-stabbing starts: Peladeau said Muttart supplied a low resolution digital photo of a man dressed in American military fatigues and sporting a rifle that resembled Ignatieff. After its own investigation, and receipt of a higher resolution picture, Sun News Network concluded that Muttart had hardly supplied it with a major scoop.
Instead, the December 2002 photo of a man in U.S. military fatigues was undoubtedly not Ignatieff, and Peladeau insists the all-news channel had been played by the Conservatives campaign war room ahead of a May 2 federal election.
A peeved Peladeau said “bad information” is an occupational hazard for TV news channels, but the source of the bogus material and the tampered Ignatieff war photo worried him.
“It is my belief that this planted information was intended to first and foremost seriously damage Michael Ignatieff’s campaign but in the process to damage the integrity and credibility of Sun Media and, more pointedly, that of our new television operation, Sun News,” he wrote.
The incident has, however, allowed Peladeau to put blue sky between Sun News Network and the ruling Conservatives.
“If any proof is needed to dispel the false yet still prevalent notion that Sun Media and the Sun News Network are the official organs of the Conservative Party of Canada, I offer this unfortunate episode as Exhibit A,” Peladeau added.
The head-scratching episode is especially harmful for Sun News Network because the TV network’s vp of business development and mastermind Kory Teneycke, is a former communications head for Stephen Harper.
The run-up to the launch of Sun TV News spurred passionate debate among Canadians on whether to embrace a news channel modelled on the successful Fox News Channel in the U.S.
Peladeau at one point publicly disavowed any links between Sun TV News and Fox News, as critics claimed, or that Harper’s Conservatives had conspired to bring a Fox-style news channel to Canada.
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