Friends with Benefits: The Harper Government, EthicalOil.org and Sun Media Connection
Just over a week before the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings began, EthicalOil.org and its allies launched a pre-emptive PR offensive on environmental and First Nations groups who oppose the pipeline. Their new website, OurDecision.ca, and ad campaign are an attempt to invalidate opposition to the pipeline by pointing to the small amount of American funding going to some environmental groups, and claiming that pipeline opponents are actually the “puppets” of “foreign interests.”
Sun News was first to promote the campaign, and by the end of the week, numerous papers across Canada were repeating the story. After mentioning last November that “significant American interests” would line up against the pipeline, Stephen Harper eagerly picked up where he left off, touting EthicalOil.org’s cause, decrying the foreign influence attempting to “overload” the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Review. By Monday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver had penned a letter to Canadians denouncing the foreign interests trying to “hijack” the review process “to achieve their radical ideological agenda”. The same ominous tone and divisive talking points were parroted over and over by EthicalOil.org, Harper, Oliver and the credulous media, driving an entire week of news coverage.
The OurDecision.ca campaign was timed to hit national news just as many Canadians were tuning into this issue for the first time, and this frame (“foreign interests” vs. a “Canadian decision”) could have a lasting impact on how people view one of the most important debates in a generation.
So how did a small industry front group with secretive funding sources manage to have so much impact on the national conversation? Well, it looks like the Harper government, EthicalOil.org, and Sun Media have coordinated with one another to create an echo chamber that turns industry talking points into national news. We’ll show how one digital communications company intimately connects EthicalOil.org, the Harper Government and Sun Media.
Ethical Oil Echo Chamber
The ‘ethical oil’ echo chamber was built in 2010, after the release of Ezra Levant’s book of the same name. As Donald Gutstein writes, Sun papers prominently featured three excerpts from Levant’s book, giving it national exposure. Through a series of articles and appearances in Sun-owned papers, the National Post and right wing talk shows, an echo chamber of voices amplified the ‘ethical oil’ message. Then came bloggers like Alykhan Velshi, who helped to turn Levant’s book into the ethicaloil.org website, and before long it reached the mouths of politicians.
From Gutstein’s perspective, ideas often take years to percolate through public opinion filters before they end up on national policy agendas. But in this case, it appears that industry and government synced up messaging very rapidly.
Last week, we reported an extensive web that connects EthicalOil.org with oil interests, the Harper government, and other conservative leaders and groups. At the centre is Go Newclear, a Vancouver-based digital communications agency with a focus on public affairs and politics. An analysis of the web server hosting of gonewclearproductions.com reveals an intricate network of over 50 websites connected primarily to the Conservative Party of Canada, the Wildrose Alliance Party, EthicalOil.org, and other right wing causes and politicians.
Go Newclear’s President and COO is Hamish Marshall, the husband of current Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall, and a former Conservative campaigner, former PMO staffer and Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests. The other two principals in the company have deep connections to the Harper government as well.
One of the principals, Brendan Jones, worked as a website administrator for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition from August 2005-February 2006. Following Harper’s election, he worked as the special assistant for the Prime Minister from February 2006-November 2007. Jones then moved to the Conservative Resources Group, or Conservative Caucus Research Bureau, an agency responsible for developing political communication products, branding and marketing decisions and liaising between the federal Conservative caucus and Prime Minister’s Office, until 2009. In that role, he was a television and radio specialist. The third principal of Go Newclear, Travis Freeman, is still listed with the Conservative Resources Group.
Now that we know that EthicalOil.org and the Conservative government are deeply connected, what about the other part of the Conservative echo chamber, Sun Media?
Read more at desmogblog.com
Check out this funny Rick Mercer video mocking the “foreign influence” campaign: