VANOC's luge death media strategy exposed

Special to The Globe and Mail

The luge track at the Whistler Sliding Centre at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

In Tuesday's edition of the New York Times, readers are treated to two stories from Vancouver. As a British Columbian, both caught my attention.

One is a very positive report on Insite, the safe injection site. The second is a not-so-positive report on revelations related to the death of Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

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At the end of the New York Times report, one reads that, in a teleconference with reporters yesterday, John Furlong rejected suggestions that there was a contradiction between the e-mails obtained by the CBC under Access to Information legislation and his public statements at the time of the death. In the third paragraph of the Times report, readers are reminded of his words:

"At the time [of the crash] John Furlong, the chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, said that the death was 'not something I have prepared for or ever thought I needed to be prepared for.' He has continued to maintain that position, publicly at least."

One does not find these words in the Globe and Mail. Nor does one find them in Monday's report, which was based on "e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail."

I must admit that I did a double take when I read that line, having recently been informed by a Victoria colleague that BC Ferries was posting on its website any material it was releasing to journalists. This, I was told, was a strategy designed to dampen the use by journalists of Freedom of Information legislation.

In a tweet yesterday morning, I questioned whether VANOC had leaked the material to the Globe. And, a couple of hours later, I confirmed that the Fifth Estate's investigation of the luge death was not a joint operation with the Globe and Mail, which is sometimes the case (e.g., the Airbus Affair).

Today, thanks to Vancouver Sun reporter Jeff Lee, we learn that John Furlong's former VP of Communications did indeed leak the e-mail to the Globe, which is serializing Mr. Furlong's book. Renee Smith-Valade also leaked the material to CTV, the Olympic broadcaster, and set up interviews with Mr. Furlong for both organizations.

On Sunday evening, the VANOC Board was informed of this communications strategy, which is now exposed to the public, and is for the public to judge.

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