Executives at the right-wing news chain Sun Media may not want to hear this, but they have a lot in common with Michael Ignatieff. Like the Liberal Leader, they're throwing mud and schoolyard taunts at a dominant player, using the platform of the federal election to whip up enthusiasm for their message - and their new medium.
Since the writ was dropped 10 days ago, the Sun chain of newspapers has run more than half a dozen articles accusing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation of political bias, effectively running parallel commercial and ideological campaigns.
The attacks are helping to fuel the chain's ongoing marketing campaign for the April 18 launch of Sun TV, which is promising "Hard News and Straight Talk."
Last Wednesday, Sun papers across the country proclaimed on their cover: "CBC Full of Grit," pointing to an inside story that attacked an online election engagement tool sponsored by CBC, saying it improperly told some people their political leanings made them natural Liberal voters. Two days later, the Sun reported that Peter Loewen, a professor who helped develop the tool, had worked on Michael Ignatieff's first Liberal leadership campaign. Each news report was accompanied by an editorial or op-ed decrying the corporation's perceived bias. Then on Monday, the Sun hit the CBC again, running a story about the criminal prosecution filed against the broadcaster by the fashion designer Peter Nygard.
The attacks are evidently unprecedented in Canadian election history. "I've been looking at media coverage of elections since the sixties, and I don't remember anything like this," said Fred Fletcher, a professor emeritus of communication studies and political science at York University.
As a public broadcaster, the CBC says it goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure its journalism is free of bias, hiring the Toronto media analysis company Cormex Research to review its broadcasts and Internet offerings, and submit regular reports to network executives.
As a private enterprise, Sun Media has no such restrictions: Indeed, its biases are a part of its appeal.
Now the CBC is claiming those biases may be getting the better of the story. On Monday afternoon, the CBC released a letter it had sent the Sun to complain about its coverage over the Vote Compass issue. "The Sun had information that Peter Loewen also worked for Tom Flanagan during Stephen Harper's 2004 leadership campaign and later for Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Bill Black, but chose not to share that information with its readers," read the letter. "In fact, Mr. Flanagan is on record noting that assistant professor Loewen is an outstanding researcher without an ounce of partisan in him."
On Monday afternoon I reached out to the Toronto Sun to discuss the strategy behind its editorial policy. I explained in an e-mail to editor-in-chief James Wallace that, while the Sun has often made sport of kicking the CBC, "with the imminent launch of Sun TV and the current election campaign, there seems to be a new spring in your step."
Though it is a subsidiary of the multi-billion-dollar Quebecor Inc., the Sun cultivates an image of blue-collar scrapper, eager to drop the gloves at a moment's notice. Mr. Wallace promised that someone would get back to me shortly. Ninety minutes later, after I prodded him again, he'd apparently had a change of heart: "Hi Simon," he said. "We're happy to let our stories speak for themselves. Cheers."