Over 1500 years ago it was the Greek dramatist Aeschylus who said that in war truth is the first casualty. This is about politics as war by other means, and a lie that might have claimed our company as a casualty.
In the cut and thrust of any election campaign, information about opposing camps is forwarded to news organizations on a daily basis where it is verified and either dismissed or published. Inside sources — an important means of information for our business — are especially critical during election periods when the future governance of country is on the line. Three weeks ago, our vice-president for Sun News, Kory Teneycke, was contacted by the former deputy chief of staff to Prime Minister Harper, Patrick Muttart. He claimed to be in possession of a report prepared by a "U.S. source", outlining the activities and whereabouts of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in the weeks and months leading to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. 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. Muttart also provided a compelling electronic image of a man very closely resembling Michael Ignatieff in American military fatigues, brandishing a rifle in a picture purported to have been taken in Kuwait in December 2002.
As excited as Teneycke and our team were on receipt of this information, which contradicted Ignatieff's story about his role in the region, he was properly skeptical and due diligence was conducted. A lot hinged on the veracity of the picture — the low-resolution image furnished to Teneycke lacked critical metadata that would have helped determine the time the picture was taken. However, the report that accompanied the picture referred to those metadata. So Teneycke went back to our source and insisted on getting a high-resolution picture, something the source claimed he would try to get but could not promise. At this point he knew that we were planning to go to press with it.
Our preliminary analysis of the picture concluded that it was real and had not been tampered with, and a lot of the information contained in the report was very convincing, including a clip from a Pentagon press briefing in which an American colonel thanked Michael Ignatieff specifically for his work in preparation for the invasion, and this on the day before the U.S. launched the attack. As well, we had submitted the picture to Ignatieff and his spokesperson who never formally denied that it might be him.
Finally, after putting on a lot of pressure, Teneycke received the higher resolution picture. While confirming it had been taken in December 2002, it also revealed without a doubt that the man in question could not be the Liberal leader.
Bad information is an occupational hazard in this business, and fortunately our in-house protocols prevented the unthinkable. But it is the ultimate source of this material that is profoundly troubling to me, my colleagues and, I think, should be of concern to all Canadians. 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. 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.
Let me be clear: This chain of newspapers had historically and will continue to stand for true, Canadian conservatism - with a small "c" - which includes our unwavering demand for transparency in our government and its agencies. We stand behind ordinary, working Canadians to ensure their tax dollars are spent wisely. We are against political correctness.
Despite this very troubling episode, we will not change our philosophy inherited from the founders of the Sun newspapers. We are in the news business and what we care about more than anything else is the truth. As the largest newspaper organization and one of the leading Canadian media companies, we will never compromise on this fundamental pillar which is of paramount importance for democracy, values Canadians have cherished since our country's inception.
Pierre Karl Peladeau is president and CEO of Sun Media Corporation