Did Postmedia attempt to smear the NDP in the @vikileaks30 affair?

After a most momentous week in Canadian politics — namely, one in which a government with an absolute majority in both the House of Commons and the Senate was at least momentarily thwarted in its efforts to pass Bill C-30 — the @vikileaks30 twitter account has been retired. It simply no longer exists. However it has had one hell of an effect, and the way in which it was reported about should definitely raise a lot of eyebrows.

For those who don’t know about this story, @vikileaks30 was an anonymous account launched on Wednesday which broadcasted certain salacious details about Vic Toews, including parts of affidavits from his 2007 divorce — largely his ex-wife’s testimony — and many interesting details of expense claims by Mr. Toews as a government minister.

Soon after the novelty twitter account appeared on the scene Ottawa Citizen tech news reporter Vito Pilieci came up with an interesting plan to figure out who was posting on it and came up with the idea to send the twitterer a web site link which was unique for that particular user. There’s nothing wrong with that technique, I’ve used it myself a couple of times, and twitter’s use of URL shorteners makes that technique discoverable only with some difficulty. The IP address which was used to visit the link turned out to have been one connected with the Parliament buildings. That much can be reliably established.

What I find a little more difficult to understand is the way that the story was reported both by Pilieci himself and Postmedia flagship paper the National Post. Starting with the title, which was surely written by a higher-up: “Vikileaks Twitter account on Vic Toews linked to ‘pro-NDP’ address in House of Commons”. Indeed the original Ottawa Citizen story used the considerably less “inciteful” (if you will) “Vikileaks30 linked to House of Commons IP address”. But this is only the start of the smear. In the story itself we see this paragraph:

Aside from being used to administer the Vikileaks30 Twitter feed, the address has been used frequently to update Wikipedia articles — often giving them what appears to be a pro-NDP bias, actions that have attracted the attention of numerous Internet observers in recent months.

I’ve taken the liberty here to put in bold type the second instance of the smear. Note the use of “weasel language” here — the author (almost undoubtedly Pilieci himself) double-qualifies the statement so as to obviate the necessity of backing that statement with actual evidence, which he indeed does not provide.

So, that’s interesting. Without any more specifics this certainly looks like an attempt to smear the party that currently holds the position of Official Opposition in the House of Commons. Now why would someone do that and be this specific about it?

Well, the Ottawa Citizen, which currently employs Pilieci, is owned by the Postmedia Network, which is a group encompassing several newspapers, including my hometown’s The Gazette newspaper and Canada’s second national daily, the National Post (which should be no surprise to you as the link shown above goes to a NatPo story). The National Post, pretty much since its inception, is regularly accused of running a pro-Conservative slant on the political stories it covers, which clearly explains why they chose to edit Pilieci’s story  from the rather more neutral “Vikileaks Twitter account traced to House of Commons” (the title of the story on Thursday) to the, well, deliberately less equivocal title they chose to run on Friday. Am I supposed to think that this is just some kind of “oversight” or absent-minded error? Maybe others can think so, but I’m not that gullible. The smear is clear and deliberate.

OK, so maybe you think, this is a one-off thing… well, no. On Friday the Citizen ran this Stephen Maher editorial, this time with a neutral, toned-down title: “Maher: Toews made himself Twitter target with ‘pornographers’ crack” about how the @vikileaks30 story started. Read the story, though, and the ugly smear rears its head again in connection with the IP address:

That IP address also was linked to some Wikipedia pages where someone had written pro-NDP comments, which the Citizen reported.

Actually I do wish that Postmedia hired better editors because what Maher is saying now is not quite the same as what Pilieci was saying earlier, but this seems to me little but a barely-disguised attempt at repeating the smear. And then not content with doing it once, Maher pipes up again soon after:

It may be that that person is a secret NDP supporter, and enemy of Vic Toews, or it may be that there is some confusion over the IP address.

Does Maher think we’re all blind here?.. this is getting pretty blatant. Again, note the use of the weasel phrase “it may be”. Overall the article is pretty weak stuff by a national  Postmedia correspondent. In Canadian print journalism this is as senior as it gets without getting bumped up to a position involving more management duties, this isn’t the young guy who writes the computer column (that would be Pilieci, who is a staff member at the Ottawa Citizen and not really staff with the Postmedia “mothership”).

But that article isn’t what really rang a bell for me on the smear question — rather, what made me see the big picture was the follow-up by Pilieci following the @vikileaks30 poster’s announcement that the account was now retired. See if you can spot the difference from the (youthful?) exhuberance of his former column:

A further look into the IP address associated with Vikileaks30 found the address had been used in a range of online activities, including to edit several entries on the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia ranging on topics from the history of ice hockey to a biography of Whitney Houston, as well as to alter content on a variety of politically charged topics that span the political spectrum. It does not appear the poster was targeting any specific political party or affiliation.

This went to publishing after it was clear that the NDP slur had failed to gain any traction in the House of Commons or indeed with public sentiment. What a difference a day makes, I say.

It still remains a good question as to whether there was a concerted effort by the Tory-friendly Postmedia to deliberately steer hostility towards the NDP at a time when the Conservative Party was in a bit of a crisis. The coverage in the first story mentioned actually lead to quite a few angry words in the House of Commons, mostly coming (as the second story reports) from rather easily-influenced Tory attack dog John Baird:

“Not only have they stooped to the lowest of the lows, but they have been running this nasty Internet dirty-trick campaign with taxpayers’ money,” he said.

That’s the head of Canadian diplomacy shooting himself in the foot there, taking Pilieci’s story as gospel truth (his was the main story that included the smear). Oh dear.

I for one will be following further developments regarding this aspect of the C-30 story, and I certainly hope that others will start asking questions about the possibility of spin or even possible fabrications by the newspaper conglomerate that bills itself as “the largest publisher by circulation of paid English-language daily newspapers in Canada”.

Either that, or they need to take a serious look at who they keep on staff.

Note: in order to avoid any confusion if any of the three aforementioned stories should be edited or somehow deleted, I have taken screen captures of all 4:

  1. The original IP address story as it appeared on the National Post web site on 2/16
  2. The same story as it appeared on the Ottawa Citizen web site
  3. The Stephen Maher story as it appeared on the Ottawa Citizen web site on 2/17
  4. The later story by Pilieci as it appeared on the Ottawa Citizen web site on 2/17

“Lawful access” — coming very soon to a computer near you

Public Security Minister Vic Toews is planning to introduce his so-called “lawful access” bill to the House of Commons later today. So, how does it measure up?

According to Ottawa U Law professor Michael Geist, it’s going to create a panopticon society where online privacy essentially no longer exists and is replaced with a sort of Big Brother. Which is pretty funny when you consider that the Tories are also about to introduce their bill to scrap the long gun registry and proactively delete any and all data therein. Apparently guns don’t kill people, but the freedom to go about one’s own business does… that pretty much tells you what you need to know about Stephen Harper and his cronies.

And then there’s the issue of cost, which is entirely offloaded onto the ISPs themselves, who will now have to keep a record of everything you do online — well, everything you do online taking the direct route via your ISP, making it trivial to circumvent — for 90 days. I rather pity the ISPs who are going to be stuck storing all that data at their own expense. You can be certain that they’ll be glad to pass the savings onto you, of course.

So what’s the justification for this garbage? Mr. Toews, never one to shy away from stooping to scrape the bottom of the barrel, claims that either you are with him or you are siding with “the child pornographers”. Never mind that there have been a number of child porn busts recently which have not required any of the new police state powers Mr. Toews insists are absolutely crucial to fight that crime. Personally I’ve always thought that it was illegal, but apparently by senile old Vic’s reckoning it was impossible to fight this crime before! Of course it wasn’t. Mr. Toews is just pulling his Maud Flanders act, and it sells out very well out West, where evidently people ignorant or mad enough to vote for the insane old codger think “internet” is a kind of potato blight.

But why should we let Vic the impaler set the terms? I say, unless you are against this so-called “lawful access” bill, you are siding with the fascists. I guess the Conservative Party has yet another self-renaming in the works.

Lenovo: a fall from grace

I used to be very happy with my Thinkpad X60 Tablet, and was practically an evangelist for the Thinkpad line. Just in the past year I practically sold two systems, a laptop and an iPad-style tablet, for the company. However this good feeling only lasted until my latest purchase. As things stand now I am pretty certain that I will never buy Lenovo again.

My mistake was buying a Thinkpad X220i Tablet in August of 2011. Said laptop stopped working in November, when I tried to start it Windows crashed with a 0x00000e9 error (unspecified I/O error, but more specifically a hard disk problem). Whatever, these things happen. They sent me a set of startup disks (DVDs) to try and make sure the HD was the problem. Those startup disks didn’t work (couldn’t boot off any of them), so I called Lenovo again, they apologized (they’re a very apologetic company, to the point that it becomes annoying really), told me they would send me another set of startup DVDs.

So I waited… and waited, and waited. After a couple of weeks (today) I decided to call and see what was up. The first support call seemed to go well, until I got disconnected. So I called again. The lady took my case number, told me Lenovo had a tracking number for the disks, gave me the tracking number, but it was pretty clear that she was refusing to do anything else (wtf is up with that?). I look up the tracking info through purolator (the most useless delivery company IMHO but that’s another story) and it’s clear that the package was returned to Lenovo. Couldn’t the lazy lady have at least looked that up instead of just wasting my time?

So I call for the third time on that day, and finally I get to talk to someone who knows what he’s doing. He is sending me a new hard disk and recovery disks. Well, hopefully he is. You’ll excuse me for not holding my breath until they get here.

Now, if the problem were only the service, passe encore. However the X220i Tablet is a piece of junk. It feels cheap and flimsy, the weight is unevenly balanced, and the build quality is terrible — I can pull the battery in an out of its housing by a couple of millimeters when it’s in the locked position! What’s more, the touchscreen has never worked properly, and that’s kind of the point of owning a tablet PC. Why does the 5 year old X60T I have feel so much better and more solid? Is it perhaps because it’s an IBM-branded product?

I once heartily recommended Lenovo to friends and family, but I can no longer honestly do so. The quality of the company’s products and service has taken such a nosedive that it’s really not worth endorsing anymore. It’s a shame because Thinkpad used to be the brand to go to for a first-rate experience with laptops, but clearly they’ve taken the road well-travelled of cheaping out on the design, cheaping out on the manufacturing, and cheaping out on the service. All of which I wish I could say to Lenovo customer service, but try as I might I cannot find an actual customer service number for them anywhere. I guess that’s representative of the company’s recent attitude towards the people who give them money…

Micro-USB is the new, er, USB

Consider me somewhat of a gadget-trend barometer if you will, but I couldn’t help but notice that the last several gadgets I’ve purchased use a micro-USB connector for data exchange and battery recharge. Those gadgets have included the following:

  • Archos 5 internet tablet (when it came out people thought it used a proprietary connector)
  • B&N Nook
  • Google Nexus One smart phone
  • Amazon Kindle 3
  • Motorola Rokr S305 Bluetooth headphones

Obviously this isn’t the totality of gadgets, but there’s clearly a trend there. In fact I’d say that within a year the only USB devices to use a Mini-USB connector will be knockoffs.