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The Eric Alterman Challenge by Proxy

During the recent election campaign, a political reporter in Brandon took umbrage at our conducting The Peter Kent Challenge. Kent, you will recall, challenged journalism schools to monitor the press for an alleged anti-Conservative bias during the campaign.

We couldn't find any schools that took him up, so we decided to conduct the challenge in Manitoba ourselves.

The reporter blustered that he would start the Eric Alterman Challenge. Eric Alterman is the author of the book What Liberal Media? in which he argues the political right controls the news.

We enthusiastically encouraged him to do it.
Well, we waited and waited, and nothing happened.
We concluded that maybe he's just shy and needs a little push to get started.

So, today, we're doing the first Eric Alterman Challenge... with our own twist. Our subject is:
William Neville, Winnipeg Free Press columnist and head of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Neville restrained himself during the election campaign, taking the high ground expected of a university professor. He left the flat-out hate spiels to his fellow columnist Gordon Sinclair (Peter Kent Challenge Exhibit G) and the clever distortions and deceptions to his fellow traveller Frances Russell.

As polls showed that the Conservatives were expected to win the election, Neville couldn't contain himself any longer. He reached for the mud and elbowed Gord and Fran aside.

With the clock ticking down, Neville had only one column left to influence the election. It ran Friday, Jan. 20 under the headline "Voter suspicion is still Harper's Achilles heel." And it was a doozy.

Neville said he received an email in which "Don", the supposed Chairman of the Conservative Party tells supporters "We will have the power to get on with repairing the social fabric of the country and restoring the Christian values we all hold dear."

Neville wrote that as soon as he read the email, he suspected it was a hoax, because it was too obvious. It "directly and succinctly" expressed what "many voters" suspected and feared---the Conservatives have a hidden agenda. But, said Neville, the Conservatives wouldn't circulate an e-mail about their hidden agenda, would they? It must be a hoax. Not that he could prove it.

(So what better way to deal with a hoax than to publish it in the main newspaper in the province, right? Neville doesn't get into that.)

Instead he said the Conservatives know people are suspicious about them and they've addressed this by pointing out the Canadian system has checks on elected governments, checks such as the Senate, the bureaucracy and the courts. You can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool a political studies professor. You can almost hear Neville scream "Gotcha."

Neville recites how the Reform Party transformed into the Canadian Alliance, and became, aha, the current Conservatives. And guess what? The Reform Party "dismissed, mocked or reviled" the institutions of the Senate, the bureaucracy and the courts. So who does Stephen Harper think he's kidding? Not Bill Neville, Oh, no.

"If this is yet another indication of the way in which he has 'evolved' (to use his own word), it is surely one of the most improbable."

Hah. You can't fool a political studies professor. The Conservatives are only pretending to believe in the institutions of Canada. And why? Because they have a secret agenda. Just like the hoax e-mail says.

False, but accurate. The liberal mantra for the 21st century. First articulated in the Rathergate affair. And now an article of faith.

Neville makes a big production about realizing instantly that the e-mail was phoney. That would carry more weight if it wasn't for the fact that the e-mail had been circulating for over a week and everyone knew it was a fake.

Radio host Peter Warren, a week earlier, had a guest on his show who revealed how he tracked the email to St. Petersburg, Russia, to an account opened Dec. 18, 2005.

Bloggers picked up the trail and before you know it, even more details were coming out on Small Dead Animals such as:

One of the false names on the Russian e-mail account was Alice B Tokarov(Alice B Toklas was a pot smoking character from the 60's. Tokarov is/was a standard Soviet era pistol: ie:"smoking gun").This is getting to(sic) good for words.Posted by: RW at January 15, 2006 03:45 PM

Neville didn't write his column to expose a phony email.

He wrote it to expose the scary Conservatives, based on a phony email that he couldn't wait to share with Free Press readers.

And this guy teaches at a real university.

Now that's scary.

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