(Clockwise from upper left) smeared U.S. presidential candidate, John Kerry; screen capture from 2011 Tory attack ad; ad panel for Mercury Public Affairs LLC; Patrick Muttart at play in Hong Kong; faked Sun News photo, and “Iggy’s War” feature in Sun newspapers;
A political “whiz kid” falls from grace
A week before the Conservative Party of Canada may or may not have stolen the May 2nd, 2011 federal election that brought Stephen Harper back to power with a majority government, he fired his former talented deputy chief of staff, Patrick Muttart, because of the latter’s alleged involvement in political dirty tricks.
Like countless others In April of 2011, Patrick Muttart had been working “on contract” in Ottawa for the Tory election campaign, back with his former Tory inner circle cronies after leaving Harper’s camp in 2009 to work as a managing director with the mega-U.S. consulting firm Mercury Public Affairs LLC.
Prior to his departure from Ottawa in 2009, Muttart had been a prized member of Harper’s inner circle and variously touted as a (choose one) “whiz kid,” “genius,” “boy wonder”, etc., of Conservative strategists, with the PM’s ear in all important areas of policy, communications and political strategy.
But during the last week of April 2011, things went very wrong very fast for Muttart.
Hot on the heels of publishing an “investigative” news article claiming that Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff had been involved while still a prof at Harvard in “pre-invasion” planning for the 2003 Desert Storm invasion of Iraq by the U.S.-led military “coalition, Quebecor media mogul Pierre-Karl Peladeau ignited his own firestorm.
In an “editorial” published in the Sun papers on April 27th, Peladeau accused Muttart–who was also apparently working “gratis and for free”, as it were, as a media consultant for Peladeau’s fledgling Sun News television channel (a.k.a. Fox News North)–of planting a doctored photograph purportedly showing Ignatieff clad in desert camos and commando regalia, toting a machine gun, and posed with a group of other armed jarheads in front of a military transport chopper.
Faked news photo of Fox News North talk jocks: Corncob Bob, Kory Teneycke, Jaime Watt (actually a former Ontario jail-turned CBC “insider”) , Ezra Levant and Michael Coren
Straight Talk and Hard Knocks
According to Peladeau, the Photoshop®-ped image had been provided by Muttart directly to one of Sun News‘ smarmy vice-presidents and whinging heads, Kory Teynacke, himself a former Harper inner circle dweller, who had also left public service a short while earlier for the greener (presumably, because of the high fertilizer content) pastures of Sun/Fox News North. By inference, the faked Iggy pic may have been offered as further grist for the “Ignatieff is a closet warlord” angle being touted in the Sun print media’s “Iggy’s war” report.
Invoking the time-worn (Time-Warner?) cliché that “In war, the first casualty is the truth,” Peladeau’s indignant rant-atorial against Muttart pulled few punches:
Three weeks ago…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 Timesop-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….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.
The bogus image, Peladeau accused, was intended to falsely portray Iggy in a decidedly (make that, ridiculously) pro-military posture simultaneously to then Liberal PM Jean Chretien’s outspoken opposition to Canadian military participation in the U.S.-led “coalition” that invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein.
To use the parlance of U.S. political strategists, Muttart’s conveying of the faked Iggy photo to Sun News was a failed attempt at “swift-boating” Liberal leader Ignatieff. The term derives from a group of Republican-subsidized Vietnam war veterans who, using similar methods of influencing public opinion, succeeded in scuttling Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s 2004 bid for the White House by questioning his courage and leadership as a swift-boat commander during the Vietnam war.
Image from 2004 John Kerry “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” attack ad (l) masterminded by Terry A. Nelson (r), Patrick Muttart’s former colleague at Mercury Public Affairs in the company’s “U.S.-Canada” section (LinkedIn photo)
American-style attack ads from those wonderful folks at Mercury Public Affairs LLC
Like the Kerry swift-boat campaign, Muttart hoped to sway strategically important undecided voters in the impending 2011 election away from the Liberal brand and towards the more “trustworthy” Stephen Harper camp. And it was not merely coincidental that one of Muttart’s direct superiors at Mercury Public Affairs LLC was none other than Terry Nelson, the political strategist who devised the first of the highly effective television ads for the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign that killed John Kerry’s presidential bid in action.
Unfortunately for Muttart, the backlash to the Canadian version of this dirty trick template was, er, swift.
Abandoning his putative image as an egghead with a stick up his ass, Michael Ignatieff aptly described the affair as “bizzaro” and did his best to stake out the moral high ground, at least before green lighting Liberal attack ads later on in the campaign.
For its part, the Conservative Party was still said by some in the news media to be internally divided about the ethical propriety of the stunt. According to the Toronto Star, “rattled Conservative insiders…said Muttart…was treated badly by both the party and the Sun” while “some blamed national campaign chair Guy Giorno…believed (by some) to be the force behind Harper’s decision to let Muttart go now.”
Undoubteldy, Muttart had been exposed and vilified by his corporate overseers at Quebecor Media, despite having been enlisted by Peladeau to act as an advisor and consultant on the new channel’s ‘branding’ and production values. It was Muttart who was responsible for importing and adopting the 2008 McCain-Palin slogan of “Straight Talk” into Sun News‘ new tag line of “Straight Talk and Hard News”.
Not surprisingly, the erstwhile “boy wonder” was recalcitrant. According to the Toronto Star, “sources close to him said he is ‘furious’ at having been cavalierly tossed aside by the Harper campaign.” Another more forthright but nevertheless anonymous Tory campaign spokesperson “denied Muttart had behaved improperly in forwarding the information and dubious photo to Sun Media.”
Oddly enough, later on the same day that Peladeau published his “j’accuse” editorial against Muttart, Mercury Public Affairs issued its own media statement denouncing Sun News–its client–and defending its employee to the proverbial hilt. Describing Peladeau’s accusations as “bizarre” and “disappointing,” the Mercury spin-meisters went on to sing Muttart’s praises as contributor to everything from the Sun channel’s logo to its aforementioned “Straight Talk and Hard News” “framing language.”
The faked Iggy’s War photo was apparently only “discovered” when Sun News’ Kory Teynacke asked for a version with higher resolution…
Mercurial equivocation: “To be fair, Pat never actually said it was Iggy…”
But on the issue of Muttart’s involvement with the doctored image of Ignatieff, his Mercury‘s copywriting cohorts did their best to finesse and obfuscate, stating with considerable circumspection that “at no point did Muttart tell Sun Media that he had positively identified Ignatieff in the photo in question” and further that “at no time did Muttart mislead, or intend to mislead Sun Media, in his provision of information to them.”
And so it came to pass that Patrick Muttart was quickly shitcanned and the party announced ostensibly with one unified voice that he would be playing “no further role” in the last four days of Stephen Harper’s 2011 federal election campaign.
But even though he was thrown under the Stephen Harper campaign bus he had once driven, Patrick Muttart’s legacy of value-laden contributions to his leader’s political cause in the 2011 election was not confined to trafficking in ersatz Michael Ignatieff photos.
The multi-talented Muttart was also an expert political “psychographer”, up to snuff on the latest high-tech market research techniques on how to Get Out the Vote (or “GOTV” as it is acronymically coined in the parlance of public affairs consultants and robocallers).
A student and later Jedi-certified course instructor of the dark arts and sciences of political marketing and voter manipulation, Muttart is today touted as an expert on “working class” voting psychology–just the guy you want for those mainly blue-collar electoral “swing districts” that can spell victory or defeat in federal elections.
Indeed, one reason for the evident resentment in some Tory campaign quarters about his unceremonious sacking derives from the prominent and influential role he played in the 2006 campaign and months before the writ for the May 2, 2011 election had even been issued.
Former senior strategist to Dubyah, Karl Rove progressed from campaign office break-ins to outing active CIA agent Valerie Plume as retribution for her husband laying bare the falsity of Bush administration intelligence reports linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Is being called “the Canadian version of Karl Rove” really a compliment?
Barely a year ago, before the intervening spate of cataclysmic political missteps and exposed deceptions by the Harper Government, Majority Edition, Patrick Muttart was lauded as the key political strategist in all of Harperland and hailed as nothing less than a genius in the estimation of political strategists of every stripe, even described as “the Canadian version of Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s key strategist.”
[Note: Rove, who infamously served as George "Dubyah" Bush's chief political strategist until 2008, christened his own career as a right-wing dirty trickster in 1969 when he broke into the office of a political opponent in Illinois, stole the candidate's letterhead and used it to print up and distribute pamphlets promoting a fake rally that promised "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing," In 1973, he was about to be investigated by the FBI for allegedly coaching young Republicans in the art of dirty tricksterism when Dubyah's father, head of the GOP, instead elevated Rove to a senior youth position with the Party.]
From his early days as a Reform Party acolyte in the camp of Preston Manning, and founder of that party’s University of Ottawa campus chapter in the early 1990s, Muttart was already committed and active in the cause of right-wing conservativism.
At the tender age of 19, he was vice-president of the Oxford County Reform Party riding in southwestern Ontario which encompassed his home town of Woodstock and mainly rural and agricultural surroundings. A die-hard Manning booster and street-level organizer, Muttart could spout hackneyed Reform talking points like his seasoned mentor: “…we have found the Canadian public has no confidence in the traditional parties”
Repackaging traditional right-wing political themes like “cutting big government and eliminating waste” as bold new ideas, the young conservative’s political vision already extended east to Parliament Hill in the Nation’s Capital.
If elected, he promised student voters, Manning’s Reform Party would not merely cut but eliminate federal government spending on multiculturalism, bilingualism, government advertising and grants to special-interest groups and corporations. “We want to attack the bureaucracy – so much is wasted,” Muttart proclaimed in his salad days.
The PM (l) with National Citizens’ Coalition director and Muttart booster Stephen Taylor (c) and the indefatigable Preston Manning.
As with Manning and Harper, you can take the Reform Party out of the boy….
And Muttart was no less a stalwart in his defence of all things Manning—in January 1992 he sent a letter to the Ottawa Citizen criticizing the newspaper for “singling out” Manning’s “religious convictions” and excluding similar comments about the PC party’s Mulroney and the Liberals’ Chretien:
I have yet to read an article where either Brian Mulroney or Jean Chretien have been questioned about their Catholicism. However, I can just imagine their vague answers to direct questions about their church’s teachings on abortion, the use of contraception, Papal infallibility and homosexuality. Manning has been open and honest about his evangelical faith. Despite intense media scrutiny, he has refused to dilute his most deeply held beliefs. Perhaps this is a good sign that he will stay true to his word on political matters after the next election
Barely two weeks hence, Muttart was the point-man for Manning’s less-than-smooth visit to the University of Ottawa to address a student Reform club rally. Manning was confronted with hecklers who assailed his purported racism and inability to address the audience in French.
But undaunted by Reform party posters defiled by swastikas and threats of physical intimidation against his leader, Muttart hired extra campus security for the event. Two years later, Manning, by then a freshly elected Reform MP from Alberta, hired him as a special assistant.
Former Sun News vice-prez Kory Teynacke (l) and former Ontario jail-turned-CBC News “insider” Jaime Watt of Navigator Ltd.
In with the In Crowd
Like compulsory military service in some countries, right-wing politicos gravitate invariably to private sector consulting firms. Patrick Muttart was no exception, being hired by the infamous Toronto reputation shape-shifters, Navigator Ltd. (his wife, Marni Krebs Muttart keeps Navigator co-founders Robin Sears and Jaime Watt as current Facebook friends.)
Although the details of his subsequent political baptism are less easily traced, media accounts suggest that Muttart “cut his teeth on former provincial cabinet minister (in the Mike Harris regime) Jim Flaherty’s 2002 and 2004 Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership bids.” Through this ascendant period, Muttart consistently described by “colleagues” and political rivals alike as “brilliant” and he is said to have “learned from advertising guru…Watt.”
But skeptics may reasonably doubt the moral nature of that mentorship with Navigator. Watt was himself unceremoniously expelled from the inner power circle of Ontario Tory premier Mike Harris for failing to disclose the little matter of having been convicted of criminal fraud against Oakville business persons and civic figures in 1984.
Serious criminal charges of which Watt, now an “Ottawa Insiders” pundit on the CBC News channel, was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. A rare exception, perhaps, to what Harris, Watt and others on the right then disparaged (and still do today) as a “soft-on-crime, “hug-a-thug” criminal justice system.
More recently, Navigator launched a “swift boat”-style campaign to rehabilitate the public image of Ontario’s former attorney general Michael Bryant arising from the death of a Toronto bicycle courier during a traffic altercation with Bryant and his wife in September 2009. A steady stream of negative media reports quickly appeared in the local and national media highlighting that the bicyclist had a chequered past including drug and alcohol abuse.
During his tenure with Navigator, Muttart is said to have “proudly displayed” a Ronald Reagan campaign poster in his office and, following, the enactment by Liberal attorney general Michael Bryant of legislation in 2005 banning “vicious” dog breeds in Ontario, Muttart defiantly bought himself a pit-bull.
It was not long at all before Muttart ascended, along with other notable Ontario-based Tory stalwarts like Guy Giorno, Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty and John Baird into the federal political arena. According to journalist and author Lawrence Martin’s account, Muttart fit into well with the top-down, centralized command structure that was favoured in Harperland–“the young Muttart prefers obscurity, declining interviews to one and all…a smart move, given the boss’s penchant for total control, and Mr. Muttart is nothing if not smart.”
Muttart quickly became the “principal architect” of the January 2006 Tory federal election victory that brought Stephen Harper and the Tories to power with a minority government. Thereafter, as Martin recounts, the PM’s newest deputy chief of staff dominated “strategic policy planning, the plan to win a majority, and (had) a big hand in piloting communications strategy”:
That controversial move of the PM’s to reduce reliance on the national media? It was charted by Pat Muttart. The Harper decision to place so much emphasis on five key policy priorities — tax reduction, accountability, health care, crime, child care? It was Mr. Muttart who pressed for it.
Muttart’s wide acclaim as a right-wing political strategist was also attributed to “his passion for tapping into political expertise from outside the country.” In that respect, he meticulously studied and traveled to observe first-hand the political template of Australia’s conservative prime minister John Howard, and was described also as a “keen student” and borrower of winning ideas and election strategies from the camps of U.S. president George W. Bush, Britain’s Tony Blair and Angela Merkel of Germany.
LOON’s Canada includes citizens of many diverse origins, including (top left) U.S. ex-pat, Notre Dame alumni and senior Harper guru Tom Flanagan; and Patrick Muttart’s charming spouse, Marni Krebs Muttart (lower right), also a Yankee and grad of Notre Dame.
“I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A. (oh-oh-oh, oh-yeah!)“
Some of us with fond memories of welcoming the odd U.S. “draft dodger” into the Canadian community back in the 1960s and early 1970s will probably always bristle at those “highly effective” but no less repugnant and dishonest Tory attack ads against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff that preceded and, some even suggested at the time, provoked—the 2011 election. They ran well before the election writ had even been dropped and had all of cyberspace and the media abuzz.
The most notorious featured a grainy black and white, slightly-out-of-focus shot of a geeky, freakish-looking “Iggy” with his hands raised maniacally and contorted freeze-framed visage across which a succession of block-lettered slug-lines foretold of his hidden alien threat.
“Michael Ignatieff is back in Canada,” read the top half of the first chyron panel. Then quickly underneath , a non-too subtle sucker interrogatory: “But can we trust him?
Then the equally brutal follow-up quotes from the Igster’s own Ivy League orifice.
“I love the republic I live in” from a CBC radio interview back in the days of Ignatieff’s distinguished academic career at Harvard University. Followed by too more upper cuts to the low brow: “If I am not elected, I imagine that I will ask Harvard to let me back.”
Finally, the tag line that almost certainly galvanized undecided voters against the Liberal leader and gave Harper the narrowest of edges he needed to push through on May 2nd:
“Michael Ignatieff. He didn’t come back for you.”
For sheer impact on voter behaviour, these “American-style” xenophobic Tory attack ads stand up favourably alongside the infamous 1988 Willie Horton revolving-prison door spots that George Bush Sr. and the Republicans used to bludgeon the already floundering presidential campaign of “liberal” Massachusetts Democrat Michael Dukakis.
While they may lack the artistic and directorial grandeur of propagandist Leni Riefenstahl or even Dustin Hoffman’s cineastemanipulator, Stanley Motss in the 1997 Barry Levinson political comedy, Wag the Dog, there is no dispute that they “did the job”. Meaning, they resonated with and swayed the emotions of precisely those undecided Canadian voters that the Conservative Party of Canada needed to manipulate into giving Stephen Harper a majority victory on May 2nd, 2011.
Ironically, these psycho-graphic masterpieces of fear of “The Other”—whether the target is a “fair weather Canadian” like Ignatieff or even Conrad Black, or dependency upon “foreign oil”—originated in the brain of a born and bred Canadian citizen who himself resides with his family and makes his living in the Ùnited States and who, when he has not been an Ottawa insider in the inner circle of Prime Minister Harper, has been hard at work in his adopted home of Chicago, Illinois, as a managing director of one of America’s largest and most influential Republican Party consulting firms.
Sweet Home Chicago
He and his wife, Marni Krebs Muttart (who attended Notre Dame–an elitist” U.S. college that rivals Harvard in the view of Knute Rockne, Ronald Reagan and Tom Flanagan) have purchased a modest $785,000 two-storey, 3,500-square foot home with 4.5 bathrooms in the “toney” Chicago suburban community of Highland Park.
And by “toney,” we of course mean that there are decidedly few non-white skin tones (except for domestic staff) to be seen anywhere in the precinct, which boasts a median annual income of U.S. $ 156,000.00, and counts no more than 1.1 per cent of African-Americans among its residents, and slightly less than 2 per cent Latino citizens.
So the answer to the headline question must be that, far from being banished to obscurity in the Land of Dirty Tricksters, Patrick Muttart not only landed on his feet, but happened to land in the same “foreign country” that his favourite political attack target, Michael Ignatieff, “returned to Canada” from back in 2009, the good old U.S. of Eh?
Which to inquiring minds and political attack ad writers can only give rise to one of several more disturbing questions: Why are the Conservative Party of Canada and prime minister Stephen Harper still relying on the advice and strategic expertise of Mercury Public Affairs and like-minded American “high stakes” political marketeers?