Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 10. How to write propaganda that looks like news.

"Urgent changes needed in N.B. budget: : experts"
That seems clear enough. It suggests this is a news report in which a number of experts (with all that word's hint of impartiality) say that budget changes are necessary. That is reinforced in the sub-head which refers to "some" advocates - though that sub head is not quite so clear. We still have a range of experts, it seems. But they're also advocates. Advocates of what?

It turns out the experts are just two people. Count them - two. Are there experts who disagree with them? The report doesn't mention any.

One of the experts is genuine enough. Donald Savoie of U de Moncton. He certainly seems a man whose opinions are worth paying attention to. But I taught in  unversities for forty years. I know the word expert is not so reassuring as it sounds. Virtually all profs, including me, have biases that affect their opinion at least as much as their studies affect them. Professor Savoie is certainly an expert. But hundreds of experts in his field will not only disaggree with him, but will be all over the map in their own opinions. There have even been some so rude as to disagree with me.

Perhaps the most notorious departments for bias in universities are Political Science and Economics. In this case, Professor Savoie is a political scientist writing on economics. Both fields are notorious for their wide range of biases. So what we have here is an opinion, not a judgement.

Professor Savoie's view is that we need an HST tax. That is a tax which hits low incomes the hardest. It hits the wealthy and corporations the least. I know lots of scholars who would disagree with that. They are experts, too.  Apparently, though, the Moncton Times knows only the one at U de Moncton.

The other "expert" is less impressive. He is the regional head of The Canadian Taxpayers' Association. Not only is he something less than an expert, he has been closely associated with several "think-tanks" (propaganda agences for corporations).. Of course he's opposed to raising taxes. That's what he's paid to do.

Lacey ends with a bizarre statement. He says the economy in Nova Scotia is suffering as a direct result of higher taxes than New Brunswick. Oh? Where did that cause and effect theory come from? Haiti has had virtually no taxes for a century. Foreign factory and factory farm corporations have certainly prospered under this system. But would Mr. Lacey hold up Haiti as an example of how effective it is to lower taxes?

And just to show that even experts like Professor Savoie and Mr. Lacey cannot agree. Savoie holds Nova Scotia up as an example of what New Brunswick should be doing.

So what was this "news" item really about? It is propaganda following up on a campaign the The Moncton Times and Transcript began a week ago, almost certainly on the orders of its masters. The message has nothing to do with a systematic quiestioning of experts. EVen the use of the word expert in its plural form is misleading. One is certainly expert in his field. But many experts in that same field don't agree with him. The other is not an expert; he's a hired front man for a pressure group.

This is not a news item. This is propaganda to make sure that Premier Alward doesn't do something foolish like raising taxes on coporations. (There's even a hint that if such taxes are raised, messrs Irving and Ganong and the rest will stamp their feet and leave the province - so we'll be the only jurisdiction in North America with no gas stations or boxes of chocolates.)

We should be so lucky.

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