If you're wondering where a certain reporter is getting the "scoop" on civic affairs, look no further than NPA blogger Mike Klassen, the blogger behind the paranoid CityCaucus blog. Yesterday the Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee posted a story about a leaked memo to City Manager Penny Ballem that said that city staff were "politicized, worn down by aggressive council agenda." This memo originally appeared on Klassen's site just a day earlier. It's not the first time that Lee and Klassen appear to have been managing the same information.
If you don't know who Klassen is, he's the guy behind the guy who brought you the HST. Yep, Colin Hansen's campaign manager.
Besides being a BC Liberal organizer, Klassen's also an NPA operative who organized for Sam Sullivan, guided Sullivan's web presence through his company ThinkCap.com (see screenshots).
Lately, Klassen's taken a frontline role on his anti-Vision website, where he routinely dumps on a variety of topics: Hollyhock, bikes and bike lanes, tubas - if they're in the hands of Gregor Robertson, Penny Ballem...[he also loves to dump on VO's publisher's brother, Joel.] Did I mention Hollyhock and bikes? Oh yeah. I did. He really hates those.
Things the paranoid CityCaucus blog doesn't touch include Vision's successful housing program, the clean-up of disastrous NPA deals like the billion dollar Olympic Village fiasco, Mayor Robertson's successful hosting of the Winter Olympics, and Little Mountain and of course the lack of any coherent alternative NPA vision for the city.
Remember that clip from the Sam Sullivan film made during that campaign? Sullivan turns to the camera and says about his opponent Jim Green, “I'm going to keep my foot on his God-damned throat and I'm going to just keep pressing and see if the guy can breathe at the end of it all.” That’s exactly how Sullivan's team played.
And it's how Klassen, manager of the paranoid CityCaucus blog, plays. It wouldn't really matter, except that Klassen appears to be bent on setting the tone for agendaless reporters who work for the corporate newspapers and the television stations that give us the news.
Here's the latest example of the echo chamber some members of the media provide Klassen, who describes himself on his LinkedIn profile as, not a journalist, but an advertising specialist whose focus is branding and strategy. Hmm, an advertising strategist seemingly providing the scoop for the city's real journalsits. That's a riddle.
Whatever the case, last week Jeff Lee, the Vancouver Sun's City Hall reporter, "broke" a story about seven empty floors at City Hall and a plan to reconfigure the third floor space that houses the mayor’s, council’s and city manager’s offices. How Lee discovered what City Hall insiders say was known only to a few city staff (until Lee published his article) is a mystery, but may very well go back to a party where Klassen's associate Daniel Fontaine was in attendance. Fontaine has also worked on the paranoid CityCaucus blog. Lee denies that he got the story from Klassen. He says it was the other way around.
Lee’s story went on at length about the poor use of space at City Hall. The subhead over the story screamed: “Entire engineering department was moved last year to a leased space at a cost to taxpayers of $48 million.”
“Last year?” That isn't accurate. It wasn't Vision's decision to move the engineering department. It was a decision made by the NPA in 2008. A decision to place the engineering department above the Whole Foods store on Cambie.
The decision to empty out 7 floors at City Hall and place those who'd inhabited them in expensive new digs was made three weeks before the last civic election by then Mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA dominated council. And they made it in secret, apparently on the advice of former City Manager, Judy Rogers, who Mayor Robertson fired as soon as he took office.
Why weren't these facts in Lee’s story? After all, they change the story. The real story, as it turns out, is about NPA mismanagement---and what Vision can, or can't do to deal with the NPA's missteps.
Why didn’t Lee ask Suzanne Anton, the sole elected NPA representative on council, who was sitting on the council that made the decision, why her party approved the deal to place city engineers in luxury? And why didn't he ask Anton why the deal was done in secret, right before the civic election?
When I questioned Lee about it he said that, in his mind, the story was about what Vision had done to deal with the empty space. They’d had a year and a half to come up with a space plan but hadn't, and they couldn't keep blaming the NPA.
I think he’s wrong. It cost taxpayers to move the City Engineers and will cost them over the years of the lease. It was a pure case of financial mismanagement. By the NPA. That's the story. But the paranoid CityCaucus's Klassen had planted a different kind of seed, and the real reporter, Lee, failed to ask hard questions of former mayor Sullivan, the NPA council and its staff. Questions like:
1. How much it will cost to get out of the lease?
2. Why NPA didn’t have a plan for the empty space before they signed the lease?
3. Given the NPA record on bad real estate deals, like the Fortress Hedge Fund and the Olympic Village financing deal, are there more NPA luxury lease deals out there that Vision is going to have to bring their skills to the table to manage?
Within fifteen minutes of Lee’s story appearing in the Sun, Klassen had a thousand words about Lee’s story up on his web site. And Klassen’s story rippled with links to Lee’s work. A thousand words and lots of distortions. But not one typo.
Lee told me that Klassen managed to get a heads up about what was then a story in progress when the Sun mistakenly posted a video about Lee’s story a week before it ran. He mentioned that politics and political spin has ratcheted up several notches at City Hall as of late, making it difficult for an objective reporter to do his job. In a blog in which he responds to comments by CivicScene blogger Jonathan Ross about "pack reporting" by media, Lee points to cutbacks in news budgets as a reason big media may be overly relying on bloggers for their information.
I agree that Klassen and his buddies are changing the way politics are done in Vancouver. They’ve brought the Karl Rove ‘take no prisoners’ style of political attack to the paranoid CityCaucus blog.
I've seen this all before.
In the 2005 civic campaign for Vision, I had to hire a libel lawyer to deflect the dirt that was being flung by the NPA at Vision. Then there was the James Green “coincidence”, where a guy with no apparent backers and the same name as our candidate for Mayor showed up with a $30,000 bus, signs and election materials. A lot of people believe he took enough votes to keep the real Jim Green from winning.
Dirty, dirty, dirty. And that's what we're seeing again.
Reporters get lots of ‘tips’ from partisans on all sides. I know. I've provided reporters with tips for years. But once the tip leaves the source, a good reporter takes a fresh non-partisan look at the story, checks the facts and writes the truth, even if it doesn’t end up working for the source.
And when you know that one side has its foot on the others throat, maybe some extra scrutiny is warranted. Although Jeff Lee is a very good reporter, I'm still not sure that was done in this case.*
Stay tuned. We're going to be reporting on more of Klassen's capers here....
Reported with files from Emily Barca and Linda Solomon
* Funny how a letter from Sullivan supporter Marguerite Ford turned up in Saturday’s Sun, saluting the Lee story with language Klassen used in his "7 Floors" post. I detect a message box circulating through the NPA crowd.
**[Editor's Note: Until yesterday at some point, Mike Klassen's LinkedIn profile included a link to his company, ThinkCap.com. It opened onto a page which showed a list of the websites he'd worked on. I was interested to see what projects Klassen had done. I followed the link and perused the page, noting he listed both Mayor Sam Sullivan and the Vancouver Non Partisan Party (NPA) as clients.
When I went to find it later in the evening by following the ThinkCap.com link on LinkedIn, I could now only get to a front page. This dead page listed a phone number. The page listing Klassen's clients was gone.
I then realized that on LinkedIn, you can see who has been looking at your profile.
Good thing I took screen shots earlier in the day. Note that Klassen's clients include "Sam Sullivan" and "NPA." Anyway, here are the screen shots:]