QSLS Politics

Friday, February 26, 2010

Professor of Irving journalism threatens litigation over NB Power critique

"We cannot avoid conflict, conflict with society, other individuals and with oneself. Conflicts may be the sources of defeat, lost life and a limitation of our potentiality but they may also lead to greater depth of living and the birth of more far-reaching unities, which flourish in the tensions that engender them. --Karl Jaspers"

Those following the NB Power debate have surely seen the recent series of propaganda pieces released by Irving media written by STU journalism prof. Philip Lee. Titled "Balance of Power", they were advertised as a 'remarkable series of stories' that did not seek do not seek 'overtly or covertly, to influence this discourse one way or the other'. Well, the lead-in got one thing right - these are a remarkable series of stories - one which Mr. Lee seems unwilling to defend outside an Irving-controlled venue or a court of law, as you can see below.

First, I will expand on my criticism of Mr. Lee's work - if this falls under the category of 'slander' as he seems to allege - then free speech is dead.

The first article - "Down by the old mill stream" tells us that the crooked Hydro-Quebec/NB Power deal has been in the works since 1867. Then he mimes the government line about NB Power not being sold, despite the fact that all the major resources and transmission lines are effectively being turned over to Quebec. Masking the PR debacle this deal has become, he frames these problems in theatrical language, and then quickly moves back to the aww-shucks, misty eyed history of power generation in the picture province.

This first article spends a full 11 paragraphs describing in childish terms the production of electricity from water-flow, lulling the reader to sleep, priming them for the real sales job. This includes a comparison with this single 100+ year old dam to HQ's shinny new hydro system. Laughing at the puny 8 meter drop of NB's relic infrastructure, he seems enthralled that NB will soon be connected to HQ's massive 600 meter reserve. Every draw-back in NB's power-generating potential is hyped to the limit, while Quebec is made out to be a mecca of sustainable energy.

Finally, this leading piece subtly suggests that big industry will flock to New Brunswick's shores as the electricity prices goes down, throwing in some nostalgia for good measure of the cotton-mill workers that were outsourced long ago to child slave labor in third-world nations.

Part two, "How Quebec 'cornered' hydro power" spends the first four paragraphs linking HQ with the big-city sights and attractions of Montreal. This artificial confluence is artfully done, but is of little meaning to the nuts and bolts of electricity sales and generation. The impression of this article is to take small-town maritimers on a trip to the big city, and show them what they've supposedly been missing. Judging from the links on Mr. Lee's blog (9/10 in Ontario) - it seems this is a desire he holds keenly.

This article then skips quickly over the question of fraudulent carbon derivatives (a major selling point for the NB gov) to again marvel at the size and capacity of the HQ system. Somehow again, Mr. Lee soft-shoes around the capture of Newfoundland's Churchill falls energy project, noting only the genius of HQ's engineers in transporting the energy away (at a fraction of the real value). Similarly, the displacement of native Canadians from their land for the HQ project is sold as an example of diplomacy, rather than the continuation of subjugation and cultural genocide. The piece wraps up rather poorly, considering Mr. Lee's gift for words - with an incongruous call to history and certainty that the NB power swindle is as good as done.

Part three, entitled "From James Bay to New England" brings us to the northern reaches of the Quebec wilderness, where 'engineering marvels' produce power for consumers to the south. Mr. Lee spends his time there with a HQ scientist, who apparently has time to spend away from 'mitigating' the disastrous environmental damage of these behemoth dams to lead a starry-eyed reporter around the project. Mr. Lee really pulls out the stops, 'mitigating' the impact that toxic mercury has apparently had on the natives who missed out on their chance to leave for the big city. Speculating on the carbon-trapping benefits of hydro power, very short-shrift is given to the more noxious and potentially damaging emission of methane from decomposing vegetation beneath the head ponds.

Part four "What went wrong with New Brunswick's go-it-alone policy - and why" amounts to the quintessential attempt at 'influencing the discourse' of the NB Power sellout. Interviewing a retired, second-generation executive at the notoriously crony power company, Mr. Lee regurgitates a finely-tuned sales pitch for selling out the public utility. In an interview with Bill Marshall in the upstairs attic of his home, Mr. Lee can't help but set the scene '(Marshall) sipping coke with ice as the late afternoon sun dropped in the sky'. Spooky stuff, but no spookier than the dramatic picture we are given of NB Power's declining fortunes.

Skipping over how rainy-day funds were splurged on maintaining rates, bad debt decisions and NB Power's current susceptibility to market forces are put front and center for why the utility should be sold after 60 years of similar operations. This article then goes on to provide succor to Belledune and Coleson cove employees, maintaining that despite HQ's right to close the plants on a year's notice - they will be needed for the long term. Why hydro-Quebec would chose to 'pay our fuel bill' with all their cheap power is skimmed over. This supposedly non-political article then allows this retired-power executive turned energy consultant to say concerns that the plants will close are 'fear-mongering'.

My biggest critique of this article has to do with Mr. Marshall's potential conflicts of interest. Despite swallowing every line said - Mr. Lee says nothing about Mr. Marshall's current or potential clients should the plan go through, I find it hard to believe he is doing this province-wide sales pitch our of the goodness of his heart.. In his message to me below, Lee claims 'I explained my relationship to him in the story and my post on the blog' - yet the question of for whom Mr. Marshall works and his motives for speaking remain a total mystery.

Part five in this endless sales pitch comes back to the natives, and is appropriately titled - "How the Cree came to embrace big hydro". Standing in the office of the latest generation of first nations 'leaders', Mr. Lee takes us through a series of mental calisthenics to come around and see the Cree's 'compromise' as a good thing. While it is hard to pinpoint - one gets the impression that the Cree are a stand-in for New Brunswickers, and that our legal and financial problems in rejecting the deal will be similar if attempted again. Nowhere do you get the sense of empathy for the now landless Cree, or any disdain for the big business that was determined to flood their ancestral home.

While the series has certainly gone on long enough, I get the impression that Mr. Lee has not had his final word on the power sell-out, you can watch his blog for more articles here.

Updated: head over to Irving media for his latest missive.

Subsequent to Mr. Lee's first posts, I commented once on the Irving's web site, and then posted a very brief critique on his blog. My comments about part one of the story and to his defensive post can be found here and here.

I subsequently received the following two emails from Mr. Lee, in which he first seems to ask for a civilized debate, and then threatens court action if I criticize him again. While I am still a little bit shocked about the sudden turnaround - I can imagine that emotions run high when you're busy selling out your community.

So, with my piece said - we shall see how far Mr. Lee is willing to go to stifle criticism and bar debate. His renewed alliance with the Bermudans and their tendencies to strong arm the public into silence (i.e. firing his former students for legitimate investigative journalism) is troubling. Indeed, it does not bode well for the future of journalism in the picture province when a journalism prof cannot see the forest of conflicts of interest for the trees (his own or anyone else promoting the sale).

Subject: Reply
From: Philip Lee (pleebooks@gmail.com)
To: danf@danf.net
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2010 16:31:48

Dan: I don't know you other than through your continued and persistent attacks on my integrity as a journalist. I will say this: It is a personal attack if it is not true, which in the case of Bill Marshall it is untrue. I explained my relationship to him in the story and my post on the blog. I will also tell you that never in my career as a journalist has anyone told me what to write. I'm not about to start now. I received an assignment to try to shed some light on the big picture with this electricity deal. I spent a number of weeks talking to a lot of people and reading a lot of material. The story I ended up with was mine. If you don't agree with my conclusions fine. But I would ask you to please stop questioning my integrity as a journalist. I understand that you oppose the deal, and I respect that. My stories are trying to shed light on the larger picture, not the political process. There's lots of commentary out there on that. I also made a point of not engaging in personal attacks and blame in my pieces. Why is it not possible to engage in calm and civilized debate? Philip Lee

Subject: Request
From: Philip Lee (pleebooks@gmail.com)
To: danf@danf.net
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2010 18:24:23

Please stop contacting me. My next call is going to be to my lawyer. If you continue to slander me in public I am going to take legal
action. Please do not ever contact me again. Thanks.


Dan F said...

Just to be clear - the only way I 'contacted' him was through his blog, at http://philiplee.ca and by posting one comment on the canadaeast.com website.

FORD GUY said...

Phillip Lee is a weasel that's scared if the mask gets pulled off this deal McKenna's gain will finally be revealed and his already "worst seller" will be removed from shelves.