Gary Mason: once "useful" blogs are now bad for democracy

Post by Mike Klassen in


Are inside leaks from City Hall only fine for the MSM? – click for larger

Petulant, mean-spirited, embedded with blatant bias, personal attacks, juvenile vituperation and hypocrisy. Oh my. Is the Globe and Mail's Gary Mason really talking about Or has someone just had a long briefing from Gregor Robertson's chief of staff?

Now, I can handle the biased part – I mean, at least we're honest about being biased. Our readers do not have to contort their minds to figure out where we stand on the political spectrum. Heck, our About page has it all in black and white for everyone to read. We're bloggers. We. Are. Biased.

But the part about being petulant, mean-spirited, vituperative, juvenile and making personal attacks? Wow, it's a wonder we can sleep at night.

Or is that really an accurate account of what is? I'll grant you that our usually amused tone has had its edgy moments, more so in our early days than in recent months. But I'm not exactly convinced what Mason describes, a Webster award-winning journalist, is the writing you're reading now.

For example, Mason suggests that we really have it in for Penny Ballem, whom he describes as "once one of the most respected civil servants in the provincial government":

Every week there seems to be a new post about what a tyrant she is, fed by some disgruntled bureaucrat inside city hall who preferred the old regime.

It's funny that when we released an internal report that showed overwhelming dissatisfaction with senior management and a survey of over 500 employees that it's suddenly the grousing of "some disgruntled bureaucrat". Nice way to characterize hundreds of workers at City Hall, Gary. I can assure you that critics of Penny Ballem do not need our help in spreading the word about her reputation, she's doing that just fine herself.

Mason also takes issue with the fact we've got good sources at City Hall:

[ have] benefited from the generosity of old friends inside city hall who were only too happy to leak documents or tip them off to problems that would shame the new administration

Funny to think that this would be a criticism of us, when it was Mason who "benefited from the generosity of friends inside city hall" during the 2008 election campaign. It was Mason who reported on a leaked copy of an in-camera document relating to the Olympic Village financing one week before election day, effectively handing the win to Vision Vancouver. So it's okay for Mason apparently to share documents leaked to him illegally by his source, but for some reason we can't also share inside info?

This is another accusation about that the evidence just doesn't bear out:

those who write anything remotely complimentary about Vision or the mayor are “shills” and “mouthpieces”

I decided to search our site. As of this afternoon we've got 1,735 posts on In a total of zero posts do we use the word "mouthpiece" in reference to a media person. We have used it twice, once referring to Mayor's aide Kevin Quinlan when he wrote the Vancouver Kid blog, and once in reference to Vision blogger Jonathon Ross. As for calling any media "shills" there was exactly one post where we came close. Those who remember when Allen Garr dubbed Gregor Robertson "Bubble Boy" last year, we saluted him, adding:

We've been hard here on Garr in the past, but it's not because we don't like the curmudgeonly columnist. We think of it as an intervention, to help him save himself from the impulse to shill for Vision.

I realize that searching our site for examples to back up your argument would be a pain, but this criticism certainly doesn't meet with Webster award-winning journalistic standards. Gary also comments that media are duping viewers by having me comment in relation to City Hall stories:

To the uninformed viewer, he is just a guy who believes the city deserves better from its elected officials.

Well, to be honest, I am "just a guy who believes the city deserves better from its elected officials". So on that one, guilty as charged. But remember I'm usually introduced as a "critic" of Vancouver's present government, and "" is written under my name when it flashes on the screen. Our About page kind of spells out who we are, Gary. Here's what my bio states:

A veteran of civic, provincial and federal election campaigns for the past three decades, Mike played a pivotal role providing communications and organizational support to the successful 2004 Knowards campaign alongside then City Councillor Sam Sullivan, and twice managed the election campaigns of a provincial cabinet minister, achieving the highest winning margin of any constituency in British Columbia.

You see, I've been regulary involved in politics. Just like Bill Tieleman is when it comes to working with the NDP, Vision or trade unions. Just like SFU prof/former aide to Glen Clark Doug McArthur is when he's roped in to commenting on politics on TV. When you call on us, you're getting the perspective of people who understand politics because they've done it, not just written about it. That perhaps is one reason why people read us as part of their media diet.

Mason can suggest, of course, that our writing somehow corrupts the democratic process, or that by revealing what's really happening on the ground and within city hall we're creating an off-putting atmosphere for potential candidates. But I would argue Mason's charge is unsupportable by any measure. Vancouver, put next to many political jurisdictions is a comparative pillow fight, not a black hole of mudslinging.

If anything sites like positively add to the local political dialogue. We do not character assassinate as they do on some websites. We certainly have never even considered putting the addresses of family members of those who criticize us, as a Vision Vancouver blogger did.

We hold our commenters to a high standard as well. No cursing is permitted, nor are smears allowed. Unproven accusations about even those we criticize, when they've been posted, are removed from our comments as soon as we see them. In fact, I would take the comments written on our site by both our supporters and critics over most that I've read on newspaper websites.

Not for one minute would I suggest that Gary Mason is a Vision Vancouver booster. Gary's been in the business too long to fall into the trap of supporting one side over another. But there is a hint of sour grapes in what Mason has written. The fact is that is widely read by many in the media, the civil service and the public at large. We've broken many stories, and have defined the issues on more than one occasion.

We've done this not by being obnoxious, rude or over the top. We're influencing the political dialogue by working our butts off and writing every day. We've attracted thousand upon thousands of followers through the web, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube not through gimmicks or financial enticements, but by presenting good content and providing unique analysis. And by doing this we've filled a vacuum.

So instead of running us down with unsupported accusations and Mayor's office spin, my suggestion to the Globe and Mail's Webster award winning columnist is challenge us by getting the stories first. Work those back channels like we do and tell your readers the truth of the issues. Perhaps then we bloggers will be more easy to ignore.

But for the time being, I don't see that happening anytime soon.

- post by Mike


Hypocracy. Why, it's almost as bad as democracy!


For another viewpoint from someone who knows the media business---

You've got 'em running scared, Mike! Nicely done.

Petulant, mean-spirited, embedded with blatant bias, personal attacks, juvenile vituperation and hypocrisy.

As a daily reader of this blog, and someone not involved in municipal politicking, these words rang true. The same words ring true when I read civicscene.

I would suggest that the city and your readers would be better served by raising the level of the debate - but I suppose that has never been the purpose, stated or otherwise, of either blog.

"Petulant, mean-spirited, embedded with blatant bias, personal attacks, juvenile vituperation and hypocrisy."

You're talking about the globe column right?


Do you really actually believe this?

If anything sites like positively add to the local political dialogue. We do not character assassinate as they do on some websites. We certainly have never even considered putting the addresses of family members of those who criticize us, as a Vision Vancouver blogger did.

We hold our commenters to a high standard as well. No cursing is permitted, nor are smears allowed. Unproven accusations about even those we criticize, when they've been posted, are removed from our comments as soon as we see them. In fact, I would take the comments written on our site by both our supporters and critics over most that I've read on newspaper websites.

You guys constantly smear me, suggesting that all I do is channel Vision propaganda and have some kind of interest in promoting the party. I do give you credit for many times you have cited the stories and posts I've done where there's something negative about Vision/Robertson/Ballem/Magee.

But the minute that I write anything that can't be construed as 100 per cent negative, you're back to slagging me again as some kind of Vision lapdog. Yet people who do nothing but reprint your blog items are crackerjack reporters.

A quick glance at your commenters turned up, in the first 60 seconds, a guy who said that I was "on my knees" to Magee and Vision waiting for the big blowjob/story. Not just rude, but nasty 1960s style sexist. That's far from the only comment like that.

You also constantly misrepresent what I have reported in the past and suppress information that you know would give readers more context about my work.

Yes, I have a high level of access to Mike Magee. Just like I had a high level of access to Daniel when I was there. And Geoff Meggs before that. And Philip Owen's staff before that. In fact, I've had far more breakfasts with Daniel than I ever have with Mike, not to mention various late-night phone calls. That's because I take covering city hall seriously and that means understanding the agenda and issues of whoever is in power. When the NPA had fundraising dinners, I faithfully went to every one and used to spend the whole night there talking to people to get a sense of who was supporting the party and why. You actually know that and yet you choose not to tell your readers, preferring to let them think that it's only with the Vision administration that I've bothered to pick up the phone to see how things are going.

Just two recent examples of many when it comes to how you misrepresent past stories:

In a recent post, you said I called Jennifer Clarke Lady MacBeth and ended her career. In fact, she walked into an interview she'd agreed to with me and announced, at the beginning of our conversation, "I'm not Lady MacBeth, you know." I reported what she said. Later, it got picked up by Vaughn Palmer and became a popular term.

You also say that I wrote a story suggesting that Sam Sullivan trademarked the term EcoDensity for personal gain.

This is the actual story that I've copied and pasted in below, where I a) talked to patent lawyers about what it would mean b) gave Daniel and Sam ample opportunity to explain themselves (neither had an email they might have sent to the law department on the subject, which would have provided a stronger defence and c) quoted a Vision councillor saying it wasn't a big deal d) did not say that he was doing it for personal gain. (Though I did hear much, much later after Sam left office, and from a completely non-Vision source, that Sam and Daniel were looking forward to a future of appearing on talk shows and possibly even Oprah. Whether that was connected to EcoDensity, I don't know.)

I have to say, I heard later that Vision types were totally pissed about the story because they thought it was a big scoop and that I had softened it by giving the mayor so much space.

I could drone on providing dozens more examples but I'll leave it at this.

Want to use the term EcoDensity?

Better watch out. Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan is about to gain exclusive rights to it, if his application to the Canada Intellectual Property Office goes through without opposition this week.

Sullivan's personal application for the trademark rights raised some eyebrows around the city when it was advertised in the national trademark journal recently, as required by the application process. The deadline for objections is Monday.

Usually, Vancouver, or any other city that wants to trademark anything, applies under the city name, using a special provision that Canadian legislation gives public institutions to get what's called an "official mark."

The city has obtained trademark rights in the past, for things like its city logo, its 100th anniversary logo, the Library Square logo and the phrase "Bait Cars are Everywhere," among others.

But in this case, Sullivan used the outside law firm of Boughton Law Corporation to apply personally for the trademark three days before he launched the EcoDensity initiative on June 16 last year.

The project's goal is to reduce urban sprawl and create greater density in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment and Vancouver's livability.

Two intellectual-property lawyers, Paul Smith and Neil Melliship, each said independently that it was extremely unusual for a mayor, or the leader of any kind of corporation, to apply personally for a trademark for such an initiative.

But the mayor says he has no intention of taking control of the rights to EcoDensity and that he was just trying to protect the brand name for the city.

Sullivan and his chief of staff, Daniel Fontaine, were scrambling last June to find a name for a city-planning initiative the mayor wanted to launch at the beginning of the World Urban Forum. They were going to use the term One Planet Vancouver, but discovered at the last minute that it was trademarked by an existing One Planet organization.

So Fontaine came up with the term EcoDensity and the mayor suggested that it should be trademark protected immediately. Sullivan says he had a bad experience while was running his non- profit groups when his Reach Disability Foundation was forced to change its name by an Ottawa group with the same name.

"I have no idea about the process but it seemed like a good way to protect the city."

Fontaine said the city's legal department couldn't apply for the trademark because the EcoDensity initiative had not yet been voted on by councillors.

He said he lost track of the process in the past year and was simply passing on letters from the federal intellectual-property office to other departments, assuming that they would be ensuring the city's legal department was getting the trademark right to the name. Fontaine didn't know whether the city's legal department knows about Sullivan's trademark application.

In the meantime, the application has perplexed his political opponents, who say this seems to be another example, albeit a harmless one, they hope, of the way Sullivan operates outside the normal boundaries of the city.

Vision Vancouver Coun. George Chow said he would like to hear more from the mayor about ensuring that the EcoDensity term is put firmly under the control of the city.

"It demonstrates that the mayor always wants to have his little pet projects carried out outside the city domain, then when he discovers it doesn't work, he brings it back to the city. I thought it was very characteristic of him to have done that," said Chow.

Sullivan launched the EcoDensity initiative at a Canada Place press conference after private discussions with his staff and NPA councillors. However, opposition councillors were in the dark about the initiative until they attended the media event.

Mason is one of the dinosaur media . . they see the asteroid coming and they cower in fear and stumble around waiting for the day they are put out of their self inflicted "journalistic" misery.

C'mon asteriod . . . faster, faster.

It is always amusing to read the criticism around social media. As if new forms of communication are not as valid as traditional forms of reporting.

As a third generation political junkie, the stories I grew up hearing in living room meetings and backroom envelope stuffing sessions have now come to the forefront with social media. The stories were what made politics interesting and taught me at least, that no matter how powerful politicians and civil servants think they are, they are still beholden to me, the voter.

I welcome the blogs, and unlike Gary Mason's fear for democracy, I am well able to discern what content is valid and what needs more proof. In fact I rarely read the vitrolic comments sections in the several newspapers I read online, Citycaucus, however, always decent entertainment and enlightening as to who maybe needing to validate their own work, or sources.

If you read regularly, this comment of mine will sound redundant, but if this website gets Vancouver, or any city it writes about for that matter, more than 30% voter turnout, then it definitely has my support.

My father and grandfathers would have loved social media.

If Mr Mason is trashing you, Vision is very very nervous.

The idea that democracy in Vancouver was somehow healthy before the appearance of civic blogs is belied by the city's abysmal voter turnout. Personally I'm pretty left of centre (in fact having no problem calling myself a socialist probably explains why I don't like Vision) and disagree with plenty of Mike and Daniel's opinions. However where their investigation has unearthed waste and abuse the question of left and right really doesn't matter.

This Globe article reads like sour grapes and Ms Bula's reply, although I also enjoy her articles, reads like the release of some pent up bitterness, especially with that remark about appearances on 'Oprah'. I first realized the debased state of the printed media here last December when, at the time that the Bloedel closure and other controversies had come out, the Georgia Straight printed an article by Daniel Woods lauding the mayor in terms that would embarass Kim Jong Il.

Well, there's no such thing as bad publicity and when the old establishment starts getting steamed up you must be doing something right!

Frances, we'll take down any disparaging foul remarks like you describe. They're not appropriate here or anywhere. I'll dig around to see what you're talking about.

Yes, I do think adds to the dialogue and that our commenters by and large add to that dialogue. We don't mind a little venting from readers, but my preference would be that we stay on topic. Of course, there have been a few uncomfortable moments for Daniel and myself over the years when it comes to comments on your site as well.

We've credited plenty of your stories and still do - note today's link to you on the Gregor/China story. I thought we gave you big props for the Magee story in Van mag I think it's a great piece.

Mike keep up the hard work. Don't let a columnist from the Mop and Pail try to bully you into submission. If he's writing about you, just be happy he spelled your name right and mentioned the blog a few times. Keep up the good work, you obviously have them on the run. It must be tough being #1 on the list!

Oh come on, Frances. You have trashed -- and quite unfairly I might add -- many, many individuals in this city, including politicians, bureaucrats, other media and others. And now you complain about your treatment at the hands of City Caucus?

I have lost all respect for Gary Mason after today's Globe column. Clearly his tenure with the newspaper has jumped the shark.

I'm no card-carrying NPA member, but I do appreciate knowing some of the shenanigans that Robertson and his pals have been up to. Frankly, it's disgusting.

Frankly, the worst thing that any media outlet can be is irrelevant. And sadly, that's what the Globe has become when it comes to Vancouver civic issues. I read the Globe for business and national affairs, but that is it.

Gary and Frances long ago traded objectivity in for "access", and now they are feeling the pinch.

Keep up the great work, City Caucus.

First words that came to mind after reading Gary Mason: off-base, out of touch & irrelevant

" " Frances Bula: m'lady doth protest too much

" " City so glad I was just turned onto your site!

Readers are smart enough to sift through the various civic blogs to gauge what most approximates the truth. The MSM deludes itself in believing they are the sole source of objective truth. Mason is simply the latest example.

City Caucus, Civic Scene and France Bula's blog have added needed vigour to revitalize interest in civic politics.

Unfortunately MSM types, such as Mr. Mason, do not believe readers are capable of generating reasonable conclusions.

As a victim-in-waiting of the potential Hornby Bike Lane, I'm constantly in shock whenever I read a Frances Bula article in the paper.

I'm not looking for negative slants to every story, but some things are just put out there and not questioned.

For example, I hadn't heard about the second public consultation session at Pacific Centre until that morning when I read it in Bula's article. With an administration that is constantly working hard to avoid the public whining to the media I wonder why the question was never answered in print, "When did you notify stakeholders of the second info session."

I'm also shocked that Lon Leclair and other engineers are constantly being quoted on this story. It's a political story not a bureaucratic one. Leave the employees alone, let Mayor moonbeam and Raymond Louie stand up and get blood on their hands.

I suspect you won't be doing that anytime soon though Frances. You wouldn't want to strain your friendship with the current administration.

I think Mason raises some important points about the (lack) of accountability and ethical standards that seem evident on some of Vancouver's political blogs (the ridiculous ongoing ad hominem sparring between Tsakumis and Ross comes to mind). That said I wouldn't necessarily hold that opinion of City Caucus, who relative to the blogosphere have managed to retain a high level of ethical (albeit partisan) reporting.

But Mason raises a very interesting point about muck-raking bloggers scaring good people from politics.

However, at the heart of his article - and Ms Bula's comments below - seem to lie a defensiveness and perhaps a bit of shame at the shortfalls of most MSM as far as investigative journalism. Journalism should be more than parroting back media releases and cozy lunches with political staff.

I lost a great deal of respect for Bula over her fluff piece on Joel Solomon's empire. In so cavalierly dismissing critics as sour grapes outsiders - she left very little doubt as to which side of the fence she was on. At the very least, she might have given those concerns a bit more consideration than the barely-paragraph-long dismissive backhand she delivered.

I'm not sure whether it's being a shill or being lazy - but as a result, I don't really trust or respect Bula's reporting anymore. Even when she does occasionally criticize Vision, it seems more like she's keeping up with the bloggers and not wanting to appear trumped, than actually digging up the dirt as we might have expected her to.

Funny how things work in the alternative universe here.

If Mike Klassen points out inaccuracies and hyperbole in what Gary Mason writes, he is a brave guy standing up to the MSM.

If I write (a much shorter) post pointing out inaccuracies in something Mike has written, I am bitter and whiny and protesting too much.

Similarly, apparently it's okay to trash me with vague allegations that I'm a lapdog, while quoting from my stuff all the time with information I've dug up on Vision doings.

Because that's equivalent to the "trash" jobs I've done on others, where I spend days interviewing friends and enemies, give the person being profiled their say, and provide a picture of the person that has both good and bad.

Gary Mason was way off base with this article, Mike, but then his over-reaching and over-the-top invective also completely invalidated his arguments. Sad to see that he's so biased.

Globe and Mail... RAG.

Thank you Gary Mason. I had the sense that Citycaucus was nothing but partisan smears and that does, in fact, turn out to be the case.

Frances, this is not an argument you can win with logic and reason.

@Frances, I cannot recall challenging anything you've written for a long time. If you're lumping my voice in with the commenters on both our sites, that would be a mistake. I certainly cannot recall personally calling you names. Given that your comments make me sound like a gigantic a-hole I decided to search our blog for every reference we've made to you. There are 113 (!) different posts where we mention your name, so this punched over an hour out of my day to review them. Below are links to every post where we either mention a story you wrote, broke, or our praise of something you've written. In any case where we were critical of you I've made a note.

Frankly, it's a little over the top to suggest that I've been kicking the shit out of you at all. From what I can tell I've written exactly two posts that speak directly to your "bias" and in both cases they were in response to something you wrote about We've promoted the heck out of your writing and your stories. We've received a fraction of this acknowledgment by comparison.

I suggest we smoke the peace pipe on this one. I'm simply not "smearing" you as you say.

Mike - made reference to EcoDensity trademark story - "kudos to Frances" - mildly critical of angle on Vision donors - critical of quote on your blog about not seeing street people - suggested VEDC numbers not included in total city bill for Oly tix was Vision spin - cite your feature on Solomon - mention Tsisserev memo leaked to you first - talking about social media and your criticism of us - mention your views on 311 - teased you on "hairdresser" comment - said you "shrugged off" Hundal scrap story - mention Ecodensity story - said you were wrong to say B. Macgregor upset with NPA - blasted you and Garr on dismissing park board as public concern - linked to a post where you blasted us - referred to you as being "favoured" by Vision - suggested that Vision used your blog to circulate scary memo - mention Lady Macbeth
From March 2009... - blasted you on your defense of Hoggan double-dipping contracts - blast you for your commenters trashing us and you blasting us - mentioned how you put us down for using FOI

This was not a waste of your time! What a shocking history refresher. It is almost eerie when you read back at the old posts...
excellent job Mike..stay strong, the truth always prevails....

With my compliments...

Reality is, Mason is a has-been. He is one of those guys that slipped by the cracks and made a career out of occasionally doing some heavy lifting.

His lament? That the blogosphere is nasty? That we are getting stories that sources DO NOT TRUST him or Frances--or specifically the Mop and Pail?

Of course. Look at their record. Sadly, for them, the asteroid is coming fast.


Why should you want to be smoking the piece pipe with a woman who routinely allows for the smearing of me and any one else on her blog, who is outside her now obvious political bailiwick, by HER OWN COMMENTERS, and then bitches about a swift and strong response?

Waste of time.


"...a woman who routinely allows for the smearing of me and any one else on her blog"

Hi kettle, meet pot.

I live on "Desolation Row", land of the walking wounded, everyone with a story....
so of course my opinion is so much different that yours...

@BOOB hoo...

It would be helpful that you recognized that when you take comments out of context, you end up having to eat your words.

Read carefully:

"Why should you want to be smoking the piece pipe with a woman who routinely allows for the smearing of me and any one else on her blog, who is outside her now obvious political bailiwick, by HER OWN COMMENTERS, and then bitches about a swift and strong response?"

That was my full quote. I wasn't lamenting the characterizations, I was making a statement of fact: Bula bitches about something she routinely allows, and by that, encourages.

But this is a little tough to understand for you...I know, I know...we all know why...

Boob-hoo? Really? Are you 12?

I guess you're right, when someone goes on your 'blog' and asks questions or says something you don't like, you just delete the post.

You are a petty little man.

Check out!

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