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Alberta war room unleashes tirade against The New York Times, then hastily retreats

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Image: David J. Climenhaga

For a moment yesterday, it almost seemed as if Alberta's $30-million-a-year energy "war room" was finally going to live up to its pugnacious nickname and make war on the "enemies of Alberta" and their campaign of "lies and disinformation" about the cleanest, most rule-of-law-abiding, most democratic oil in the whole wide world.

Instead of the bland puff features about happy herds of bison grazing atop reclaimed oil sands mines and the wonderful things like medical instruments that can be made with a little help from some bitumen that have lately graced its website, someone at the Canadian Energy Centre launched a spirited Twitter attack yesterday on a U.S. newspaper that had the temerity to call Alberta "home to one of the world's most extensive, and also dirtiest, oil reserves."

Well, obviously that could not go unchallenged!

So with a gung-ho spirit that finally seemed to live up to Premier Jason Kenney's election campaign promise his war room would take the fight to any media that didn't tell the story of the oilsands the way the Alberta government wants it told, someone at the Canadian Energy Centre fired off some vicious tweets assailing the newspaper for being "called out for anti-Semitism countless times," having a "dodgy" track record and being "routinely accused of bias."

Look upon my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

So, do you think someone in the war room simply didn't understand what The New York Times -- yeah, that New York Times -- is? Like, maybe they confused it with, say, the Medicine Hat News? You know, a newspaper that would kindly print your lame press release if you called it a rebuttal and accused it of not asking for your comments?

Or do you think some hapless war roomer was off the day they got the memo from the premier's issues management commissar about the government's unconvincingly sudden pivot to social license just after the boss got back from Washington, D.C., where he is reputed to have been bluntly told climate belligerence no longer sells in the halls of finance?

Or has someone on the war room's staff been reading too many pro-Trump websites complaining about the Times not merely being "not the most dependable source" -- a view also shared by Sputnik News, by the way -- but a purveyor of outright "fake news"?

Or did someone simply take offence at the offending article's observation about the war room itself that "one of its first items, which are designed to look like online news articles, attacked a non-profit group that teaches schoolchildren about climate change and criticized school administrators for letting the group talk to Alberta students"?

I suppose that at this late hour I won't be the one bearing the bad news if I mention The New York Times actually has the reputation of being a pretty reliable newspaper? Indeed, for all its flaws, it is the gold standard against which other newspapers continue to are measured? (Full disclosure, which will shock some readers: Your blogger has a paid subscription!)

It wasn't an insult, in other words, back in the 1970s when Klausie Pohl was still managing editor of the Lethbridge Herald, that people in the then-thriving newspaper business called that small Alberta daily "the New York Times of the Prairies."

So, calling the Times anti-Semitic, of all bizarre things, probably isn't going to do a lot for whatever credibility still clings to the accident-prone war room after its much-publicized misadventures with plagiarized logos and staffers pretending to be journalists.

Whoever did the face palm when the tweets started appearing yesterday morning, they were quickly yanked down -- but not soon enough to block the inevitable screen shot or keep the escapade from turning into a national news story and spawning, on Twitter, the mother of all ratios.

Perhaps sensing the prospect of a return to a previous career in country rock, ex-Postmedia journalist and United Conservative Party candidate Tom Olson, the war room's hapless commandant, put forth a grovelling, punctuation free apology on his personal Twitter account yesterday afternoon.

"I apologize for some of the tweets in @CDNEnergyCentre Twitter thread this am," he wrote. "The tone did not meet CEC's standard for public discourse This issue has been dealt with internally."

"There will be a substantive response to the NYT article w/in our mandate of challenging inaccuracies," the tweet concluded defiantly.

Whether or not the Times bothers to print that remains to be seen, although the war room published a response on its website at dinnertime last night.

It calls the Times' accurate statement that "financial institutions worldwide are coming under growing pressure from shareholders to pull money from high-emitting industries" misleading, because, says the war room, "investors should look holistically at overall environmental, social and governance performance."

That is an opinion, of course, not a refutation. I'll leave it to readers to work their way through the rest of the dreary piece.

Meanwhile, the Times is standing by its story.

"All the News That's Fit to Print" remains on the Gray Lady's masthead. The lights are still on in its headquarters on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. There's no correction at the bottom of the story, which still states, "some of the world's largest financial institutions have stopped putting their money behind oil production in the Canadian province of Alberta."

And the headline still reads, "Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel."

Because, of course, that's still true.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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