It is perhaps indicative of the overall level of trust between Canadian aboriginals and the federal government that a number of people reading words such as “Jeepers, creepers” attributed to Minister of Indian Affairs John Duncan took them at face value.
It started when the First Nations news site First Perspective published a piece purportedly from an “investigative reporter” named Obidiah on Jan. 7. Many readers apparently did not know that on the site Obidiah is identified as a humorist, not a reporter, or that Wikileaks released government cables, not personal writings.
Such a firestorm ensued that some bloggers were even calling for the minister's resignation. By the end of the day, the post was gone.
One had to already be familiar with Obidiah’s work when reading the introduction to Duncan’s supposedly leaked diaries to know they were false: “Thanks to the Wikileaks by that fellow, Julian Assange, First Nations of Canada can now glimpse the workings of the Minister’s mind and find out what the department is really up to. The data was found in the bottom of the digital pile, as it were, and your intrepid journalist went right to work on it and I have this report for you.”
Alleged statements such as, “Thirteen years in Parliament and this is what I get? In charge of Indians? Jeepers, creepers!” and, “Now I gotta suck up to all those chiefs … some of whom make a hell of a lot more than I’m gonna make on this job,” proved hard to brush off lightly.
Tweets and Facebook posts rang out, and the blogosphere lit up with ire. Soon a newspaper, the Regina Leader-Post, got wind of the piece, posted it on the newspaper’s blog page and considered it for the home page. Just as the column was about to go truly viral, deputy editor Kevin Blevins got a call from APTN for its story on the faux Wiki and learned that the article was fiction.
He didn’t blame folks who took it at face value.
“When it appears at places like the Leader-Post.com, which are trusted news and information websites, [readers ’] assumption is that it is true,” he told APTN.
Meanwhile Duncan’s office issued a statement.
“I can tell you that this article in no way reflects the thoughts or feelings of Minister Duncan,” spokesperson Michelle Yao told APTN.
Down came the newspaper site’s version. Down came the initial column. Down came most of the blog posts and tweets referenced in coverage of the snafu. Up went an apology or two, including one from the newspaper’s blogger Chris Tyrone Ross, who had posted the item. He apologized to both Duncan and the blog’s readers.
First Perspective chose to delete the post rather than label it as satire or humor.
“Regular readers of our paper and news site weren’t fooled but a lot of folks who’ve never heard of Obidiah were,” wrote site administrator James Wastasecoot in a short post on the bottom right of the site’s home page, “Why we pulled the Wikileaks column by Obidiah.”
“The article was written up in some news outlets as fact. And small wars erupted on Facebook pages,” he wrote, adding that Duncan’s office had asked First Perspective to either label the column as fiction or take it down.
“We opted to remove the column,” Wastasecoot wrote. “The reality is that the minister is a very powerful person who is well connected in the corridors of power throughout the country. And we’re just a small newspaper who is wholly dependent on and subject to the vagaries of the market.... I apologize for any harm done to individuals or organizations who took our column as factual.”