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Driftwood - Allegiance to Truth?

The following is an actual, unabridged exchange of emails between Julia Lucich and Driftwood Managing Editor Gail Sjuberg.  As will become clear, this exchange began with a "letter to the editor" pertaining to comments made by Trustee Christine Torgrimson at the Dec. 8, 2010meeting of Trust Council, but ultimately became about the Driftwood's decision not to print it. 

For the sake of clarification, the SSI Community Energy Strategy referenced in the letters can be found on the Trust website; "Ms. White" referenced in the final letter is the author of the study. Finally, there is a statement in the email of Jan. 9, 2011 that Lucich has "two websites, neither of which contain information of a political nature".  The statement was correct as of that date…..times are changing.

From: lucich
To: Gail Sjuberg
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2010 11:27 PM
Subject: letter to the editor

In the Dec. 22 issue, Trustee Torgrimson demands that people get their facts straight.  Indeed, she berates the Driftwood for publishing "allegations without confirming their accuracy". As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.  Had the Driftwood sought to verify the accuracy of Torgrimson's presentation to the Trust Council re climate change, they would have found that her pivotal statement was a blatant distortion of the facts:

“Transportation was really the key to our early success,” she said. “ICBC says we have about 1,000 more light vehicles now than we did in 2002 — meaning hybrids, Smart cars and electrics — and islanders are driving less.”

We are offered a vision of Salt Spring as a community awash in fuel-efficient vehicles.  However, according to the study she quotes -- one which shecomissioned and, one hopes, has read -- the additional thousand "light vehicles" on our roads are actually defined as "cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks" (page ii of the March 2010 update to the SSI Community Energy Strategy)....essentially, one thousand more good old gas guzzlers. 

The "fuel-efficient light vehicles" are dealt with separately in the report (page 9) and total barely one-tenth of what Torgrimson represents as fact.

The least she can do for the Trust Council who she sought to impress is to apologize for the misrepresentation. Without such inflationary tactics, her self-congratulatory message to the Trust Council regarding Salt Spring's "progress" falls flat.   By her own actions, Torgrimson has committed the very crime of which she accused others: "twisting the truth."  Such behavior smacks of hypocrisy.


 --- Original Message -----

From: Gail Sjuberg
To: lucich
Sent: Wednesday, January 05, 2011 11:25 AM
Subject: Re: letter to the editor

So in talking to Christine about this it looks like I misquoted her and there's a correction in the paper today. It's possible she flubbed her lines when reading from her powerpoint presentation and actually said what I quoted, but that's not what she meant to say and it didn't make sense, of course and I should have questioned it. 

So you could submit a revised letter or just have some fun with it on your own website! 




On 9-Jan-11, at 9:37 PM, lucich wrote:

Hello Gail,

When I drafted the "Letter to the Editor" (below), I thought the only matter at hand was whether an elected official was manipulating information in order to advance a particular agenda.  Regrettably, your response has made me realize that a more profound, and more disturbing, issue is in play: the fairness and autonomy of our local press.

Following is a bit of background for others who may wind up reading this.  The December 22 Driftwood contained an article written by Gail Sjuberg regarding a presentation by Trustee Christine Torgrimson at the quarterly meeting of Trust Council held in Victoria on December 8.  The article, titled "Trust gets climate action plan primer", described how Ms.Torgrimson "impressed" the assembled trustees with an update on Salt Spring's accomplishments to reduce greenhouse gas emmissions.  The article quotes her as saying:

“Transportation was really the key to our early success,” she said. “ICBC says we have about 1,000 more light vehicles now than we did in 2002 — meaning hybrids, Smart cars and electrics — and islanders are driving less.”

This statement, as explained in my Letter,  presented an utter distortion of the facts.  To add insult to injury, elsewhere in the paper was a letter from Ms. Torgrimson decrying other persons' inaccurate comments.

Interestingly, Gail, your editorial of the same date dealt in part with the Driftwood's role in public debate.  You expressed the absurdity of backing up every opinion with "a string of facts", and the inability on your part to "ground-truth" opinions.  Frankly, even though Ms. Torgrimson's comments were presented as statements of fact, rather than opinions, I think it's unreasonable to expect that the paper should have first verified her comments prior to publication.  The simple truth is that you have limited staff.  But when someone else does the homework for you, as I did, and presents verifiable sources to back it up, there is a serious question of bias when you refuse to print it. 

Instead, you ran the matter by Ms. Torgrimson, and then chose to offer up the rather absurd suggestion that either you misquoted her or she "flubbed her lines".  Given unaltered definitions from ICBC and the actual statistics (including data she neglected to mention about a 40 percent increase in the number of medium heavy commercial vehicles), what is it that she actually meant to say? ...  "Transportation was really the key to our dismal failure."??   What possible spin, short of her fabrication, could translate these figures into a "success"?

While on the topic of verifying information, you included a sly inference that I may choose "to have some fun with [this] on [my] own website."  I have two websites, Gail, neither of which contain information of a political nature.  It seems that, without bothering to offer me the same courtesy you gave to Ms.Torgrimson, you have chosen to rely on rumour and innuendo. 

I have always believed that a free press is crucial to democracy, and that it's only allegiance is to the truth.  The Driftwood may be a small, community paper, but I don't think that journalistic integrity functions on a sliding scale proportionate to the size of the community it serves. 



From: Gail Sjuberg
To: lucich
Sent: Thursday, January 13, 2011 12:41 PM
Subject: two quotes

Hi Julia -- here's the two quotes -- what Christine had on her PowerPoint presentation, and what I quoted her as saying. 

Transportation was really the key to our early success:

ICBC says we have about 1,000 more light vehicles than we had in 2002, and we’re producing far less transportation-related GHG emissions.  The number of hybrids, SMART cars and electric vehicles is increasing, and it appears that islanders are driving less. 

 “Transportation was really the key to our early success,” she said. “ICBC says we have about 1,000 more light vehicles now than we did in 2002 — meaning hybrids, Smart cars and electrics — and islanders are driving less.”

Managing Editor, Gulf Islands Driftwood
Editor, Aqua magazine
328 Lower Ganges Rd., Salt Spring Island, BC, V8K 2V3, Canada
Tel: 250-537-9933; fax: 250-537-2613;;

----- Original Message -----
From: lucich
To: Gail Sjuberg
Sent: Friday, January 14, 2011 10:21 AM
Subject: Re: two quotes

Hello Gail,

To her credit, Ms. White mentions that significant elements of the conclusions she has reached are based on assumptions.  By way of example, she elaborates on that, relative to vehicles, as follows:

We do not know the distance travelled by an average vehicle registered on Salt Spring, nor do we know the average fuel efficiency. Therefore the estimates of fuel use and resulting GHG emissions are based on assumptions. (pg. 10 )

There is no aggregate data on distances travelled by Salt Spring insured vehicles of any class. (pg. vi of exec. summary)

Some of these assumptions are seriously arguable.  One example is the premise that driving distances for residents of Salt Spring can be presumed to mirror other parts of BC. This alone accounts for 12% of the purported reduction in fuel comsumption. It is questionable whether the driving habits for people living on an island are comparable to communities with greater access to goods and services.  Note, too, that the data was collected from 2007, yet, without any further substantiation, is extrapolated out to the present and through 2012.

Along these same lines, she points to the reduction in numbers of cars reported by BC Ferries for the last few years as supportive of the premise that we are driving less. How does one conclude that this demonstrates fewer miles driven by SSI residents?  Might it more accurately reflect the reported reduction in tourist activity?

Even with the "alternate" quote there is an inference that "light vehicle" means something other than what it does.  Read it again, Gail, without the inference.  "Transportation was really the key to our early success: ICBC says that we have 1,000 more cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks on the road..."   The run-on of the remainder of the sentence also suggests that the phrase emanates from ICBC.  Not only is ICBC not the source (this being part of Ms. White's own conclusions drawn from her own assumptions), the statement itself is patently untrue.  Nowhere in Ms. White's report, even with the assumptions she has relied upon, is there anything to support the statement that there are "far less transportation-related GHG emmissions.  Although the raw number of medium/heavy commercial vehicles has increased by only about 40, their impact is roughly equal to another 200 "light vehicles" in addition to the 1,000 already mentioned:

Medium and heavy commercial vehicles represent less than 2% of the total Salt Spring fleet but because their fuel requirements may be up to five times greater than a light vehicle it is possible that energy and emissions from these vehicles could equal 10% of light vehicles. (pg. 7)

Christine has committed herself to an agenda and is contorting the data to craft a message that supports it.  I believe that my letter is valid, and that, rather than running interference for her, she should be allowed to explain or substantiate her position on her own.