Chrystia Freeland, George Soros and the Ethics of Evidence-Based Reporting
On September 4, 2017, Moscow-based reporter John Helmer published his latest in a series of articles on Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland. Entitled “Canadian Foreign Minister Freeland Hid Light Under Bushel Until Toronto Globe and Mail Exposé,” Mr. Helmer’s article explores the revelation in an August 16, 2017 exposé in Canada’s Globe and Mail that, at the time she entered Canadian politics, Freeland had a “deal” for a “sort of authorized biography of George Soros.”
At the end of his September 4 article, Mr. Helmer states that, in mid-August, I “commissioned” a report from him “on the new evidence on Freeland”. Describing me as a “Canadian politician” who “doubles as a reporter, interviewer and member of the Board of directors of The Real News Network” (TRNN), Mr. Helmer writes:
Lascaris recorded a 30-minute interview with me on August 21. At first he delayed its broadcast claiming he was “fact-checking”. Lascaris then claimed that Soros had issued a “definitive rejection” of the reported deal with Freeland, and cancelled the broadcast. He and his TRNN colleagues refuse to reveal the email exchange with Soros.
Lascaris added last week that he hasn’t had time to check with Freeland on her side of the Soros deal, or her Ukrainian sources of income and real estate. His reasons, he said, is that “both of my kids are leaving home to go to university and I am moving them into their new accommodations far from home. I am not going to drop everything and neglect my family’s needs to respond immediately to your email.”
Mr. Helmer has been instrumental in exposing skeletons in the Freeland family closet. Among other things, Helmer’s investigative reporting has helped uncover that Ms. Freeland’s grandfather, Michael Chomiak, was a Nazi collaborator, and that Freeland misrepresented her grandfather’s sordid past when confronted with evidence of his Nazi sympathies.
Nonetheless, despite his journalistic contributions, Mr. Helmer’s account of his interactions with TRNN suffers from serious inaccuracies and omissions.
Before turning to those inaccuracies and omissions, we ought to consider a threshold question: why did Mr. Helmer end his latest piece about Freeland with an account of his recent interactions with TRNN? At a minimum, Mr. Helmer must have intended to raise questions about TRNN’s integrity. Why else would he write that I had delayed TRNN’s broadcast while “claiming” that I was fact-checking? And why else would he assert that we had ‘refused’ to reveal our email exchange with Soros?
Mr. Helmer has never explained what motive TRNN might possibly have to misrepresent to him its reasons for not having published his interview.
Had Mr. Helmer investigated TRNN’s reporting on Ms. Freeland with the same vigour with which he has investigated Ms. Freeland, he would have known that TRNN has not hesitated to be critical of Ms. Freeland’s tenure as Canada’s Foreign Minister. For example, in June of this year, I interviewed Canadian author and activist Yves Engler about the Trudeau government’s increase in military spending. Shortly prior to the announcement of that increase, Chrystia Freeland gave a major foreign policy speech in which she argued that Canada was at risk of becoming a client state of the United States if it did not increase military spending. In that interview, I asked Mr. Engler the following question about Ms. Freeland’s speech:
A few weeks ago, you and I, we had an interview on The Real News where we talked about the extraordinary consistency over a long period of time between Canadian foreign policy and U.S. foreign policy, and that in fact Canadian foreign policy has been very much in lock step with the U.S. foreign policy for decades. Isn’t it true, when you look at Canada’s foreign policies and the amazing correspondence to US foreign policy, that in many ways, Canada already is a client state of the United States? And is it remotely plausible that by increasing military spending from 1.2% of GDP to 1.4% of GDP, Canada is going to cease to be a client state of the United States?
In addition, had Mr. Helmer bothered to ask TRNN if it has ever received funding from Soros or from a Soros foundation, TRNN would have informed him that we have never sought or received a donation from Soros or one of his foundations.
Not only is Mr. Helmer oblivious to TRNN’s independence from Soros and its critical coverage of Ms. Freeland, but he omits to mention key facts about the interview he gave to TRNN in August.
For example, Mr. Helmer alleged in that interview that Ms. Freeland was “using Canadian taxpayers’ money against Russia, against Poland, against the Jews, and in fact against most of the Ukraine that wasn’t part of what she and her grandfather and her parents all think is their national homeland.” [Emphasis added.] TRNN is not aware, however, of any evidence that Ms. Freeland is using Canadian taxpayers’ money against the Jewish people. Notably, Mr. Helmer did not repeat this quite serious allegation in his September 4 article.
Furthermore, Mr. Helmer claimed in his TRNN interview that Ms. Freeland’s 2014 report to Canada’s Ethics Commissioner disclosed that Ms. Freeland was “on the take” from Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk and from George Soros. When pressed to explain what he meant by “on the take” (a term that is often used to describe the acceptance of illegal bribes), Mr. Helmer clarified that he meant to convey that Ms. Freeland had received payments from Pinchuk relating to her speaking at a conference in Yalta and payments from Soros in connection with her deal to write an authorized biography about Soros.
During the TRNN interview, however, Mr. Helmer did not reveal that Ms. Freeland’s 2014 declaration to Canada’s Ethics Commissioner does not identify Soros by name. I brought this to Mr. Helmer’s attention after reviewing Ms. Freeland’s 2014 declaration as part of my fact-checking for his interview. Ms. Freeland’s 2014 declaration simply states (under the heading “Other Sources of Income”) “Income received under a book collaboration agreement with an individual.”
After his interview, I also pointed out to Mr. Helmer that The Globe and Mail’s exposé on Ms. Freeland stated that, at the time Ms. Freeland entered politics, she had not one but two book deals, the other being “an economics tome co-written with Larry Summers.” Thus, the “individual” referred to in Ms. Freeland’s 2014 declaration to the Ethics Commissioner might be Larry Summers and not George Soros.
As part of my fact-checking, I also sent an email on August 22 to the Open Society Foundations. In that email, I asked them to advise whether “Chrystia Freeland has received income from George Soros or from entities or organizations controlled by or affiliated with George Soros, including income related to a biography of Mr. Soros which Ms. Freeland was engaged to write.” In that email, I stated that I had a publishing deadline of 24 hours and I therefore requested a response by August 24 at 8 pm (ET). I received no response prior to that deadline. TRNN therefore decided to publish a modestly edited version of Mr. Helmer’s interview on the weekend of August 26/27.
At 6:37 pm (ET) on Friday, August 25, I received an email from a spokesperson of the Open Society Foundations in which she stated “Neither George Soros nor the Open Society Foundations have paid Minister Freeland for such a project.”
Having received this denial, TRNN decided to delay the publication of the Helmer interview and to make further inquiries.
On August 26, I sent another email to the Open Society Foundations spokesperson in which I stated:
My question was whether Ms. Freeland “has received income from George Soros or from entities or organizations controlled by or affiliated with George Soros.” My question was not limited to the Open Society Foundations but extended to any entities controlled by or affiliated with Mr. Soros. Also, my question was not confined to income from the book project but extended to any income received by Ms. Freeland, whether for a book project or for any other reason. Could you therefore confirm that Ms. Freeland has not received any payments from an entity controlled by or affiliated with Mr. Soros?
Minutes later, the Open Societies Foundations’ spokesperson responded to this second email by stating “I have read your email and the answer is a definitive no.”
As a result of this further denial, TRNN decided to make inquiries with Ms. Freeland. On August 28, I sent an email to Ms. Freeland’s constituency office and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which I asked the following questions, among others:
(1) Is it true that Minister Freeland once had a book deal for an authorized biography of George Soros? If so, was the book deal consummated or was it cancelled before completion?
(2) In connection with that book deal, was Minister Freeland ever paid any compensation and if so how much?
(3) Has Minister Freeland ever received any payments of any kind or for any reason from Mr. Soros or from any entity or organization controlled by or affiliated with Mr. Soros? If so, what was the amount and nature of those payments and for what purpose were those payments made to Minister Freeland?
(4) In a Declaration filed by Minister Freeland in 2014 with the Office of the Conflicts and Ethics Commissioner, Minister Freeland disclosed “income received under a book collaboration agreement with an individual”…. Is the un-named individual referred to in that Declaration George Soros and, if not, who is the unnamed individual with whom Minister Freeland than had a book collaboration agreement?
As of this date, I have received no reply to my inquiry to Ms. Freeland.
In the early morning of August 29, I sent an email to Mr. Helmer in which I sought clarification of the evidence on which he relied for his claim that Ms. Freeland had received payments from Soros. Thereafter and for the balance of that week, I was preoccupied with familial commitments. After I sent an email to Mr. Helmer on the morning of August 29, Mr. Helmer sent me 3 emails. I was not able to respond promptly to the first two of them. In the 3rd of those emails, which I received on August 31, Mr. Helmer asserted that the assurances I had given him that TRNN would publish his interview on the weekend of August 26/27 “were lies.” He also complained that “you have been unable to produce responses from Minister Freeland to the questions you claim to have been investigating or from any of the other material sources identified on August 18.” In that email, Mr. Helmer advised that he had a publishing deadline of the close of business on August 31.
I responded to the latter email during the afternoon of August 31. In my response, I advised Mr. Helmer that I had been preoccupied with familial commitments and I strongly objected to his accusation that I had lied to him.
On September 4 (Labour Day), Mr. Helmer published his article on The Globe and Mail exposé. In that article, Mr. Helmer claims that TRNN has cancelled his interview. That is false. In fact, TRNN has deferred a decision whether to publish his interview pending a response to the questions that I put to Ms. Freeland on August 28. Mr. Helmer also asserted in his September 4 article that I had stated to him that I hadn’t had time to fact-check with Freeland due to familial commitments. That too is false. As stated above, I sent a series of questions to Ms. Freeland on August 28, before I became preoccupied by familial commitments.
Worst of all, Mr. Helmer’s September 4 article insinuates that I have misled him and that TRNN is unwilling to publish his interview for reasons that are unrelated to the veracity of the statements he made in his interview. All of this is false as well. If Mr. Helmer believes that TRNN is unwilling to publish critical commentary on Chrystia Freeland or George Soros, then he should so state and should adduce credible evidence to support that claim (evidence that we are certain he does not possess). Otherwise, Mr. Helmer should issue an apology to TRNN and a correction to his September 4 article.