Monday, March 15, 2010

Saskatchewan Party’s tasteless 9/11 ‘pig roast’ poster story reaches Australia; Editorial boards silent, give Wall, Heppner and Gorelitza free pass

New York Post, Mar. 11, 2010

It’s not every day that news from Saskatchewan reaches the other side of the world.

But a Saskatchewan Party constituency association poster exploiting the 9/11 tragedy for its own fundraising purposes did the trick when it caught the attention of news agencies on the afternoon of March 10, 2010. Within 48 hours the story was in Melbourne, Australia, some 14,400 kilometers away, home of the country’s largest-selling newspaper, The Herald Sun. ‘Burning Twin Towers used in pig roast ad,’ the embarrassing headline read.

The ad in question was produced by the Saskatchewan Party in Martensville, just north of Saskatoon, to promote the constituency association’s 2nd Annual Spring Fundraising Dinner on April 10, 2010 in Hepburn. For $50.00 guests could enjoy a “pig roast dinner” and listen to guest speaker Chief Richard Picciotto, the highest-ranking firefighter rescued from the rubble after the towers collapsed.

The background image on the poster shows WTC 2, or the South Tower, exploding into flames moments after United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into it on September 11, 2009.

The Globe and Mail was among the first to report the story soon after the poster started appearing on political blogs.

“Using that image to do political fundraising is tasteless and lacks judgment,” said Dwain Lingenfelter, leader of the opposition NDP. “It lacks common decency and humanity.”

An organizer whose phone number appears on the poster, Rick Gorelitza, told the Globe he doesn’t see anything wrong with using the 9/11 image.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “It was discussed for quite some time. There’s always someone out there willing to kick up dust over nothing.” [Saskatchewan cabinet minister ripped for 9/11 image on fundraiser poster (Globe and Mail, March 10, 2010)]

That nothing quickly turned into something ugly.

On the evening of March 10, 2010, the StarPhoenix reported that Premier Brad Wall and one of top ministers had apologized.

Wall said he hadn’t seen the flyer, but he admitted there may be an issue of “juxtaposition.”

“I don’t think there was anything intended there,” Wall told reporters. “If anybody found that offensive, then I apologize to them because that would neither be the intent of it, and neither would it be the intent of the party.”

Environment Minister Nancy Heppner, the MLA for Martensville, said the picture was chosen solely because of its connection to Picciotto.

“His story exists because of what he went through on 9/11,” she said. “It was not chosen with any malicious intent or it was never our intention to appear insensitive or offend anybody.”

Heppner said she approved the flyer without even thinking there would be any problem with it.

“It would make me feel horrible if anyone was offended by this; that was never our intention, and if anybody is, I would obviously apologize for it,” said Heppner. [Premier apologizes for pig-roast flyer with 9/11 photo (StarPhoenix, March 10, 2010)]

In a follow-up story, the Globe described Heppner’s apology as “tepid.”

The newspaper said the flyer “was distributed door-to-door” in the Martensville riding and that members of Heppner’s constituency association designed the poster and asked for her approval before they began distributing it.

“I saw it before it went out and because this is [Mr. Picciotto’s] story, I didn’t see a problem with it at the time,” Heppner said. “I’ve seen Mr. Picciotto’s presentation before and he uses a similar image. The thinking was that if he’s using this as a part of his presentation it would be okay.” [Politician apologizes for 9/11 gaffe (Globe and Mail, March 11, 2010)]

The poster, Heppner’s lukewarm apology, and Gorelitza’s stubborn defiance, didn’t go over well in the Big Apple.

“A cadre of small-town Canadian politicos is standing by its invitation to a “pig roast” fundraiser that depicts the fiery moments after United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center South Tower,” said New York Post reporter Chuck Bennett.

Bennett reported that both Picciotto and the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) denounced the use of 9/11 imagery as in “bad taste,” but the pig roast organizers “were not deterred.”

“An apology? No, I don’t think we are the ones offending people,” Gorelitza told the Post.

“People should be offended, but they should be offended by the terrorists who committed such a heinous act and took so many souls that day,” added Gorelitza.

Gorelitza blamed the Saskatchewan NDP, which just lost an election [more than two years ago] in the oil-rich western province, for the ruckus.

“The American people should be offended by a small, beat-up, NDP party whose only purposes is to get as much political mileage possible from this,” Gorelitza said.

Bennett then points out something that most observers seem to have overlooked, that Heppner [and Wall] stood by the poster only if “somebody is offended.”

According to Bennett the FDNY, however, did not agree.

“The FDNY hopes that no one ever forgets what happened on September 11th,” said spokesman Frank Dwyer. “However, we do think the use of images of the attacks for political or monetary gain, like the image on this poster, is in bad taste.”

Likewise Picciotto, who charges between $10,000 and $20,000 per speech and is being paid for his Saskatchewan appearance, said he was taken aback.

“It was inappropriate without a doubt,” he said. “They wanted me to talk about September 11 and they bundled it with a fundraiser and with a pig roast. It wasn’t too bright on someone’s part.”

However, Picciotto confirmed he’s still speaking at the event. [Canadian lawmakers won’t apologize for Twin Tower ‘pig roast’ flier (New York Post, March 11, 2010)]

The New York Magazine wasn’t impressed either, stating “there are innumerable things you could put on an invite to a pig roast that would make people think, I am definitely going to this thing! The Saskatchewan party is awesome! Conversely , there are only a handful of things that you would not want to put on the invite, one of them of course being a heavily loaded image of fiery human death and destruction at the hands of terrorists. The Saskatchewan Party, somehow, made the exact wrong choice.” [Saskatchewan Party Does Not Know How to Get People Excited About a Party (New York Magazine, March 11, 2010)]

Back in Saskatchewan, the editorial boards of the province’s largest newspapers – the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Prince Albert Daily Herald, and Moose Jaw Times-Herald – have inexplicably given Wall, Heppner and Gorelitza a free pass. The conservative friendly newspapers haven’t uttered a word since the embarrassing incident made headlines. Had this involved an NDP constituency association you can bet the coverage would have been far more intense.

New York Magazine, Mar. 11, 2010

The Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia, Mar. 12, 2010


Post a Comment

<< Home