Really, Mr. Dunne? Media hype about submarines?

So, media reporting about submarine accidents and damage from an underwater grounding is just so much uninformed, misinformed hype, Tim Dunne? Dunne wrote in The Chronicle Herald op-ed page on the weekend how the grounding of HMCS Corner Brook was really no big deal. The sensational photos shown on the CBC of the sub’s stove-in hull were misinterpreted or over-amped as to their significance.
Because after all, the only part that got smashed up was the sub’s fiberglass casing. The only part that had a four-by-five metre hole in it was the fiberglass casing, not the “special high yield steel” of the sub’s pressurized hull. That hull, according to Dunne, “able to withstand incredible stresses, was untouched.”
So the sub hit bottom in 45 metres of water and tore the nose cone off. No big deal. Get another nose cone, eh? Oh, and just replace a couple million dollars worth of equipment housed up there. Wait, one more thing: fire the captain.
But the terrible media misreporting of this routine incident must have been deeply felt by higher-ups in the navy. That’s why they would no doubt smile and approve of a frequent-flyer flack like Dunne defending their subs in the biggest paper in the navy’s home town.

According to Dunne, “Canada’s submarine community could be forgiven for their disappointment at the level of ignorance demonstrated by some commentators.” It would appear that people involved with the submarine program, that community of military and civilians whose paycheques and professions depend on it, who have been working like demons for more than 10 years to get the subs to sea safely, are disappointed that some media folks are not experts in submarine groundings “during advanced submarine officer training.”

Of course, to sub fleet apologists like Dunne, the purchase of the Victoria-class boats has been a roaring success. All told, he says, the flotilla has “accumulated 900 days at sea since they came into service in 2003″ making it “an essential component of the RCN’s fleet.”
Simple arithmetic applied to that number puts each of the four subs at sea an average of 25 days a year over that time. Maybe that is an impressive number, but it doesn’t sound like something that would scare the Russian navy. And by the way, 2003 is the year the subs officially entered service. The first, HMCS Victoria, was commissioned in 2000. Work on the subs getting ready for Canadian service went on years before that at UK facilities in Barrow-in-Furness.
Whatever. Dunne also remarked on how these poorly-informed media hype artists suggested it was time for a public debate about how well or poorly the submarine program has served the national interest. But, he says, it can’t just be a free-for-all that will allow just anyone to comment about this multi-billion dollar program.
Sure, have your little debate, he suggests, but the critics have to change first. You can hold a debate, he argues, “only if those on whom we depend for full and accurate information meet their obligations.”
Now, Tim Dunne if anyone should know about that. He’s not just a communications consultant, he’s also a recently-retired military officer. Not a submariner, mind you, but a public affairs officer. He seems to miss his old days spinning for the military.
His articles in the Herald run like a production straight out of a military cheerleading team: “Military Standing on Guard over Christmas,” “F-35: Case for the Defence,” “HMCS Charlottetown vs. Ghadafi” and “Canada’s Achievements in Afghanistan Worthy of Pride.” All of which is entirely impartial, straightforward military affairs analysis, including the part about Christmas.
But if the well-informed, like Maj. Dunne (ret’d) don’t think the less well informed (like the rest of us) should be talking about the sub program, maybe we should listen to others. Like, for instance, the Defence Industry Daily, which serves “defense procurement managers and contractors.”
Here’s an excerpt from their review of the program published last October.
The “expert” magazine reported, “the country’s purchase of 4 second-hand diesel-electric Upholder Class submarines from Britain ran into controversy almost from its inception. In early 2008, controversy flared again as the submarines’ C$ 1.5 billion Victoria Class In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) became an issue. Subsequent revelations concerning spiralling costs, boats in poor condition, and few to no actual submarines in service have kept the fleet controversial to the present day.”
As a result: “Beyond the costs involved, the need for refits and their slow pace have left Canada fielding the equivalent of training submarines for about a decade. At more than one point, problems have left the entire fleet of commission.”
And by the way, the magazine also cast doubts on the navy’s plan to have HMCS Chicoutimi back in operation by 2013. “Inside sources suggest that serious mistakes at the shipyard may make 2016 a more realistic date. It’s also possible that she may never become a fully operational boat.”
So when reading the well-informed insider views of Maj. Dunne (ret’d), keep in mind that TV skeptics aren’t the only Canadians concerned about the cost, efficiency and military usefulness of the Victoria-class fleet. Attacking the messenger through not-at-arm’s-length spin doctors like Tim Dunne makes the navy look petty and does precious little to inform Canadians paying the bills.

About Dan Leger

Journalist, broadcaster, consultant. And sailor. I've been a pro journalist for more than 30 years as a reporter, writer, producer and senior editor. Parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press. Executive Producer, CBC Television News, Former Director of News Content at The Chronicle Herald. Gemini Award - Best Live Special Event Coverage (1999) and Atlantic Journalism Awards winner, Commentary (2007 and 2009).
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10 Responses to Really, Mr. Dunne? Media hype about submarines?

  1. Dancer says:

    Your article is spot on. While Evan Solomon is over the top with his enthusiasm and Rob Gordon, through no fault of his own, had one factual error, I thought the CBC reporting which broke the story did what it had to do-force the Navy to explain the situation. Dunne is towing the party line.

  2. Chris bowers says:

    “Frequent-flyer flack” “spinning for the military”, “military cheerleading team”, “spin doctor”

    I doubt you should be the person who lectures on impartiality or balanced journalism.

    Mr. Dunn presented facts and opined a legitimate position- People who report on a topic ought to know (or at least get the facts) on the subject. I believe you would agree to this basic thesis. It is simple, present facts and let the reader come to a conclusion.

    The previous commenter, Dancer, agrees even though he supports your bias. Mr Soloman was embarrassed by his own misinformation, and Mr. Gordon had a factual error. You and your colleagues have a duty to present facts. That is what separates professional journalists from the drunk at the bar. You sir, in this web diatribe sound like the latter.

    You may not agree with Mr. Dunn, but after reading your post, I believe you certainly owe him an apology.

    • Dan Leger says:

      I won’t be apologizing. The issue here is that someone has to question military policy and question whether programs are being successful or not. We can’t depend for that on former military officers who, too rarely, are genuinely arms-length from government. The military and other government agencies are major financial supporters of these “think-tanks.” So they are not truly independent.
      Canada needs a debate on the role of its armed forces, whether they are the right size, appropriately equipped, trained and supported. We don’t get that unless the media sticks its nose into the navy’s business. Only then is there any kind of public discussion. This country needs independent, academic, unaffiliated analysis so that people like you and me can find out what’s really going on.

      • Doug M says:

        I understand you won’t but a principled person would be apologising. You don’t like Dunne’s article. Fine I’d be fairly certain you couldn’t find the M compt tank on one of these subs without a guide. The reason Dunne has an opinion on this subject is because he is informed on it – you aren’t. The “Public discussion” you claim to want, along with the independent, academic, unaffiliated analysis is only viable if it is informed discussion – that is a principle that the Canadian media is rapidly losing. Paid by the word, and prone to sensationalism, this is only one instance where everyone piled on the bandwagon only to be proven idiots. I have no problem with DND being held to account, but obtuse ranting by someone trying to make a name for themselves does not offer anything to debate and usually does more harm than good. Senator Kenny is on a number of Defense Comittees – all he had to do was pick up the phone and ask someone at DGMEPM “what am I looking at” He didn’t. Instead he ran off at the mouth like a soup sandwich and then complains about being exposed as clueless. Evan Solomon, ditto. A professional journalist (not really an accurate term as journalism is a job not a profession) should be canned when found to be wildly wrong about a column – they aren’t. Just about every other job on the planet carrys with it some ramifications for doing great damage – the fifth estate is alone where one can be inaccurate day after day and still reamain employed. Perhaps what you should be doing is either leaving the Defense stories to someone who has the knowledge or contacts to get them reasonably accurate or digging into the realm and gaining the requisite knowledge to do comparative analysis and accurate stories yourself. In either case, in this story, the reason you got hoisted is because you screwed up. You can hide behind all the high sounding platitudes you like, but that basic fact stands. Now on the other hand, if you own a Corvette with the fibreglass bumper punched in and want to sell it off for ten bucks due to how horrible it looks, them I’m your man.
        PS. Like your shot of the NW Arm. Spent many days tacking up past the RNSYS from Armdale in my Halifax days. Always loved the look of the Roue 20s…

  3. Chris bowers says:

    Mr Leger,

    It is not my intension to get in an online discussion regarding the merits of Canada’s submarine program, or defence policy for that matter.

    Your position is Canada, and Canadians need to have a discussion regarding military and defence policy. I concur.

    You state that journalists must hold the Navy and military to account. I concur.

    You state that you can not trust military officers, retired military officers, the military, or government, but rather would want Canadians to to get their information from unaccountable, ‘independent’ academics. This is where we disagree.

    I believe Canadians are intelligent and critical thinkers, who are able to reflect on a multitude of sources and are then able to draw their own conclusions. I may not agree with a position, but my first instinct isn’t to personally attack the author.

    Journalist’s responsibility is to present facts. There was nothing factually incorrect in the original article. You may disagree with his interpretation but that is your burden to refute with facts and let Canadians form their own opinions.

    • Doug M says:

      Perhaps to use Mr. Leger’s example, if the (largely uniformed) media get to pointificate on how the military should be run, the Military should get to do the same about how the Canadian media is governed. One suggestion is as absurd as the other, but it strikes me as more than a bit bizzare how often people regard one as sane and the other nuts.

      Another good example of how the Media rants without substance or analysis and generates all kinds of controversy where little exists;
      http://www.timescolonist.com/technology/examine+debate+perspective/6440646/story.html

      I’m not trying to suggest that the Military gets anything close to free reign on the public purse – but most people have no idea of the interdependance between submarines and Arctic Soverignty. If the media was forced to give references and justifications it would help. I still remember the George’s Bank fight on the East coast and how we managed to convince the World court of our case – and it was almost entirely based on the Fisheries Patrols done by the Navy.

  4. gordonr says:

    Hey there…Can someone point out the factual error I made. I have gone through my submarine items and I can’t find a factual error. If I made an error I would like to know what it was, who said I made it and when. Its not been pointed out to me.

  5. Tim Dunne says:

    I have been following the discourse about my March 3rd column, “Journalists sub-par on sub debate,” with some amusement at Mr. Gordon’s reaction. He sent me a sarcastic email which I thought would have been more appropriate coming from a petulant ten year-old

    I find it even more amusing to note that Mr. Gordon blithely assumes that he is the subject of my column.

    Where did I refer to him or to his newsroom?

    Did the quotes I cite come from him or from CBC Newsworld’s Power Panel of February 13? I have a huge degree of respect for Evan Solomon, as I do for so many of our Canadian journalists with whom I have had the privilege of working during the past 40 years. I believe Solomon works very hard to get it right. However, even the best make errors, and a measure of their professionalism is the humility, grace and dignity they display when advised of an error.

    Mr. Leger, your remarks are mystifying. “A frequent flyer flack — ” I don’t produce “flyers,” unless you mean that I take frequent advantage of frequent flier points. If I did (and I don’t), so what?

    You wax ineloquently that I am a retired military public affairs officer, that I am a communications consultant, and that my articles in the Chronicle Herald “run like a production straight out of a military cheerleading team.”

    Yes, I am a retired military public affairs officer, and so what? Should that exclude me from participating in the media debate about submarines by adding accurate information to the public record?

    Yes, I am a communications consultant, and so what? Do I not have the right to practice my profession, gained over almost four decades in this nation’s uniform and in peacekeeping and peace-making operations? Or would you condemn me to a retirement of silent inaction?

    Yes, I write articles about Canadian military affairs, and so what? My contract with the Chronicle Herald is to write about Canadian military affairs. Perhaps you should complain to my editor who, I believe, is also your editor.

    You also wrote, “But if the well-informed, like Maj. Dunne (ret’d) don’t think the less well informed (like the rest of us) should be talking about the sub program…” Mr. Leger, did I not say in my article, “[S]everal broadcast journalists commented about the need for a public debate about the utility of these submarines. The public would benefit from such a debate…”?

    Doesn’t this suggest that I encourage a public debate; that I encourage that people have access to accurate and authoritative information; that they participate in the discussions about such important issues?

    “Of course, to sub fleet apologists like Dunne,” you wrote, “[T]he purchase of the Victoria-class boats has been a roaring success.” That, Mr. Leger, is making a colossal assumption about my opinions and my perceptions. I said, “These vessels, an essential component of the RCN’s fleet, have actively contributed to the navy’s exercises and operations.”

    Could new, freshly-constructed submarines, specifically developed for the Royal Canadian Navy, be an improvement over the Victoria class submarines? Of course they could, but the Victoria class is what the Navy has and they are employing and deploying them effectively and productively. Neither ship nor submersible is continuously at sea.

    You accused me of trivializing HMCS Corner Brook’s accident when you attributed “No big deal” to me. I apparently need to remind you that I wrote, “HMCS Corner Brook’s grounding should not be trivialized. It was a serious incident and had the potential to be a tragedy?”

    To falsely allude that I feel the sub’s grounding is “No big deal” is to accuse me of lack of concern for the safety and the very lives of the Corner Brook’s crew. This is an egregious insult that is not only absolutely wrong, but speaks more to your attitude than to mine, it speaks to your commitment to accuracy, and it places you in a very fragile situation.

    Your blog’s final paragraph states, “Attacking the messenger through not-at-arm’s-length spin doctors like Tim Dunne makes the navy look petty…” This says that I was acting as an agent for the Royal Canadian Navy. I was not working on behalf of the Navy or any other group, agency or body, but am an independent commentator exercising my right of freedom of expression, which you appear to be endeavouring to suppress.

    Oh, and by the way, Mr. Gordon, your “exclusive” pictures of the damage to HMCS Corner Brook … take a quick look at http://www.flickr.com/photos/agged/6726453711/ — where a photo of the damaged submarine has been on display since January 18.

  6. Chris bowers says:

    I have just read Mr. Gordon’s latest piece regarding Canada’s submarines.http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/15/canada-uk-sub-deal_n_1349241.html?ref=canada

    The ‘story’ is an inditement from Mr. Mike Hancock, a British Liberal Democrat, Member of Parliament. Mr. Hancock states and I paraphrase, Canadians were either stupid, or DoD were unscrupulous during the purchase. Needles to say it is a fairly damning indictment from someone Mr. Gordon believes is credible to speak about the topic.

    During my morning coffee I spent 2 minutes researching who Mr. Hancock was.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Hancock_(UK_politician)

    Now I appreciate that wikipedia isn’t gospel, but it does shed some doubt on the validity of Mr. Gordon’s assertion. Mr. Hancock has some pretty interesting ideas and strongly supports some interesting regimes. He also has made several questionable choices, one of which was only recently determined to not to be criminal.

    Is the quality of source yourself or Mr. Gordon wish Canadians base their opinions?

    Mr. Gordon, you wished for me to respond to identify the factual error in your previous articles. I do not have the time to review so I will apologize. I am sorry I accredited you with making a factual error in any of your previous stories.

    I will charge, that your latest article, is weak and I would argue intellectually dishonest. You have stated on the radio that Mr Hancock is familiar with the topic because he lives and represents Portsmouth, a UK naval town. This is a weak assertion. If you stated that he sat on the UK Defence Committee and Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs committee it would have added a little more credibility. You would have also had to have said that he resigned his position due to charges of espionage. I’m sure you would have also stated that he was recently charged with illegal confinement and sexual assault of a destitute female constituent.

    My coffee is empty and my patience is exhausted. Continue the ‘good work’ Mr. Gordon. Mr. Leger, keep holding government to account.

  7. gordonr says:

    Hey there…just a couple of thoughts on this debate.
    I asked if someone could point out my error in fact that was mentioned in the back and forth on your web page. No one has yet done that.
    But in the re-read of my stories in search of error, I did come across several made by others.
    Admiral Mark Norman told Evan on TV that the submarine was difficult to lift out of the water because it weighted “3500 tonnes.” The interview is posted on the Youtube for all to see and hear.
    Not so. The Upholders were designed by Vickers as the 2400 class. The 2400 comes from the weight or displacement of the submarine. The second in command of the RCN, under the bright lights of a live interview, may have mis-spoken. Let’s give him that. But, regardless, he was off by one third.
    Tim Dunne, of course, repeated (or parrots?) the admiral’s error in his Herald article which has now been re-published by the Dal Centre for Foreign Policy e-page Broadsides.
    Dunne then goes on to freelance a new fact. HMCS Corner Brook, he says, was lifted out of the water by the “navy’s syncrolift.”
    Here’s what he said: “Rear-Admiral Mark Norman, explained that the 3,500-tonne submarine was raised out of the water on the navy’s syncrolift, timed to take advantage of high tide and to minimize water turbulence from other vessel traffic in the harbour.”
    Again, not true. Admiral Norman explained no such thing. Corner Brook was lifted out the water by the Sea Span floating dock. It was not hauled by the navy on the syncrolift. Admiral Normal talked about the lift and the dock and the pictures clearly show it was not the syncrolift.
    I hate to think the the Mayans maybe right and the world comes to an end with these errors never corrected….Forever. Think of it. A 3500 tonne submarine hauled out the water by the navy’s syncrolift. And it never happened.
    One sentence, two factual errors.
    Sub-par, indeed.

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