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School of hard knocks for tweeting trustee

Former Brandon Sun city editor Melissa Ridgen, who now works for APTN in Winnipeg, was at the inaugural Brandon East PC Party Spring Dinner Thursday night at the Royal Oak Inn and posed for a photo with party leader Brian Pallister. Pallister made brief mention in his address to the crowd of the personal attacks he faced on Twitter from a Brandon school trustee.  (James O'Connor/Brandon Sun)

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Former Brandon Sun city editor Melissa Ridgen, who now works for APTN in Winnipeg, was at the inaugural Brandon East PC Party Spring Dinner Thursday night at the Royal Oak Inn and posed for a photo with party leader Brian Pallister. Pallister made brief mention in his address to the crowd of the personal attacks he faced on Twitter from a Brandon school trustee. (James O'Connor/Brandon Sun)

The case of Brandon’s tweeting trustee raised many issues this week that simply can’t be fully explored in any number of 140-character micro blogs.

After the Brandon Sun exposed a series of anti-Tory tweets by veteran Brandon School Division trustee and NDP member Jim Murray, both the municipal politician and the mainstream media outlet were taken to task.

Most agreed that Murray’s personal attacks on Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister were way over the line of good taste and appropriate behaviour for an elected official.

In fact, Murray quickly closed his @Hardcastle202 Twitter account after being contacted by a Sun reporter Tuesday and, after attempting to defend his actions for a day or two, including on CBC Radio Noon, subsequently issued a public apology in the form of a Letter to the Editor that was printed yesterday.

But Murray’s initial response was to attack the Sun for reporting on his potty-mouthed personal attacks against the Tories — which included calling the Conservative Party of Canada corrupt.

"First off, I want to say I believe it’s ridiculous for the Brandon Sun to attempt to connect my personal opinions, expressed on a personal social media page, to my role as a trustee. My personal comments contain nothing to do with the board or board business," he said.

"Secondly, I believe that the Brandon Sun, by pursuing this, may be attempting to deny basic democratic freedom of speech to individuals whose opinions differ from those of the Brandon Sun."

Of course, we didn’t pursue this story because Murray is a New Democrat.

Some of my best friends are New Democrats. Really.

And it wouldn’t have even mattered if Murray was still a Liberal member.

We also didn’t do the story because he: is a hairstylist; owns a small business; has a large gun collection; or enjoys classic rock; and is known to enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage.

That’s not how we determine story coverage.

But we certainly did raise questions as to how the trustee’s partisan personal attacks — which differ from commenting on policy or a politician’s statements on an issue — would affect his role as one of the people who oversee 22 schools, more than 1,100 teaching and support staff, 8,300 students a nearly $90-million budget.

You see, once you’re a public figure such as Murray — especially an elected one — you simply can’t hang up your day-job hat at the end of the day and return to private life until sunrise.

If you make a statement on Twitter such as this: "God Bless Steven Harper for constantly stepping on his own dick, & God Bless Brian Pallister for endorsing his incompetence with his silence," you’re not only spelling the PM’s name wrong, but you’re using language that would only be heard in the darkest corners of a schoolyard.

And to my mind, you’re clearly contravening the BSD’s trustee code of conduct that states trustees must "treat board colleagues, divisional and school staff, students and community members in a respectful and courteous manner, and refrain from using abusive or denigrating language in any dealings with them."

Politically, by attacking a person and not a party’s policies, you’re opening yourself up to being branded as a bit sleazy and also opening the door for some comebacks from your targets.

Murray’s missteps were on the lips of many of the 100 Tories at the inaugural Brandon East PC Association Spring Dinner Thursday night.

Opposition Leader Pallister made passing reference to it at the end of his address to the troops by noting what the root word of Twitter is.

Cute. But not over the line.

Murraygate also raised questions again as to the Sun’s newfound use of foul language in quotes in print and online.

In the more genteel days of old, print media would often use dashes or asterisks to protect readers — and their families (what about the children!?) — from words considered to be profane.

The Brandon Sun’s current policy is only to use dirty words — by the way, is there a list somewhere for reference? — in direct quotes, but only to use those quotes if they are germaine to the story and/or uttered by a person of note.

An editor also has to approve the use of the questionable word.

We can’t control the news, but that will likely happen just a few times a year.

Hence Murray’s use of the word "dick" was printed this week instead of "d***" or some cutesy paraphrase such as "a slang reference to a part of the male anatomy."

Sure, it’s not a polite term, hence the news value of Murray’s tweets in the first place.

But I digress.

Twitter can be a cesspool full of hate-mongering trolls and anonymous cellar-dwellers.

Novice users often comment on how quick established Tweet peeps are to callously condemn improper use of the abbreviated slang and hashtags commonly used in the short messages.

And then there’s the ubiquitous snarkiness that pervades the site.

The most popular non-celebrity Tweet peeps have the jaded world view of a grizzled journalist or the rapier-like wit of a standup comedian.

But on the flip side it is also a valuable communications tool that has far outreached its original intent of being a lightweight vanity outlet where users simply posted their thoughts on their daily activities.

Simply put, as Facebook starts to mature and lose its grip on younger users — ever since people’s grandmothers started setting up Facebook profiles, the youth have moved on to Instagram and other sites — Twitter remains attractive as it is quick, flexible and not really all that useful to anyone over the age of 65.

So of course, journalists use it as both a communications tool to cover events, to promote their full work to be later published by their respective media outlets and to collect information.

Nothing on social media is private. Anything issued to the Internet in any form can be copied and shared by your friends, foes — and journalists.

The latter, I suppose, can be a mix of both. Depending who you are and what you’re up to.

I have two computer screens on my desk — a large one for general writing, Internet use and page design, and a smaller one exclusively for my Tweetdeck display that has six columns of constantly updated Twitter information.

The Canadian Press reported this week on a poll that shows almost two-thirds of anglophone Canadians said they had used social media in the past month. Still, about one in four said they avoided social networking, and 11 per cent said they did not use the Internet.

Of the Internet users, the Media Technology Monitor poll indicated that 71 per cent were active social media users — up slightly from 2012.

Enough background and context. Back to our tweeting trustee.

This wasn’t the first time Murray has apologized for a social media faux-pas.

About 3-1/2 years ago, the then-chair of the BSD board posted what could only be described as an off-colour sexual joke that I wrote here would normally be reserved for a private moment among close friends.

After I brought the post to light, Murray deleted it, typed an apology and unfriended me from Facebook.

Now I have a hard time accepting that Murray didn’t know that his torrid anti-Tory tweets — that were to a family friend, he says — wouldn’t be kept private. But if that’s true, he really needs someone to show him how to use Twitter’s direct messaging feature.

In the light of his delayed public apology, I do believe he tested the waters for a while after the story appeared. And he found them to be rather hot.

Murray has likely pleased a few hard-core lefties with all of this. But he has also very likely done some long-term damage to his reputation as a conscientious trustee.

He will also have to face his online past if he decides to run for higher public office again, as he did in 2011, finishing a close second to Tory Reg Helwer in Brandon West.

As for Helwer, the prim-and-proper pol basically just smiled when I asked him Thursday night what he thought about Murraygate.

It was a smile worth 1,000 tweets.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 16, 2014

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The case of Brandon’s tweeting trustee raised many issues this week that simply can’t be fully explored in any number of 140-character micro blogs.

After the Brandon Sun exposed a series of anti-Tory tweets by veteran Brandon School Division trustee and NDP member Jim Murray, both the municipal politician and the mainstream media outlet were taken to task.

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The case of Brandon’s tweeting trustee raised many issues this week that simply can’t be fully explored in any number of 140-character micro blogs.

After the Brandon Sun exposed a series of anti-Tory tweets by veteran Brandon School Division trustee and NDP member Jim Murray, both the municipal politician and the mainstream media outlet were taken to task.

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