The Ruxted Group was founded in part because of concerns that Canadians were not being fully informed regarding defence issues. Political agendas, institutional laziness and a reluctance of government to provide proper context has led to a dearth of properly validated defence information.
Recently, The Ruxted Group was persuaded that its own credibility required it to provide a public face for itself. Our new masthead reflects that. We have adopted the (English) newspaper custom of making public the names of our editorial management team while preserving the anonymity of individual contributors and sticking with unsigned editorials.
We have also considered, amongst our members, the issue of bias: that which many perceive to exist in the media and that which might exist in Ruxted.
We do not believe the mainstream media is biased.
We believe that most journalists are intelligent, informed people with thoughtful opinions of their own. We would be surprised if journalists and editors could keep all of their own biases out of everything they report. We expect them to strive for fairness and balance and most accomplish that.
Columnists are, by definition, another matter. They are allowed, indeed paid, to put their biases on parade – they are in the business of providing opinions and context to the hard news reported by their colleagues.
Editorials are also opinion. They are the considered opinion of a journal’s publisher and usually an editorial board.
Ruxted is and will continue to be in the opinion business.
We have, and will, take issue with the opinions expressed by people: columnists, editorialists, commentators, and so-called experts from academe, various institutes and think-tanks. We will, we hope, always refrain from attacking the people, themselves. We will continue to strive to deal with the message, not the messenger. When we fail, we trust readers will call us on it.
We are sceptical about both the qualifications and motive of some of the messengers. That’s not a problem unless and until the media trots out less than well-qualified commentators and passes them off as experts in defence and especially military matters. There are plenty of real experts out there, on all sides of most issues. There are also polemicists and self described activists who are too often invited to comment on matters about which they know little and care less. The Ruxted Group understands that the media wants to provide balance but points out that bringing a poorly qualified journalist or a completely unqualified peace activist to the table to discuss military tactics doesn’t do that. What it does do is transform news analysis into political commentary.
Ruxted has noticed that some of the more radical proposals or studies from anti-military activists are not questioned in some news stories; balance appears unnecessary when an anti-military or anti-establishment view is expressed. The same cannot be said about items originating in the defence community, and too often the search for an alternate, balancing view leads to the usual suspects appearing, perhaps because a better qualified commentator is unlikely to provide the controversy which is the life blood of TV news.
If the story is tactics, then we expect the media to invite a tactician – there are plenty out there. If the topic is policy, then we expect the media to invite a policy analyst. There are plenty of those, too. If the topic is strategy, we expect the media to invite some of the many well-qualified and available strategists. When the topic is partisan politics, we welcome the presence of the polemicists and partisan activists.
The problem, we think, is not media bias. Rather it is a combination of the institutional laziness we complained about originally and a perceived need to embellish some stories – especially when they might involve complex matters like operational military tactics. How better to hyperbolize the story than to invite an unqualified activists to change the subject from tactics to anti-American politics.
We have biases. We hope they are out front and visible:
1. We have expressed our support for a strong, clear, responsible foreign  policy which will, perforce, require a strong, and effective military to give weight to it;
2. We want Canada to practice the Responsibility to Protect about which successive governments preached so hard;
3. We want Canada to be a leader amongst the middle powers in the world – for the good of the world;
4. We oppose mealy mouthed shilly-shallying from any and all political parties, especially when they are in power as a government and have a duty to inform Canadians.
5. We want the Government of Canada and the opposition parties in parliament to state clear, consistent views on the current mission in Afghanistan. We believe that Canada is as rich, sophisticated and blessed (by history and geography) as Afghanistan is poor, war ravaged and cursed by its history and geography. We believe that Afghanistan deserves our help. We believe that abandoning combat operations in Afghanistan in early 2009 is tantamount to abandoning the whole country because we do not believe the Afghans will be ready, in early 2009, to provide security in Kandahar and we do not believe that anyone else is ready, willing and able to replace us there.
There is this to consider about bias: there is a public manifestation, and a private wellspring (the visceral emotional underpinning which is not usually a creature of pure reason). What has been listed above is the public part. The emotional foundation of bias for many Ruxted members is some part of the following: to be among the best of the world's armed services; to serve a nation and people worth serving; to make a difference in the lives of others in the worst possible circumstances (poverty AND violence); to work with first-tier professionals and equally first-rate equipment; to be a leader and manager of such armed services. Most Ruxted members spent parts of their lives in the military. We acknowledge our personal biases, too, and accept that they colour our opinions.
We invite Canadians to read our opinions - biases and all - and to weigh them against the other facts and opinions presented. We ask only that you also consider the biases of these other sources of information, so that as informed Canadians you may better challenge our opinions, and those of other commentators.
1. See Louis St. Laurent’s five principles cited in Ruxted’s ”A continuing failure to communicate”