Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What are the ethical obligations of MSM?

H/T to Neo for pointing out this important exposé by the National Post's Jonathan Kay - How Falconer hoodwinked the Toronto Star.

This tendency of MSM to run with a story before thoroughly checking out the facts is nothing new. In fact, Kay admits that the Post itself has been responsible for inaccurate stories, but the difference is in the retraction:

This was a major, major screw-up -- one that deserved a candid mea culpa editor's note of the type this newspaper published after it ran a similarly inaccurate story about Iranian Jews in 2006. Instead, Sunday's quasi-retraction was an exercise in verbal weaseldom. Particularly embarrassing was the fact that the heart of the issue was buried in this virtually unintelligible double-negative: "When Falconer was asked [Saturday] night if [superintendents] were never asked to contribute their views, he replied simply: 'No.'
(Original Star report here; 'retraction' here).

It has become blatantly obvious that most media outlets have some kind of political axe to grind, or at least some kind of agenda. Headlines, news reports and editorials are often torqued accordingly. (As Jonathan Kay points out, the Star's agenda is clearly stated in the 'Atkinson Principles'. So it is no wonder that it generally supports socialist-leaning parties.)

However, we do expect a certain degree of due diligence and honesty when reporting a story. Perhaps we are naive in this expectation. A reporter can make an honest mistake, but shouldn't the editors be overseeing the article, and checking to make sure for example that Star reporter Michele Henry had interviewed a few school board officials to corroborate Falconer's story?

And what about the person who deliberately misleads the reporter in hopes of having the story skewed in their favour? Do they bear any responsibility? eg. Julian Falconer in this case?

Kay seems to feel that Falconer is more culpable than the Star here:

Nor do I see this as an innocent misunderstanding, which is what some people involved suggested to me over the phone. Falconer clearly wanted to sex up his report, and the reaction to it, by portraying the school board as a sort of dark, secretive Magisterium.

As my colleague John Turley-Ewart noted in his critique of Falconer's report last week, the human rights lawyer seems far more interested in riding politically correct hobby horses like bashing Mike Harris and blaming the pathologies of black schools on racism (the word "racialized," a fashionable PC term that roughly translates to "black and presumably oppressed," appears 84 times in the report.) His disgraceful spin job on the Toronto Star only serves to confirm the impression that he is more interested in furthering a political agenda than helping Toronto's schools.

So on a scale of guilt we have Falconer as the worst, followed by the Star's senior editors, followed by the 'hoodwinked' reporter Michele Henry.

The other concern I have about MSM is how they seem to have the ability to be gatekeepers of information. Do they have any obligation to report all major stories, or is it simply that which they deem newsworthy or appropriate to their agenda? Perhaps some journalists could enlighten me here.

For example, letter-writer Chas Wynne of Oakville accuses the media of playing favourites when it comes to the Global-warming debate:

Lorrie Goldstein says we should "Skip the Kyoto snow job" (Jan. 8). Well, Lorrie, we wish we could, but it won't happen. Lorrie's analysis of the Kyoto Accord is spot on, but it is a small light in a wasteland of environmental political correctness. Most media and, consequently, most politicians parrot the man-made global warming mantra that has been driven by the radical environmentalists for years. The result is that, like a giant snowball rushing downhill, it continues to pick up speed and mass that will inevitably result in dim-bulb government policies. We have to wait until the mostly unintended consequences of these policies produce enough political resistance to enable sound environmental policy to be constructed and implemented. It could be quite awhile, but, in the meantime Lorrie, keep pitching.
(I like the snowball metaphor!)

Then we have two stories that have inundated the blogosphere, but are largely ignored by MSM.

The first is CBC-gate or Pablo-gate.

The other is Ezra Levant's fight against the Alberta HRC. (I guess we could throw in Maclean's and Mark Steyn's battle as well.) The National Post has covered the Levant story, but few others.

Why are these stories barely making an appearance in MSM? Do the various media outlets have any obligation to cover them?

The point of today's rumination is wondering whether it's sloppy journalism, naive reporters, biased editors or skillful lobbyists and agenda-drivers mainly responsible for the deficit of honesty in Canadian MSM?

Or all of the above?

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Gerry said...

I'm just glad individuals like you Joanne are raising these issues.

As a Christian I'm most concerned that even our scripture will fall into the category of comments that Muslim extremists find unacceptable, and we will see men of the cloth being hauled before the politically correct "Human Rights" (I use the term loosely) commissions.

Would that we had more Canadians with the courage of Ezra Levant, Lorne Gunter, Mark Steyn, Scott Brockie, Ron Gray et al, to ensure we not be subjected to this threat.

Anonymous said...

Gerry...I would add Lorrie Goldstein, and Michael Coren,Jonathan Kay to your list...media personel that we can trust to stick with the facts and not fill their columns with spin.

Did anyone notice Goldstein used the term Y2Kyoto in his column the other day, which is a term 'created' at SDA as a mockery of the spin on AGW.

Anonymous said...

Global news this morning is still reporting that the school boards refused to meet with Falconer. I thought that was proven to be false and retracted yesterday.


Joanne (True Blue) said...

I thought that was proven to be false and retracted yesterday.

What the heck? This is a strange story.

Anonymous said...

anyone who has had experience with either a school board, school admin. or union knows that the same culture of silence...the don't open your mouth or you're history mantra is thick throughout the school system.

Just try to be a parent or a student who's been wronged or who is intelligent enough and tenacious enough to challenge status-quo.

Remember all of those teachers who crossed the picket lines only to have their windshields smashed by their colleagues because they'd rather be on the job?

This culture exists to some degree in every board in Ontario.

Ever had a problem and when you went to the school to speak to a teacher or principal and they tell you "you're the only parent to raise this", only to find out later that many others have been in with the same concern? Same thing...different degree, but it's there.

Anonymous said...

how much did this cost taxpayers?