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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The apocalypse

Last week I was distracted by attacks on my personal and professional integrity, so I did not write about a pressing journalism issue that needs to be covered. I apologise and will get back to my normal blogging.

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Holy crap, I agree with Russell Smith.

As loyal viewers of Fox News know, the Canadian government launched a shameful attack on Sarah Palin a few weeks ago. The ultra-left-wing Conservative government funds a state broadcaster called the CBC. (In an oh-so-liberal attempt to fool voters, the extreme liberals rebranded their party as "Conservative". Typical leftists.) The CBC speaks for the government. And that's why it's extremely offensive that they published a column that was very critical of Ms. Palin. How dare they?

Okay, here's what actually happened.

Heather Mallick is a Canadian columnist. She did indeed write a column that was very critical of Ms. Palin. It was over-the-top offensive, in fact. Some of it was clearly supposed to be funny, but other parts were completely inexcusable.

Ms. Mallick is not a CBC employee; she is a freelancer. This column was posted to, as have other columns she has written. Fox News went nuts, and its viewers sent hate mail to Ms. Mallick and the CBC.

The CBC stood behind Ms. Mallick at first, saying that she is an opinion columnist and her job is to express her opinions.

The ombudsman received over 300 complaints, and decided to investigate. He found that there were problems with the column, because it presumed to offer facts that could not be substantiated. "Facts" like these: Republican men are sexual inadequates! Ms. Palin's supporters are white trash!

The CBC caved. They apologised and retracted the column.

You may already see the problem with this. Ms. Mallick didn't actually mean that Republican men are sexual inadequates: it wasn't presented as a fact at all. Of course she had no substantiation for this. She was making a joke. A rude joke, to be sure, but a joke. I'm pretty sure that men don't have secret meetings in which they promise to be irresponsible with their semen, either.

OK, on to Russell Smith.

As long-time readers know, I have often criticised Russell for being self-important and long-winded. He, in turn, has criticised me for being a bitter, sad lady. However, today I actually agree with him. It's important to get this on the record, because he Googles himself constantly and will want this for his scrapbook.

Russell rightly points out that it is rare for a news organisation not to back a columnist after a controversy, and that many columnists receive hate mail. He also points out that anyone who disagreed with Ms. Mallick was given a public forum to do so. And he is correct to mention that the column was no ruder than things that have been said about Hillary Clinton.

Russell then suggests that the retraction is a sign of something far more troubling: the possibility that our national broadcaster will include more right-wing opinion pieces simply because of the hate mail from another country.

Seriously, go over and read Russell's column. It's a good one.

The CBC should definitely be including right-wing views, and not just on Our national broadcaster has a mandate to reflect Canada to Canadians. Professional journalists are responsible for making sure that happens. When they screw up, they need to admit it and take steps to keep the problem from happening again.

The problem here wasn't a lack of conservative voices on It was with the editing of the original column. The column was indeed "viciously personal, grossly hyperbolic and intensely partisan."

Viciously personal is not OK -- this is the reason I objected to the statements she made. I do not like it when people take nasty, personal potshots at individuals. In this case, Ms. Mallick went completely beyond anything I'm able to support by attacking the personal appearances of the Palin children. Not cool.

Grossly hyperbolic can sometimes be OK. It depends on the context. I'm grossly hyperbolic when I write as Uriel. Ms. Mallick has made a living on gross hyperbole. It's not as if the CBC didn't know this when they started to publish her columns.

Intensely partisan is totally fine as long as it is balanced with dissenting opinions. It seems to me that CBC is already doing this, but perhaps I'm missing something.

The vicious personal stuff could have been edited out. Calling Bristol "pramface" added nothing to the argument. The "porn actress" comment was completely un-called-for. I actually like to read about candidates' fashion and style choices (Robin Givhan is my favourite fashion writer), but that was not the point of this column. It didn't belong there and should have been edited out. I wish the CBC had seen this.


Anonymous said...

In the first place, the CBC is not a spokesman for the ruling party, but under the 1991 broadcasting act, is to fulfill several roles including:

actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,

contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,

reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.

Unfortunately, that does not make the CBC a spokesgroup for a political party, and more likely demands that many who lead the company are actually opposed to what would be considered by American conservatives as conservative ideals.

The CBC has a long history of this kind of left wing opinion. I remember watching an interview between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a CBC commentator, Avi Lewis, that was similarly over the top (though as a feminist, pro-gay atheist, she is hardly right wing). Lewis went on to work for "Frontline USA" for Al Jazeera.

Interestingly, I have NEVER seen CBC go over the top in a conservative bent, as it presently keeps playing the SNL lampooning of Sarah Palin as "news" on Newsworld.

Megan said...

Anon, I really hope you don't think I meant that the CBC speaks for the federal government.

Gifted Typist said...

yoiks I missed this one altogether. I shall investigate. Thanks for the tip Megan.

BTW, I thought you were going to rave about RS's column on women's bras.