Canada's Stenography Journalism: Do not use the brain cells. Just parrot whatever tripe they tell you.

"If you don't like it, why don't you go back where you came from?"  


I

I get that one. A lot. Aside from, "What kind of accent do you have?", that is probably the second-most bigoted comment I get from my fellow Canadians.

For the record, I do not have an accent. I was born and raised in Canada -- so I have some sort of Ontario accent thing going on like everyone else native to this Canadian province.

But it is a form of othering to remind me that I am not considered native to my country of birth for my unspeakable defect of having fabulous Eastern European facial features.

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That one comes when someone first meets me, even when I did not open my mouth to speak.

When I point out a problem, then I get people who snap that I should go back where I came from, to which I reply, "I was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada -- so I am back where I came from, you're still stuck with me, I will not be driven out of my country, and I am going to exercise my right to free speech to prevent that country from getting hurt. But if you don't like progress and truth, why don't you leave the country for a place that clamps down on basic human rights and sees nothing wrong with oppression?"

Do not pick a fight with a person who is honed to see reality in order to find the truth. 

Canada is not the United States, and though we may look alike and dress alike, we are not alike.

Americans have a very specific ideology that can be summed up in one word: Improve.

Their work is never done. They seek problems in order to solve them. They admit flaw. They admit defeat. They have comeback kids who rise up from the ashes to redeem themselves. The Hero's Journey is all about not just solving a problem to improve your surroundings, but admitting your own weakness in order to improve yourself.

They invent. They re-invent. They brought activism into mainstream acceptance. They change. They are brave enough to take the status quo and throw out the window in order to make a better system.

They listen, and a throw away thread in a forum about emotional labour and the undue toll it takes on women's careers becomes a book and from there, a new problem is acknowledged and battled.

It should be no surprise that Civil Rights took form in the United States, despite their puritanical leanings. Collectively, at least, Americans are teachable and they have no trouble taking on their own Establishment.

Canada has never been of the same ilk. It is always about keeping up appearances and seeing your curses as blessings so you do not inconvenience anyone, especially not the Establishment.

Here is a van from a health care centre I came across today:

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Smile through it all. 

With a creepy Red John smiley right on it.

This place is very close to my house, and the place deals with terminal and palliative care issues.

You are sick, in pain, and even dying, but keep smiling through it all because no one actually wants to be bothered to help you.

Do not acknowledge a single negative emotion. Do not mourn. Do not grieve. Do not feel wronged or outraged.

Smile!

So you can make that expression completely lose all of its value to become sick garbage you wear on your face.

I had once overheard a few doctors in a huddle talking about "five celebrations", and it took me a moment to realize what they meant: as in five celebrations of life.

As in five patients recently died. That is doublespeak of the worst sort. What's next? Calling rapists sex heroes?

There is one thing to keep positive in bad times; it is quite another to ignore the negative and spin it into something positive. It is a world of difference and the latter is a deliberate and malicious misuse of the former. It means you are willfully ignoring bad things as you sweep them under the rug.

Elizabeth Wettlaufer was a serial-killing nurse in Canada who got away with it for years and years. It was not as if her bosses were not clued in that she was a dangerous menace: they swept her away so that no one had to deal with her or be held accountable for her actions. Make her go away and you can have sunny brochures and posters how great you are as an institution for your country's most vulnerable.

The I'm sorries are worthless because it will happen again, and is most likely still happening.

But point out the rot and you will immediately be told to go back where you came from.

The problem is, when you come from Canada, you're already there, and so is the problem.

II

I worked as a journalist for many years. I covered business stories and crime stories. I am not flashy or showy by nature. I can be the one who sits quietly and let you talk without interruption for hours. I observe. I analyze. I empathize. As I am fond of saying, I am Teller, not Penn.

When you are the more quiet one, you are not distracted by your own ego or whatever yarn you are spinning to get attention to yourself: you can see the world around you and how the sum of the parts interact with one another to make up the whole. In my journalism career, I have done stories for both US and Canadian publications and did stories that required interacting with people and places that had dealings with both countries.

I was always fascinated by the differences. There was one story I was writing for an American publication about a Canadian company. The company seemed off in some way, and the anecdotes I was told during the interview seemed like a misdirection for me. The problem was there was very little information coming out. I was working with wisps of threads.

So I devised a hypothesis and went out to see if there was any way I could confirm or refute my theory.

I called up a Canadian government agency and flat out told them why I was calling and my theory to see if there was a way I could confirm or refute. I was rudely informed they didn't know, they didn't want to know, and treated me like a paranoid conspiracy theorist for asking.

Then I remembered the company had dealings in the US; so I called that country's governmental counterpart with the same questions.

It was a very different experience.

No, I wasn't crazy. No, I wasn't a hysterical female or paranoid conspiracy theorist. Yes, it was more than possible, but not even that agency could find out, let alone me.

But there were ways they could find it -- and were looking. It was already on their radar.

I could not go with an accusation, but there were ways I could lay the groundwork to let readers know there was something there to look for -- or a good question to ponder.

Eventually, it was the US agency that discovered that our mutual suspicions were correct.

It could have been stopped in Canada years ago, however.

Since then, I have followed a lot of stories where Canadian grifters plundered people here with reckless abandon, but then thought they were geniuses who could avoid detection, and then took their show across the border where there was real money to be had...and then were discovered, arrested, and convicted in the US.

Those con artists weren't smart. They were just dealing in a place where people in positions of authority close their eyes shut while their minions walk around with a vacant and soulless frozen smile on their faces.

All you have to do is google "no laws in Canada" and see the frightening long list of things that are actually not illegal here.

It goes against the narrative that everything is all good and there are no worries because everything is perfect.

Why?

Because They will do something about it.

And journalists have helped form that narrative here for years.

III

I had many stories shot down in Canada over the years: the rise of gang violence in Toronto was never going to happen. How to tell a city's most pressing social problems by deciphering graffiti was another. How art crimes was out of control in Canada. There were others, but if the core of the article was to imply that the country was less than perfect, the story was shot down.

Journalism here was more stenography than actual reportage: you just parrot whatever the PR flunkie tells you over the phone, at the press conference, or in the press release.

And like the enablers of a serial-killing nurse, journalism is a profession that has overlooked many transgressions committed by editors, reporters, photographers, publishers, producers -- and even j-school students.

I came across it once when I worked as a professor. I taught an Advanced Communications course that was a requisite to pass many programs. I had one group of engineering students, but there came a media studies student who needed the course and asked if he could take my class. It was no harder to mark 101 papers than 100, so I said yes.

There was one assignment -- the major one -- that you had to hand in or else you would fail the course because it was worth as much as the passing mark. You could get all of the other assignments perfect, but if you didn't hand in the final assignment, there was no credit.

I had repeatedly warned students not to plagiarize, and that I would be going through every single report to ensure it wasn't.

For whatever reason, four students thought I was bluffing. Three were from the engineering program, but the fourth was the media studies student.

I had two departments to inform. The head of engineering was not happy. I informed him that I wasn't happy either because all of my warnings fell on deaf ears. As I promised, I googled every single paper, and four were copied whole from the Internet.

There was no doubt of what they did, and as an educator, this is a traumatic thing to have to do.

But the department head was a man of decisive and impressive action. He yanked out two of the offenders from another exam so that students were put on notice that cheating had its price, but it was also talk of the professors during the promotion meeting. They had all failed. Not just because of academic dishonesty, but because a zero on the paper couldn't get you a pass in the course.

Unless you were the media studies student.

I informed that head, and he called me at home...and he was determined to ensure that this student pass. I had repeatedly said it was plagiarism. I wrote it on his paper in big bold letters, and gave the link where he stole every word of it. I repeatedly said to the supervisor that to get a zero on the assignment automatically meant a fail, regardless of whether or not he stole his work, and he got a ZERO on that assignment, and I had already recorded the grade as such in the computer system.

Apparently, doing the other work was good enough to pass...and let's not make extra trouble for the cheater, and I was overruled. Period. As I was already leaving to teach at another college, there wasn't anything else I could do. He decided the student would pass, even though it in no way reflected on what his actual output was.

I had never had that problem with any other department. That defender of student dishonesty had been a news director at a radio station before that -- and I shudder to think what he let pass so that con artists weren't going to be inconvenienced. 

And if you are a journalism veteran teaching journalism to students, and you go out of your way to pass a dishonest student, you cannot expect truth or honesty in the product.

Because you are not going to see any problems in the people and institutions you are covering.

You will grab the press release, crib from it, and then tell people you are a journalist, and not a stenographer.

IV

An industry is only as good as the mechanisms in place to police it. You allow your members to lie and to harm, you are an enabler of rot. When that industry is journalism, and it proves to be one that cannot police itself, they cannot police anyone else.

It is a profession that requires bravery, vigilance, and humility.

And the ability to see reality in order to find the right tools to find out what you cannot see by mere eyeballing alone.

Journalists, as someone once quipped, are not thin-skinned, but no-skinned. Do not imply they are less than perfect, particularly here in Canada.

When TVO's Steve Paikin was accused of a boorish quip by an eccentric-looking self-made female entrepreneur, journalists already decided he was innocent, but his place of work decided to have an "investigation", and they allegedly cleared him in a report that I have read repeatedly, but it never sat well with me for several reasons.

Why?

Because it is typical of reports that look thorough on first glance, but do not hold up to actual scrutiny. If I were being investigated for something I didn't do, I would not want this kind of shallow babble used as proof of my innocence.

There were problems I have outlined previously -- namely that the eyewitness who had the actual knowledge was acting squirrelly, which the firm hired by the station with the vested interest of looking pristine, dismissed as not being credible.

Yet why this person behaved this way was not actually addressed -- and there were real ways of ascertaining the reason why.

There were no private investigators on this report, which is troubling, but when you are pretending to look at a work-related problem, it is a very good idea to do some legwork with someone who can look into certain aspects of a witness's background. You have to know.

But that alone isn't the real problem -- it is who is doing the interviewing.

Not psychologists. Not social workers -- and when we are dealing with sexual harassment allegations -- those are the experts you employ to interview witnesses because they -- particularly social workers, are trained to pick up on threads that hint at what is the most probable truth.

As a journalist, I have dealt with social workers and interviewed them. Although my degree is in psychology, those front line workers had given me a few lessons in understanding what to look for -- and were correct. There are signs, and everyday, they are overwhelmed with them.

When dealing with personal kinds of abuses, that's who you want to assess the situation, and give you a lay of the land.

Nor did we have any sort of forensic psychiatrist analyzing anything here -- and again, as someone who has interviewed them, their knowledge of even semantics is a priceless tool.

That didn't happen. It should have. You had the wrong tools used to create something, and just because you have people looking into something, doesn't mean they have the useful skillset to uncover the truth.

Just as you can have a blood test giving you a clean bill of health, doesn't mean that test can catch diseases, cancers, or other genetic problems that can kill a person if not caught in time. You have to have the right blood test -- and other tests that are specifically made for detecting certain problems. I have known young people who got a clean bill of health, only to find out they had a now incurable illness because the shallow tests they passed were not made to spot serious ailments.

This report was not a good report. As I said before, if I were a journalist covering this story and got this report, I would have my hands full finding more credible sources to tell me what really happened. I'd want to know more about the enigmatic witness who was going out of his way to muddy the waters instead of being definitive in either the accused's favour or the accuser's. You cannot dismiss a claim unless you can tip the scales one way or another. If you cannot, you must then spell out your findings are inconclusive, and why.

And that's why TVO's report is just window-dressing, not an actual document of any empirical or forensic value.

Worst of all, there is no governing independent body that investigates bad journalists. It should be that kind of institution, not a gun-for-hire to do that kind of investigation.

But journalism doesn't have that -- for a reason.

Because lord only knows what ugly secrets we'll find.

V

If you do not want to see reality or truth, you stick to a perky script. You cannot be a chronicler, but a stenographer, owning no responsibility to what you are spewing.

It should be no surprise that Canadian journalism has always been far weaker than the offerings in the US and UK. They defer to authorities, and prefer a set script that pigeonholes everyone so no one looks wrong or is questioned.

It is why #MeToo took off in the US, but was always shunned in Canada: because it would be a de facto admission that things were not perfect and needed serious reworking and reinventing.

Americans thrive in the notion of improvement and change.

But Canadian journalism bristles at the eccentric, enigmatic, and different. Change is good, so long as the status quo is left untouched. Our elites are to be revered and seen as outsiders.

And once someone is seen as an elite, there is no allowance to challenge the narrative -- the script is superimposed on reality, and all sorts of questionable things can happen without outrage, let alone a scandal.

Let's take Steven Galloway. He is a mediocre author with a snooty disposition who had an easy ride and hype that never actually matched the ability.

I have written about him here and here.

He got in trouble at UBC, a pre-#MeToo outing of his actions.

He was fired, and Canada's authors all ran to his defence with an open letter defending him.

I recall attending a J-Talk where a journalist, Jonathon Kay, was feeling sorry for Galloway, babbling about the toll and how Galloway had "felt like" killing himself -- meaning Kay had a relationship with Galloway that extended beyond the professional.

Galloway admitted to some very unprofessional doings as someone who was put in a position of power at a university, but the university still has to pay him $167,000 by decree of an arbitrator, they obviously transported from a century ago.

Like TVO, the university has no independent means of investigation -- and that is an absolute must. They made decrees that didn't align with the facts -- even though there was admission of quite a bit of wrongdoing, as in actions that he should not have done in his position. That should have been enough to fire him.

But as Galloway's "privacy" was somehow compromised -- a ridiculous charge as he was a public figure who craved and cultivated attention to himself -- he gets a settlement as if he were some innocent victim, which by his own admission he wasn't.

There are no damages here. He was the architect of his own self-entitled misery. The damages are self-inflicted.

In Canada, $167,00 is a princely sum -- people who are truly innocent and are seriously injured through car accidents or negligence will not get that much for their pain and suffering. There are Establishment imposed caps preventing it.

But an irresponsible lout does get it for making trouble for himself and having no common sense, but because he is considered an Establishment figure, he is given leeways that are unjustifiable.

Do not expect journalists in Canada to question this outrageous outcome. They socialize with him, feel sorry for him, defend him in public, and see nothing wrong with doing those things. The sense of entitlement is there -- and there is hardly any mention of this -- just stenography.

If this happened in the US, there would be no credible arbitrator who would give him a dime.

But this is Canada. If you don't like it, you can always go back where you came from -- or smile through it all as you get abused for no good reason whatsoever...