Oh Rachel Marsden. You're quickly becoming my new favourite target. Sadly, the Post doesn't make today's Marsden column available online. It's a real doozy. Basically, she's trumpeting the values of FOX News (she's a regular contributor, though to her credit, she mentions that in her column) by saying people like the in-your-face, opinionated approach. The column is headlined "Everybody likes a smackdown," which tells you something about her opinion.
It's a telling piece because it really underlines the fundamental gulf between people like her and people like me when it comes to objectivity and bias. She writes: "The old news media's problems can be summed up in two words: biased and boring." Oddly enough, she describes FOX News a few lines later as "openly opinion-heavy."So when she says "biased and boring," her problem is more with the "boring." She explains that the "snooze-inducing perma-grinners" that read the news on the other networks have a bias too, but try to mask it.
"In a competitive 24-hour news cycle, branding and publicity matter. A recent poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that more people (40%) recognize Fox's Bill O'Reilly as a journalist than recognize reporter Bob Woodward (30%) of Watergate fame as one, with top-rated conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (27%) coming in right behind and right-wing political columnist George Will trailing with a mere 7% recognition."
The problem, Ms. Marsden, is that Woodward was a reporter. O'Reilly is not. He is a fiercly-partisan talk show host. But that's the problem with FOX. There's no real attempt to distinguish news from opinion. In her mind, that's okay. In mine, it's not. Sure every reporter has a bias, they're human. But the idea is that they should be aware of that bias and work to overcome it, not to embrace it and let it slant their reportage. I don't think reporters should strive for recognition, if a story is well-written, it shouldn't matter who wrote it.
I would never argue that the mainstream press does a good job of maintaining objectivity, if I believed that this site wouldn't exist. But to argue that journalists may as well toss it to the wind and embrace a combattive, right-vs-left "smackdown" approach is a much, much worse idea.
Conversing with Christie Blatchford
I did write to Ms. Blatchford, and to her credit, she responded prompty and in depth. She made some interesting points, but I still take issue with her columns. She argues that the subject of her columns (the letters and her release) are newsworthy items, and I'd agree, but in my mind, that doesn't necessarily mean they're worth columns as well. News reports and columns are different things, and by dedicating so much space to them, I think she IS contributing tot he media circus. But I appreciate her candid response and the fact that it came so quickly. I'll post both e-mails below.
Dear Ms. Blatchford,
I read with great interest your column of June 25, when you declared
that you had "Karla fatigue" and you no longer cared "what she eats,
wears, says, does or, God forbid, believes — unless and until she
breaks the law." I too was convinced that the media had gone above
and beyond their role as guardians of the public good and instead
become overly obsessed with trivial details about her life behind bars
and pending release.
You can imagine, then, how surprised I was to see you dedicate two
subsequent A1 columns to Ms. Homolka since.
I am left to ask, were you assinged to these pieces by an overzealous
editor with no regard for your personal conviction? Or have you
overcome your self-diagnosed bout of fatigue?
I agree that the public deserves to know about Ms. Homolka's life
outside of prison as it relates to the possibility of her
re-offending. But I hardly see how an amateur analysis of her letters
and handwriting (especially when the related story about handwriting
analysis essentially debunks the practice in the closing paragraphs)
contributes anything to the public good.
The media has a great responsibility to society, one that was upheld
by the court rulings in the media's favour. The worst they can do now
is piss away that credibility by become hyper-obsessed about every
step Ms. Homolka takes.
Thanks for reading,
the answer to your question, joe, is neither.
i certainly said i was weary of homolka, and i am. i also said, i believe in the final paragraph, that i intended to cover her only when there was a genuine news event -- as indeed there was when we had access to her never-before published letters and again yesterday, with her lawyers in court in montreal, which is where i was, and her surprise TV interview afterwards.
like it or not, and i like it no more than you, this is a big story. it was particularly so yesterday, when virtually every newspaper in the country put the story on the front page.
my personal convictions are that i will not write about her gratuituously or to no end, but that when it is warranted -- and in my business that means when she makes news. i will not stalk her. i will not wait outside a prison for her, and i did not. i will not ever publish her address or anything that might put her in jeopardy (though frankly, i don't believe she is in jeopardy).
i am, unfortunately, very well-informed about homolka and this case. i covered the original disappearance of kristen french; i covered homolka's plea bargain, and i spent three months of my life in 1995 covering bernardo's trial. i know it inside out. that makes me a valuable resource on the subject. and yes, i am sometimes asked by my bosses to write about her. i was, last week, when the press vigil outside the prison began. i didn't go. i was asked again today to write about her, and i did, because i believe i have something to say. i am not the slightest bit obsessed with her -- 10 of my last 75 or 76 columns have been about her, each time tied to a news angle. in the previous decade, once she was away in jail, i bet i didn't write twice in all that time. and i would be happy as a clam if i never have to do so again.
but i have to say i consider rape and murder important matters, not trivial. they are also inherently sensational, but what is sensational is the awfulness of what was done, not the reporting of it.
the press does indeed owe the public responsibility. i believe i have kept my end of that bargain, and i intend to keep on doing it.
Homolkafest Day II
I won't dwell on this, but I want to point out that both "national" newspapers had stories on the effect of Homolka saying she wanted a Tim Hortons iced cappuccino on the company. The Post actually ran it on A1. Way to uphold the public good. No word yet if Timmy Ho's is going to take my colleague Steve's advice and introduce a Homolka-ccino.
Okay, this is getting too long, but I wanted to toss in a few stories here. The Citizen offers up a really interesting, in-depth look at the problems facing Nigeria as part of the whole G8-related focus on Africa. This is damn good reportage and the sort of thing I've clamoured for both here and in the MediaScout. Sadly, they also devote their prime space on A1, above the fold, to teasing to their own article, as though they realize such contextual reporting is a rarity worth celebrating. Oh how I long for the day that going in-depth on the issues of the day isn't itself newsworthy. The biggest article is here, and you can see the front page photo of the special section by clicking here.
Remember that bit I said earlier about reporters identifying their bias and trying to work around it? Yea, that's not happening here. I wonder what Steven Edwards thinks of the UN?
And check out this site. It got some coverage in today's paper, and rightly so. It's kickass.