Saturday, July 21, 2007

How others see us

Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent, about the spinelessness of North American newspapers:


But now let's go north of the border, to the Toronto Globe and Mail, which assigned columnist Jan Wong to investigate a college murder in Montreal last September. Wong is not a greatly loved reporter. A third-generation Canadian, she moved to China during Mao's "cultural revolution" and, in her own words, "snitched on class enemies and did my best to be a good little Maoist."

She later wrote a "Lunch With" series for the Globe in which she acted all sympathetic to interviewee guests to catch them out. "When they relax, that's when their guard is down," she told a college newspaper. "It's a trick, but it's legit." Yuk!

Wong's take on the Montreal Dawson College shooting, however, was more serious. She compared the killer to a half-Algerian Muslim who murdered 14 women in another Montreal college shooting in 1989 and to a Russian immigrant who killed four university colleagues in Montreal in 1992. "In all three cases," she wrote, "the perpetrator was not 'pure laine', the argot for a 'pure' francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial purity is repugnant. Not in Quebec."

Painfully true, I'm afraid. Parisians, who speak real French, would never use such an expression - pure laine translates literally as "pure wool" but means "authentic" - but some Montrealers do. Wong, however, had touched a red hot electric wire in "multicultural" Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper complained. "Grossly irresponsible," said the man who enthusiastically continued the policy of sending Canadian troops on their suicidal mission to Afghanistan.

The French-Canadian newspaper Le Devoir - can you imagine a British paper selling a single copy if it called itself "Duty"? - published a cartoon of Wong with exaggerated Chinese slanted eyes. Definitely not pure laine for Le Devoir. The hate mail was even more to the point. Some contained excrement.

But then the Globe and Mail ran for cover. Its editor-in-chief, Edward Greenspon, wrote a cowardly column in which he claimed that the offending paragraphs "should have been removed" from her story. "We regret that we allowed these words to get into a reported (sic) article," he sniffled. There had been a breakdown in what he hilariously called "the editorial quality control process".

Now I happen to know a bit about the Globe's "quality control process". Some time ago, I discovered that the paper had reprinted an article of mine from The Independent about the Armenian genocide. But they had tampered with it, altering my word "genocide" to read "tragedy".

The Independent's subscribers promise to make no changes to our reports. But when our syndication folk contacted the Globe, they discovered that the Canadian paper had simply stolen the article. They were made to pay a penalty fee. But as for the censorship of the word "genocide", a female executive explained to The Independent that nothing could be done because the editor responsible had "since left the Globe and Mail".

It's the same old story, isn't it? Censor then whinge, then cut and run. No wonder the bloggers are winning.

1 comment:

badbeta said...

Mark, did you ask the Globe and Mail to publish a correction?
Great article...btw you accidentally misspelled others in your title.