Thursday, June 05, 2008

John Miller on Steyn

The white, male, affluent, settler-culture anglophone Ryerson journalism professor John Miller makes as good an argument as anyone against Mark Steyn's reporting. In fact, most of those self-same points have already appeared in the letters section of Maclean's, which are usually among the most-read pages in any magazine.
Certainly, they're mainstream arguments. They must be if Miller could find them. He pulls material from all kinds of attacks on Steyn's work from important publications all over the world, which, through the beauty of the Internet, is available to everyone. In other words, to get all academic, there is vigorous social discourse on the issues that Steyn writes on. So why ban Steyn from writing on what he feels are the dangers of Islamicism?
Miller argues Steyn's arguments have been shot down. They may or may not. I have neither the time nor the inclination to play in that park. All that's important is that all sides are being heard. Whatever Steyn's inaccuracies, they are at least mirrored by hard-core Islamicists like the liars who claim 9-11 was an inside job and by one of the complainants who says all adult Jews are legitimate targets for killers.
Here's my take. Discourse must be wide open in society. We get truth from healthy debate and criticism. Our institutions and society improve when they are probed and challenged. Ideas should be brought forward and examined with as much freedom as possible. Debate is a good thing, not a bad thing.
The most accurate assessment of the situation comes from Miller's own work:

A year ago writer Johann Hari reviewed Steyn’s book, America Alone, from which the Maclean’s excerpt was taken. Writing in The Independent newspaper on June 2, 2008, he said: “It is a piece of bigotry, based on garbled statistics and ugly prejudices. But free speech includes the right to make claims that are wrong, stupid or abhorrent – or it is no freedom at all. The way to rebut Mark Steyn is through argument. His case is weak; it will never win in an open row. Expose the facts. Rebut his figures. Laugh at his ignorance. The truth is strong; trust it.”

But if the complainants, who Miller supports, have their way, Steyn's work -- the magazine article, and, by extension, the book from which it is excerpted -- will be banned. That means the best-seller will be pulled off the shelves of book stores and removed from libraries. That is an automatic penalty imposed by Human Rights Commissions upon conviction. You can't convict someone of spreading hate, then allow them to keep doing it. The whole point of the Human Rights Commission process is to make people stop doing bad things.
As well, Steyn and the magazine would effectively be on some sort of probation, with the threat of contempt of the Human Rights Commission if they printed something that offended the complainants. Effectively, on issues dealing with issues involving Muslims, Elmarsy and al Habib, the complainants, would be Maclean's censors, a sort of two-man focus group backed by the BC Human Rights Commission.
Miller believes Steyn's ideas are not publishable in Canada. He argues that errors in Steyn's piece somehow make the article illegal. He fails to see Steyn is one voice in a huge debate. The article must be seen as part of a system of discourse in Canada that has as its constituent parts Maclean's, The Walrus, THIS Magazine, Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, Harpers, Atlantic, Penthouse, the CBC, CTV, Global, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, dozens of daily newspapers and thousands of weeklies, the Internet, including Miller's blog... and so much more. Yet, says Miller, Steyn's work is so toxic, so evil, that it must be rooted out.
What Miller wants is the marketplace of ideas to be edited to fit into his and Mo Elmarsy's world view. Some "good" writers and articles will be allowed. Some will not.
The big dispute anytime we have had official censorship is: what are the rules and who enforces them? In wartime, rules of censorship are, in theory, tailored to make the media part of the war effort. So, if Human Rights Commissions are to act as censors -- and Miller doesn't even begin to address that concept -- then what are the rules? Who decides? Should publications submit their articles to Human Rights Commissions for some type of pre-censorship, or are journalists to be prosecuted post-facto in shopped jurisdictions under rules and "laws" that did not seem to exist at time of publication?
Are the rules for reporting the same as the rules for opinion pieces? If so, or if not, who says? Is error grounds for punishment? Who says? Let me see the rules. Or are they being made up to fit an ideological situation?
Who has these "human rights"? I'm human. I find Miller's argument offensive. Someone please send me a form.
Miller gives no reason whatever why a Human Rights Commission -- or three -- should be the gatekeeper of what's debated in this country and what isn't. In his world view, Human Rights Commissions would take the place of medieval kings deciding what can be published and what cannot. Freedom of speech would exist as long as the speakers agreed with the opinions of power, with those of the state, which creates and mandates Human Rights Commissions. Right now, the state appears to favor multiculturalism. Next week, who knows? We have not arrived at the promised land. We are not past the end of history.
The state could, by Miller's logic, just as easily mandate commissions to examine the press for other failings. Maybe the state should like to bring in wartime censorship. It has the power to. We are at war, after all, in Afghanistan, and we don't seem to be winning. Maybe we'd be doing better if the "defeatist" elements of the press were silenced.
That is the major hole in Miller's argument. And it's a fatal wound.

The Canadian Association of Journalists and the BC Civil Liberties Uniom have taken the same stand in their submission to the Human Rights Commission. Here's their brief.


Seems Miller does not even believe in free expression for his own students. He banned second-year and fourth-year print journalism students from writing for the independent college paper. They were not happy.

(Here's an online description of that controversy, for whatever it's worth. I still enjoyed Miller's book on the decline of Canadian papers. I just wonder if his dtestation of Conrad Black has spilled over into disdain for one of Black's proteges. )


bigcitylib said...

Link doesn't seem to work.

Ottawa Watch said...


Anonymous said...

Miller misread the Economist article and can't seem to do basic math skils in terms of calculating population figures. .
Why do jouralists have such poor basic math skills?

James Goneaux said...

Journalists, lawyers, doctors...why is innumeracy so prevalent in any highly skilled profession?

Anonymous said...

"Journalists, lawyers, doctors...why is innumeracy so prevalent in any highly skilled profession?"

Hahahahahahahaahahahahaha. Why am I laughing so hard? Because someone actually claimed that journalism is a highly skilled profession.

PelaLusa said...


Excellent points throughout! Perhaps the most important words of all were these two: "Who decides?"

John Miller? No way. His bias is as thick as maple syrup on a Northern Ontario winter day. The 3 jokers on the BCHRT who think of themselves as judges? We now have multiple reports from several independent people (reporters and others) of what a fiasco that was last week. Even as late as this evening, I'm still getting new first-hand accounts sent to me.

As I explain in my letter to BC's AG, Wally Oppal, Section 7.1 MUST be removed and the 3 employees presiding last week MUST also be removed. Their actions under the "Reasonable Man" test don't hold water. Just because they got themselves appointed to those jobs through some persuasive networking, doesn't at all guarantee that they have any competency.

As for Mr. Miller's long winded argument, I have a scenario for him to think about. As I explain in detail here I have strong reason to believe that the Toronto Star's Petti Fong deliberately slanted her recent news story in order to stir up conflict, fear, & hatred between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. I actually downloaded and studied the BCHRT complaint form earlier today.

Based on *my* feelings that this is precisely what such strongly biased stories actually do, I fully believe I have a strong case to haul her in front of the BCHRT and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Why the latter? Because her paper is based there and the majority of its readers are based there as well.

I would take great satisfaction in intuitively knowing that my case is much stronger than the recent one brought against Maclean's. I have absolutely no doubt that I can find numerous history and political science professors who can countless examples of how inciteful news stories have stirred up violence around the world.

Now, would Mr. Miller support my efforts to try banning Ms. Fong from ever publishing another article? Somehow I doubt it. Why? Starts with an "h", ends with a "y".

And that, in a nutshell, is "why we must protect free speech, especially amongst those we most vehemently disagree". Hmmmm, I wonder who said those wise words. Ahhh yes, now I recall, a Mr. Mark Steyn of New Hampshire, USA. You may have heard of him. He's written a few things in his time.

Robert W.

Ottawa Watch said...

Sometimes I agree with Steyn, sometimes I don't. Sometimes he likes my posts, sometimes he thinks I'm a retard. However, I'm glad the HRC censors went after Steyn first. He is one of the few writers in Canada with the 'nads to go the distance with these people. They did pick the wrong guy, to the benefit of anyone who reads or writes in this country.
Glad to see the Globe finally clued in.

Dr.Dawg said...

Miller says that he agrees with Hari's comments about free speech (you actually have to read his article all the way to the end, obviously tiring for some). So he does NOT support the complaint. He simply excoriates Steyn's bumbling, unprofessional pseudo-journalism.

As for claims by commenters here about Miller's alleged innumeracy--prove it. Steyn's grasp of demographics is laughably weak, if it's mathematical ineptitude you're after. If you don't like Miller, there's Hari's smackdown here,
and numerous other commentators who don't support the complaint either.

There's an odd slippage going on, meanwhile, in posts like yours, Mark. It seems that those of us in opposition to the complaint against Steyn shouldn't criticize him and his racist theories because even that is an attack on free speech. Free speech, I guess, is only for your allies, and not for the likes of us.

Ottawa Watch said...

I support Steyn's right to free speech.
I oppose the idea of HRCs being used to curtail "error".
Miller wanted to intervene on the side of the complainants. He supports the idea of using HRCs as censors.
Everything else is blowing smoke.

Anonymous said...

Dawg, use Miller's friend, and google "Russia" and "population growth" and "Yemen" and "population growth" and read the first 10 articles that come up and make your decision on what the populations of Russia and Yemen will likely be in 40 years.
How 23.000,000 people are able to exist in Yemen today is scary enough, let alone with an annual population growth of about 3.$% which sees a country's poulation doubles every 20 years.
Forecasting future population figures is a crapshoot but then all kinds of people, especially politicians, use them to justify all kinds of decisions for the future.
Well, you're at it, try and find me a copy of France's "National Institute of Demographic Studies" recent report on population growth in France.

Dr.Dawg said...


I just followed your links. Here are a couple of extracts from Miller's comments:

Without some objective test or measure for what constitutes hateful publication, the principles of free expression and freedom of the press could conceivably be jeopardized by this legislation.

A year ago writer Johann Hari reviewed Steyn’s book, America Alone, from which the Maclean’s excerpt was taken. Writing in The Independent newspaper on June 2, 2008, he said: “It is a piece of bigotry, based on garbled statistics and ugly prejudices. But free speech includes the right to make claims that are wrong, stupid or abhorrent – or it is no freedom at all. The way to rebut Mark Steyn is through argument. His case is weak; it will never win in an open row. Expose the facts. Rebut his figures. Laugh at his ignorance. The truth is strong; trust it.”

I agree with that statement with one exception: Maclean’s chose to give Steyn’s views maximum exposure, filling the cover and several pages of a magazine that claims a readership of 3.1 million across Canada. Even if it wanted to (and it plainly doesn’t), the publication would not be able to give counter arguments or factual corrections the same exposure.

Nor would any other publication in the country.

That's a plain statement of fact. It doesn't suggest basic disagreement with Hari's position.


Is this the sort of thing you're looking for?

Dr.Dawg said...

Sorry, I should have put an ellipsis between the first and second quoted paragraphs.

Ottawa Watch said...

That's an unconvincing claim that Miller opposes using HRCs as press censors.
I read all of Miller's piece and there is nothing resembling a discussion of HRCs acting as prfess censors.

Dr.Dawg said...

I read all of Miller's piece and there is nothing resembling a discussion of HRCs acting as press censors.

And from this (that he doesn't explicitly state that he opposes the complaint per se) you draw the conclusion that Miller favours the complaint? You're nearly as bad as this "pelalusa" character, who accused me at his place of supporting the complaint (a lie) and favouring state control of Maclean's editorial policy (another lie).

You do know that there are more than two sides to every question, don't you?

Ottawa Watch said...

Funny he didn't get around to mentioning it.
Considering every major journalistic voice weighing in on the issue -- the CAJ, the Globe, the Post, etc. -- focussed on the issue of jurisdiction, why didn't Miller? I'm left with the logical conclusions made in my post: Miller believes the "error" in Steyn's work makes it eleigible for censorship by the HRC.
His last line, that the complainants have no recourse to anything resembling Maclean's circulation makes it clear to me he is asking the HRC to force Maclean's to run the complainant's rebuttal. What else could he be asking for?
Explain to me what Miller is suggesting. What does he want the outcome to be? After all, he's not in this as an expert witness on journalistic practice, he's proposing (unsuccessfully) that he be accepted as an intervenor. Intervenors ask for something. I don't see anything suggesting Miller wants anything other than punishment for Steyn.

Dr.Dawg said...

His last line, that the complainants have no recourse to anything resembling Maclean's circulation makes it clear to me he is asking the HRC to force Maclean's to run the complainant's rebuttal.

Actually his very last line says it all: the damage from poor, shoddy "journalism" cannot be undone.

What else could he be asking for?

I don't think he's asking for anything. He's trying to make a point about journalistic standards and ethics. I thought he was clear in the initial paragraphs--that Steyn in some perfect world needs to be called to account, but that Section 7(1) is not the instrument with which to do it.

Ottawa Watch said...

I think people can read Miller's take, yours and and mine and make up their own minds.
For a piece written by a professor to a Human Rights Commission, it's a sloppy piece of work with only two sources cited, nothing resembling an objective discussion and a very unclear purpose.

Dr.Dawg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr.Dawg said...

Re your UPDATE:

Gosh, a two-year old story. Being the fair guy I know you are, Mark, I'm sure you'll give us all the facts of that case. Including the fact that it had nothing to do with freedom of expression.

Jeffersonian said...

It seems pretty clear to me, having read Miller's piece, that he favors a judgement against Maclean's by almost literally "reading the Riot Act" to them. Sure, he hedges a bit on the issue of who should decide where a particular article fits in the continuum of journalistic legitimacy, but then builds the case that under any reasonable standard that Steyn's piece would be judged as beyond the pale.

As Huey Long once said, when fascism comes to America, it'll be called anti-fascism. He probably didn't think it would hit in Canada first.

Ottawa Watch said...

Golly, you seem to think he's all for freedom of expression except when he doesn't like what people say or it's inconvenient for his teaching schedule or... what?
As a courtesy, I read his piece again. You should, too. It says he generally agrees with the CAJ take, except that Steyn's piece is a "polemic". Then he quotes the Ontario Human Right Commission chair's backhand against Steyn and Maclean's.
So admit it: John Miller believes Human Rights Commissions should regulate journalism in Canada.

Dr.Dawg said...

Then where does that leave his comments about Sn.7(1)?

Jeffersonian said...

Then where does that leave his comments about Sn.7(1)?

He seems to be a bit hesitant about its implications, but then charges into "the law's the law" and happily supports its application against Steyn and Maclean's. So happily, it appears, that he's willing to join in the prosecution himself.

Ottawa Watch said...

At the risk of repeating myself, that's how it comes across to me, too.

Ottawa Watch said...

I see it was Steyn's and Maclean's take on it, too, and they know more about Miller's attempt at intervention that I do. I think if Miller had taken their side regarding the use of HRCs as mechanisms of press control, they'd know.

Jeffersonian said...

It seems difficult to argue, to me, that Canadian press freedom isn't at stake here. When a private individual or group can claim to be aggrieved by a story, column, etc. and intent, truth, etc. are not available as defenses, only a fool wouldn't be looking over his shoulder with every tap of a key.

The irony is that "human rights" are being used to destroy actual human rights.

Ottawa Watch said...

I'm just finishing a four-year stretch examining state censorship in Canada in wartime. The system that would be erected by Human Rights Commissions and their supporters is more ad hoc, more draconian and far more repressive of free speech rights than the press censorship systems in World War I and World War II. In those instances, there were written rules about what could and could not be printed. Anyone who broke those rules got due process in a real court. People who were guilty of breaking the laws were not forbidden to write again.
Yes, there were closures of the ultra-fringe Communist and Fascist press, but even those could re-open if they behaved themselves. And this was while we were at war against Hitler.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why it's hateful to say that you wouldn't want the West to live under islamic law in the future. In a democracy, population numbers = votes = power. Look what happened to Palestine. Before they knew it, Palestinians had a massive influx of migrants of Jewish origine in the 1920's. Next thing you know, they outnumbered the Palestinians, and formed their own country! How about Kosovo? It used to belong to Serbia. Until massive influxes of migrants from Albania came to outnumber the Serbs. Now that they're the majority, they're declaring independence, and taking the land with them. Whether or not Steyn's demographics are correct or not, one thing is for sure: history teaches that demographics matters a great deal when it comes to who controls the levers of power. All the more so when it comes to a democracy. There is no denying that those in the West who have a 'post-Christian' value system are not reproducing- (i.e. the majority of Westerners). It only makes common sense to argue that the future belongs to the ideology of those who have children.

cantrecant said...

Miller should start his own newspaper staffed by and for PhDs. They can while away happy irrelevant hours critiquing each other's journalistic chops.

Anonymous said...

Well, he did try in his hometown, Port Hope, awhile back but it didn't last very long as I recall but provided fodder for a few columns.

Anonymous said...

Though interesting enough that the Ontario Press Council response to Miller's complaint about the Port Hope Evening Guide's article about Cameco.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify your point about Miller's 2006 run-in with the independent student paper at Ryerson, he required his final-year print students to write for the school's official newspaper as part of their senior reporting course. (The two campus papers compete and have strict conflict of interest rules, and the school-run newspaper suffers from a lack of volunteers owing to it being, well, not as good.)

Secondly, and this was not mentioned in the editorial you linked to due to space issues in that week's paper, he went a step further and tried to force two print students who'd been elected to the independent paper's masthead the previous spring — who hadn't been told about the new requirements when they decided to run — to resign. One of those editors was me.

It's all chronicled at

Ottawa Watch said...

I went to Ryerson way back and wrote for the Eyeopener and the Ryersonian. While the faculty wasn't delighted about the Eye, almost all the editors and staff were J-school students and no one saw any conflict. Everyone did their print courses and masthead without too much trouble. People somehow got by without outright bans and rules on where you could write. The Ryersonian, always a dreadful paper because of the fear of the faculty of making any waves, got plenty of copy from print students whose assignments were automatically given to the paper.
Concordia has a smaller journalism school and still manages to get out two college papers, neither of them censored by faculty.
I did see the Wikipedia article. In fact, I linked to it.