Doughnuts do have holes
By Jim Poling Sr.
It was a close call. Very close.
I was driving a narrow dirt road that took a sudden, sharp turn. A turn directly into a piercing July sunset.
I was blinded, and slapped down the visor but still could not see because the sunlight was diffused by the smokey film on the inside of the windshield. I braked and skidded to a stop, just in front of a row of thick-waisted oaks and maples.
No one smokes in my car, but I later learned the smokey film is created by what auto buffs call “off-gassing” from dashboard plastic.
Whatever, it reminded me that there is hidden dirt, often dangerous, that only sunshine will reveal.
That got me thinking about journalism, which is being beaten savagely and unfairly by politicians and their bureaucrats who want people to hear and see only what they think they should hear and see.
Autocratic politicians are working to turn the masses against journalists and their reporting, calling them the “enemy of the people.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford says journalists are “getting into the weeds” when they ask questions about questionable government appointments.
The campaign against journalists is working well for the autocrats. Journalists are being imprisoned or murdered at a record rate around the world. There are fewer reporters, photographers and editorialists to ask questions that voters need to have answered.
Article 19, a human rights group, says that hostility toward the media is becoming normalized globally because of the growing number of “strongman” populist leaders who vilify reporters simply for doing their jobs.
The increasing hostility towards journalists comes at a time of unprecedented job losses in the news industry. The U.S. Labour Department has reported that the American newspaper industry lost almost 60 per cent of its jobs – a total of 271,800 – between 1990 and 2016.
The magazine industry did not fare much better, losing 36 per cent of its jobs during the same period.
In Canada, the Canadian Media Guild has reported 10,000 lost media jobs between 2010 and 2016.
As losses mount, more people turn to social media sites like Facebook and Google for “news,” which often is gossip, speculation, rumour or information not thoroughly fact checked.
Even some online news outlets are beginning to struggle under the weight of Facebook and Google popularity.
Buzzfeed, the American online media company, announced earlier this year layoffs of 15 per cent, or 220 workers. Verizon, which includes HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo News, announced 800 job cuts in its media division.
Our world is in serious trouble with fewer and fewer professionally-trained journalists. Without them, strongmen, corrupters and con artists do what they wish without anyone informing the public.
Some complain that journalists focus too much on things going wrong in society. Too much negative news, they say. I’ve never believed that because every day I read positive stories of human good.
Negative things are out there and need to be exposed.
That was explained beautifully by a 1962 exchange between Frederick Nolting Jr., the American ambassador to Saigon, and French journalist François Sully, working as a Newsweek war correspondent.
Nolting was upset about negative coverage of the Vietnam War, which was going much more poorly than U.S. ambassadors and politicians were saying.
“Why, Monsieur Sully, do you always see the hole in the doughnut?” Nolting demanded of Sully.
“Because, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur,” Sully replied, “there is a hole in the doughnut.”
(This exchange quoted from the 1988 book A Bright and Shining Lie by author Neil Sheehan).
Monday, I personally experienced the ugliness against working journalists.
I was in Algonquin Park freelance reporting on two teenage girls missing since Thursday. I went to Smoke Lake air base to ask the Ontario Provincial Police if they had a command centre there and if I could be authorized to report from it.
I went into the base hangar and asked one OPP officer, who volunteered to go and ask his sargeant on my behalf.
As he left I was grabbed physically on the arm by a belligerent Algonquin Park ranger who demanded to know if I could read, a reference to a No Unauthorized Persons sign at the open entrance gate.
More on that incident in next week’s column.