Politicking with anger
By Jim Poling Sr.
Many years ago I was coached not to write anything in anger. Anger allowed to chill makes for cooler thoughts and prudent words.
I have tried to follow that advice over the past week.
What sparked my recent anger was Premier Doug Ford’s unintelligent and short-sighted remarks about mainstream journalists becoming irrelevant in today’s Ontario society. He accused journalists of being “far-left” and intent on deliberately distorting the messages of politicians.
He said he bypasses professional news media and delivers his government’s news and views directly to the people through social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
That’s a common howl among the world’s demagogues – a twisted opinion that unfortunately is spreading during a time of huge change and trauma in journalistic organizations. And it is an opinion supported by little evidence, and certainly no facts, except for those that demagogues invent for themselves.
I am a part of a family of journalists, have been a journalist all of my life, have many friends that are journalists and have worked with journalists whose health and happiness has been damaged by their dedication to doing their job. So I find Ford’s remarks insulting and hurtful.
People could care less about how those remarks affect me or any other individual journalist. They should, however, care about how they affect journalism, a fundamental element of democracy.
The journalist’s job can be explained in two simple words: Observe and report. And observe and report as fairly and honestly as is humanly possible.
Journalists are not perfect and sometimes slip off track. So do doctors, truck drivers, lawyers, grocery store clerks, or anyone doing a job. But in any job, deliberate intent to distort and do damage is rare.
And because people are not perfect, there are checks and balances in their jobs. The work of journalists is monitored by editors and by press-media councils that administer codes of practice and investigate complaints from the public. Most journalistic organizations work under some form of code of conduct.
There are no editors, no codes of practice, no monitoring for facts and fairness in social media. Social media can be a helpful connecting point between family and friends, but generally is an open sewer often used by people with diarrhea of the brain.
It takes zero research, little critical thinking, and just a few seconds to write a 240-character blurb on Twitter, or a fast post on Facebook. It takes hours of interviews, research and writing to produce a 500-word balanced report on government changes to autism funding.
Many politicians don’t like the traditional, professional media because it does not always produce stories they like. They want to see and hear only stories about them that have favourable spin.
John Stackhouse, former editor of the Toronto Globe and Mail, addressed this back in 2013 before the Ontario Press Council:
“It is the responsibility of journalists to document facts that perhaps those leaders don’t want to be known. . . but the voting public and society at large needs to know much more than what elected officials want published. Ultimately it is up to the public to decide what to do with the information, but journalists need to be impartial witnesses and publish as much reasonable and defensible information as they can so that citizens, who do not have access to the same resources to question and challenge authority, can make up their own minds.”
Stackhouse made that statement while responding to complaints about Globe and Mail and Toronto Star coverage of the Ford family.
Certainly Premier Ford does not want to read or hear the stories questioning the fairness of having a buddy appointed commissioner of the OPP. Nor would he have liked the reporting of the public criticism that forced his government to back down on changes to autism funding.
Getting the government’s news and views to the public through social media didn’t seem to help him in those two instances.
My guess is that those two cases had him angry when he stood before a convention of conservative thinkers last week and said professional journalists are losing the battle to inform people.
I guess he never had a coach who warned him about writing or speaking in anger. Anger and bias are poor substitutes for critical thinking and facts.