Thursday, January 20, 2011

Twit, piled higher and deeper

A comment by unionwill at the post Twit happens stirred my interest.  We were directed to a whinge by Keith Baldrey the Global TV porter I sometimes refer to as a BC Liberal spokesman.

First, examine the comments by Spartikus HERE then consider this recap of Baldrey's lament:
"A lot is being said and written about the decline of civility in our political culture these days. It's time we confront this disturbing problem.

". . . one doesn't have to dig very deep in our own political culture to find rhetoric that is beyond "overheated" and inflammatory attacks that go well beyond what is acceptable in a fair and just society.

". . . the fact he [Craig James] needed security was actually reported some weeks ago by the Globe and Mail. . . More than 150 comments were posted. Almost none of them expressed any kind of sympathy at all for James. . .

"This brings us to a key part of the growing problem: the anonymity of the Internet, which allows anyone the chance to smear another without having to be held accountable for his or her actions. If I (or any other reporter or editor at this newspaper) were to libel someone, the consequences would be harsh. The aggrieved party would sue, and there's a good chance the offending writer would pay a significant financial penalty.

"But on websites and blogs, people are allowed to post the most outrageous, libelous, threatening and inaccurate comments and because they do so under the cowardly cloak of anonymity (or pseudonyms) they face no consequences.

"Yet, their comments hang in the air and get traded back and forth. . . no matter how much evidence shows those views to be wrong or inaccurate or based on hate or prejudice.

"Newspapers and other media outlets should return to the days of the rigid letters-to-the-editor policies that took steps to ensure all published comments were accurately signed.

". . . don't think for a moment the extremists who have poisoned political debate in the U.S. don't also exist here. They can be found in Canada, on the left and right, and they are mostly on the Internet. If you don't believe me, just ask Craig James."
Notice again that Baldrey says,
". . . on websites and blogs, people are allowed to post the most outrageous, libelous, threatening and inaccurate comments and because they do so under the cowardly cloak of anonymity (or pseudonyms) they face no consequences."
Keith Baldrey has been a professional journalist for the better part of 30 years. He is aware that if people make death threats in any fashion to Craig James, including by email, they will be investigated by police and charged. Punishment would be severe.  Baldrey's universal statement about blogs and websites is wrong, pure and simple. Criticism and impolite comments are not libel. Also, it is inconceivable that he so misunderstands the law that he would honestly make such untrue assertions regarding libel.  I think his statements are considered and purposeful but the intention is not what he claims.

There is no cloak of anonymity provided by the Internet to a blogger or any online journalist. The people responsible for offending sites, even those using pseudonyms, can be determined through identification of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and a bit of gumshoeing. Many bloggers make it easy by using real names, honest email addresses and even pictures. Does anyone imagine that I am not subject to libel laws at Northern Insights? Only ignorant fools.

Baldrey must know that I can be sued for damages and/or restraint if I libel someone, or if I publish libelous content from others. I explain this occasionally to contributors after blocking comments because they are or might be unfairly malicious. I recognize also a moral responsibility, beyond the legal, to not assert as true information that I know to be untrue. Regular readers know that I might be prone to ironic comments or quirky statements but that is pretty obvious to anyone exercising thought.

Similarly, newspapers provide for moderation for the most part and blogs that deal in controversy pay attention to rules of fair comment and are responsible for anything published. CBC, Global, Postmedia, Globe & Mail all moderate comments and typically require registration. Unfortunately, a small lunatic fringe has always been with us but who gives them any credibility? Blog readers are often sophisticated news junkies who want commentary based on fact, not on fantasy.

Baldrey wants people unfamiliar with online journalism to imagine the Internet largely provides "outrageous, libelous, threatening and inaccurate" commentary. One reason he might want to sell that false image is that he worries about how the mainstream media is losing readers to the online world. Baldrey is also saying that he does not like to be criticized and held accountable for inaccurate expositions.

Keith, if you aim to be respected, stop being an extension of PAB, treat all sides with doubt and wariness, don't advance interests of the powerful, be prepared to make them uncomfortable if deserved, be transparent about potential conflicts involving you and others close to you, be knowledgeable and impartial. If your employer won't allow this, go public, force change. Your employer once had a reputation for outstanding work, it does no longer.

Global BC, for whom Baldrey is the chief political reporter, has been caught this week in a demonstration of partisan bias. They've been accused of prejudice before, at Northern Insights and elsewhere. Their sneering responses have always been denials. Of course, content itself has demonstrated partiality but now bias is confirmed by court documents that reveal Global news reporter Catherine Urquhart worked with BC Liberal Kash Heed's senior advisors to promote the politician's public profile. This is from the Vancouver Sun's report of the correspondence between Liberal backroom operator Barinder Sall and the Global reporter:
“I can honestly say Kash would not be SG [solicitor-general] today if it hadn’t been for some key people behind the scenes,” Sall wrote to Urquhart on June 10, 2009.

“There were only truly 3 people that played a major role: Me, Peter Dhillon and yourself and Kash knows this,” he added.

“Peter was the money guy, I’m the brown tanned James Bond strategy girl-chasing guy and you were like the communications director . . . your stories, coverage and timing gave Kash a lot of profile and built him a following from day 1 at West Van and then leading into the election.

"In response, Urquhart wrote: 'Hey . . . that’s really sweet of you . . .' "
Remember, Urquhart did not prepare and broadcast this friendly material by herself. It passed by all the others working in the Global studio whether editors, reporters, technicians or management. Approval was explicit and implicit. That it was aired demonstrates Global was taking care of business as usual, promoting BC Liberals. I suggest that trust is a major issue for both Global TV and Keith Baldrey. As chief political reporter, he would have known about the campaign to raise Heed's status.  Should we have confidence in any statement by Baldrey or Global or assume they generally report that which pleases their favorites? Given the inaccuracy of his allegations noted here, Baldrey should reconsider his approach to political reporting.

A further test of Global TV comes from their treatment of the issue. Will they continue to blame only Ms. Urquhart or will they admit to their systemic bias and change. So far, the company response is not admirable. Ian Haysom is still at work and Catherine Urquhart is suspended.
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  1. The decline in readership amongst the MSM speaks for itself. You cannot expect anything else from Baldrey but to defend his piece of the pie. He should be intelligent enough to figure out why though, and not continue to delude himself that it is because people are wacko's. The demise of the newspaper medium is their own making!

  2. Norm - the same content analysis should be applied to Sean Holman over at PublicEyeOnline. You can`t use the excuse that he`s just publicizing stuff that ``happened to fall into his lap`` when the content is so one-sided against the NDP. At some point, Sean has to take journalistic responsibility for what he`s putting out there if he wants to be seen as credible and not just a tool being used by others. I don`t see any effort on his part to dig into what is happening with the Liberal new member sign-up issues identified by Harvey Oberfeld, for example. Wouldn`t that be a natural place to go with the sign-up story? Challenge the Liberal brass or a candidate or two on their sign-up books in short supply, say?
    I don't have confidence that Sean is making the effort to balance his reporting.

    Warren White

  3. I wonder what the weekly whinge will be on 'NW today, by Messes Baldry, Palmer and Good.

    If there are libelous comments on blogs, I would wager that they would be dealt with, especially with the likes of the Premier or cabinet ministers.

    The great fear of course is that the mainstream media is loosing its grip on the great unwashed, who more and more turn to blogs for their news and not the newspapers, TV, or radio. I understand that major advertisers are now seriously concerned abut this phenomenon.

    I would dearly wish someone would chart a family tree of PAB's, BC Liberals, and mainstream media types to show family or business connections!

    Now that is not libelous, but i think it would scare the hell out the above three.

  4. Well said Norm. We can only hope that most viewers can distinguish between the wheat & the chaff. As a retired journalist I am often disappointed in the articles by MSM. It is for this reason that I can honestly say I have only watched Global, CTV or the CBC maybe 6 times in the past year. I prefer blogs such as yours, or reading news on the internet so that I can choose the stories that might make sense to me.

    Guy in Victoria (BTW if this comment is libelous I grant permission to reveal my IP address)

  5. I still can't get past Barinder Sall's opinion of himself...."I’m the brown tanned James Bond strategy girl-chasing guy". Sheesh, get over yourself buddy!

  6. At least you added the hyphen correctly. I read it first as though he considered himself "the brown tanned James Bond strategy girl . . ."

    Kinky, I thought.

  7. Once again, thanks for the shout out, Norm :)

    Baldrey's "lament" for a supposed decline in civility (which I'm pretty convinced is not the case - peruse old newspapers and political pamphlets from each decade to see if people were actually more polite to each other) is similar to others in that not one example of "incivility" is provided.

    Oh sure, you and I could look at the comment sections on just about any large media site and find a scurrilous comment or two. Or three. But so what?

    For this to be a true crisis in public discourse, you have to be able to display actual harm. And in that, the lack of examples is very telling.

    As you say in the previous thread, this is more Baldrey & Co's discomfort at their work being scrutinized like it's never been before...and being found wanting.

  8. Norm, this article is one that should be read and reread by everyone whether they are of the blogger realm or that of MSM.
    The facts speak the truth of the situation more than anyone's words can.People are searching out souces of information that make sense and are not effected by bias, even further people are searching for any news of political nature simply because it doesn't exist on MSM or if it does it is made light of or watered down by the likes of Mr. Baldrey. The insinuation that anyone who blogs or utilizes another option to try and obtain truth must be radical or of less regard is insulting to say the least and further drives these notions home.
    I am one who chose to blog after spending many nights being insulted by MSM when I could find news but more so by no delivery when I knew news should be given but wasn't.
    Mr Baldrey's example of Craig James is just another sign of the public's reaction to more corruption, not so much the man himself. It is how he was placed and his activity since that placement that leads to harsh response from the public. They are just tired of being manipulated and lied to and any instance of it now brings anger. I don't see this as a major change in peoples values or morals I see it as people reacting to so many years of corrupt governance and bias media.

  9. I will plant myself on the fence on this, on a whole bunch of fronts.

    1) Public officials get threatened, and it's not just the mucky mucks like Craig James. In fact, it's usually the front-line staff. Ask anyone who works for the ministry that delivers social assistance. Ask any front-line staff for any MLA. They have regular visits from the local constabulary to deal with people who have gone from being unhappy to being completely unreasonable. With all that to bear, I think it's totally cricket for Craig James to complain and it's totally cricket for media types to raise the problem of "uncivil discourse."

    2) When an issue that has become as heated as the HST becomes a cudgel in the hands of a populist/rabble rouser like Chris Delaney, people start taking the cause seriously. When James made his totally off-base ruling to disqualify the first recall application, and Delaney sent his 'let em know how you feel' email out to supporters, there was bound to be some problems to arise. When you work people into a lather and send them off in one direction - as Delaney (primarily) did, the results can be pretty fiery.

    3) There is a growing resentment among average folks out there who feel that they're not being heard. For good reason. If there are people who are, for whatever reason, prone to violence or unable to control their tempers, having another example of the establishment rubbing their disenfranchisement in their faces can be the last straw. However, Baldrey's 'what's all this a feudin and a fightin' comment is only going to make matters worse. He is part of the establishment, and the establishment - government, corporations, 'special interests' (gawd I loathe that term), and the media - had better start to take notice before the Bastille really and truly does get stormed.

    4) Baldrey does what cowards do in this instance: resorts to the 'some people' tack. You know and I know that there are bloggers who are completely unreasonable. We've had that conversation before. But rather than man up and identify the ones he thinks are causing the problem, he takes the coward's way out and smears all of you.

    If I were a teacher, I'd give Baldrey's piece a D+. A bare passing grade. It's fair to say there is a problem with civility. But there's so much information that he didn't even consider that it makes the piece barely useful.

  10. Tony, your comment is much appreciated and you are correct in your analysis. It is never appropriate or helpful to get uncontrollably angry, particularly against people who are doing a job according to their understanding of its requirements. Even my piece about Baldrey should not be taken as a personal attack on a person who is well regarded in his profession.

    I understand how media folks can be captured by the world they work in and their own judgment becomes clouded, too shaped by custom and friendship. They become insular, defensive, reject criticism, reinforce and defend each other in the face of harsh criticism. I have seen it with countless groups, wherever people work together. It is one of the reasons that newspapers used to employ an 'ombudsman'to listen to reader complaints, consider them and negotiate responses. The trouble with that is nobody wanted an associate being critical. Most papers dropped the position and a few that lingered on became nothing more than defenders of their employers.

    However, I try to encourage debate and discussion here that always remains civil. I think we are largely successful and if you read through reader comments on this and other articles today at Northern Insights, they make positive contributions to dialog. It is the kind of thing we used to be able to do with 'letters to the editor' but Postmedia and Canwest before them will not allow certain subjects to be raised by readers and they mostly allow only columnists and op-ed writers who reflect the papers established positions. They don't want to create debate, they want to sell a line.

  11. Baldrey, was he the "yes man" who was chosen to "cover" the story of the BC Ferry that ran aground and sank.



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