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Rivers: Is there a War on the Free Press

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

October 21st, 2018

BURLINGTON, ON

“Here’s the smell of blood still. Not all the sweet perfumes of Arabia will sweeten this hand,” (Macbeth)

David Frum

David Frum – his Mother, Barbara Frum was a leading CBC broadcaster was a former speech writer for President George Bush and is now the editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

If only our own David Frum was still writing speeches for the US president, the new axis of evil might include Vlad, Kim and MBS (Mohamed bin Salman). But then Trump would have to be their apprentice, a role for which he has been rehearsing all his life.

If it was a fist fight that took the life of Jamal Khashoggi then why did MBS’s 15 men hit squad bring a bone saw as they flew in that morning to the party with him in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Islamic sharia law usually requires the courts to decide before amputating body parts and decapitation, and that is usually reserved for serious crimes like stealing food when you’re hungry or apostasy (renunciation of the faith). I guess MBS wasn’t aware that the best way to quiet a journalist is to damn him/her with faint praise.

Trump’s response says scads about him and his tribe at the outer right end of American politics. Former Baptist tele-evangelist and presidential hopeful Pat Robertson summed it up… “You don’t blow up an international alliance over one person, I’m sorry”. It is nice to see the great religions of the world finally aligning their stars.”

Khashoggi,

Jamal Khashoggi – slain inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey

But religion wasn’t why MBS assassinated Mr Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and American resident. He did it to send a message to anyone else thinking of criticizing him. And there is precedence – there is nothing new about dictators deposing and disposing of those who dare to criticize. Vlad gets away with it, as does Kim, and the Iranians and now MBS. Trump would really like to be able to exercise that divine right of tyrants as well, but that might be a bridge too far, even for the GOP (Republican) lap dogs who control his US congress.

So he does the next best thing. He belittles those in the mainstream media who have the temerity to believe it is their job to point out his inconsistencies and lies. Trump labels them all as fake news. He even goes further on occasion, recently praising a Montana political candidate for body-slamming a reporter who had the audacity to question GOP policy on health care. So why would Trump give a rat’s ass about some Muslim immigrant columnist working for the news outlet (Washington Post) he most despises?

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi is part of a dangerous global trend towards stifling the movement for democracy. Democracy does not function in a vacuum. News is the substance that helps us select our electoral picks. And we expect our news to be factual and true. But the truth doesn’t always seem fair. Nevertheless, the 1949 Fairness Doctrine in the US was intended to ensure that media remained balanced and objective in their reporting, at least until president Reagan scratched it off the law books.

Newspaper - person reading

We are to a large degree what we read.

We become what we read. If our standard read is the Toronto Sun we will ultimately hold views on key issues in conflict with someone who reads the Star.

And who can afford the time to read both papers. So the more divergent various media choose to make their stories, the more polarization we see in our society and in our voting trends. That is particularly important if you live in a one-paper town.

Facebook and Twitter are even more problematic since they are unedited. Anyone can write just about anything and make it sound like it’s the gospel. We once thought that social media had been intended primarily for family pics and that sort of thing. But thanks to the universality of the internet, social media has been effective at melding attitudes and changing voting patterns. For example social media was believed to have played a big role in the elections of Obama and Trudeau.

Last year there were 81 reporters killed across the globe and 250 were imprisoned for doing what they were supposed to do, keeping us informed. And that was the lowest number of deaths in a decade, down from 93 the previous year. Mr. Khashoggi wasn’t a reporter in a war zone and his death wasn’t collateral. But to brush off his death as Trump is doing is unconscionable, even for him.

Trump on Khashoggi,

President Donald Trump defending his position on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,

Trump is not the first politician to be challenged by a critical media and to shun and avoid them. Stephen Harper disdained the Ottawa media and sought to get his story out while largely ignoring them. At the provincial level Mr. Ford has taken his cue from Harper and set up his own news network.

In fact there are times when we do see media harassment. For example, the ultra-right Rebel media kept referring to Canada’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, by the moniker ‘climate Barbie’ until she cleared the air with them. This was clearly a blatant attempt to humiliate the minister and to denigrate whatever she did as some kind of child’s play.

Recently the Burlington Gazette was banned from Council meetings and city property on some unsubstantiated charges of harassment. Fortunately the on-going cable video link allows the formal proceedings to be observed, though the real news happens, too often, behind closed doors.

What are we to think about democracy in this city? Is it possible that the Gazette’s publisher was being punished for once referring to Burlington’s mayor as ‘climate Ken’ or ‘development Rick’? But at least Mr. Parr isn’t being chased by 15 Saudi hit-men armed with a bone saw.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Trump supports Assault –    Reporter Deaths –     Khashoggi’s Last Post –   Khashoggi’s 9/11

Pat Robertson –   Climate Barbie

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8 comments to Rivers: Is there a War on the Free Press

  • Stephen White

    Quality journalism is vital to our democratic society and the institutions we uphold. Good journalism requires not just superb writing skills but also investigative research, the ability to ask incisive questions, analytical skills, and the ability to discern facts from opinion.

    Unfortunately, the value of journalism has been “dumbed down” in recent years due to several factors. One is the prevalence of social media where anyone who Tweets inane nonsense is labelled a “reporter”. The second is the fixation on ratings by corporate media empires which has resulted in a preoccupation with appearance while sacrificing in depth coverage and profundity. The third is the blurring of the lines between news reporting and opinion. Both CNN and Fox News are hugely culpable on this last point, but other media organizations on both the political right and left are also at fault. Good reporting requires reporters to suspend their biases, even temporarily, in the performance of their duties.

    There are a handful of quality reporters today who meet the standard of excellence one might expect. Rex Murphy and Andrew Coyne are two that come to mind. Years ago I would have added Peter Desbarats, Peter Trueman, Eric Sevareid, Walter Cronkite and one or two others to that list. Unfortunately, they are all part of a dying breed.

  • D.Duck

    Just when you I believe you are writing a thoughtful and insightful piece on free speech, perils of Autocratic dictatorship and social media manipulation you have to ruin it with your constant put down of the Conservative and Holier than Though elevation of the Liberals.

    “Stephen Harper disdained the Ottawa media and sought to get his story out while largely ignoring them. At the provincial level Mr. Ford has taken his cue from Harper and set up his own news network.”

    Chretien was no Saint (remember Shawinigate) and Wynne’s Autocratic and arrogance belies her underlying Personality Disorder.

    All political parties have arses in them. Thinking that your Liberal political party’s does not smell is just naive and ruins some of your fine journalistic articles.

  • Ray Rivers

    Mr. Wooster – I am liberal. Still, I’d like to see an example of where I “shape the facts to fit [my] conclusion”. That is a very serious allegation of intellectual dishonesty.

  • Collin

    Philip, Ray’s column is clearly an opinion piece. He’s allowed to state his opinions. He gives us a lot of facts too. Is there anything in dispute about the facts he prints on Khashoggi?

  • Hans J

    Very well said Phillip!

  • Hans

    Apparently there are people at city hall who, to quote a line from a movie, “can’t handle the truth”. Hopefully that will change in a few days.

  • Phllip Wooster

    The “free press”, once upon a time, used to REPORT the news–a largely factual event. Now the “news” is shaped–CNN, often referred to as the Clinton News Network, starts with the perspective that Democrats are divine and Trump is evil whereas Fox News starts with the opposite point-of-view. And here in Ontario, the scenario is no different–the Toronto (Red) Star decries anything that Premier Ford does while the Toronto Sun takes the exact opposite position. And Ray, you are no different–Liberal good/Conservative bad and then you shape the facts to fit your conclusion. In this world, it is any wonder that there is little to no respect for journalists? Politicians play the politics of division and identity–these news media merely enable them.