A blog on media, ideas and life

American horror story?

“What is it like to be a journalist in the middle of a Donald Trump rally?” asked Linda Steele. “We are about to find out.”

The segment was posted June 16 and we are still waiting. It’s no pound sterling pre-Brexit cliffhanger, but it was a lead up that led nowhere. We never found out. 

And this is because the “journalist” and political correspondent CKNW had on wasn’t really a journalist in the way that it counts: objective, impartial, unbiased. Jared Sexton Yates penned an article titled ‘American Horror Story‘ – that’s the first clue. Pair it with his equally dramatic stream of live tweeting from the front, and you have a descriptive opinion piece by a writer who witnessed a series of unfortunate events knew he wouldn’t like even before he showed up.

To his credit, the piece was published in The New Republic, an opinion journal. But that’s not Yates Sexton’s regular stomping ground for anti-Trump tantrums. He writes prolifically for the Atticus Review, an online publication that is “decidedly left on social issues,” fictional in nature and boasts the tagline “six degrees left of literature.” Steele did sort of get the political correspondent piece right: Yates Sexton has written 47 posts and counting, many of which focus on the U.S. election in a style that’s heavy on the politics and light on the correspondence. (In one, he calls Ted Cruz a “rat fink asshole” and celebrates the fact that his bid for the republican nomination ultimately saw him “sent to crawl back under whatever piece of shit rock he emerged from in the first place.” Ouch.) 

If that’s not enough, Yates Sexton is also an assistant professor of creative writing. Not that journalists can’t publish novels, or have their own political leanings. But if a journalist isn’t going to leave their political pets at the door, the elephant in the room – or the donkey – should be fully acknowledged. Rhetoric and politics should be labeled as such. Yates Sexton is of course freely entitled to his views, and to voice them, but Linda Steele’s interview and the accompanying CKNW web piece failed to warn listeners and readers that the show’s next guest was decidedly biased, and that’s a big issue.

This isn’t a post in defense of Trump. It’s an offensive against the real (North) American “horror story”: the extensive sloppy, sensationalized and unashamedly biased media coverage of the U.S. election. 

The truth is that Trump does a fine job telling the world his thoughts on Islam, homosexuality, immigration and women. At the start, media had a choice to challenge those ideas and cover him seriously, or to not cover him at all. Some outlets chose the latter, most chose the former, and now the time to reassess those choices has passed. Trump’s candidacy turned global media into insatiable distributors of the greatest reality show the world has ever seen. Those who oppose it come across as biased. Those who subtly or explicitly voice their bias end up reaffirming Trump as a leading voice on any and every issue – including Brexit.

This is what’s wrong with CKNW’s segment with Yates Sexton. It’s clearly anti-Trump, but covers Trump in a way that won’t sway his supporters, will increasingly agitate his opponents and will keep Trump in the headlines. Any new information that was introduced was tainted by the bias of the person introducing it – I mean really, how do you expect a “progressive” writer to react to a Trump rally? – and to an electorate that can’t actually vote in this election anyway. Here’s the kicker: even if everything Yates Sexton reported was 100 per cent, objectively true (minus the qualifiers), the perception that it might not be speaks louder.

If you’re going to be biased, the boldest most biased act is to simply not cover Trump. But I guess cutting out the propaganda is bad for ratings.

To listen to Linda Steele’s interview, which includes hard-hitting questions such as what Trump supporters “were saying about gay people,” visit CKNW.

 

 

Monkey business casual

“Give me your shoe,” yelled the monkey.

“Ayeeeeeee eek eek,” I shrieked back. Nonsensical nonsense; monkey mumbo jumbo.

“I won’t ask you again,” he warned, tugging harder.

A garbled string of sounds was all I could muster. He seemed to understand.

“Fine,” he scoffed through a mouthful of sandal. He tossed me and my shoe out of his way and out of his mind.

Putting a stolen pair of glasses over his green amethyst eyes, he slowly ambled barefoot back into the jungle of Uluwatu.

Caal v. HudBay v. Ghomeshi

It never ceases to fascinate and irritate how it is that some trials and news items go viral, while others don’t. The stories that are sexy or salient enough demand our attention and hijack our watercooler talk; the rest, if they do make headlines, barely penetrate our day-to-day discourse. It’s some kind of viscous circle: the more we pay attention, the more content we get and the more content there is, the more we can consume. In the flawed democracy of the western media empire, we vote with our clicks, and the reality is that some news just makes for better bait.

The Ghomeshi trial is a strong example of this, same with any trial involving someone of celebrity. It would be encouraging if the hype and the coverage came from a remarkable mass interest in our legal system, but that’s not even the case: it’s just a continued fascination with celebrity. That and, in the case of Ghomeshi, a strong interest by a few and a general interest from many in women’s rights, feminism and the future of how sexual assault is treated and handled in Canada.

There’s another case underway in Ontario that bears no celebrity, but deserves the attention of those who wanted to see Ghomeshi be made an example of. It should also have the ire of the self-declared feminists who wanted the justice system to hold the accountable, accountable.

The ongoing case Caal v. HudBay Minerals Inc. involves a gang-rape of 11 women by mine security personnel, paramilitary and military forces during a forced expulsion of their community from ancestral lands. The plaintiffs are claiming that Skye Resources Inc., then the owner of the open-pit nickel mining operation – The Fenix Project – “was negligent in requesting and authorizing the forced evictions of [the community] without taking adequate and reasonable steps to guard against the use of violence by company security personnel during this eviction” (the full claim is available here). When HudBay merged with Skye Resources, it assumed its assets, responsibilities and liabilities, as would happen in any other merger.

This case is incredibly significant because it’s one of just a handful of times a case involving a Canadian company’s operations abroad have been brought forward to a Canadian court. Even more rare, it’s moving forward.

When in Guatemala last year, I visited mines operated by the subsidiary companies of Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources, respectively. Both have been mired in controversy. At the time, criminal proceedings were pending in Guatemala regarding a violent altercation between mine security personnel at the site operated by Tahoe’s subsidiary. A civil suit based on the same set of facts was also launched in B.C. In 2015, the B.C. Supreme Court declined to hear the lawsuit.

Jurisdiction was a major factor regarding Tahoe’s Canadian case. When it comes to “corporate social responsibility” in general, and the reach of Canadian law not only beyond state borders, but across the borders of other sovereign states, jurisdiction is everything. As a consequence, seeking justice, maintaining accountability and applying legislation becomes murky and complex.

HudBay’s case has already set precedent, and regardless of how it’s resolved, it will continue to set precedent with how the Canadian legal system handles the actions of Canadian corporations abroad. It also happens to be a very vivid case involving horrific instances of sexual assault. It’s not just a case of whether HudBay was liable and negligent: it’s also about Canada’s ability to hold its own corporations to account. The Canadian justice system’s strength and reach is on trial. Maybe we should pay it some attention.

The events that led to the case were overviewed by The New York Times recently, and the article is worth a read.

Raceish

To properly define racial privilege, we first must define race. We also need context, and to determine whether “privilege” in certain contexts is a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a product of that context.

The funny thing about race as a social construct is that it exists purely as a social construct. The more we feed it, or fragment it, the more it becomes a building block of society. Judging people by the colour of their skin, privileging certain groups over others, using unequal means to justify seemingly “equal” ends are all ways that place race – or gender, age, ability – at the centre of society. 

Call me an idealist, but my version of equality and a healthy, vibrant and functioning society is not one where decisions are made around race. But it’s not in vogue to craft our world around utopian ideals.

&

“If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether [it] has racial overtones.”

This is point number 36 on a 46-item checklist meant to “check” your white privilege. Some of the others include whether you have access to makeup that matches your skin tone, can find a hair stylist who can deal with your hair, whether you get audited, and that you can “expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of [your] race” (emphasis added for dramatic effect).

Putting aside that the article presumes that, in our increasingly globalized world, all people of a race share the same experiences, I would like to point out a disturbing lack of Ukrainian-Irish “experiences” in my Top 40 playlist and my choice of abstract art.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack was shared with me by a friend who was assigned to read it in a graduate program. It’s an opinion by an author whose work has been cited thousands of times (according to Google Scholar), yet actually cites no sources itself. It was also published in the late 80s and would be considered outdated, if it weren’t currently part of graduate-level curricula, or strongly similar to a lot of the rhetoric surrounding race relations in the U.S.

While it is just one person’s argument, it’s frightening that an opinion so one-sided, myopic and jaded is considered on its own healthy, challenging academic fodder. (Or maybe it is: it’s certainly challenging to read.)

The jist of it is that there are many “privileges” to being white in North America, and that you are not allowed to be okay with it. Whether “it” means privileged or white is irrelevant; they’re used fairly synonymously. The 46-point list itemizes the many things white people don’t have to concern themselves, something that results in privilege. 

The author laments that her schooling “gave [her] no training in seeing [her]self as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture.” Because apparently, anyone who is white – and especially anyone who is a white male – is not only an oppressor, but should actively and continuously be aware of their role as an oppressor.

I think it’s inaccurate to think that everyone who is not white and living in the U.S. actively wonders whether their “bad day” has racial overtones. Ironically enough, if you are a white male seeking a job at a workplace with a racial and gender diversity quota that needs to be met, I think you may actually wonder whether not getting hired did, in fact, have racial overtones. But for all the privileges white men may have, one they don’t seem to have in this day and age is the privilege to complain. So let’s move on.

I don’t think the points made in this article, or in the many articles and columns on this topic that have come out since, encourage equality, regardless of race or gender. In fact these sorts of contributions to the ongoing public dialogue on equality instead highlight race, and create greater divisiveness. Articles like this create victims and abusers, oppressors and the oppressed.

Having access to makeup that matches one’s skin tone and being able to easily find a hair stylist that can deal with one’s hair have nothing to do with privilege. If I go to South Sudan, or Uruguay, and I can’t find the products or services I need, I wouldn’t say that either of those make me oppressed. I also wouldn’t argue that someone who has a low income is oppressed either, unless they live in a society that consistently denies that person employment, loans and assistance because of who they are or how they look.

The above is illegal in Canada and the U.S. It is illegal to pay a women less than a man would get paid for the same position, and it’s illegal to deny someone employment, or to pull them over, based on the colour of their skin. Society can’t force any individual to not hold views that are racist or sexist, but as members of that society we can ensure that we help create a system that does not promote or enforce either. 

Articles that slam “whites” as oppressors (because you know, we’re all the same) and quizzes like Buzzfeed’s ‘How privileged are you?‘ (I’m at 66) just exacerbate our differences, and get us nowhere.

Ghomeshi: it’s all the rage

In the court of public opinion, everyone is guilty. But then again, everything we see is framed, subjective, slanted, opinionated and edited. We draw limited conclusions based on limited facts.

The hype surrounding certain trials echoes the hype of movies: even before the ending, we have the good guys, the bad guys and deeply set expectations about how things should be. Have you ever see a romance where love doesn’t conquer all? Where the best friends don’t get together in the end, or after a life’s worth of challenges, the married couple don’t just get a divorce, but hate each other and part ways never to speak again? It’s gut-wrenching. When things don’t go the way we expect them to go – the way we think they should go – you get a really bad movie or an award-winning one that leaves you feeling depressed.

Expectations set the stage for everything. We all have 20/20 vision in hindsight, and when we expect something to happen, regardless of whether we end up being right or wrong, every event leading up to the ending becomes just another nail in the coffin of why the whole production was doomed from the start. Doomed to either meet our expectations, or doomed to miss them, much to our moral outrage.

This way of thinking is fine for story arcs and plot development, but it’s a cognitive bias that affects our ability to interpret and make sense of the world.

I didn’t want to weigh in on the Ghomeshi trial, but it’s all the rage right now.

I couldn’t make it through this Buzzfeed article, which asks you to: “cut off friends who think those women lied, lecture your parents if they don’t understand rape culture, talk to your co-workers about this flaming dog-shit day and how it could happen to any of you.” The Vancouver Sun ran an opinion piece by a victim services worker at WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre who lamented the verdict and how flawed the Canadian justice system is. Maclean’s ran one titled “Jian Ghomeshi: How he got away with it“. The National Observer calls Ghomeshi cowardly and claims the Crown has a lot to answer for in two separate stories.

Ghomeshi was found not guilty, and no one, not even our “objective” media sources, seems willing to accept that. I’m not sure it’s their job to: everything should be challenged and everything should be criticized. But what I’m reading is very one-sided challenges about how what happened was a failure on two main counts: it was a failure for women, and it was a failure of our Canadian justice system.

Whether the Canadian justice system failed depends entirely on one’s perspective. To call it a failure also means one must have had expectations about what should have happened, about what the “right” results should have been.

Articles are charging how the women represented by the prosecution were victimized, blamed and treatly poorly by the judge, as well as the system at large. Journalists and pundits have questioned the relevance of picking apart the victims’ testimonies, and whether inaccuracies and conflicting statements should have been disregarded. It seems Canada wanted Ghomeshi tried on the basis that several women came forward to explain in detail how he sexually assaulted them, and have that, be that. 

Our objectivity is limited by the fact that we aren’t gods: we can’t know whether someone lied, we don’t have omniscience, we don’t know facts that aren’t presented to us. The best shot we have at it is through our justice system, and even that relies on what is permissible in court, and on our ability as humans to advocate, to listen, to judge. By nature, the Canadian justice system is flawed.

So putting morality aside, inaccuracies in testimony are relevant. As is consistency, as is honesty and the appearance of honesty, because as people we really have no way to tell the difference. 

Anyone, male or female, who is assaulted, sexually or otherwise, deserves the opportunity to legally seek restitution. Morally, they deserve justice, and closure. 

Everyone, male or female, also deserves a fair trial, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, in the court of law. That doesn’t apply to the court of public opinion, and it’s something our historic guardians of that court – our objective media outlets – seem to disregard too. No, the press doesn’t label someone as guilty before a verdict; there are laws against that. But in how they cover trials and from whom they seek “expert opinions”, their biases come out to play.

Very few people disagree that sexual assault is wrong. But I think we’re collectively confusing Ghomeshi’s verdict with whether the Canadian justice system in practice considers sexual assault to be wrong. It doesn’t, and there is proof of that. The issue, if you believe that there is one, is that there wasn’t enough evidence for a judge to conclusively charge and sentence a man for actions that, based on the evidence, cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

This issue is evident when the judge’s verdict is read in full, rather than skimmed and cherry-picked for headline-worthy quotes. In fact, I think it’s quite considerate of the fact that the justice system relies on evidence, and that while there were inconsistencies and contradictions in the victims’ testimony, that that doesn’t mean the events did not happen. It wasn’t a 500-word article that victimized women, it was a careful judgement of what was presented at trial. This wasn’t a case about whether the system needs to change to accommodate situations that naturally result in little available evidence. This was a trial about whether a man could be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, as goes any trial in any criminal court in Canada. 

Regardless, it doesn’t matter. Ghomeshi may have been found not guilty, but that doesn’t hold true in the court of public opinion. Many “self-appointed judges” have picked up the perceived slack, and where our real court may have “failed”, our merciless and expectant public trials will continue until some version of a moral ending is achieved.

The big disaster of 2016

Ready your rain boots and clever weather portmanteaus: there’s an environmental apocalypse coming and no, it’s not snowmageddon or #blizzard2016.

Last year was the hottest year on record, and even though 2015 hosted historic climate talks, scientists say the results are not enough to stymie warming at 2 degrees Celsius a year, widely acknowledged as “the goal for preventing a climate catastrophe.” Those living on the Pacific Islands are facing permanent relocation, along with the literal washing away of their traditions, cultures and lifestyles due to rising sea levels. Findings out of Davos last week pointed out that every minute, a garbage truck of plastic is emptied into the ocean. Times that number by four and welcome to 2050, where plastic in our oceans outweighs fish. Add in drought, fresh water scarcity, the upheaval of vital ecosystems in the Arctic and we are still just scratching the surface. 

So where are our concerns for #maldives2085, or #ArcticNow? We may not see it every minute of every day, depending on your vantage point, but the consequences of exploiting the planet for centuries are here, and will continue to happen in big, irreversible and largely foreseeable ways. 

In order to give citizens the ability to inform themselves during the 30 inches of snow that struck Maryland City recently, “multiple newsrooms in cities bearing the brunt of the storm allowed readers to browse an unlimited amount of content without asking for a credit card number.” I support The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun in their decision to temporarily lower their paywalls. But there is a hard limit to how much weather-related news can be consumed before it morphs into Snowzilla fanfare, and that limit arrives long before “unlimited”. Unless readers are starved for something to do, endless content – which includes the features, and feel good stories, and Instagram snaps – decreases in relevance as it increases in prominence and en masse. It loses newsworthiness too as we mourn our losses and find people to blame and eventually, move on to the next American environmental disaster.

There exists a Doomsday Clock, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has it set at three minutes to midnight. What has it wound so tightly are insufficient attempts to address the coming impacts of climate change. (That, and general nuclear armament.) 

Why don’t we address the slow-to-boil crises that are starting to boil with the alarm we bring to other-than-average American winters? If newspapers owe their readers information in times of crises, and have a responsibility to act in the public interest, why isn’t there more accessible coverage of the ever-pressing, shocking and global environmental crises of the 21st century (accessible in understanding, in prominence, for free)?

In this globalized world we all contribute to everything. But the biggest contribution, the one that needs to change and is arguably the easiest to change, is how and where we divert our attention. Unfortunately for the environment, that attention seems directed more at extreme weather than extremism in our environmental choices and behaviours. And ironically, that’s what leaves us with #snowmygod, gawking and tweeting at the effects of ignoring, minimizing or challenging the cause.