Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, May 19, 2006

National Post is a Disgrace

Update (May 24): Follow-up post to this one is here.

As you may have heard, the National Post ran a front page cover story today on how Iran had introduced a law requiring religious minorities to wear coloured badges identifying their religious status. This is a very provocative claim, as such an action would be very reminiscent of Nazi Germany's actions towards the Jews and we all know where that led.

I'd link to the online version of the story, but the National Post has removed it from their website (for now you can see a copy of it here) Instead, they have this story, which basically admits that their first story was all lies, without actually apologizing at all.

As longtime readers know, I'm no fan of the National Post. But while I have come to expect slanted coverage from them, I never expected, and am in fact shocked, that they have declined to this level of unethical behavior and incompetence. Given the current political climate, the National Post knows that a story of this nature could make (at least make part of) the difference between war and peace, and as a result, life and death for many people. With so much on the line, with the huge prominence given the story on the front page of the paper, and with the point of fact in question being so (relatively) easy to verify, these lies from the National Post rank, in my view, as about as big a breach of trust and violation of the public interest as it is possible for a newspaper to make.

Frankly, I am disgusted.

And I'm not very impressed by Stephen Harper either:
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quick to condemn Iran on Friday for an anti-Semitic law that appears not to exist.

Harper seized on a newspaper report that said Iran's hardline government would require Jews and Christians to wear coloured labels in public.

The prime minister couldn't vouch for the accuracy of the newspaper report, but he added that Iran was capable of such actions and compared them to Nazi practices.

"Unfortunately, we've seen enough already from the Iranian regime to suggest that it is very capable of this kind of action," Harper said.

"We've seen a number of things from the Iranian regime that are along these lines . . .

"It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the Earth would want to do anything that could remind people of Nazi Germany."


Maybe it's just me, but I'd prefer to have a national leader who doesn't go spouting off about how awful foreign countries are based on rumours. I know how I'd feel if some foreign newspaper ran a false story like that about Canada, and that country's leader said he didn't know whether it was true or not but it was the kind of Nazi-esque thing that Canada had shown itself capable of, and his mind was boggled that Canadians would want to act like a bunch of Nazis. And I'd damn well expect an apology once the story had been shown to be false.

The National Post needs to run a front page retraction and apology in the same font that they ran their initial story. Anything less will confirm that they place their right-wing pro-war agenda ahead of the truth and ahead of any semblance of journalistic ethics.

------
Credit to the Canadian Cynic (here and here), POGGE, and Liberal Catnip for following this story and providing links. My post title is also pretty much the same as Liberal Catnip's, but honestly, it is the only title that is appropriate in this situation.

Update: Antonia does a good job pulling all the pieces together on her blog here.

15 Comments:

  • Well...
    I never saw the NP dead-tree edition, but when I heard about the story on line my reaction was 'you've got to be freaking kidding me' - but seeing as it was in a reputable paper (irrespective of your opinion, Declan), I was very concerned. On the one hand, I am very glad to learn that it was not true; at the same time, I am very disappointed in the NP for running with a story that they (obviously) had not fact checked very well (okay, some might say; "not fact checked at all"). As for the NP's alleged "pro-war agenda" and running a story that "might make the difference between war and peace" - well, I think you overestimate the importance of the NP in Canada somewhat, and of Canada in the wider world greatly.

    If this pisses off the mullahs - well, I can live with that. When they apologize for torturing a Canadian journalist to death, perhaps Harper should apologize for believing one.

    By Blogger deaner, at 11:20 PM  

  • I don't like being fooled and misled - especially when I pass the news along on my own site. The National Post has now dropped down to the credibility of the Toronto Star in my eyes..... and for reference, that's just about "Tabloid" status.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 6:41 AM  

  • deaner, you say "As for the NP's alleged "pro-war agenda" and running a story that "might make the difference between war and peace" - well, I think you overestimate the importance of the NP in Canada somewhat, and of Canada in the wider world greatly."

    First of all, you didn't quote Declan properly. Second, the despicable Rush Limbaugh jumped all over this story and reported it as fact. See the cascading effect here? In 2005 Rush had between 14 and 20 million listeners per week. I think it's unfortunately reasonable (conservative?) to assume that there are millions of people in North America who now fully believe that story. Those millions of people won't voice a single word of objection, in fact, will probably nod approvingly, when the States decides to bomb the crap out of Iran. After all, it's the moral thing to do, to prevent another holocaust!

    By Blogger Simon, at 8:17 AM  

  • "but seeing as it was in a reputable paper (irrespective of your opinion, Declan), I was very concerned"

    I was concerned too, I thought I made it clear in my post that, while I don't like NP, I thought they were above this kind of thing (i.e. reputable).

    "I think you overestimate the importance of the NP in Canada somewhat"

    Maybe, but this story was picked up all over the world, and certainly world opinion could play a big role in determining the outcome of the Iran 'crisis'.

    Clearly, those who support military action disagree with you, otherwise why would they be so eager to pick up on and magnify any story which might make Iran look like an immediate threat which must be stopped.

    "When they apologize for torturing a Canadian journalist to death, perhaps Harper should apologize for believing one."

    I am no fan of the Iranian government, but I hold our own to a higher standard. Also, this kind of irresponsible reporting and language from out PM only strengthens the hand of the regressive elements in Iran.

    Andrew - I've always considered the Star one of the most reliable newspapers in Canada when it comes to facts. Can you explain why their credibility is so low in your eyes?

    Simon - agreed.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:24 AM  

  • One more note with respect to "the NP's alleged 'pro-war agenda'", I see that, even in light of yesterday's debacle, the Post stil has their 'Is Iran turning into the new Nazi Germany' soundoff page up.

    But yeah, no evidence that they are pushing for war.

    By Blogger Declan, at 2:38 PM  

  • "...otherwise why would they be so eager to pick up on and magnify any story which might make Iran look like an immediate threat which must be stopped."

    It seems that you give no thought to the notion that if true this was a pretty big story, no matter which country was involved. If this had been -say- Mexico or Saudi Arabia I have no doubt that the media would have picked up on it every bit as quickly and distributed it just as widely; anything that echoes of holocaust, particularly as strongly as distinctive clothing or public identification by religion, is going to cause a stir. Sure, it got picked up in all sorts of places; in less than four hours it was questioned, and in less than eight hours it was repudiated.

    I think you (and Simon) underestimate the ability of the public to understand and assimilate a correction or retraction - even among right-wing neanderthals. So what if the webpage dealing with the issue is still up? - the alternative is to take it down entirely which destroys the reference value, and plays into various conspiracy theories. As it is, we have a record of the original report, the reaction to it, and the response wen it was shown to be false; I wouldn't mind if all institutional screw-ups were as openly and fully documented.

    By Blogger deaner, at 3:41 PM  

  • "It seems that you give no thought to the notion that if true this was a pretty big story, no matter which country was involved. If this had been -say- Mexico or Saudi Arabia I have no doubt that the media would have picked up on it every bit as quickly and distributed it just as widely;"

    But it's *not* true. That is the whole point. Nobody is questioning whether people should have condemened this action - if it was true. I am questioning how this story got printed - why it happened to be Iran this false story got printed about. Why people rushed to uncritically accept this story without waiting for confirmation.

    I don't see the media making up stories about Egypt or Mexico, do you? Just a coincidence the country they are making them up about happens to be the one the Republicans is trumping up as a big threat to help their electoral chances? (see the link to Azerbic for some background on the genesis of the story, it leads back to some of the same sources as false information for the Iraq war).

    "the alternative is to take it down entirely which destroys the reference value, and plays into various conspiracy theories"

    The Post did take down their initial story which was incorrect. What they left up - without any correction or notice - was their discussion about the implications of their untrue story - all the comments people made based on their lies. Do you think that, given that yesterday's story was false, it is appropriate for a newspaper do be holding discussions asking if Iran is the same as Nazi Germany? Do you see them asking this question about Egypt or Mexico?

    "I think you (and Simon) underestimate the ability of the public to understand and assimilate a correction or retraction"

    Yeah, the public has perfect comprehension of Ahmadinejad's plan to 'wipe Israel off the map' or on his role in the Iranian government, or about Iran in general.

    Do you really think that everybody who saw the National Post's cover story or one of the follow-on reports is gong to be made aware of the error - especially when the Post itself and many of the other outlets which picked up the story are not running corrections, or are doing so in a much less prominent location.

    Check out *today's* New York Post (circulation > 400,000) editorial

    But, of course, the fact that the story was debunked almost immediately will lessen it's impact - the story being wrong was (presumably) not part of the NP's plan.

    But you are missing the point of my post. Which was that for something this important (as you yourself say it is) fact-checking is even that much more important than it usually is. You seem to be arguing that what the Post did wasn't such a big deal because other people caught their lies quickly.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:37 PM  

  • "You seem to be arguing that what the Post did wasn't such a big deal because other people caught their lies quickly."

    No - I am assuming that it was not a lie - it was a mistake. No doubt, a big one; and no question, the Post screwed up badly and their fact-checking (or lack thereof) was deplorable; for at least a good long time, and possibly permanently, it will devalue them as a news source - which may mean the end of the newspaper. That's fine - Schumpeter and all - although I regret that we will be left with the Globe as Toronto's National Newspaper. I am just not ready to assume malign intent - just as I do not assume malign intent with the Globe's story on the Liberal leadership candidates' bilingualism scores. People fuck up, even without it being a conspiracy to prepare for war.

    By Blogger deaner, at 8:59 PM  

  • I don't think he's indicting the country based on a single newspaper story, as you suggest. Iran isn't exactly a tolerant place, as can be seen by President Ahmadinejad's calls to destroy Israel, to get rid of liberalism, etc. Note that tolerance and free speech are -oh, yeah, I remember now - liberal (small-l) values.
    Cheers
    Lecentre
    Centrerion Canadian Politics

    By Blogger lecentre, at 10:07 AM  

  • "I am just not ready to assume malign intent"

    Fair enough. I'm not really suggesting malign intent either. But at the same time, I think it is reflective of the Post's eagerness to trump up Iran as a threat that they happened to make this particular error. They were just a little more willing to go with questionable sources, and a little less patient to take the time to check the story out completely. And just a little too willing to believe that Iran would do something like this, which in turn means they were believing a little too much the attempts to portray Iran as a neo-Nazi boogeyman.

    Some mistakes are simply errors, some are a combination of error and institutional bias.

    I think the Globe could have made the same mistake about any party. But I don't think the Post would have made this mistake about any country.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:42 AM  

  • lecentre - I appreciate you demonstrating my point about right-wing folks not having a good grasp of the Iranian situation, but I recommend saving the sarcasm for when you have a valid point.

    The fact that Iran's government isn't up to our standards of tolerance, free speech, etc. does not mean, as you seem to suggest, that it is impossible for our leader's rhetoric regarding them to go too far. And, contrary to what you suggest, Harper's remarks were clearly in reference to the news story. That's where the part about it boggling his mind that people would imitate Nazi Germany came from, as you might recall.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:47 AM  

  • "Some mistakes are simply errors, some are a combination of error and institutional bias."

    Yes - there is probably a little of both. Of course, without crawling inside Chris Wattie's head, we'll never know the exact proportions.

    By Blogger deaner, at 4:53 PM  

  • Just wanted to point out, deaner, that I don't think Wattie is the guy who decided to put the story on the front page with a screamer headline and a photo from Nazi Germany.

    By Anonymous famousringo, at 12:40 PM  

  • Famousringo - yes, you're right; someone at the Post would have to explain that. On the other hand, if I was in charge of composing the front page and was handed this story I would put it on the page in the same way - presumably the headline writers and page compositors are entitled to believe that the stories they are putting on the page are true. Believing that, would you put it on page A5 with the ads for jewellery stores and shoe sales with a headline like "New Iranian Dress Code?"

    By Blogger deaner, at 8:44 PM  

  • I'm no journalist, but I would think that ensuring the veracity of published articles is one of the functions performed by the editors.

    Probably just one of my naive, outdated preconceptions of how a newspaper ought to work.

    It's nice how they went digging for archival material when they found they had no other photos relating to the topic, isn't it?

    By Anonymous famousringo, at 1:15 AM  

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