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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why does Larry Cornies feel disquiet?

The following has been added after receiving a response from Larry Cornies. Some questioned why "I longed for the editors who once kept me safe." Some thought I was making a joke when I mentioned that "Larry Cornies was one of those editors" with whom I wished I was still working.

It was no joke. Larry was an excellent editor. This shows in his response.

The reason for my guessing is that this piece is more of blog post than a news report. Just as Larry revealed that he was guessing when he wrote that he was of "the opinion that, a few Sun Media columnists aside, most of the Canadian journalism fraternity is supportive of Wikileaks." Also, Larry's column itself left me guessing.

Following blog etiquette, I tried linking to all relevant places. Also, I made sure I tweeted on this post as I knew that would give Larry a chance to respond. Larry often sees my tweets. And Larry has made an excellent response.

One thing that comes through in Larry's comment is that Larry is a gentleman. But Larry did leave me with one lingering puzzle: Why would a man like Larry have respect for Ezra Levant because he has built a strong brand with a loyal following? (So?) I think Larry is simply being far too gracious. (That's another guess or opinion.) I find it hard to respect someone who, to borrow Larry's words, "should face some hard questions and, if warranted, prosecution" [when it comes to talk of assassinations.]

And yes, I still have my copy of The Free Press Style Guide. I should use it more often (as should The Free Press.) Larry and I both recall the days when the paper would have had a style guide recommendation for spelling WikiLeaks. Today the paper runs it both ways.

Here's wishing Larry a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Cheers!
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Saturday I read Larry Cornies' column in The London Free Press and I was left puzzled. Cornies confided in us that on the WikiLeaks story he "felt decidedly out of step." He suffered the disquiet that comes from sitting "on the other side of the fence from everyone else."

Cornies wrote:

"Canadian journalists and their employers have been among the site's supporters, at least philosophically. The collection of information, its contextualization and distribution to audiences is, in large measure, what journalism has been about for centuries. To that extent, it's understandable that news organizations and individual journalists have largely been in WikiLeaks' corner."
Ezra Levant

Cornies tells us that this is where his feeling of disquiet comes in. I want to tell Cornies to take a deep breath and relax. I'm not sure where Canadian journalists stand, nor do I know what position their employers are taking, but I do know that the media giant for whom Cornies is writing does not appear to be in the WikiLeaks and Julian Assange corner.

Back in October Pierre Karl Péladeau, President and CEO of Quebecor Inc., Quebecor Media Inc. and Sun Media Corporation, proudly announced that he was very pleased to have Ezra Levant join the hard news, straight talk Sun TV News team. "Ezra isn't afraid to challenge conventional wisdom," Péladeau said.

The Quebecor press release reminds us Levant first started writing for the Calgary Sun in 1995. I think it is fair to say that after 15 years of being in bed together, so to speak, hiring Levant for such a prominent position shows support for Levant and his views by Sun Media and Quebecor.

Levant recently wrote the following in his Sun Media column:

"Why isn’t Julian Assange dead yet? . . . Why is Assange still alive? . . .

Assange and his colleagues act like spies, not journalists. WikiLeaks could have its assets seized, just like the Taliban has. And U.S. President Barack Obama could do what he’s doing to the Taliban throughout the world. He doesn’t sue them or catch them. He kills them. Because it’s war. Obama has even ordered the assassination of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki.

How does Obama see Assange any differently?"

I took a quick cruise around the Web and discovered that Levant isn't alone at Sun Media in damning Assange. For instance, Sun Media columnist Michael Den Tandt wrote:

"Assange is the e-version of the anarchists who ripped up downtown Toronto last summer. Smart guy, handy with computers, perhaps stuffed in one too many lockers in high school. Out for revenge. That's it."

Although I did find some opposing viewpoints among Sun writers. Michael Harris of the Ottawa Sun wrote:

"The New York Times, for example, was the Julian Assange of the Vietnam War era. When the matter came before the U.S. Supreme Court, here’s what the judges concluded: 'Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.'

The man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, had this to say about the WikiLeaks affair: 'Powerful forces in America who thrive on secrecy are trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.'

In Canada, the RCMP tried to do the same thing to journalist Juliet O’Neill, invoking the Security of Information Act to ransack her house, and carry off her notes and even the hard-drive from her computer in their efforts to identify an internal leak. Ten months later, the legal process began that ultimately saw parts of the act struck down by the Ontario Superior Court and O’Neill’s material returned.

Assange is facing now exactly what faced Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers, Katherine Gun with documents about the Iraq War, and former ambassador Craig Murray when he informed the U.K. government that Britain was condoning torture in Uzbekistan.

It’s called blackening the messenger.

In the Assange case, the shrill calls for charges, prison and even death for the founder of WikiLeaks are much better to talk about than the substance of the leaked diplomatic cables: U.S. companies holding little boy sex parties in the Afghan desert; Britain letting the Lockerbie bomber go because it feared reprisals from Libya if the bomber died in a Scottish jail; British bureaucrats telling the U.S. not to worry about what their own prime minister was saying about nuclear submarines; Americans killing Yemeni civilians and allowing the government of Yemen to take the blame."

Personally, I find Levant's support for assassination, for murder, repugnant. I agree with those like Glenn Greenwald who wrote in Salon:

The way in which so many political commentators so routinely and casually call for the eradication of human beings without a shred of due process is nothing short of demented.


Dan Gardner, writing in theThe Ottawa Citizen, said Levant was advocating "Mafia tactics."

I just cannot understand why Cornies believes his stance leaves him "lonely." Cornies is in step with Sun Media, Canada's largest newspaper publisher. Cornies is sitting with quite the crowd on his side of the fence; He is sitting with possibly the bulk of the Sun Media columnists. He should relax.

But maybe, just maybe, he can't and it's his own personal and very strong moral principles that are making him squeamish. Maybe it's the crowd — Ezra Levant, et al. — that Cornies is now hanging out with that's responsible for his feelings of disquiet. I don't know. I'm just guessing.

I recall when Cornies worked at The London Free Press some years ago and the paper suffered its first strike by the editorial department, Cornies crossed the line. He endured the cries of scab thundering from his co-workers. I chatted with Cornies about his decision and he talked about morality and duty and the truly hard choices one is sometimes forced to make. Cornies was out of step during the strike. Whether he was right or wrong is not my point, he was out of step, and yet he was strong and secure in his position.

Cornies appears to be in step with Sun Media, with Quebecor, and therefore with a majority of Canadian newspapers. Maybe, just maybe, being in step with the likes of Ezra Levant makes Cornies feel uncomfortable. Just suggesting.

Oh, and one other thing that surprised me, Cornies spelled WikiLeaks without capitalizing the "L". Michael Harris got it right.

I make mistakes, lots of 'em. I feel so embarrassed when I read one of my blog posts from days or weeks ago and see grammatical errors and spelling mistakes jumping off the page. At those times I long for the editors who once kept me safe. Larry Cornies was one of those editors.

Let me take one more stab in the dark. I bet Cornies has never gone to the WikiLeaks site. I'll guess that he formed all his opinions without actually visiting the site. Because of this he did not know the correct style for writing WikiLeaks. I can understand. I haven't been there either. I don't want to have my Internet address linked to them.

Who knows who's watching.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ken,

    Why so much guessing? Why not a little inquiry and reporting?

    Let me address each of your puzzlements:

    1. Ezra Levant is in the Ezra Levant business. And he's made a very successful career of it; I'll take nothing away from that. Anybody who can build a brand as strong as his, with a following as loyal as his, long before building a brand was conventional wisdom among social media enthusiasts, has my respect.

    2. That said, he and I don't have much in common as far as political views are concerned, and even less when it comes to Assange. Those who call for murder and assassination, whether they be columnists or former political aides such as Tom Flanagan, should face some hard questions and, if warranted, prosecution.

    3. I didn't care much about being in line with what other Sun Media columnists were writing when I was Editor of The London Free Press, believing it to be far more important to be true to my own convictions and reflective of my own community, rather than be bound to any ideology. I care even less now that I'm a freelancer without any managerial responsibility at The Free Press. And I remain of the opinion that, a few Sun Media columnists aside, most of the Canadian journalism fraternity is supportive of Wikileaks, as am I in certain respects. It's just not, in and of itself, journalism. The site, however, could be the raw catalyst of what might become some important journalism in the months to come.

    4. I haven't visited the website? I've taught from the website. I devoted part of my Opinion Writing class for second-year print journalism students at Conestoga College on Dec. 3 to the Wikileaks controversy and exploration of its newly relocated website (they had just moved it from a Swedish host to a Swiss one).

    5. On the spelling of Wikileaks: I decided to go with the lower-case "l" because some news organizations had gone that way and Canadian Press style often prefers lowercase letters despite what organizations themselves might prefer. For example, in its Style Book (do you still have one, Ken?), CP mandates the spelling of "Facebook" with a capital "F," even though the site uses "facebook." On the other hand,"Via" trains are spelled that way, rather than with uppercase letters the corporation might prefer (VIA). "BlackBerry" is an exception. I went with "Wikileaks" based on that reasoning, the fact that I'd seen it that way on some other news sites, and that thought that LFP editors would change it if they had ruled on the style of that particular word. I'm not married to the lowercase "l"; I could easily be persuaded otherwise.

    OK; enough for now. Back to grading final assignments. More than 100 papers await . . . .

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