Thursday, November 15, 2012

Nov. 15: A high grade for the TandT....

The high grade is for the story on Dr. Cleary's talk last night when she discussed her report on shale gas in New Brunswick. The high grade is a D plus. Well, hey, that's high for The Moncton Times and Transcript.

Much of the high grade is because the TandT editors put in on the front page. At last.-a front page story that is a front page story. But it started to go wrong with the headline. "Health report prompts debate". That is not what the evening was about. It was not a debate.  It was a talk by Dr. Cleary dealing with her health report on shale gas.

The only "debate" came after her talk, and it took the form of a question period.

As one who has spoken at, probably, hundreds of such meetings, I don't usually stick around for the question period unless, of course, I have to because I am the speaker. Few people who line up to the microphone are there to ask a question. More often, they have their own speech to give, often a written one, a long one, which they read in obvious ignorance of what a microphone is for. If I'm in the audience, I usually don't stay for that part because I'm there to hear an expert, not somebody off the street who knows nothing and who, often, is planted there to direct press coverage away from the speech.

And, so far as the editor who wrote that headline is concerned, it worked. So far as that headline tells us, the evening was not an explanation of Dr. Cleary's report. It was about a debate. (The sub-head would have made a much better and more accurate headline "N.B,s chief medical officer of health addresses Moncton audience on her study of public health effects of shale gas development."

The first three, brief paragraphs are a brief intro to Dr. Cleary, herself, and who it was that sponsored the event. Then, before we learn even a word of what Dr. Cleary said, we jump into the "question" period with a statement that about half of the questioners disagreed with her. (Maybe so. But at the end of her talk, the whole audience gave her a standing ovation.)

In a fairly long story, we get only hints of what Dr. Cleary talked about. Indeed, much of the information part of the story was not about Dr. Cleary's talk at all. It was about the views of those who disagreed with Dr. Cleary.

The talk was really a well-organized and clearly presented account of what public health means (which is a good deal more than some people might think); and of how that meaning shaped her report. I had only one disagreement with her recommendations. She suggested there should be a committee of academics to advise the government on shale gas.

No. No. No. I am an academic. As government advisors, I would rank academics only slightly above the kind of people who line up at question period to give their own speeches.

In almost every debate I have heard in the this province,- education - shale gas - taxation - almost all academics have been silent. And that was my experience of 40 years teaching university. Few, very few, academics are willing to stick their necks out on anything contentious. They know very well who sits on their boards of governors (big business executives and owners) - people who can make life tough for them.

The very few who take public positions (and/or the very few who get quoted by the Irving press for doing so) are the ones who say things that university Boards of Governors like to hear. You may remember a  recent case like that dealing with another shale gas report.

Who is responsible for the story appears in print? The editor. It's the editor who writes the headline; and it's the editor who sets the tone of the story. Alas! It's also the editor that the new reporter learns the business from.

God help the poor reporter who starts off working for the incompetent and unethical editors of the Irving press.

As a final note, I was struck by the masses of grey hair in the audience. Again, I have a long experience of speaking to audiences like this. I've rarely seen such a high proportion of older people. I felt like a kid. Where were all those in their twenties, thirties and forties? They and their children are the ones who have to live with the consequences of shale gas. Don't they care?

Generally, the people of New Brunswick are the most passive I have ever seen in matters of public discussion. The relative absence of what should have been the most concerned,most vital and and active age group last night was profoundly disturbing.

If it weren't for the elderly, there wouldn't be any lively people in this city at all.

There's not much in the rest of the paper about anything - unless you really, really care that some hockey heroes of yesterday will be visiting Moncton.

Page 1 of NewsToday has another example of bad editing. The story is about the war that is brewing between Israel and the Gaza strip. (Nice of them to notice. It's been brewing for quite a while.) The headline is good "Airstrikes kill Hamas commander" Simple. Clear. True. Then comes the sub head.

"Attacks come in retaliation for rocket attacks on Israel"

What's wrong with that? Well, the mood left is that Israel is certainly in the right to attack Gaza. After all, Gaza is shooting rockets at Israel.  Well, yes. But the following headlines and sub heads would have been equally true.

"Israeli toops kill children playing soccer in Gaza"

"High proportion of Palestinians have suffered imprisonment and torture in Israel with no trial or charges"

"High rate of hunger and dangerous housing in Gaza because Israel limits import of food and building materials"

"Gaza shoots rockets at Israel for all the above"

I could write a dozen, quite truthful headlines and sub-heads like that, all of them justifying rocket attacks. All would be wrong because the purpose of news is to tell what is happening. Any discussion of right and wrong belongs on the editorial and op ed pages. To imply such a judgement in a headline or sub-head is to be unethical. Tell us the news. Tell us your opinion, if you like, in something clearly headed as opinion. Then we decide what is justified or not.
At last, a week after the rest of the world, the editors at the TandT have notice General Petraeus. Alas! They still have not understood what it's all about. Like most of the news media and the politicians (including Obama), they are playing up the sex angle. There's a side of this that the politicians and the CIA don't want to discuss; and the TandT, as always, is cooperating with them.

In a column of this week, I learned that Norbert Cunningham does not understand the meanings of capitalism, socialism or communism. Today the news is that he doesn't understand fascism, either.

He thinks fascism is associated with the left in politics. In fact, it's usually associated with the far right. But Norbert doesn't seem to know what left and right mean, either - and that's just as well because there really is no clear and consistent meaning to those terms. Best to skip them.

For fascism, the authority he quotes is the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Wow! Great source, Norbert. But wrong. As Mussolini said many times ( he said many contradictory things), fascism arose out of corporatism, a system in which people had rights - not as individuals but as members of groups. Therefore, the professionals in society would be represented by doctors, lawyers, etc. The church would be represented by clergy. Ordinary people might or might not get any representation.

Thus, despite what Norbert thinks, the state was absolute BUT it was not separate from the groups. The state was the groups. That's the meaning of the fasces, the bundle of rods the groups) tied around the axe (the state). The state IS the groups. (The idea was also popular in the US. You can find the fasces on some government buildings in Washington.)

We had a similar system in Canada called the legislative council. And that became the model for the Senate that we still have. And, when I was working in Hong Kong, it was the system used to govern that colony.

Then Norbert really goes into overkill. He says that a Denmark tax on on dangerously fattening food was fascist. That's absurd. It has nothing to do with fascism.  Then he adds that a free society which respects freedom and rights cannot penalize some people for merely eating some foods.

Norbert - the "penalty" is a tax. We do it all the time for some foods, and for various reasons. It has nothing to do with fascism.

Fascist is really a difficult and very inconsistent word to define. But one valid example would be a certain group of people getting the right, simply because they belong to a group, to take part in government or advise the government on, say economic policy. The don't have to run for election. They have role because they belong to a certain group.

Hint: Think of a recent news story of a prominent inductee to the NB Business Hall of Fame who officially "served" as advisor to the Minister of Finance. Think of the whole committee he served on, people who were not chosen by election, but who have a right to be there because they are corporate bigwigs.

That's what fascism means, Norbert. Corporate government. Are you calling your boss a fascist?

Alec Bruce is well worth a read with special attention to the last, few paragraphs. We haven't begun to understand the crises that are going to hit us very soon over energy. They will affect everything from global climate to food supply to where we live and where we shop and how we get there.

Rod Allen has a column designed to make sure you don't suffer brain damage from thinking.

And Jody Dallaire is her usual, good self.


  1. Thanks for this record of reality. Ann Pohl, Upriver Environment Watch

  2. It gets worse. I listened in to Radio NEWS 98.1
    The report said little more than that there had been a meeting - about something. Now, I know radio news calls for brief reporting (I've done it). But this report was so shallow that I can't understand why they sent a reporter in the first place. Nor can I understand why a news chief would run such an inane report. This wasn't even high school stuff. I have worked in private radio. It's not as good as CBC - but most of it is a hell of a lot better that Radio NEWS 98.1

  3. My husband and myself were in attendance, and even though my hair is grey, I'm still in my 40s. There were 2 couples in my immediate area that were in their 20s (early/mid at most). I was actually pleasantly surprised with the turnout, and the intelligent questions asked afterwards (for the most part). I wasn't quite so pleased with a few of the answers (especially to my question about Radon gas fumes).

  4. It was a good turnout - for Moncton. But Moncton is a city for very passive people. It was about 150 people.
    For fourteen years in Montreal I gave monthly current events talks for a suburb (just for residents of the suburb) that was much smaller than Moncton. In fourteen years, I don't think I ever had as few as 150. 200 to 300 was more common.
    It was a good turnout for Moncton. But we're going to have to do better.
    As to age groups, I spent a good deal of time searching that audience. I am not young. (Beautiful, but in a more mature way.) Well over half that audience was in my age range.

  5. I, for one, being a 32 year old, didn't attend this presentation because I read most of Dr Cleary's report and I believe her, so I didn't feel the need to go. I am 100 % against fracking and shale gas exploration. I just think that the risks to the environment and to people are too great, so no matter what the promoters of this industry say, they won't convince me. And many studies and reports have proven that, no matter what the spin-doctors will try to tell you. And in all honesty, I didn't feel the urge to go and argue with the pro-shale gas people. Most people are very polarized in this debate. And pretty much nothing you can say will get them to change their mind...So it doesn't mean that all young people are passive and disinterested just because they didn't attend ONE meeting. No generalization please...Andie C.

  6. To the woman in red:

    You didn't go because You read the report and agreed. Okay. Then all those older people must have gone to the meeting because they didn't read the report? and didn't agree with it?
    To generalize means to take just one example - and then say ALL others of that type are the same.
    But I didn't take one example and then say all others are the same. You did that.
    Of course, Andie, I know you're only 32 and ALL people of 32 often get confused. Rely on my for guidance.