Anti-BDS laws are more than words. They are a legal attempt to punish a passive act: Neil Macdonald

I would distinguish between boycotting products and services from the occupied territories (legitimate) from Israel proper:

Back in January, the publisher of a tiny newspaper in Arkansas, standing on journalistic principle, defied the dead hand of government, the way a publisher is supposed to. Publisher Alan Leveritt’s scorching article, posted on the website of the American Civil Liberties Association, gladdened the journalistic heart.

Or at least it should have. But we don’t know whether it did; the institutions of American journalism, impoverished and increasingly frightened of their own audiences, are mostly maintaining a courageous silence. You’d think they’d be concerned.

Dozens of relatively recent state laws now require anyone who does business with government, including media organizations, to effectively make a pro-Israel pledge, and in some cases, sign one.

The signatory must promise not to in any way limit business activities with Israel or its settlements in the occupied territories, which even the United States considers illegal under international law.

Risking ad revenue

Last year, Leveritt was told to sign the pledge or lose badly needed ad revenue from the Arkansas university system. He told the state of Arkansas to go jump in a lake.

“We really needed the business,” Leveritt wrote, but at what price?

“Since when do American citizens have to pledge to act in the interest of a foreign power in order to do business with their own government?”

“As an American, I say it is none of their damn business what political beliefs we hold. We’ll see them in court.”

On the phone this week, Leveritt said his newspaper is actually unconcerned with Israel and its occupation, and has taken no editorial view on it: “We are concerned about the 20,000 people in this state who have been kicked off Medicaid. We focus on local issues.”

He in fact regards the demand to sign the pledge as the state forcing his paper to take an editorial position against its will.

“I wouldn’t sign a pro-Palestine pledge, either.”

Other newspapers across the country must have been asked to sign similar pledges, he notes (“If they have signed, they should be ashamed of themselves”), but there has been precious little support of the Arkansas Times.

“I have not received a single call. Nothing.”

Leveritt’s only ally seems to be the American Civil Liberties Association, which regards the right to boycott as a “McCarthy-era loyalty oath,” and is helping him sue. The writers’ organization PEN has expressed support, too.

But that sort of free-speecher view is not widely shared in America, at least where the boycott involves Israel.

Since 2015, 26 other states have passed laws similar to the one in Arkansas. The United States Senate just passed a federal version. Basically, these laws are an attempt to punish entities or individual Americans who choose not to do something – in this case, choosing not to invest with, buy from or otherwise economically support Israel.

It’s all an attempt to combat a strategy chosen by Palestinian leaders and their supporters roughly 13 years ago. After decades of being told by Israel and the West to abandon armed struggle and choose a non-violent path to oppose Israel’s occupation and settlements, the Palestinians and their allies decided to do just that: they founded the so-called BDS movement, standing for boycott, divest and sanction, using economic levers to pressure Israel.

BDS counterattack

At first, Israel brushed off BDS as trivial, but as the movement began to gain traction worldwide (BDS is supported in whole or in part, by, among others, the United Church of Canada and the Quakers, and the corporate world has taken notice), the Israeli government and its supporters organized an aggressive counterattack, using everything from lawsuits and public shaming of individual BDS supporters to lobbying efforts aimed at persuading other countries to outlaw boycotts. BDS, they proclaimed, is not just anti-Semitic, it’s “economic terrorism.”

Nowhere has Israel found greater support than in the United States, which is unsurprising. America has the largest population of evangelical Christians in the world. Their support for Israel is as absolute as their opposition to abortion, and they understand how to exercise political power. The anti-boycott laws generally pass with healthy bipartisan support.

“Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies,” declared Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, signing his state’s anti-BDS law.

Elsewhere, nations are choosing sides, many of them coming down on Israel’s. Governments in France, Germany and the UK have all denounced BDS. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has effectively called the movement anti-Semitic, accusing it of singling out and delegitimizing Israel.

Ultimately, though, denunciations by politicians or governments or political parties are just words – a declaration of a political position to voters. BDS supporters in Canada probably couldn’t care less what Trudeau thinks of them, and in any case, politicians are hardly consistent on such matters. Politicians are constantly singling out, delegitimizing and sanctioning other nations for bad behaviour.

Washington, for example, was furious when Venezuelan troops blocked foreign food shipments and shot protesters, but regards Israel’s blockade of foreign food aid to Gaza and its troops shooting Gazan protesters — which Israel defends on security grounds — as completely justified.

The anti-BDS laws in the United States, though, are more than words. They are a legal attempt to punish a passive act, which is a form of speech. There are powerful politicians who would actually criminalize BDS.

Leveritt, the Arkansas Times publisher, puts it this way:  “As an American citizen, I say I can not buy whatever I don’t want to buy and it’s none of the state’s damn business.”

So, ultimately, it will be the courts in America, and perhaps elsewhere, to decide how far this can all go.

Already, federal courts in Kansas and Arizona have blocked anti-BDS laws in those states as illegal suppression of speech. A speech pathologist fired from a university in Texas for refusing to sign the pledge is also suing. In Britain, the country’s high court dismissed charges of discrimination levied against local councils that supported the boycott. A high court justice, compared BDS to boycotts of South Africa’s apartheid regime, ruling: “There is legitimate scope for criticism of Israel without that implying anti-Semitic attitudes” (precisely the opposite of what Israel and its supporters argue).

Other British judges have sided with pro-Israel groups. And in the U.S., comparisons have been drawn to the boycotts of discriminatory white-owned businesses during the civil rights era. The Arkansas Times made precisely that argument.

But when Alan Leveritt got his day in court, he lost.

Arkansas Federal Judge Brian Miller, in late January, ruled that a boycott is not protected speech, and that the state has the right to force businesses to sign the pledge.

Leveritt has filed an appeal: “I’m not signing anything.”

Well, good for Alan Leveritt. He has guts. But the Arkansas Times was just forced to go from weekly to monthly publication, and principles can be expensive.

Source: Anti-BDS laws are more than words. They are a legal attempt to punish a passive act: Neil Macdonald

The budget’s gender-based analysis forgot to look at one thing — men: Neil Macdonald

Valid question to ask, as no reason why GBA could not also look at areas where males are struggling or disadvantaged.

However, assertion that “women own government” and citing the figure that women form 71 percent of the public service ignores that women are overwhelmingly concentrated in support and admin positions (see my analysis Federal Employment Equity).

In terms of executive-level positions, the chart above shows that while considerable progress has been achieved, not yet at parity for the most senior positions (DMs and ADMs):

Every liberal, after all, is raised to believe that male privilege is the anchor determinant in our society, and that being born male — especially a white male — confers possession of the keys to society’s ignition.

And yet.

Here are a few things the budget’s gender-based analysis ignores, and might be worth addressing next time:

Women do much better than men in school.

That wasn’t the case even 20 years ago, but as Statistics Canada puts it: “Today, the situation is completely different. Education indicators show that women generally do better than men.”

The gap begins in kindergarten, where girls earn better marks than boys, and continues right through university.

“More girls than boys earn their high school diploma within the expected timeframe, and girls are less likely to drop out. More women than men enrol in college and university programs. A greater percentage of women leave these programs with a diploma or degree.”

If that trend continues, and there is no reason to believe it won’t, it isn’t hard to see what lies ahead: an increasingly uneducated and unemployable male population.

“It is quite troubling that increasing numbers of young men are dropping out,” says Philip Cross, former chief economic analyst for Statistics Canada. “They don’t tend to do well in public school, and they’re constantly told that if you don’t go to university, you might as well not be in our society, and they know they probably aren’t going to university, so they just drop out. An increasing number of men are not in the labour force and not going to school. This is not good.”

Women have not yet caught up to men in the private sector, but they own the public service, by far the single biggest employer in the country.

According to Statistics Canada, women not only comprise 71 per cent of Canada’s 4.1 million public sector jobs at all levels of government, but“gender parity now exists in the public sector with respect to women’s representation in leadership positions.”

Meaning that while women are still a designated group for the purposes of preferential hiring in the public service, they now have most of the jobs and at least half of the most senior jobs.

Cross puts it rather bluntly: “Women are overrepresented in government, and government jobs are the best jobs. Best job security, best pension benefits, best everything.”

Further, he says, women now dominate the feeder positions for all the most senior jobs in government.

The overwhelming majority of people who have lost their jobs in the resource sector out west and the manufacturing sector, mostly in Ontario, are men.

As Springsteen sang, these jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back.

“There is a certain type of man who you wanted in the oil sands, out of town, blowing things up,” says Cross. “Those people still exist, and now they are jobless, and what do we do with them now?”

Exact figures are difficult to find, but Janice MacKinnon, a university professor and former NDP finance minister in Saskatchewan, says it’s a “staggering number.” And those jobs that do come back will demand higher skill levels.

She notes there is absolutely nothing in the budget’s gender-based analysis about those jobs, or what to do about their disappearance.

“Where’s the strategy on that?” she asks. “If you are going to look at gender, that’s fine, but there are areas where boys and men are struggling, and they need to be documented, too.”

MacKinnon even goes so far as to say that being a white male entering the current job market is a disadvantage.

Cross puts it another way: “Historically, our economic system has favoured men, but the trend is in the opposite direction.”

He would dearly like someone to ask the government why none of its gender-based analysis addressed any of the forgoing.

So I wrote one of the prime minister’s senior advisers to ask.

The reply: “It is a reasonable question to ask.”

But, um, no answer.

Source: The budget’s gender-based analysis forgot to look at one thing — men: Neil Macdonald – CBC News | Opinion

How the word ‘terrorism’ lost its meaning: Neil Macdonald

More good commentary from Macdonald:

What appears to have qualified those attacks for inclusion on the Trump list was the fact that the attackers, Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, had converted from their birth religion to Islam.

Similarly, Trump’s list did not include Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who, in the summer of 2015, pulled out a gun in a black church in Atlanta and began killing. Roof was a practising Christian, a member of an evangelical Lutheran congregation. Reportedly, he sat and argued about scriptural issues with congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before murdering nine of them.

Still, like Bissonnette, Roof was not labelled a terrorist by law enforcement authorities, or charged as such. He was certainly not called a “radical Christian terrorist” or “white supremacist terrorist.” Those are phrases the mainstream media rarely find pronounceable.

The FBI even went to far as to say Roof’s killings were “not a political act.”

If that sounds outrageously hypocritical, that’s because it is. (Go ahead and imagine the official reaction had Roof or Bissonnette been Muslims).

Western concept of ‘terrorism’

But it’s perfectly consonant with the Western concept of “terrorism,” which is itself a form of hypocrisy deeply embedded in the American and Canadian psyches.

Terrorism is political invective, nothing more. It’s a great favourite of demagogues, widely accepted by audiences, and is almost always applied exclusively to the other, never to ourselves.

Take the Irish Republican Army. The IRA was an exclusively Roman Catholic organization, and had no problem killing civilians to advance its agenda. The British government characterized the IRA and all its offshoots as terrorists, but did not for decades apply the label to the equally murderous Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries.

IRA flag Irish Republican Army Gerry Adams

The State Department’s list of designated terrorist groups has never included the IRA. (Paul McErlane/Reuters)

Some Irish Catholics in Canada and the United States, though, tended to regard the IRA’s behaviour as understandable, if not excusable. They preferred not to label it as terrorism, never mind “Christian terrorism,” even though the Troubles were all about a schism in Christianity, something like the violent Sunni/Shia fissure in the Middle East. Almost certainly because of domestic American sentiment, the U.S. State Department’s long list of designated terrorist groups has never named the IRA

Because the terrorist is always the other.

While working for CBC in Israel, I once searched the database of the Jerusalem Post for uses of the word “terror,” “terrorist” and “terrorism.”

There were thousands over the course of several years, all of them relating to Palestinians or other Arabs.

The newspaper had another term for Jewish settlers who targeted and killed Palestinian civilians: “Jewish extremists.”  Most mainstream Israeli journalists have just as hard a time with the phrase “Jewish terrorist” as Western media do with “Christian terrorist.”

Those two words simply seem a contradiction in terms to many Jews, although, to give the Israeli justice system credit for at least some consistency, authorities there have charged Jewish Israelis with terrorism-related offences.

Until the 9/11 attacks, there was at least an attempt in the West to define terrorism: the deliberate targeting of civilians by non-government players to advance a political agenda.

By that definition, of course, Alexandre Bissonnette, if convicted, and Dylann Roof would qualify.

War on Terror

But once America began its “War on Terror,” the word was stretched and adapted to mean anything Washington wanted it to mean, and the U.S. media fell obediently into line.

Any attack on any U.S. soldier anywhere became terror, even attacks by people whose country had been invaded.

Groups such as the Shining Path in Peru, or Kurdish ultranationalist groups, or fringe Irish diehards, or Tamil extremists, are relegated to trivial regional annoyances. The predations of militants or governments America approves of are overlooked or ignored.

Today, the word terrorism is so objectively meaningless that the only sensible definition is: “Violence we disapprove of.”

Source: How the word ‘terrorism’ lost its meaning: Neil Macdonald – CBC News | Opinion

Simple truth is Canada’s mass shooters are usually white and Canadian-born: Neil Macdonald

Good reminder by Macdonald:

In fact, in the pantheon of Canadian mass murderers, Mr. Bissonnette is entirely unremarkable. Just about every single one in our modern history has been a Canadian-born, Canadian citizen, and usually white and Christian, meaning extreme vetting of immigrants from places like Yemen and Iraq wouldn’t have done a thing to prevent their predations.

St. Pius X

The first one I covered was the 1975 shooting at St. Pius X High School in Ottawa. The shooter was a student named Robert Poulin. The inquest failed to determine why he bought a shotgun at Giant Tiger, raped and killed his 17-year-old friend, then headed off to school, where he opened fire in hallways and classrooms. Three people died in that case, including the perpetrator. There was no determination of terrorism or any analysis of religious motivation.

That same year, a 16-year-old named Michael Slobodian arrived at Brampton Centennial Secondary School west of Toronto with two rifles in a guitar case. He killed two people, wounded 13, then committed suicide. He left a note explaining he hated school and wanted to kill teachers. Stories from the time made no mention of his religion.

Ecole Polytechnique college

A scene from the shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, perpetrated by Canadian-born Marc Lepine. (Shaney Komulainen/Canadian Press)

Less than a decade later, a white, Christian francophone named Denis Lortie opened fire in the Quebec National Assembly, killing three people and wounding several others. He’s free today, having been released on parole more than 20 years ago. Had he been a Muslim, and a terrorist rather than just a mass killer, one suspects he’d still be behind bars.

In 1989, Montreal-born Marc Lépine headed out into a dreadfully cold December night with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle and a knife, intent on hunting and killing as many women as he could. He eventually left 14 women dead at the École Polytechnique in Montreal before killing himself. Authorities concentrated on his extreme misogyny, but, given that his name was Lepine, did not characterize it as terrorism. (Today, no doubt, much would be made of the fact that his father was an Algerian named Gharbi, even though Lepine took his mother’s name.)

A few years later, Valery Fabrikant, an associate professor at Concordia University in Montreal, decided to settle his grudges with colleagues using three pistols. He killed four people and now resides in a federal penitentiary. Actually, Fabrikant was different in one respect from other mass shooters in Canada: he was an immigrant — from Belarus. He was not Muslim. The killing was not treated as terrorism.

Bad apples vs. terrorists

In 2006, Kimveer Gill entered Dawson College in Montreal with a Glock, a Beretta carbine and a shotgun and cut down 20 people. He wasn’t a very good shot, fortunately, and only one of his victims died. He then killed himself. Police concluded he was mentally ill, and deteriorating fast, when he decided to kill. It was treated as a simple crime, rather than terrorism. Gill had a foreign-sounding name and was from a Sikh family but was born in Canada.


Justin Bourque was born in Canada and home-schooled in a religious Christian family.

In 2014 in Moncton, a man opened fire on several RCMP officers, killing three of them and wounding two others. Security hawks were ready to cry terrorism, but then it turned out the shooter was named Justin Bourque, was born in Canada, was home-schooled in a religious Christian family, talked a lot about the right to bear arms, and harboured a deep suspicion of government and its agents.

That put an end to any talk of terror. Just another bad apple.

The same year, Calgary experienced its worst mass murder: five people stabbed to death at a house party. The killer, a university student and son of a Calgary police veteran, named Matthew de Grood was not deemed a terrorist. He believed in vampires and werewolves. He was found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity. De Grood was a Canadian citizen.

Parl Shooting Operation 20150525

Bibeau was born in Canada, and therefore a Canadian citizen, but he’d converted to Islam years before the shooting. (RCMP/Handout/Canadian Press)

But then there was the big one. Michael Zehaf Bibeau, a homeless habitual criminal from Quebec, travelled to Ottawa in October 2014, where he shot a soldier dead from behind at the cenotaph before heading up to Parliament Hill, where he was killed by armed security staff.

Bibeau was born in Canada, and therefore a Canadian citizen, but he’d converted to Islam years earlier. The crime shook the nation. Military bases increased their security. The government brought in legislation increasing police powers and curtailing Canadians’ civil liberties.

Terror had finally made its debut here. Canada would never be the same.

And now, Alexandre Bissonnette. The question has to be, what further measures to take? And will Donald Trump begin banning white nationalist Christians from Canada?

Source: Simple truth is Canada’s mass shooters are usually white and Canadian-born: Neil Macdonald – CBC News | Opinion

Why clicking on this story about Indigenous people matters: Neil Macdonald

Interesting points about how stories are selected or not, and the biases and influences at play:

Indifference, though, is something more pernicious, and much more difficult to deal with.

Because what’s the point of continuing to talk about something if even people of goodwill aren’t listening?

Insist too much on educating readers and viewers against their will, and they tune out, the way they reacted to overzealous, didactic coverage of the Meech Lake Accord in the late 1980s.

The fact is, editors at news organizations are alive to audience biases and apathy, and have baked them into their editorial choices for as long as journalism has existed.

The elders of our craft deliver speeches to rookies about “news judgment,” making it sound like acquired wisdom, something that develops only after years of experience and sober reflection on important issues.

But really, news judgment is a slipperier thing, freighted with ethnocentrism, tribalism, nativism and the assignment of value to life based on an understood, but undiscussed, hierarchy.

In choosing stories and laying out pages at newspapers decades ago, I quickly learned that one dead Canadian anywhere (even more so, a white Canadian), equalled two or three dead Americans, which in turn equalled 10 or 15 Brits or West Europeans, which in turn equalled 30 or 40 dead East Europeans, who were probably white and maybe even Christian, but came from unpronounceable places, and so forth.

At the very end of the list were Africans, or, say, Bangladeshis. They had to perish in very large numbers indeed to merit any notice.

…But Indigenous people, I’m afraid, haven’t rated very highly on that unspoken hierarchy. Canadians evidently do not consider Indigenous people proximate — and the less proximate the subject, the more indifferent the audience.

As the missing and murdered inquiry will no doubt conclude, police also prioritize cases they believe are of most interest to the public; in a way, they exercise news judgment of their own.

And it’s a safe bet that in turn, predators choose targets that are low priorities for law enforcement: to wit, Indigenous women, especially if they happen to be sex workers, are not only the most vulnerable among us, but the least protected.

So, indifference can also be lethal. And now we have those damned computer apps to remind us constantly of its stubborn, passive presence.

Source: Why clicking on this story about Indigenous people matters: Neil Macdonald – Politics – CBC News

Shootings raise unanswered life-or-death question for black men in America: Neil Macdonald

Good column by Macdonald:

In the racially electrified fog of fear and rage following the events in Dallas Thursday, one question remains conspicuously unanswered: If you are a black man in America, how are you supposed to cope?

President Barack Obama has no real answer, nor do the members of Congress who bowed their heads in memory of the slain Dallas police officers, nor does Dallas’s anguished police chief, a black man himself.

The deadly consequences of carrying while black
#SayHisName: Americans react to videos of police killings
The only advice black Americans seem to get is to respectfully submit when some cop calls them out on the street, or looms at the door of their car, or shows up at their home, no matter how terrified they may be.

‘Comply, comply, comply’

For heaven’s sake, don’t give the officer any lip, or try to run away, even if you aren’t guilty of anything, and no matter how abusive the cop may become.

Because if you are black, that policeman is far more likely to gun you down, or choke you to death, or Taser you, or beat you into a coma.

“Comply, comply, comply,” Philando Castile’s mother says she used to tell him. “Comply — that’s the key thing in order to try to survive being stopped by the police.”

‘When is it going to stop?’: Philando Castile’s family speaks out1:10

Perhaps Alton Sterling’s parents gave him the same counsel. It’s as common for black parents to have that talk with their kids as it is for white parents to warn about talking to strangers.

But of course supine compliance does not guarantee survival at the hands of police if you are black in America (or, to be honest, if you are Indigenous in some parts of Canada, but that’s a separate discussion).

Philando Castile was evidently complying with the Minnesota policeman who’d pulled him over for a broken tail light this week when that policeman opened fire through the driver’s window. The police force has not said otherwise.

And a day earlier, Alton Sterling was pinned down, hands free of weapons, when two Louisiana cops shot him in the back and chest.
After the Castile killing, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton stated the obvious: “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white? I don’t think it would have …”

There is simply no question that your race can determine whether you live or die at the hands of police in America. If you are black, you are several times more likely to be killed.

Benefit of the tiniest doubt

And, chances are, your killer will walk away, unpunished, and likely consoled by his fellow officers for having had to go through such trauma.

Source: Shootings raise unanswered life-or-death question for black men in America: Neil Macdonald – Politics – CBC News

ICYMI: After Orlando, time to recognize that anti-gay bigotry is not religious freedom: Neil Macdonald

Good commentary by Macdonald:

A perfect example is Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative whose purpose was to block the advance of same-sex marriage, on the grounds that it would somehow harm or invalidate heterosexual marriage, and would result in schoolchildren being taught that gay sex is normal and acceptable.

Prop 8 proponents included the Roman Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus, the California Catholic Conference of bishops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), the Union of Orthodox Jewish Organizations of America and assorted evangelical Christian groups. Together, they poured a fortune into the campaign. The Mormons alone provided $20 million.

They won, then immediately lost when the initiative was vacated by secular courts.

Since then, organized religions have continued their anti-gay activities, often going to court to ensure their right to discriminate against gays in hospitals and schools and other religiously affiliated institutions.

Yes, it is true that Pope Francis has softened his church’s line on homosexuality. But his tolerance is only remarkable in contrast to his hardline predecessor, and church doctrine remains unchanged.

It is also true that the Reform and to an extent the Conservative streams of Judaism have moderated their tone where gays are concerned.

Not so Islam. That religion remains largely hostile to gays, and anti-gay sentiment is woven into the laws of many Muslim countries.

Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar, a British-born physician and imam, has spoken at public venues in the United States, softly and diffidently asserting that as a matter of compassion, homosexuals should be put to death.

There are many, many other sheikhs like Farrokh Sekaleshfar.

And while evangelical Christians don’t seek the death penalty for homosexuality, many do want it punished. In 2004, Dr. Richard Land, the Oxford-educated former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told me on camera he thought gay sex should be outlawed.

In any event, this much is singularly true: the worst mass murder in American history was directed at one group, and it was done by some one who had sworn allegiance to a fundamentalist religious group.

If casual misogyny and sexist humour helped create Marc Lépine, then organized religion must reflect on helping shape a culture that will this week have led to 50 funerals in Florida. It’s not just the extremists who want to deprive gays of human rights.

People of faith might ask themselves this: even if they’ve never so much as lifted a hand to a gay person, have they smiled at a homophobic joke? Or overlooked mistreatment? Or nodded during a anti-gay sermon?

And if so, wouldn’t this be a good time to speak up?

Has the activist left decided #antisemitism doesn’t exist?: Neil Macdonald

Another good piece by Neil Macdonald:

The conflation of all supporters of BDS with Jew-hating is as scattershot and sweeping as the conflation of all Jews with Israel.

It ignores the inconvenient truth that some pro-Israeli Jews are embarrassed by that country’s current government, as well as the fact that some of the strongest proponents of BDS are Jewish.

But it is all of a piece with the scorched-earth nature of modern political discourse.

There is us, and them, and no-man’s land in between. Detail and nuance and history are just annoyances, to be marched past, or over.

Source: Has the activist left decided anti-Semitism doesn’t exist?: Neil Macdonald – Politics – CBC News

On Saudi arms deal, the new boss in Ottawa is just like the old boss: Neil MacDonald

As someone in the past who has written comparable memos, I can only congratulate the various writers and editors of the memo on the Saudi LAV to FM Dion. Macdonald captures it perfectly:

Well. If further proof was needed that the sunny new regime in Ottawa is perfectly capable of behaving just like the un-sunny previous regime, we now have it, in a memo that was stamped “Secret,” then rather inconveniently laid bare in the Federal Court of Canada.

The document, signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, is a gem of hair-splitting, parsing, wilful blindness and justification for selling billions worth of fighting vehicles and weaponry to Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth.

Source: On Saudi arms deal, the new boss in Ottawa is just like the old boss – Politics – CBC News

The problem with newspapers today: the Marty Baron perspective

For those concerned about the future of media and journalism, and who liked the film Spotlight, good piece by Neil Macdonald on the assessment by Marty Baron, the former editor of the Boston Globe featured in the film:

Baron, now executive editor of the Washington Post, acknowledged the economic forces ripping the business to shreds.

Like most media managers, he has an app that shows how many readers are on any story on the paper’s website at any moment, and how long they keep reading. Those metrics are now indices of survival.

But, said Baron, news institutions must place principle ahead of metrics, or our core withers, and we become clickbait hustlers for corporate paymasters who would rather see stories about a Kardashian. (He didn’t quite put it that way, but you get the idea.)

Over dinner, I asked him how media managers in such a shaky financial environment can possibly be expected to operate without fear or favour.

Baron, who actually is as serious in person as the character played by Schreiber, put down his fork and recited a segment from a speech he regularly gives.

It is so on target that I’m going to quote its most salient passage:

“The greatest danger to a vigorous press today,” he begins, “comes from ourselves.

“The press is routinely belittled, badgered, harassed, disparaged, demonized, and subjected to acts of intimidation from all corners — including boycotts, threats of cancellations (or defunding, in the case of public broadcasting) …

“Our independence — simply posing legitimate questions — is seen as an obstacle to what our critics consider a righteous moral, ideological, political, or business agenda.

“In this environment, too many news organizations are holding back, out of fear — fear that we will be saddled with an uncomfortable political label, fear that we will be accused of bias, fear that we will be portrayed as negative, fear that we will lose customers, fear that advertisers will run from us, fear that we will be assailed as anti-this or anti-that, fear that we will offend someone, anyone.

“Fear, in short, that our weakened financial condition will be made weaker because we did something strong and right, because we simply told the truth and told it straight.”

Amen, Brother Baron.

Any reporter who has, for example, ever been based in the Middle East, or has tried to bring some sensible context to a domestic audience whipped into fear about terror, terror, terror, has often seen the mettle of his or her managers tested to the limit.

When Baron’s Washington Post, along with The Guardian, revealed U.S. government lying and law-breaking, courtesy of whistleblower Edward Snowden, public outrage was mostly directed against the newspapers and Snowden himself.

Baron made one other key point. He’s not the first one to make it, but it’s a gleam of optimistic logic in these tumultuous times: Anybody can Google anything, he said. Everyone does.

But the original information, before it is aggregated and re-aggregated a thousand times, has to come from someone with the experience, brains and training to uncover it in the first place.

That is usually the work of credentialed journalism. It’s what Baron did in Boston. The alternative is usually just spin and corporatist fantasy, and let us all hope the latter does not overwhelm the former.

Although, I have my doubts.

Source: The problem with newspapers today: the Marty Baron perspective – Politics – CBC News