Sunday, December 12, 2010

MSM Loses More Cred, Fails To Report

Professor Carol Waino, the gal behind Media Culpa, has won a convincing (though still partial)victory in her OPC (Ontario Press Council) complaint against David Warren and the Ottawa Citizen. Specifically, the Council found that the columns named in the complaint had failed to meet generally accepted journalistic attribution standards. In addition, of the four columns in which Warren was alleged to have committed factual errors:

...the columnist and Wainio relied on different and conflicting sources. Council decided that while the sources relied upon by Wainio appeared substantially more reliable and persuasive than those relied upon by the columnist, it it was not in a position (except in one instance), to make conclusive findings of factual error, principally because it did not have the power to summon witnesses, or demand properly authenticated documentary evidence.

In the one complaint of factual error upheld, Warren made a mathematical calculation that could easily and definitively determined to be mistaken. But in any case, think about the lines above for a moment: the amateur (Ms. Waino) was consistently and substantially more reliable in regards to facts than a professional journalist at a respectable newspaper.

Nor did the OPC leave the Citizen itself off the hook:

The Council has no reason to believe that the publisher was aware of the possibility of any attribution faults at the time of publication. However, that possibility became known once the complaints were filed, at which time, in the Council’s opinion, the Citizen had an obligation to confer with the columnist to explore the attribution allegations and provide an adequate response to the complainant’s assertion that the columnist had failed to meet accepted journalistic standards relating to full and accurate attribution.

Of course, in such cases the journalistic tribe tends to circle the wagons and shield their own, so it isn't surprising there's been very little news of this decision in the MSM. Norman Spector is, as far as I can tell, the one exception to date:

If you want to understand why the mainstream media are suffering a loss of confidence, a decision of the Ontario Press Council—a decision that is almost impossible to find on the Council’s website - would be a good place to begin.


What the Council does not divulge - either in its press release or in its decision - is that the Ottawa Citizen refused to attend its hearings into the complaint. For a powerful news organization that routinely demands accountability from others, its behaviour in the case of Professor Wainio’s complaint reeks of hypocrisy.

Well said, Norman. Another thing the decision does not mention is the long, winding, and fairly miserable process that led up to it. Ms. Waino has been occasionally emailing me on this matter since at least late 2008, and lets just say that the OPC does not make it easy on people filing such complaints.

Anyway, congrats on a difficult job seen through to its end. Next time I'm in Ottawa, I guess the first drink is on me. Maybe the 2nd too. But remember, I'm not made of money.


Dr.Dawg said...

Which is why the drinks are on me. I've written down my PIN for easy reference. :)

By the way, I put up my piece independently--but I see we've covered the same ground. Media Culpa has some nice background stuff.

Dr.Dawg said...

Showing that I read too quickly, to put it mildly. But I had no idea that Carol was the brains behind Media Culpa!