Trust, When Warranted, But Verify

Rick Salutin (left) and Michael Cooke

Rick Salutin (left) and Michael Cooke

*edit, January 12, 2015 – I corrected a few typos and touched up a few sections. Nothing much was changed. I did add in a quote that I intended to add when I first did up the post, but forgot to. I pointed out that there’s a reason why a picture of Conrad Black was placed on the wall of Michael Cooke’s office in the Toronto Star building, but I forgot to say a few words about that reason. I have now added those few words.

I was rather startled when the Toronto Star, which is good (in a bad way) at startling us (progressives), suddenly killed commenting. Editor Michael Cooke’s own explanation for that was lame.

“We’ll also be working to foster more insightful commentary from our readers and engage with you in a more meaningful way. We have passionate, opinionated readers who are eager to get involved in conversations about politics, education, municipal issues, sports and more… With that goal, we have turned off commenting on effective Wednesday and instead we’ll be promoting and showcasing the comments our readers share across social media and in their letters and emails to our editors.”

“More” as in ‘more insightful’, not ‘more readers’, clearly. I too agree that people – smart, dumb, nobodies and professionals – are like a bewildered herd. But I bemoan that. The 1%, and its tools, depends on it.

Wikipedia logo

The Star then cleverly had one of its few Lefties, Rick Salutin, do a video backing its anti-reader, undemocratic decision. (Or if that wasn’t deliberate, it’s still clever. It’s Nixon going to China. Nixon was Republican. Had a Democrat gone to China, the Right would have screamed bloody murder. If Ezra Levant, a rightwinger, had defended the Star’s axing of readers’ comments, the Left would have gone ape crap. Recognizing, of course, that both the Democrats and Republicans are rightwing. But that’s another subject.) The Left is failing everywhere you look…like the Liberal class which Chris Hedges writes about, explaining that it’s dead, some of whose luminaries – Barack Obama, Pierre Trudeau – adorn Michael Cooke’s office (or did). Elder Trudeau helped to run Canada years ago (in two stints between 1968 and 1984), but, same thing. He was a fake friend of the people. It’s telling that Michael Cooke’s office wall also has on it, or, again, did have on it, a picture of Conrad Black, the criminal and hardcore rightwinger who is absolutely undemocratic and anti-people. And there’s a reason for that piece of decor being there. (Celeb interior designers may have picked the pictures, but it seems that Cooke was okay with them. I’m sure, too, that they didn’t just guess what sort of photos Cooke would like to look at in his office.)

“Over the next 20 years, Cooke moved across the country to various jobs at different papers—from the Star to the Montreal Gazette to the Edmonton Journal—and, with each promotion, further established his reputation as a provocateur. He describes his own politics as “fiscally centre-right, socially centre-left.” In 1995, when he was hired as editor-in-chief of the right-wing Vancouver Province, he was accused of making it even more conservative and of trying to bust the union. Conrad Black took notice. While still at the Province, Cooke was tapped to help shepherd Black’s new project, the National Post. He spent several months commuting from Vancouver to Toronto, where he joined the Post’s founding editor, Ken Whyte, and others in developing a prototype. It was a heady, exhilarating time. Alison Uncles, who now serves as the Star’s associate features editor, first met Cooke then and was enchanted: “In the early days, the Post was ridiculously stupid and fun,” she says. “He loved that, he fit right in, and everyone trusted him right away. He’s good at being a grown-up and a kindergartner at the same time.”” – Jason McBride

“How Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke Brought The Stodgy Newspaper Back To Life” by Jason McBride

To get an idea whose side Michael’s friend, Conrad, is on in the class war which pits the 1% against the people, check out this blog post by the author of “Thieves Of Bay Street” Bruce Livesay: “Debate in HuffPost about Black lawsuit”) Like the NDP (provincial and federal), which isn’t failing, but has failed. Has Rick gone over to the dark side? I am not prepared to say that. But his support for this decision was not impressive. I can’t say I see the democracy in his position (or in his position on Wikipedia, which CounterPunch, a leftwing site, cautions us to use with care). I’d give it a fail. Here’s his video presentation:

I also stumbled upon this video of Rick discussing plagiarism. I thought it was mostly wise, but was quite surprised at his endorsement, without qualification, of Wikileaks. Is Rick a great promoter of democracy and a great guide for democrats? (I recently stumbled upon what must have been an older version of CounterPunch’s guideline for submitting articles. Wikileaks’s dubious reliability was mentioned. I can’t find it again. I see nothing like it on the CounterPunch website. But I’m sure it was real and actually reflected the site’s owners’ views.)

I take issue with Rick on Wikipedia, and anyone who ‘actively’ learns, like the good people at CounterPunch, would. Wikipedia is wide open to manipulation. I use it for a quick look at basic facts, such as dates and names. Anyone who has delved into Wikipedia – bloggers, for example, needing information – will find that it’s not right. If you know nothing to begin with, you may never notice. You’re slipping Rick. Will you become a fake friend of the people like the Toronto Star which you now work for? You also support the Star’s killing of commenting. There’s so much wrong with your defense of that (and a little that’s right), I wouldn’t know where to begin. Well, I would, if I felt compelled to get into it. What’s the use? Democracy is under attack everywhere. Even people who have written books on democracy, like Rick, attack it. It’s up to us, people, to be very, very vigilant. Noam Chomsky, who Rick once introduced to the audience at Massey Hall, which I was there for, told his audience to not believe him. He got their attention. His lesson was that sure, you can trust a leader. Just be sure to verify. I would add – and so would Chomsky no doubt after Christopher Hitchens’s career switch from Lefty to Righty, which prompted Chomsky to say something like “I await the return of the old Hitchens” – Don’t be surprised to find that verification fails. Didn’t Chris Hedges right an entire book about it afterall? “Death Of The Liberal Class” is a must read for any who want to grasp the depth and breadth of the darkness that is upon us today.

If people aren’t ready for real discussion, as Rick suggests (failing to distinguish between those who are and those who are not), then it’s also true that media (Right and Left) are not ready to listen to the people. (Examine my Toronto Star posts in the ‘Disappeared’ category of my blog. What is the Star’s problem with readers? When you look at what kind of posts got ignored and what kind of posts were disappeared, you begin to get an idea where the Star and its gatekeepers are coming from.) I’m sure there’s many reasons, few of them good. Progressives know about the corporate-owned major media. Corporate owned-media crank out news ‘and’ propaganda. And it means that the news is too often impure. It’s often not there at all, as Project Censored’s work makes clear. But on the Left, I’ve found that you’re still dealing with imperfect humans. They can be prideful and egotistical and, in the case of writers, uninterested in seeing their narratives challenged. Rick would no doubt agree. Maybe his rightwing bosses would agree too. They’re good at that. Look at Jason McBride’s fawning profile of the Toronto Star’s editor, Michael Cooke. He quotes Cooke saying wonderful things about reporting and consumers of news:

““We must make more noise,” Cooke says, “and the best kind of noise. We have to be seen as a citizen of the city that you need to have around…

“The two things Cooke hates most are boredom and secrecy. At a news organization, investigative journalism can potentially dispel both. Cooke doubled the size of the so-called I-team—there are now seven reporters, including a data analyst and editor-reporter Kevin Donovan, who has run the team since 1989—and likewise doubled the department’s budget to around $1 million. He doesn’t balk at exorbitant freedom of information request fees, even if, as in one particular case involving police data, that fee is $12,000. Burt Bruser, the Star’s in-house counsel, considered one of the finest media lawyers in the country, suddenly had a lot more to do, dealing with publication bans and libel risk; he went from working two days a week to full-time. “Michael believes if you have a big story, you play it big,” Donovan says. “You get so much more reaction from the public and from political leaders.””

Conrad Black (left - photo by Chris Young) and Rob Ford (photo by Christopher Drost)

Conrad Black (left – photo by Chris Young) and Rob Ford (photo by Christopher Drost)

In other words, Follow the rightwing Toronto SUN format. The reason that you can do ‘good’ investigative journalism that ‘every’ person, including the ‘six pack Joes’, will like (the way Rob Ford reaches out and touches his supporters by answering their phone calls and dealing with their immediate, pot holey, problems) is that the world is big. You can knock off a lot of the bad guys (like, say, Rob Ford), pretending you’re a good guy (which has it’s uses), and still survive – with the blessing of the country’s, and world’s, more powerful players (like, say, Conrad Black). You can be a crusader for social justice and citizens’ rights without really changing the system that continually upends citizens’ lives – by not going after really big dogs and really big issues (or at least not too many big dogs and issues) like free trade and tax fairness. Then there’s foreign policy, which our continentalist, neoliberal Canadian leaders align with bloody US foreign policy, no matter what the costs to people. Look at the case of Rwanda (which the corporate-owned media still lies about) and now Saudi Arabia. Aligning our foreign policy with US foreign policy makes Canada complicit in terrorism and war crimes. It always has and always will. During the election, Trudeau, Mulcair and Harper all pledged fealty to NATO, while Mulcair and Trudeau hammered Harper (rightly) for his failure to consult with stakeholders and they promised that they wouldn’t be like that. They also painted themselves as patriots defending Canadian values. It’s one thing to consult with stakeholders, Canadians presumably, who may want an independent foreign policy, and another thing to actually give a damn what they want, ‘if’ what the people want is not what the 1%, including its military/intelligence industrial complex, wants. NATO means the US, period. And it symbolizes war and lawlessness. It’s also a racket and the opposite of what the people, everywhere, need. (Incidentally, The Star ‘has’ done some amazingly good investigative reporting on important subjects, like racial profiling. And Jason mentions a few other examples.)

“Trudeau Pledge Tracker: Ignoring Executions and Proceeding with Saudi Arms Deal” Sharmini Peries interviews Dimitri Lasaris

“The Kagame-Power Lobby’s Dishonest Attack on the BBC 2’s Documentary on Rwanda” by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson

“White Slaughter In Black Africa – Dr. Gerald Caplan & The Rwanda Genocide Cranks” by Keith Harmon Snow

“The Dallaire Fairy Tale” by Yves Engler

“Hotel Propaganda” by Anthony Black

The Toronto Star endorsed rightwinger Justin Trudeau in the last (October 19, 2015) federal election. Of course, none of the parties were leftwing. The Green Party is probably Canada’s most leftwing major Party, but I have no use for Parties whose leaders fail to take the position (via the position of ‘Israel, right or wrong’) that ‘all’ lives matter. That FAIL would apply to all of Canada’s major Parties. In another way, The Star endorses rightwing Parties. It campaigns ‘against’ changing the electoral system from first-past-the-post! But corporate-owned media just can’t, by definition, by a friend of the people. Not in this neoliberal era. And with media in it’s pocket, the 1% needn’t fear, too greatly, the forces of democracy.

When the Star’s decision to kill commenting was announced, I had this to say about it, in part (below). The following was included in my previous blog post titled “The Toronto Star Wants To See A Right Christmas”:

=== === –
Paul is so absolutely right about all that he puts down here. His timing is impeccable, from my standpoint. The Toronto Star just killed ‘all’ commenting on its website. (I long felt that the Toronto Star is a fake friend of the people, one or two great journos notwithstanding.) I wonder whether I had something to do with it? I noticed long ago that the Star disappears lots of my comments, but it was doing that in a sneaky way. I found out by chance when I clicked on the icon beside one of my comments and was shown (Thanks Star!) a list of all my comments, including those that had been disabled, which the Star labelled ‘Content disabled’. The interesting thing about it is that in the comments section attached to the article, you’d see your comments (unless one had been specially flagged and removed), including those that had been casually disappeared. But there’d be no visible indication that only you were seeing your disappeared comments and no one else was seeing them.

I had already created a category on my own blog titled “Disappeared.” A lot of this goes on online, and it’s annoying and so I got the idea to sort of track it (for myself only, obviously). That’s easy enough to do. I use a handy little free app called PicPick to quickly screen capture sections of a screen and started showing those comments on my own blog (tag ‘censored’). The most recent blog post I did showed how aggressively the Star’s gatekeeper (appointed or self-appointed but in tune with the organization’s rightwing orientation) had been expunging my comments expressing support and sympathy for Gazans. It was ridiculous, but, sadly, not unusual in fascist North America. I tried a little trick that I found sometimes worked for getting around the gatekeeper’s trouble-making. I would quickly copy & paste the ‘Content disabled’ comment and re-post it. I figured it was worth a shot. My theory is that perhaps the gatekeeper can be forced to work so hard that he or… just can’t keep up. Also, Perhaps a shift change loses the gatekeeper and sees a real person take his place. I even quickly threw one disappeared post up in the cloud (my service is Box), grabbed a short link for it and quietly snuck it into another comment without drawing a whole lot of attention to it. Was that eventually discovered and a cause of consternation? Did my comment alerting other readers to how they too can see whether or not the Star’s gatekeepers were disappearing tons of their comments also cause consternation among those overseeing the commenting section at the Star?

Very, very briefly, it looks like whoever oversees the commenting department didn’t know how to deal with comments, which I can’t help feeling I helped bring about, and so I saw something I had not seen before. Comments attached to at least one article showed the ‘Contents disabled’ message. They were visible! That didn’t last long. I’m guessing that the overseer felt that once the comments section were full of ‘Contents disabled’, there’d be alarm on the part of a lot of readers, as well as angry letters to the Star about it. I can’t be the only one the Star disdainfully swats away when truth is being spoken to it.
– === ===

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