Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Amy MacPherson's Zombie "Journalism" : No Ethics, No Sources

As I set out to write this column, I realize that I can think of many, many ways to say that Amy MacPherson is not very bright, but that I didn't want to start this column by saying that MacPherson is not very bright.

I didn't want to do this, but then I realized that the defining characteristic of MacPherson's "reporting" is, in fact, that she isn't very bright. And her most recent "reporting" on L'affaire Ghomeshi proves it. To say that her "reporting" lacks gravitas would, frankly, be unduly complimentary to it. In fact, MacPherson's "reporting" is characterized by a deficit of gravitas.

In her most recent offering regarding Ghomeshi, MacPherson is somehow still on Ghomeshi's side. That much is crystal clear. But at least she almost seems to move beyond her "CPC is out to get Ghomeshi because Charter" conspiracy. Or at least, it seems that way at times.

But really what MacPherson is attempting to lambaste Canadaland's Jesse Brown over in this piece is ethics. And she fails at it because she doesn't understand the issue. Mostly because her own ethics are entirely bunk.

MacPherson's most recent attempt of a Brown takedown revolves around Brown's appearance on Ed the Sock's podcast.



Anyhow, MacPherson's deranged blogpost makes the following "ethical" complaints about Brown's reporting. She states that:

1. Brown did not disclose his personal relationship with a Ghomeshi victim.
2. Brown did not disclose his former position as a radio personality on the CBC.

Now, if MacPherson actually understood media ethics -- which is unlikely, as she doesn't have any -- she might have stopped to ponder, for a moment, the nature of the relationship between a journalist and their sources.

In cases where a journalist's source is a whistleblower it's always considered preferable that the source be identified. This can be considered an ethical disincentive to running with the story. However, in cases where the matter is a subject of public interest, it's considered to be perfectly acceptable to proceed with the story so long as the source's story can be factually verified.

The source's story was factually verified, much to MacPherson's chagrin. Everyone should remember that her original offering on the story was that Lucy DeCoutere was being put up to this whole thing by the military. That was an insanely -- literally deranged -- unethical attack on DeCoutere for reasons that were not then and not now entirely clear.

Once a source's story is verified and corroborated, it's considered perfectly ethical to print the story. And it's also considered entirely ethical for a journalist to protect their source from retaliation by protecting their identity.

As it pertains to Kathryn Borel, thinly-veiled threats made against other complainants at the CBC made it clear she had to fear for her job if it was aware she was a source -- although not the source -- for Brown's reporting. (More on this shortly.)

Admittedly, Brown had an ethical decision to make. He was caught between two ethical expectations: on one hand that he would disclose his personal relationship with Borel. But on the other there was his responsibility to protect his source from retaliation.

Brown passed this ethical hurdle in a novel way. Remember that Borel wasn't "the" source. She was "a" source. Brown sat on this particular allegation while he waited for more allegations to surface. And before long, they did.

I'm not surprised that MacPherson doesn't seem to understand the ethical nuances of the relationship between a journalist and their sources. Not only has she demonstrated on numerous occasions that her work is written with extreme indifference to ethical standards -- attempting, though failing, to smear Ghomeshi's victims was the most egregious example -- but she frequently writes without sources.

No ethics, no sources, no worries. I suppose.

But that's not a formula for quality journalism.

MacPherson's other ethical complaint about Brown's reporting is also utterly laughable. It may be true that Brown did not disclose his former employment at the CBC specifically within those stories. Here's the thing: Brown's previous tenure at the CBC is public knowledge.

What's more laughable yet is her insistence that, during his time at CBC, Brown and Ghomeshi were "competitors."

They were both employed by the CBC, on non-competing shows. Never did a Jesse Brown show go to air opposite Ghomeshi's Q. That's what you call a "competitor." In fact, Ghomeshi and Brown were what you actually call a "colleague."

Comically, MacPherson herself was formerly a CBC election blogger. She doesn't disclose this herself. Which, as this is readily-available public knowledge, would be fine if she herself wasn't demanding such disclosure from Brown. But because she does make that demand, it's simply hypocrisy.

As MacPherson drones on she makes a number of entirely-irrelevant yet comedic complaints.

One was that Brown received encouragement from Jeffrey Dvorkin, who mas made some radical suggestions on how to restructure the CBC. Another is that Brown allegedly co-created Bitstrips.

To either case, MacPherson seems to make no effort whatsoever to clear the first hurdle of public inquiry: the "so what?" question.

Literally: so what? What about it?

Perhaps the most insipid complaint MacPherson raises against Brown is that the Ghomeshi story effectively rejuvenated Brown's then-flagging Canadaland podcast. Again, MacPherson cannot clear the "so what?" hurdle.

Here's a detail that MacPherson herself should be very familiar with: individual stories very much can make or break an individual outlet, and an individual career. And L'affaire Ghomeshi should make that perfectly clear to her: L'affaire Ghomeshi has made Jesse Brown's career. And it's destroyed hers. Mostly because each took it in entirely different directions, and in each case the direction was conducive to the result.

MacPherson chose to set off with virtually no facts in hand, and spun bizarre conspiracy theories that were not supported by the scant few facts she had in hand. When additional facts came out she attempted -- inanely -- to twist them to support that conspiracy theory. And while she makes no mention of that conspiracy theory in her most recent blogpost, she does note that Ed the Sock puppeteer Ed Kerzner once ran for office as a candidate of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

On the other hand, Jesse Brown adopted a "trust but verify" approach to his sources and to the story. Ghomeshi and the CBC attempted various methods -- not especially dissimilar from MacPherson's -- to deflect the story. But once the floodgates of additional complainants came forward, Brown was vindicated and a career (his career) was reinvigorated.

This is why Jesse Brown is a rising star in Canadian journalism, and Amy MacPherson's career is dead. And while she may choose to wander the wasteland of her Free the Press Canada blog, intelligent people recognize her for the zombie that she is.

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