Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On antidotes

Susan Delacourt is absolutely right to note the danger when silence required as a matter of duty leaves the real story untold. And it's worth noting that Delacourt misses another obvious example - as the Afghanistan leaks that have made so much news lately would have been far less significant if their details hadn't previously been withheld for little apparent reason.

But I'd think there's another point worth raising as to who bears responsibility for filling the void with spin, and how the press can respond:
Dutiful silence is an honoured tradition in Canadian public service, but if it becomes a weapon in someone else's hands, that should make us all worried. And it might make public servants reconsider whether discretion is always the better part of valour. If Mr. Sheikh had another option -- specifically, refuting things said about him publicly -- maybe he didn't need to resign.

And we in the media, yes that means me too, should be careful about allowing mischievous spin to fill a duty-bound silence. Sheikh essentially said this morning that StatsCan was outgunned by a whisper campaign against it, much in the way that the GG was, and that cannot be right. In a larger sense, I think this tension between perception and reality is the biggest problem facing political journalism and politics in general. Perception shouldn't be a trump card against facts.
It's not as if it's much of a secret that the source of the whispers is the same government which is well known for fabricating details even when it knows that the truth will come out. So shouldn't some greater skepticism - both in handling spin when it comes in, and more importantly in conveying it through a story - be one of the most important defences against abuses of the power to withhold the facts?

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