Tag Archives: Media

Toronto Star & CTV’s front-line Iraq coverage amounts to little more than a military PR exercise

Image description: The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and Air Task Force-Iraq Commander, Colonel Shayne Elder (right), inspect the Honour Guard of Canadian Armed Forces members deployed on Operation IMPACT at Camp Patrice Vincent, Kuwait, on February 21, 2016. Vance recently travelled to the front lines in northern Iraq, where he was interviewed by the Toronto Star and CTV. (Image credit: Canadian Armed Forces)

Image description: The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and Air Task Force-Iraq Commander, Colonel Shayne Elder (right), inspect the Honour Guard of Canadian Armed Forces members deployed on Operation IMPACT at Camp Patrice Vincent, Kuwait, on February 21, 2016. Vance recently travelled to the front lines in northern Iraq, where he was interviewed by the Toronto Star and CTV. (Image credit: Canadian Armed Forces)

The Toronto Star and CTV are currently in the midst of a three-day exclusive profile of Canadian Special Forces training Kurdish peshmerga soldiers on the front lines of the war against Daesh (the so-called “Islamic State”) in northern Iraq. But unfortunately, their reporting so far has amounted to little more than stenography, with an apolitical and pro-military point of view presented without an iota of criticism or balance. Given the recent history of the Canadian Forces’ relationship with the media, it’s reasonable to speculate that the friendliness of this coverage was a condition to which the media organizations agreed in exchange for access.

The frontline access granted to the Star and CTV is a notable departure from the intense secrecy which has shrouded this mission since its earliest days. Other than sporadic glimpses on fear-mongering political tours, reporters have generally been denied access to the area, particularly reporters who come asking difficult questions, as the Globe and Mail’s Mark MacKinnon did in the months after the death of Canada’s lone casualty in the conflict, Sgt. Andrew Dorion, at the hands of the very Kurdish peshmerga troops he had been training.

MacKinnon was repeatedly turned away despite obtaining permission from all relevant authorities to travel to the area, and Department of National Defence officials were pointedly vague and politely uncooperative in response to persistent inquiries from the Globe on the matter. The military’s top brass was likely not too pleased with the resulting long read, which dug deeply into the many questions still surrounding Dorion’s death and highlighted the highly contingent and transactional nature of the Kurds’ alliance with Western militaries.

This was likely exactly what Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance had in mind when he criticized media coverage he perceives as being hostile to the military. Last fall, Vance, whose visit to the front lines is a central highlight of the Star/CTV coverage, put forward plans to “weaponize” the information DND shared with the media. This incredible story, broken by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, didn’t get nearly enough attention at the time, and is extremely relevant in light of this Star/CTV exclusive:

There will be more strategic leaks by the Canadian Forces/DND to journalists who are deemed “friendly” to the military. Such leaks will consist mainly of “good news” stories or positive initiatives and the journalists will be required to heavily promote those.

Equally important, is the flip-side of this “weaponization” strategy. That is the targeting of journalists who are writing or broadcasting the stories that the [Canadian Forces]/DND don’t want out in the public domain.

Journalists seen as “trouble-makers” are those producing stories about failed equipment purchases or uncovering details about severely injured soldiers not being treated properly or individuals being sexually harassed, etc., public affairs officers tell Defence Watch.  In other words, reporters who are producing what the CF/DND views as negative or embarrassing news stories.

The “weaponization” aspect will come into play with phone calls to media bosses, letters to the editor, etc. – anything to undercut the credibility of such journalists in the eyes of readers and their employers, NDHQ public affairs sources say. Other tactics aimed at these journalists could also be developed.

Vance later tried to downplay the report, saying that while he understood why some may find the term “weaponization” “aggressive”, he merely “want[ed] Defence to be a respected voice in the very important defence dialogue that goes on in the country”. Notwithstanding these comments, given the military’s history of intimidating reporters who cover them unfavourably, it would be understandable if this threat of “weaponization” put a chill on critical coverage of Canada’s operations in Iraq.

It also simultaneously created a perverse incentive – outlets which provided positive coverage which was “friendly” to the military would be rewarded. It seems that the Star and CTV have won this teacher’s pet contest, and are doing their best to maintain their current level of access with what ultimately amount to hero-worshipping puff pieces.

The Star’s piece on Friday, sensationally headlined “Daesh is doomed, Canada’s top general says during dramatic visit to Iraq”, is an exercise in security theatre. Peppered with details on the dangers of the visit (“Anything in the bushes, avoid it. The last thing I want is for you guys is to step on something that goes boom,” a Canadian special operations sergeant cautioned journalists as they awaited Vance’s arrival”), the article is profoundly deferential to Vance, who is given a platform from which to uncritically promote the mission and confidently declare that it will inevitably be successful:

Today, the Star gushes about the incredible progress Canada’s incredible Special Forces (“experts in the craft of warfare…among the best in the world…trained to handle worst-case scenarios at home and abroad”) have made in training and assisting peshmerga troops:

“Since we’ve been working here in northern Iraq, we’ve seen outstanding progress. They are very capable fighters. They will absolutely fight to the last man to protect their homes,” a major with special operations forces told the Star…

But the Canadians are more than just military teachers. They are a welcome reassurance, a morale booster in what has been a difficult fight against the extremists…

“As peshmerga we gained a lot from the Canadians, from training to help during major attacks. We thank them for all this,” one pesh soldier told Canadian journalists as he stood watch in an observation post.

Meanwhile, CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme, absurdly wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest emblazoned with the word PRESS, opened her exclusive front-line interview with Vance with what is possibly the softest softball question of all time:

LAFLAMME: So tell me about, you know, this is such a rare opportunity for Canadians to finally see who Canada’s Special Forces are. Why was that important for you to share this message now?

VANCE: Well, I guess I’ll start with, Lisa, by saying that to me, every member of the Canadian Armed Forces is special, and every part of the Armed Forces has something special and important to offer to a military mission. In the specific case of CANSOF [Canadian Special Operations Forces], this is an organization that I want Canadians to be proud of. I think we should be proud of them. They’re wonderful people – you know, bright, motivated, and exceptionally well trained. And we’re one of a very, very small number of nations in the world that can do what we do.

Just in case you forgot – this is the exact same general who just months ago was threatening career-sabotaging reprisals against journalists who covered the military unfavourably. Is it any wonder large sections of the Star’s reporting reads like it could have been directly copied from a DND press release? Or that LaFlamme gave Vance every opportunity to make himself and his troops look good?

This “exclusive coverage” has not in any way offer the public a better understanding of Canada’s military mission in Iraq, and especially not of the fraught political context in which it operates. Instead, it’s been a fairly blatant exercise in public relations, uncritically promoting Canadian Special Forces, their peshmerga-training mission, and of course, Gen. Jonathan Vance.

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Rosie Dimanno’s coverage of the Ghomeshi trial is victim-blaming rape-shaming vitriol at its worst

Image description: The top half of the front page of the Toronto Star on Feb. 6, 2016 in a newspaper box on the street.. The main headline reads "Lucy's lawyer lashes out", with the subhead (Image credit: author)

Image description: The top half of the front page of the Toronto Star on Feb. 6, 2016, in a newspaper box on the street.. The main headline reads “Lucy’s lawyer lashes out”, with the subhead “‘Trial is about Ghomeshi’s conduct,’ not his alleged victims’ behaviour”. Note the use of witness Lucy DeCoutere’s first name, which connotes a certain lack of seriousness, almost a childishness, and also the phrase “lashes out”, which implies unfocussed anger and unreasonableness. (Image credit: author)

CW: Rape, rape apology, victim-blaming.

The Toronto Star, Canada’s highest-circulation daily newspaper, has been nothing if not thorough in its coverage of the ongoing trial of Jian Ghomeshi, disgraced former CBC radio personality. (Ghomeshi, in case you’ve been living under a rock in the Himalayas, had his career implode on him last year after several women came forward accusing him of extremely violent sexual assault.) The Star has had wall-to-wall coverage of the trial, devoting a whole section on the front page of their website to regular updates on every aspect of the proceedings.

And the most prominent of their, ahem, journalists writing about this issue is the perennially snarky and provocative Rosie DiManno.

DiManno, for those unfamiliar with her work, is a narcissistic attention-craving blowhard with a tendency to be deliberately offensive. Almost ten years ago, Torontoist briefly attempted to run a series mocking her abominable prose style and her unfailing lack of empathy; the series terminated after a mere seven entries with a scathing review of an article she wrote on another rape trial: Continue Reading

CityNews engaged in reckless journalism by pushing pro-carding police propaganda

Image: A Toronto police car. (Image credit: Wikimedia/Raysonho)

This past weekend, there was a late-night shooting in Toronto’s Chinatown neighbourhood. Two people are dead and three injured; the shooter remains at large. It was the latest shooting in what was an unusually violent January for Toronto.

In this post, I’m not going to be looking at the shooting in much detail. Instead, I’d like to look at the way that one specific media organization has responded to it – by using irresponsible and unfounded remarks by the president of the Toronto Police Association to draw in traffic and stir up a false controversy. Continue Reading

CSIS’s desperate plea for secrecy in B.C. terror case reveals more than it conceals

Image description: a courtroom sketch of Amanda Korody wearing a green shawl and a short-haired and clean-shaven John Nuttall wearing a blue suit, sitting in what appears to be a bulletproof-glass enclosure in a vaguely rendered courtroom.

The months-long mainstream media silence on the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody ended explosively yesterday with revelations of a secret CSIS-requested closed-door in camera hearing this past Monday.

As a team of media organizations fights in court for the release of a transcript from the hearing, questions are being raised yet again about just what exactly CSIS’s involvement in this convoluted plot was, and about what the surveillance agency wants to conceal from the public. Continue Reading

Electoral reform and the inadequacy of proportional representation

(This is the third in an ongoing series on the question of voting. See part one and part two if you’re interested.)

Now let me just start off by saying loudly and clearly that I’m in favour of proportional representation.

If we’re going to have a representative democracy – or even pretend that we do – then it’s long past time that we switched to an electoral system which yields results which reflect the actual vote totals. The obviousness of this proposition makes it hard to believe that this policy has never been enacted, especially since all of the major parties in this country have been on the losing side of an unfair election result at some point or another.

The introduction of a more democratic method of allocating the seats in Parliament would go some way towards alleviating the tendency of parties with a shot at winning government to abandon all principle and run toward the perceived “centre” that I discussed last week, and would no doubt encourage people who support marginal parties and parties unlikely to win their riding from voting anyway.

All of this is good.


(You knew there was gonna be a “but”, right?) Continue Reading

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