Saturday, June 14, 2008

Getting Killed In Toronto

I spent a year at journalism school. A good journalism school. The first day we were asked to pick a classmate, shake hands, introduce ourselves, then write that person's obituary. It was a writing exercise and an interviewing exercise. I was eighteen and high-minded; my partner was a girl from Mississauga who liked dancing and singing, and who had acted in an amateur production of The Fantasticks. Her name was Stephanie, and, after lying about the body of my life's achievements, I sat down to write her obit. It went something like this: "Stephanie passed away after choking on a cherry pit; Coke developing seedless drink."

"No good," the teacher said. Her name was Shelley Robertson; she was the Lou Grant of Gould Street. And she taught me a lesson in good writing: "No one passes away or expires or is extinguished or bites the dust or kicks the can--Everyone dies."

It's harsh, but it's true. Your heart stops beating, you're dead. You don't get stabbed after a tiff with your wife; you get stabbed after an argument. You don't get burned in a conflagration; you get burned in a fire.

I won't rant about Toronto, but I will say this: Woolf named each stone in her pocket after an east-west street south of Bloor. This city is dirty, broke, it reeks of decaying garbage and human filth, it's dangerous, it's a 9-5 traffic jam, its infrastructure is cracking, snapping, and falling in concrete chunks, and its politicians are offensively stupid. (See Kyle Rae talking about the new condo. at 1 Bloor St. East; "The intersection of Yonge and Bloor is an important Canadian crossroads." And the water main leak at Dufferin and Keele is an important Canadian trout hatchery.)

But this story about Oliver Martin and Dylan Ellis really bothers me. Two innocent men shot and killed; the story all over the news; the writing pithy and factitious. In 450 words it highlights everything (that I believe is) wrong with print journalism.

City shocked by attack is the headline. Then, halfway down the page, there's an embedded story: Neighbours puzzled by slayings.

The city's shocked, but the neighbours are puzzled. I guess shock takes precedence over being puzzled. But why isn't the city shocked and puzzled? Why are neighbours puzzled but not shocked? Are their brows furrowed? Are they looking for a missing piece?

Are there really people who are "puzzled" that two people were murdered on a Toronto street? A Toronto street near their home? Headline after an 800-point drop in the TSE: "People wind-blown after huge fall."

But that's not what really bothers me. This is:

A quote from the Michele Henry article: "Witnesses told police they saw a man racing away on a bicycle, but other than that, leads are slim."

Witnesses saw a man racing away on a bicycle. Here's where you start to realize there's a problem. They saw more than a man racing away on a bicycle. There was an adjective in the original sentence. But the Star's not allowed to print that word. It's taboo in that particular newsroom.

Here's the Globe and Mail line that corresponds--in content and placement (see: inverted pyramid)--to the Henry excerpt:

"One witness report said a young black male in a white shirt was seen fleeing the crime scene on a bicycle."

A few media outlets are doing this now, and it's absolutely wrong. If a person commits a violent crime, and the police are asking for help locating said person, then it is both obscene and irresponsible that a newspaper or television station would censor the suspect's race. A couple days ago cops were looking for a rapist who'd attacked someone in Etobicoke. The description tabbed someone with a "dark complexion." The next day they released a composite sketch: The person was black. Dark complexion?

So what would you say if an Asian person had committed a crime? Huh? What's the politically correct, incoherent description of an Asian criminal? Or a Jewish criminal? I'm a Jew, so I feel comfortable spinning this ethnic stereotype. "Suspect is described as having curly hair, brown eyes, and a slight overbite."

Nope. No way they'd say that. You can't mention the nose, can't mention the chin. It's height, weight, clothing, and that's it. Myron Gottlieb is standing trial for his role in the Livent insurance fire. Most news outlets won't even write Gottlieb, won't even say the word. Because Gottlieb is unmistakably Jewish. They don't want to offend Jews like my grandfather who see the story, shake their head, and shout derisively, "So now it's send-the-Jews-to-jail time, huh?!"

But, really, what's the illusion here? That the police don't know or care if their suspect's black or white? Or you can't say that a Jew embezzled money--because that affirms an ethnic stereotype. God, it's true: we're really that stupid. This is a multi-cultural city, so we can't discriminate against any particular group by naming a suspect's skin colour? Is this like a libel-slander argument? Is this because of those brilliantly useful Human Rights Courts? You know the truth is a defence. But this Mark Steyn trial must be scaring the hell out of everyone.

I know this is a product of political correctness. And, goddamn it, the stupidity of big-L Liberalism is getting up there with death and taxes.


Anonymous said...

You said, "But this story about Oliver Martin and Dylan Ellis really bothers me. Two innocent men shot and killed"...

How do you know they were innocent?

Anonymous said...

i agree with the other comment:

how do you know they were innocent?

If you know the streets of Toronto, you know these two things:
1. Unless its a stray bullet, no one gets shot for no reason.
2. Trinity Bellwoods Park is a good spot to pick up weed or blow, or to meet up with someone to pick it up.

These two rich kids were trying to buy, there was confusion, and they ended up getting shot.

This may or may not be true. But it is a very plausible possibility. And the fact that the media never even considered this is the real travesty in reporting.

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