Below is the email exchange thus far between me and Christopher Bird, blogger at The Torontoist, a mainstream liberal news/culture zine which proudly touts the praise they receive from Canada’s establishment press. Bird’s coverage of the other media covering the G20 and of the protests (and not the summit) in Toronto has ranged from talking about the expensive HD screen set up at the press centre to elitist dismissals of everything and anything protest-related while constantly siding with the police. I wrote to Bird to challenge an ironic story he wrote about, effectively, why you can’t trust protestors’ "narratives" because they’re crazy and unreliable.
By publishing this exchange I hope to give a small glimpse inside the thinking of the establishment press in Canada, keeping in mind that this is just one blogger at just one site, and the potential reactions we face when we challenge the authority of the press. This is a relevant example as Bird’s writing largely follows the line of the CBC, Globe and Mail, CTV, National Post and the other big players in the Canadian media – which should make clear the dire need for a mass alternative media movement in the country (and, of course, globally, as these issues are not unique to Canada). I will post any further responses that I receive from Bird here and gladly welcome any critique of my own criticisms, tactics and assumptions.
In chronological order, from the original email to the latest reply:
From: Andre Guimond
Sent: June-26-10 4:52 PM
To: christopherbird (at) torontoist.com
Subject: RE: G20 Dispatches: This Is Narrative
Your June 26, 2010 story on the Torontoist, “G20 Dispatches: This Is Narrative”, referred to a Youtube video in which, at 1:59, a man is clearly punched in the back of the head by a police officer. You commented that, “The cop clearly isn’t hitting the guy or even trying to be violent: he’s trying to push people out of the way and he accidentally shoves a guy in the head. But that doesn’t matter—what matters is the narrative.” I would encourage you to watch the video again as it’s quite clear that you didn’t take the time to examine it closely, and thus produced your own “narrative” contribution to the whitewashing of the seriousness and brutality of police violence in Canada today.
Frankly, though, it’s not surprising that you have either A) not done your homework, or B) taken a cowardly pro-power stance in favour of increasing state policing and against our inalienable right to free speech, free association and free protest, given that you are writing for a blog partnered with the crème de la crème of the Canadian establishment press, the Globe and Mail.
I won’t speak to the rest of your article at the moment, shameless as it is in its blind dismissal of other “narratives,” but I would like to give you this opportunity to review the video in question, reconsider your position on it, and make a public correction. Regardless, I will follow up with a blog post as to your response – so make it a good one!
From: Christopher Bird [mightygodking (at) gmail.com]
Sent: June-26-10 9:35 PM
To: Andre Guimond
Subject: Re: G20 Dispatches: This Is Narrative
1.) I’m not sure what I’d have to do to establish cred with you, since you start out with attack-the-source logical fallacies. Are the tickets I’ve gotten from cops while on my bike enough? How about this article I wrote arguing how a recent Supreme Court decision unfairly disadvantages minorities in police detention situations: http://www.thecourt.ca/2009/08/14/its-not-a-post-racial-world-r-v-suberu-and-the-failure-of-objectivity/ ? Please, let me know. Your good opinion of me is vital and I am desperate to be seen as a proper liberal in your eyes.
2.) Amount the Globe and Mail has paid me as a stringer for Torontoist: zero dollars. Hell, Torontoist itself only pays me about fifty bucks a month most months. I resent the implication that I am a cheap whore. If I’m gonna whore out, it will be for a lot more than fifty fucking dollars.
3.) I note that you fail to address the fact that in the article I EXPLICITLY say that the cops have exactly the same problem that the protesters do, namely epistemological closure and a failure to engage the other side of the line. It is oddly convenient for your screed that you miss this.
4.) In regards to the video, I watched it multiple times and repeatedly rewound the key strike before coming to my assessment. It’s an open-palm strike, not a closed fist, and it looks to me like his hand first strikes the shoulder and then slides up to the head fast. Hence my opinion that it’s a push that got fucked up, which happens. I saw actual police brutality today and I’m going out in a few minutes to likely witness a lot more; I really don’t have any sympathy for the whining of a self-important wannabe victim when there are people who are actually suffering out there.
In conclusion: fuck off.
mightygodking (at) gmail.com
From: Andre Guimond
Sent: June-28-10 1:36 AM
To: ‘Christopher Bird'; christopherbird (at) torontoist.com
Subject: RE: G20 Dispatches: This Is Narrative
Thanks for taking the time to respond to my concerns. Do you prefer to be called “Mighty God King” or “The Explosively Talented Christopher Bird”? I’ve seen you use both monikers online, and I just want to be sure to use the right one so I don’t offend you any further than I obviously have.
However, I still don’t feel as if you have actually addressed the concerns I presented, or made any corrections public, for that matter, so I do have a few more questions and comments. (I re-pasted my original email at the bottom of all this to be sure we are both referring to the same thing.) I have to say that I’m also struck by the tone that you’ve taken in your response and that you’ve gone as far as to tell me to “fuck off” – do you really feel that my original email justified such a crass and aggressive reaction?
Anyway, since we’re using numbered lists now, we might as well continue:
1) Why do you feel you have to establish credibility with me, especially as a “proper liberal”? And what do you consider to be “liberal”? To me that means a pragmatic view of freedom and equality, free market economics, association with the Liberal party or the Democrats, and so on. I do not identify with this perspective in the least, although I’m guessing that you do, considering your assumption that that was what I was looking for in you. Otherwise, the only thing that it seems you might be referring to in regards to “cred” is when I brought up your blog’s association with the Globe and Mail. In that sense, perhaps I should have taken more time to explain why I brought it up and spent less time attacking you, for which I apologize. Basically, if you write for a blog partnered with the establishment press, then it’s not surprising that your writing would also align with the (classist, racist, sexist, xenophobic, war-mongering, state-worshipping, administration parroting – the Globe, not you) views of that institution. Not that it’s your fault, really; it’s only natural that the Globe would select a partner blog that fits their institutional mentality, and I’m sure that you yourself are subject to those pressures in some way, shape or form, too – unless you came pre-loaded with this perspective, which I guess is possible, though unfortunate.
I’m sorry that you got ticketed – though, to be fair, I assume you weren’t beaten, pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets or arrested on Saturday, if a few tickets were the worst you got. But, no, I don’t see any logical correlation between getting fines and being credible. All it proves is that you were on a bike when, for some reason, you shouldn’t have been… which might actually suggest poor judgment on your part, or more likely, on the police’s – but again, nothing to do with credibility. Whether or not I approve of you doesn’t matter, though, and that’s not what this is about – although it’s an effective way to sidestep the real issues here. This is about your responsibility as a member of the media to present a fair and honest and rational view to the public, to accurately present the facts and make logical conclusions based on them, and to publicly admit to and clarify your errors. I do think you’ve failed on all counts, as I’ve been trying (and will continue) to explain.
As to the article you wrote a year ago about a completely different topic and on another site altogether – ok, great, you wrote a non-principled liberal analysis of a court ruling that, at worst, you called “disappointing,” when (gasp!) “wrong” or some other kind of harsher (principled) criticism might have been more appropriate. (Not to mention your suggestion that minorities only feel persecuted by the police, although you give evidence earlier in the article that proves that minorities are subject to systematic profiling and harsher police treatment.) Is that meant to be impressive somehow? Does that build your “credibility”? And how was I, or any reasonable person, supposed to be expected to seek out your views on the Supreme Court of Canada when searching for information on the G20 summit, and why would that information be relevant to understanding your reporting on the G20? Hoping to answer the latter myself, I read the other article that you referred to and, as expected, it had nothing to do with what we’re actually talking about.
2) I never referred to payment or implied anything of the sort of you being a “cheap whore” (and I resent your usage of such sexist language) when I brought up the Globe and Mail. Your lack of awareness around the potential issues associated with writing for the establishment press is striking. (See second half of first paragraph in section 1, above.)
3) I assume that you are referring to the following “EXPLICIT” statement in your article that the shows that “the cops have exactly the same problem that the protesters do, namely epistemological closure and a failure to engage the other side of the line”:
“Cops do it, too, of course; we’ve heard stories from cops about freak protesters, naked protesters waving their bits at cops, protesters blowing pot smoke in cops’ faces. Again, in fairness, some protesters really are whacked-out freaks. But most of them are just well-meaning do-gooders, which isn’t satisfying.”
The only other references to the police in your article are an assumption that “Ben” and his friend were lying about their encounters with the police, a broad dismissal witness accounts on the basis that their stories are invalid because witnesses always just tell police what they want to hear, and how paranoid protestors are when it comes to the cops, so I assume the above quote is what you’re referring to. So, this is your grand, explicit expression of your opinion that cops are just as bad as protestors at being honest and trying to understand “the other side’s” point of view? You’re right, couldn’t be clearer. Those 48 uncompromising words you use to denounce the police really stand out among the 591 others that you’ve used to paint protestors in such a rational (“paranoid”) and favourable (“’lying’ doesn’t do [the kids’ stories] justice”) light. As I composed my terrible diatribe, consumed by blind anger and uncontrollable rage, I completely forgot to mention your delicate balance of issues and principled dedication to fairness and accuracy!
4) I have absolutely no problem questioning your credibility when it comes to being able to honestly analyse the evidence and present the facts. If you download the YouTube video (try using the Firefox extension “DownloadHelper”) and use a decent media player to freeze and step the video at 2:01, you can pretty clearly make out both the closed fist of the officer and the direct strike to the back of the man’s head. And judging by the amount that his head snaps forward, it actually seemed quite forceful. Remember, too, that officers are trained in combat and are usually very, very strong – these are not your average citizens throwing a punch. Who are we, though, to sympathize with a peaceful protestor who gets donkey punched by a poor officer just trying to protect himself from the man’s threatening back?!
It was not accidental by any means, as you claimed, and the officer was quite clearly trying very hard to be violent. However, your story has still not been corrected, even though you admit below to being wrong about it just being a “push,” and even though others have called you out in the comments section of your post. And, again, your analysis doesn’t line up with the facts: having admitted that it wasn’t a push, but an actual strike, you still imply that incident wasn’t “actual police brutality.” What, then, is considered “actual brutality” in your mind, and what is not?
Hopefully the vulgar irony of your criticism and dismissal of others’ “narratives” and your own “narrative” treatment of this story isn’t lost on you.
When do you plan to make the corrections to your post and add a statement explaining them? How do you plan to follow up to your coverage of the G20? Do you have it in you to do the right thing and side with the people who so clearly and painfully need siding with, considering the all-out attack on the credibility of the protesters (which you contributed to, like it or not) and the complete media ignorance of their very valid demands? It’s not a matter of credibility or politics or self-interest or anything like that. It’s much simpler: it’s about decency, common human decency.