A Good Home, Insight

Fighting with Journalists

I’ve been cheating on you, my friends. 

Instead of reading your posts and replying to them at late night or morning, I’ve been reading stories from across the pond.

And before I knew it, I was smack-dab in the middle of a heated fight.

For a mild-mannered, disabled, Canadian author, this is an unfamiliar situation. And that, plus my former profession, may be the only things I have in common with royal reporters.

Royal reporters (RRs, for short) are being fact-checked, corrected, chastised for sloppy practices by hundreds of Twitter-users every day, many of whom are providing evidence of what they see as shoddy treatment of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

Blog Photo - MM and PH smiling

Who are these Twitter users?

In the last few weeks, I’ve received a crash course in the identities and concerns of some of the people who are defending the couple.

I found a complex and diverse group, many of whom appear to be well-educated women (and a few men) from the US, the UK, France, Canada and some African countries.

Many are “black or brown”, but some are white, mixed-race or other.  They include university professors, journalists, businesspeople, retired educators and other professionals.

Many never followed the royal family until Meghan Markle got engaged to Prince Harry.  They were appalled by the stories in the UK media, particularly the tabloids, and their readers’ replies.

They expressed shock that anyone can “verbally abuse or lie” about the royal family without being held accountable.

Marrying a royal is worse for a mixed-race woman: there’s racism and sexism involved too.  (Say goodbye to your good reputation.) Tabloid ‘click-bait’ headlines, instigating hateful responses to the young royals, are numerous.

Wikipedia describes View Park−Windsor Hills, where the duchess’ mother lives, as “one of the wealthiest primarily African-American areas in the United States” but tabloid stories called her home and neighbourhood “gang-scarred”.

Blog Photo - MM at British Fashion Awards - Credit Harper's BazaarBlog Photo - MM story - W and K at Bafta - Credit Kensington Palace

More recently, a supporter juxtaposed photos of the duchess and her sister-in-law, both of whom wore one-shouldered dresses, just weeks apart. The supporter noted that the duchess had been called ‘vulgar’ but her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, was called ‘ethereal’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘princess-like’ in some tabloids.

The unending double-standard galvanized some Twitter-users:

“It has certainly turned me from being a passive observer of our into an activist for fairness & the protection of a woman trying to live her life! It is disgusting & racist how she is treated and deserves to be called out!”

Earlier, the duchess spearheaded a massively successful fundraising cookbook of recipes by the women of Grenfell, a mostly poor high-rise neighbourhood in London that was devastated by fire.  Ironically, the tabloids then linked her to terrorism.

Blog Photo - MM favourite snack - avocado

She’s been linked to drought, murder and human rights abuses, all because she likes avocados on her toast.

She’s been linked to environmental damage. That’s because, at 7 months pregnant and just 2 days before visiting Morocco at the UK government’s request, she accepted a ride back from New York to London on a friend’s private airplane. 

Blog Photo - MM and PH in Morocco - Credit Kensington Palace

Supporters of the duchess have watched all this with keen and anxious eyes. And they’re making it almost impossible for a royal reporter to write a story without a response from Twitter these days.  Users are quick to spot inaccuracies and perceived unfairness

It’s a remarkable media watch: the scrutiny is skilled, informed and fierce. Many responses are calm and evidence-based, but others are dismissive or furious. Some include charges of racism, which royal reporters say is unjust.

While most of the monitored reporters work for the UK’s tabloids, some also write for The Telegraph, The Times and even Canada’s own Maclean’s news magazine.

Earlier this week, The Telegraph released a report by a European consulting firm. The firm said it studied the identities of Twitter users defending the duchess and found a “network” working closely together to attack royal reporters.

The existence of this network, the report said, “could point to an orchestrated campaign to manipulate public opinion by an organization or state.” 

One RR tweeted: “You have to ask, in whose interest might it be to foment discord between the UK and the US over something as anodyne as a royal marriage?”

The findings and reporters’ replies elicited outbursts of dismissive laughter on Twitter. One hilarious response followed another. But after the laughter, there was serious concern.

Shockingly, respected Harper’s Bazaar journalist Omid Scobie was one of several the report named in the “network”.

Blog Photo - MM story Omid Scobie

UK journalist and photographer Benjamin Wareing quickly responded with a series of posts, questioning the findings:

“Some of the biggest accounts in this research, I KNOW aren’t bots… Reports of a ‘swarm of Meghan bots’, with implied suggestions it is Russian involvement, seem exaggerated to me and, in a few cases, targeted to dismiss differing views or to shut down certain debates.”

When someone tweeted that Barack Obama was listed too, Wareing replied, simply:
“Jesus Christ…”

Canada’s Maclean’s magazine carried the story next, this time written by a local journalist.  That’s when I unwittingly jumped into the fray.

I breezily commented that some royal reporters deserve to be held accountable (“feet to the fire”) and that some of the alleged “bots” are doing a great job of fact-checking journalists and pointing out slip-ups and bias.

Her reply surprised me: “Your defense of threats, vitriol and personal attacks is well, indefensible.”

Huh? Nowhere had I done so.

Yes, I’ve seen threats: people threatening to stop reading the RR’s columns, or those threatening to keep monitoring their stories.

But the journalist’s reply made me understand that some RR’s do feel under attack and get triggered; they consider themselves victims too.  

Soon after, she received dozens of tweets, most calling out reporters’ hypocrisy.  Examples:

“And your defense of threats, vitriol and personal attacks on the Duchess of Sussex is well, indefensible also.”

“Was it polite criticism when people continuously deliver death threats & vitriol to the DoS, Prince Harry, & their unborn child?”

“Your selective outrage is disgusting. The DoS has been subjected to the most disgusting character assassination of any public figure I can think about and you could not care less about it.”

This reply came with a graphic:

“Jesus, Patricia, little research will confirm Duchess Meghan had millions of fans years before Harry. did you expect us to accept yr lies and innuendos because reporters never ever got pushback?”

Blog Photo - MM Twitter comment

Strangely, the volume of responses made me feel responsible for whatever came next. Some RR’s had complained of threats, so I monitored the comments. I found expressions of outrage, frustration, some insults too — but no threats. 

In recent weeks, some RR’s have retreated to their bunkers: they’re blocking their fiercest critics and supporting each other against criticism. 

It won’t cease hostilities, though. There’s no sign that most of the duke and duchess’ supporters will overlook practices they consider unjust and unethical.  

But as a former journalist, I believe this is “a teachable moment”.

RR’s could learn a lot about their readers and find original stories if brave enough to talk with the people criticising them. It could be a mutual education.  

I’m not holding my breath, though.

 

 

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A Good Home, Journalism

Change The Things You Can

 

Timmy Fletcher was five years old. He lived with his family in a small town in Ontario.

He was bright. Charming too, in that confident way of young children who are loved by those around them. He zipped around in his wheelchair, beaming.

Timmy had one big wish: to go to school, like the other kids.

A new law allowed children with disabilities to attend their local schools. But the school and Timmy’s teacher didn’t think they could handle a paraplegic child.

I empathized with the teacher’s concerns.  But the law was the law. And so I went to the school and kept asking: Why won’t you let Timmy into school?  

I was one of two journalists who wouldn’t let up.

When the school finally changed course and Timmy went to school, my cameraman and I were there.

Timmy was back on the news that evening, a big smile on his face.

~~

Journalism came alive for me when I realized the power of “Why?”

“Why” and “why not” are powerful questions, especially when posed on the local evening news. Traffic lights get installed at a busy intersection; care improves in a senior citizens’ home; regulations are changed or followed.

Asking “why” can actually change lives.

~~

One of my last stories as a TV news reporter was about the lack of female firefighters in Toronto and most of Canada.

Asking “why” led me to two women at City Hall – Mary Bruce and Pat Henderson. They ran the Equity office.

They would love to see a woman firefighter, they said. What’s more, the fire chief did too. But all candidates failed the physical test.

Hmmm… I thought. 

“With weight training, could a woman ever become strong enough to be a firefighter?” I asked the woman who ran my weight-training gym.

“Don’t see why not,” she replied.

“Is there an applicant who has come close?” I asked Mary and Pat. “Could you ask the chief?”

Before I knew it, the three of us were having lunch with Diane Oland, a smart woman who had repeatedly aced the written firefighting test. Diane was physically strong, but not strong enough.

~~

“I know a woman,” I told my weight trainer. “She wants to be a firefighter. Could you train her?”

“I’ll do better,” she replied quickly. “My husband runs our other gym nearby and he used to be a firefighter in London.  I’ll call him.”

My trainer’s husband felt he could get Diane ready to retake the test within 6 months or less — if she really wanted it. She did.

“We’ll all support you,” pledged Pat, Mary and I. 

So she did, he did and we did.

The day Diane aced the test, I wasn’t just a journalist. I was undoubtedly one of her supporters.

~~

I always tried to keep my own emotions out of my stories. But “why” and “why not” are dangerous questions. Sometimes, after asking them, your sense of justice gets seriously triggered and before you know it, you’re invested in the outcome.  

~~

Someone called my TV news station.  A cameraman and I rushed to the scene.

The landlady showed us the disheveled room.  “I kept screaming that they had the wrong man! They got the wrong room. They wouldn’t listen to me!”

Ronald Jackson.

It’s been three decades, and I ‘ve never forgotten him. 

This was a case where “Why” and “Why not” were simply not enough.  

~~

That afternoon, Ronald had lain on his bed in the rooming house where he lived, reading his Bible. Ronald Jackson was a practicing Christian.

A group of strange men burst in and attacked him.

Ronald did what any reasonable person would do: protest; fight back; try to save himself.

But by the time the plainclothes policemen stopped attacking Ronald, he had been badly beaten.

Meanwhile, the guy the police were really after made a swift escape.

~~

Ronald Jackson did not get an apology. He got arrested instead. We later saw Ronald ourselves – his white undershirt stained with blood, his skin bruised. He looked dazed. 

A lawyer who saw my report on the evening news offered to represent Ronald, and he got his day in court. Or should have.

Just before the court date, Ronald’s lawyer told me, police officers in Toronto shipped Ronald off to Montreal, supposedly because of an old traffic ticket. He was in jail when his case came up.  

I had lost touch with this case, and only learned the above when I finally called the lawyer to ask how it had all turned out. He bluntly added: “He’s not the same man you met. He’s gone crazy.”

I could have wept.

(Ronald Jackson is not his real name.)