Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Troubles in CAJ-Land

On March 10, 2004, the CAJ board sent out a news release attacking author Stevie Cameron for being too close to the police in her investigation of the Airbus affair.

In my opinion, it was done in haste, it was ill-informed and it smeared the reputation of an honoured member of the craft.

Cameron (whom I know and like), made her correspondence with the CAJ available to CAJ-L members who requested it. It should also be up on her website in the next day or two. There's some interesting stuff available (addendum: She didn't add the CAJ material).

Her problems with the CAJ's board have been the source of some frenzied debate in the past few days on CAJ-L, the organization's listserv.

Here is one of my responses that I just posted to CAJ-L. Paul Schneidereit is the CAJ's current president. He was responding to a post of mine asking why the Cameron news release had evidently been disappeared:

Paul Schneidereit wrote:

> Last summer, when we were in talks with Ms. Cameron about
> trying to resolve this issue, and when the CAJ and individual
> directors had already been threatened with possible legal
> action, she requested its removal. At that time, we agreed,
> as a measure of good faith. That did not indicate its retraction.

As a bonus, it would have lessened the CAJ's damage exposure if Cameron ever sued the CAJ for defamation, it went to trial and she won — although this refusal to retract would like compound the matter.

That is my layman's opinion. Others with actual legal expertise may have a different view.

I guess I'm having difficulty understanding why a potentially defamatory news release was removed just to be nice when the originating party thinks there's nothing wrong with it and in fact continues to defend its contents.

Mr. Schneidereit also wrote:

> For accuracy's sake and for the record, the CAJ never
> “censured” anyone. The word does not appear in the release.

From the Concise Oxford Dictionary:

Censure: Criticize harshly, reprove … – n. harsh criticism, expression of disapproval.

From the news release headline:

“CAJ denounces Cameron's actions in passing information to police”

From the Concise Oxford Dictionary:

Denounce: 1. accuse publicly, condemn (denounced him as a traitor) 2. inform against (denounced her to the police). 3. Give notice of termination of (an armistice, treaty, etc).

By denouncing Cameron, didn't the CAJ effectively censure her — as it claims in the CAJ May 2004 AGM minutes?

Is there a huge semantic difference between “condemn” and “criticize harshly” or “reprove”?

The news release said:

“Even if her intentions were honourable, Ms. Cameron should realize that by being seen to be helping the police with their case, her behaviour has potentially damaged the reputations and effectiveness — of her colleagues everywhere in Canada.”

That's not censorious? (?!?!)

Incredibly, it was one graf below *this*:

“Clearly, much more information has to come out before any final conclusions can be drawn,” said Schneidereit. “But just as clearly, we believe the relationship between Ms. Cameron and the police was fundamentally inappropriate.”

If some people doesn't recognize the logical problems there, then …

Anyways, Erica Johnson wrote this:

> Clearly, people are divided on the Stevie Cameron affair. I
> think the CAJ board has made its feelings perfectly clear on
> this, and others disagree. This debate has been kicking
> around for months, resurfacing it seems whenever someone gets
> bored and wants something to complain about.
> MOVE ON. Either cancel your CAJ membership, or realize that
> as an umbrella organization the CAJ is not always going to
> see eye to eye with you on everything. When you elect a
> politician, do you agree with every single thing that person
> does in office? If you find something so egregious you can't
> tolerate that politician anymore…vote in a new politician!
> Same holds for the CAJ. Elections are held at the annual

> conference in May (although fewer than a handful of
> journalists – who supposedly care so much about the goals,
> directions, etc. of the CAJ ever both to show up and/or participate).
> Please, people. We all have to agree to disagree on this one.

Actually, I think members have every right to disagree with the CAJ board.

For background, I was a CAJ member from 1986, the year I started working in journalism, until 2003 (I think I missed one other year).

In that time, I was on the national board for five years, a chapter president for about three (it was one of the most active in Canada for a brief shining period), helped co-found the computer-assisted reporting caucus and was on the caucus executive for a while, published a newsletter for it for several years, helped found Project Censored Canada, was the CAJ's rep to it for years, moderated CAJ-L for four years, helped out with teaching CAR and online journalism at numerous conventions, etc., etc. In short, I think I did my fair share as a member. Frankly, others did more.

Back in 1994, when the CAJ was in one of its periodic financial crisis modes, then-president David Stewart-Patterson proposed to open the CAJ up to cash donations from non-media corporations. That was an acrimonious debate.

This was something that I opposed right down to the very core of my professional soul. At one point, I publicly said that I would permanently disassociate myself from any journalistic group that would adopt such a policy. Others had strong views the other way.

David took the measure of the room, *listened* to everybody — and withdrew the motion. He said (and I'm going from memory on all this) it was too divisive, no consensus would emerge and so further scrapping over it would hurt the organization.

My respect for him, which was already considerable, soared. Why? Because he showed good judgment and acted like a mature leader.

Even though I opposed his notion hammer and tongs, guess what he did afterwards? Gave me (among others) a lift to Toronto. He was great company the whole way.

I'll allow people to draw whatever conclusions they will from that anecdote and apply them to today's CAJ as they see fit.

The current president wrote:

> As a aside, I will also note that list-serve posters who are
> not members of the CAJ have no actual “right” to vote on
> anything concerning this organization.

I'm one of them. I'm not voting, I'm expressing an opinion.

Here is an excerpt from the CAJ's mission statement: “We serve as the national voice of Canadian journalists …”

One could interpret that as speaking for the entire craft, and not just the CAJ's membership. If the CAJ is going to do that, it should be prepared to listen to the entire craft as well.

That should apply doubly when the organization purporting to speaking for Canadian journalists issues news releases in ill-informed, poorly considered haste that damages the reputation of an honoured member of the craft. Doing so weakens the reputation of the CAJ among journalists and its ability to speak with credibility on behalf of them.

It seems to me people of goodwill have been trying to resolve this but in 11 months, it hasn't happened.

This situation reminds me of a great line by the American satirist P.J. O'Rourke, who, after outlining some of the incredible stupidity that led to the the U.S. savings and loan debacle in the 1980s, said: “By now, you probably have a few questions, such as: 'What the f—?!' Oops. I'm sorry. You probably meant, 'WHAT THE F—IN' F—?'”

Bill Doskoch
Toronto, ON

Thu, February 10 2005 » CAJ-L postings, Main Page, Media

One Response

  1. PD March 9 2010 @ 3:02 pm

    Actually, “What the f—? I mean, what the f—ing f—?”