(Note: This was first posted to CAJ-L, the e-mail discussion list of the Canadian Association of Journalists, in May 2005. I made a few formatting changes on June 21, 2010)
I really hoped to put the CAJ/Stevie Cameron affair behind me, but in the last few days, I’ve found myself roused into commenting once more.
Here’s my latest effort. Note: Paul Schneidereit is CAJ president:
A few comments about Paul Schneidereit’s post.
The CAJ board said in its March 10, 2004 news release it was denouncing Cameron — language never before used in the CAJ’s history in attacking an individual journalist.
And for what? Fabricating a story and putting out information that could potentially ruin people’s health or livelihoods? Plagiarism? Recklessly abusing her position as a journalist for personal gain? Violating the public trust?
None of those things. She was doing serious investigative reporting into high-level political corruption — something the CAJ is purportedly in favour of — and got overly entangled with the police.
The private response of many seasoned investigative reporters was “there but for the Grace of God go I.”
For all we know, the board did absolutely no research into the matter beyond reading The Globe and Mail article that sparked the release. However, it would be difficult for members to find out how the board came to formulate that initial release; it has chosen to make all deliberations around that release secret, even though there’s no compelling reason to do so, given that Cameron has publicly said she won’t sue.
Frankly, she had every right to; the initial release was defamatory.
Take this line:
”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.”
This still kills me:
“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.”
I’ll let people chew over the logical problems with that statement.
The board could have issued a news release at the time that spoke to the journalistic principles involved without making it a personal attack on Cameron. It chose not to — or just didn’t think of it.
William Kaplan, hardly a close personal friend of Ms. Cameron, sent the following to this list on Feb. 14:
“Wearing my lawyer’s hat, I found the process employed by the CAJ to issue the censure dubious at best. I said so in A Secret Trial and I said so on this list. There was an absence of natural justice and procedural fairness. Ms. Cameron was entitled to both and didn’t get it. That is an issue that concerns us all, and I hope the CAJ will address this issue.”
Philip Mathias, who has some familiarity with the Airbus file, and who also wouldn’t likely qualify as a close personal friend of Ms. Cameron, wrote this to the list on Feb. 20:
I have just joined this chatgroup, obviously at a very late date. From what I can tell of the CAJ “denunciation” of Stevie it was wrong and poorly thought out. If you stand back and cut out all the politics, and the economics, and the personal feelings, and the loyalties to this person or that person, what Stevie did, at its core, was the right thing to do.
I won’t bore you with my analysis, because judging from the Globe piece you have probably analyzed it to death and beyond. But there is a very good case, dispassionately written, for saying she did the right thing by the best civic standards.
I suggest you be be fair to the woman by withdrawing all CAJ criticism.
So you have two people who have had adversarial relations with Ms. Cameron in the past who say the CAJ was unfair to her. Was anyone at the board listening?
Anyway, on to what did the CAJ say on Feb. 18, released late on a Friday evening with the catchy headline “CAJ issues update to March 10, 2004 statement”:
On March 10, 2004, the Canadian Association of Journalists issued a press release criticizing the actions of journalist Stevie Cameron in providing information to police officers investigating the Airbus affair.
The CAJ wishes to apologize to Ms. Cameron for not contacting her before issuing the press release. She is a long-time member and supporter of the organization.
The CAJ also regrets the use of the word “denounce” in the statement’s headline and lead paragraph. The word was ill-chosen and served to distract from the CAJ’s intent, which was to speak out on a vital journalistic principle.
The CAJ continues to have concerns about journalists supplying information to police, including that which police can obtain through their own investigative efforts. Such actions are inconsistent with the principles of journalistic independence espoused by the CAJ.
The CAJ respects the right of others to express contrary views, and encourages them to do so. Investigative journalism is challenging work, raising difficult issues. The CAJ believes that journalists as a whole benefit from increased debate and discussion of these issues both inside and outside the profession.
What did the board mean by apologizing for not contacting her beforehand? “Hey Stevie: We’re about to issue a news release denouncing you and saying you’ve potentially damaged the reputations and effectiveness of every journalist in the country. Have a nice day! Let’s do lunch sometime!”
Does anyone interpret that sentence to mean the board admits it erred by not getting her side of the story — which is certainly a core journalistic principle to some.
There is a huge difference between “regret” and “apologizes to for the use of”, as another example. Where was any indication the board was sorry for the totally unnecessary harm caused to her?
It never mentioned the lines about “… potentially damaged the reputations and effectiveness — of her colleagues everywhere in Canada.” No apology or expression of regret for those choice words.
One can only presume that wasn’t a chance omission. But maybe that’s a dicey presumption on my part.
The CAJ board had a chance to make a generous statement that could have — and would have — ended this matter while upholding the journalistic principle it was supposedly defending. It chose not to. It had previous opportunities to resolve this gracefully, but through either malice or stupidity, had one of its representatives engage in behaviour that threw gasoline on the fire.
Can someone from the board please present some evidence that they *listened* at all to any of their critics or tried to reach out to them?
Deborah Jones, a member since 1979, started out as a reasonable voice and now she’s quit in frustration. That may provide part of the answer to my rhetorical question.
I suspect former board member Erica Johnson spoke for her fellow politburo members when she said on Feb. 9:
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 (emphasis mine – BD, June 21, 2010), 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).
Apparently the notion that people might be angry over an ongoing injustice rather than just trying to fill up their empty days by complaining about the same old thing was lost on Ms. Johnson and the rest of the board.
There is no question that there are sharp disagreements among some journalists on this subject. There have been such issues in the past and will be in the future. But journalists have far more interests in common than that divide us, and the CAJ remains one of the best ways for journalists to speak, as a group, with one, powerful voice. That’s my vision and why I volunteer my time. That’s what I plan to focus on.
Again, that sort of glosses over the injustice thing.
Personally, I’m not willing to put my money or time into an organization run by people who don’t listen, and when it does speak with “one powerful voice,” does so incompetently, and in the process, thoughtlessly and unnecessarily harms an honoured member of the craft and then refuses to own up to that fact.