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Dispatch from the Front Line: An open letter to the open letter to Canadian newsrooms covering Israel-Palestine
On retconning open letters, praising the Liberals, and meditating on the nature of the turning of the worm.
We begin our beloved Friday dispatch with "An open letter to Canadian newsrooms on covering Israel-Palestine" which has made the rounds this week, attracting several thousand signatures — mostly from the activist classes, but also from a few reporters and well-known pundits. The document also prompted a few nasty subtweets from people angry at those of us who would not touch such a letter with a twenty-foot stick.
Response has been somewhat mixed. There have been reports that some of the journalist signatories were called into the principal's office, barred from reporting on the conflict, and reprimanded for letting their names (and their publication's names) appear on such a thing.
This seems to have prompted some late-week retconning of the letter's intent.
Maybe that happened because the spirit of the letter was not just "calling for balance and context." It openly demanded journalists treat Israel as a genocidal apartheid state.
Look, we're going to delve into the letter itself in a minute here, but let's be clear off the bat. No honest reader could come away from it thinking: "Gee, what an anodyne call for nuance and context of a complicated situation" — something that even we at The Line would applaud.
For fuck's sake, guys; the opening sentences literally denounce statements like: “The Middle East is complicated” and “We need to hear both sides" as an "excuse ... to cover the escalating violence against Palestinians."
Further, how about this:
"According to the United Nations and countless human rights organizations around the world (including ones based within Israel), what’s happening in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a ‘grave breach of international law.’ Some groups believe the attacks amount to an ‘ethnic cleansing.’ It should be covered as such."
This is not a cry for more viewpoint diversity on the matter of whether Israel is committing ethnic cleansing when Jewish settlers shove Palestinians out of places like Sheikh Jarrah. It's stating, explicitly, that we should treat violence between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as an unequivocal act of ethnic cleansing.
Now, you want to sign this letter as a journalist, fill your boots, but have the courage to admit what's in it. The letter calls on us to treat Israel as a genocidal state (and not even just a Canadian genocidal state, but a Genocidal genocidal state); further, it asks us to treat this claim as an assertion of fact as a matter of fairness and balance. It even tries to rally the same remarkable ideological homogeneity seen in newsrooms on BLM. All that was missing was the call for "moral clarity."
The letter calls for nuance and context to be expunged:
"Dispossession is not complicated.
Violence against innocent civilians and children is not complicated.
Police aggression and state sanctioned racism is not complicated."
Then, in true Orwellian fashion, it treats this allergy to moral complication as exactly the kind of "context" that is necessary.
Look, we're real sorry that the signatories of this letter were unable to read the subtext at the moment of signing, but we — and for that matter, most Canadian journalists — sure as hell didn't miss it. It wasn't subtle.
While we're here, the letter also claims that "Canadian style guides still ban the use of the word ‘Palestine’ in coverage." We can’t speak for the Globe’s style guide, as no one has seen one of those paper birds since Paul Martin was in office. However, there is no ban on the use of “Palestine” in Canadian Press’s canonical stylebook — the one most Canadian journalists use. We are reliably informed that “Palestinian Territories” is the preferred term, but there is no guidance telling writers to nix the word “Palestine.”
Indeed, we dug through the "new" 16th edition of Canadian Press's Caps and Spelling we haven't replaced since J-Skool. The word "Palestine" is missing. But then, so is "Israel." Ironically, the "West Bank" is in there. England, yes, and bolded. Mexico is not, but Mexico City is present and accounted for.
Turning to the heftier Canadian Press Stylebook, the most glaring omission seems to be that there is nothing devoted to Palestine or the Palestinian Territories under the regional Middle East section. Palestine is listed as neither a placeline, nor a country. And, for the record, we wouldn’t object to this being rectified in a future guide.
But the omission really ought not to be surprising, either. If the word “Palestine” isn’t often used in coverage, it’s not because some CP style committee banned the word; it’s because many western countries, including Canada, do not recognize the country. Also, considering almost all of our news from the region is comes from international wire sources that seem to have no trouble with placelines like “GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip.” Or “RAMALLAH, West Bank” — the country of Israel nowhere to be seen — we're not sure it matters much.
There's little-to-nothing to be read or not-read about the eclectic collection of words and omissions in style guides. These things offer guidance, not brain control. Unless you work for the wire service, you can ignore them! Shit, we do — the Line Editor wrote, totally forgetting the style guide advice on swearing.
If Canada does suffer from an historical disequilibrium on the Israel-Palestine issue it's not the result of some misguided both-siderism, but rather because the Asper family used to own everything, and they were pretty heavy with the whip hand on the subject. Now, maybe Canadian media is still nursing a hangover from that era. That’s not a position we’re inclined to argue or refute at the moment. We at The Line are journalistic non-proscriptivists. We don't think there's any one right way to be a journalist; you want to be an activist, a straight reporter, a columnist, an analyst — let a thousand flowers bloom, man. But when you sign a letter like this, you choose to insert yourself into the latest iteration of an ancient fray with words you didn't write and interpretations you can't control.
You want to write that Israel is a genocidal state engaged in ethnic cleansing? Go write that. Present your argument. Back it up with evidence. Get it past an editor. Commit journalism. It has never been easier to get such a perspective published in Canadian media — particularly for columnists, who are granted much more flexibility in their interpretation of international law.
But recognize that if you sign a letter like this, you're admitting up front that you're not coming into any interpretation of the facts at hand as a fair-minded observer. In fact, you're rejecting such an approach as unbalanced. Rather you are publicly stating that you are entering the dispute with a clear moral imperative to present Israel as the baddy, largely because of its disproportionate military capability.
We at The Line reject any suggestion that reporters ought to be materially penalized for signing this letter; however, readers aren’t wrong to distrust you as a source on this file, and editors are within their rights to pull you from it. If you couldn't foresee such a predictable outcome for putting your name on a letter that condemns Israel for ethnic cleansing, but makes no mention of Hamas’s acts of terrorism, well, then perhaps you lack the analytical chops to navigate what is, and always has been, a deeply complicated conflict.
Phew, OK, it was good to get that off our chest. We are watching the clock intently here at The Line, knowing that finishing this up is the only thing standing between us and the start of our long weekend. But one more brief point we’d like to make: this week has seen genuinely good news basically across the board on the pandemic front; the situation is improving, rapidly. Except in Manitoba.
Ontario is now able to eye a cautious, gradual reopening, the Atlantic is bringing their outbreak back under control, Quebec continues to look good. The vaccine supply seems to be stable — there is some uncertainty regarding summer deliveries, but we suspect this is more an issue of expectations management than actual supply constraints.
Indeed, in terms of message management, we have to doff our hats to the Liberals. This is not something that comes naturally to us, but credit where it’s due. This is a government that has long had a bad habit of overpromising, under-delivering and being very, very outraged if anyone dares point this out. (This is why the mini-sensation of the Apple sticker on an HP laptop being used by the PM was such a moment of genuine delight this week — slapping an Apple sticker on an HP is about as perfect a metaphor for the Liberals under Trudeau as could be imagined.)
But there are exceptions, and vaccines seem to be one of them. The supply is good. Our international ranking is rising. Our health metrics are improving. We at The Line honestly don’t know if this is an issue of genuine expectations management by the Liberals — maybe they knew all along that the supply situation was excellent, and kept mum so that they could deliver a big win in Qs 2 and 3. Or maybe they just threw a bunch of Hail Marys and are as shocked as anyone to have succeeded.
We don’t know. We don’t care! Your Line editors now all have their first shots and are thrilled (and admittedly a bit surprised) that it was so early. This is a genuine accomplishment for the federal government, and the Conservatives — at the federal level and also in the provincial capitals — are overcommitted on the “botched vaccine procurement” narrative. This is increasingly obvious; it’s been obvious to us at The Line for weeks.
There’s plenty of other totally legitimate reasons to attack the Liberals, and to vote them out of office. But Tories of all kinds put all their chips in on vaccines. There might still be time to re-orient and pick a strategy that might actually resonate with the public. But that window is closing fast, if it’s open at all. Step lively, CPC friends. The Liberal re-election campaign pitch is coalescing before our eyes.
Lastly, we will note that this has been yet another week in which Cancel Culture ran amok. Further to the Israel file, AP fired one of their shiny new recent-grad reporters when right-wing outlets discovered a long history of pro-Palestinian provocation.
Needless to say, nothing in Wilder's tweet timeline since being hired by AP warranted the cancellation. She was booted after several right-wing newspaper outlets began to highlight her college-era social media posts and positions. She also suffered from unfortunate timing. A rocket recently landed on AP's headquarters in Gaza. Israel claimed the same building was used by Hamas, a fact AP said was unknown to it. (We ought to take nobody's assertions at face-value, here. Moving on.)
Wilder was not some AP reporter in the Jerusalem bureau — she was a news associate in Pheonix. Needless to say, this is dumb as all hell; the correct response would be to stand behind a junior staffer and maybe advise her to stay of Twitter for a while. Let the whole thing blow over.
Next on the dock, it looks like New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied a tenured appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Hannah-Jones is best known as the lead writer behind the Times' 1619 Project.
We at The Line have joined a large and loud chorus of writers and researchers who have pointed out that the 1619 project committed significant errors that the newspaper failed to appropriately acknowledge and redress. However, Hannah-Jones does not appear to have been denied a position because she was a sloppy researcher; rather, because she has clearly become a totem for a band of conservative ideologues who see her work as fundamentally threatening to the American mythos and project.
This, too, is cancel culture. And we're awfully glad to see some lefties start to understand the implications of the tactics that they've spent the last few years disingenuously ignoring or justifying.
If you've been around for longer than five-goddamn-minutes, you'll remember that what we now call "cancel culture" never used to be a tactic of the left. Rather, this has traditionally be the cudgel of the culturally ascendant conservative class — and anybody with any actual principle on the issue has long feared that the backlash to come is going to be both ugly and inevitable. Every excess of Woko Haram will be met and exceeded tenfold — and by a political tribe that is far more ruthless about the long game of obtaining and maintaining real electoral and financial power.
This doesn't end well for anybody.
If you maintain any living memory of the early 2000s, you'll remember that the quasi-religious cultural conformity that emerged post 9-11 had dire consequences. Among them, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lesson for us olds ought to be clear. Poor decisions are inevitable when dissent and disagreement are stifled by fear of social exile and the threat of career suicide.
We now live with a aging generation of thoughtful writers, editors, journalists, and politicos who bear the moral stain of supporting those wars in a moment when it would have required a show of both extraordinary originality and moral courage to oppose them.
"Oh, but I don't support anything as bad as that; I'm not trying to shut down speech or dissent for anybody but the baddies." Um hmm. Well, wait and see, friends. When the worm turns, dirt turns to shit real fast.
The Line got mistaken for a serious news outlet this week. CPC leader Erin O’Toole sat down with Line columnist Jen Gerson to discuss C-10, the end of the pandemic, and the non-tax carbon tax.
We’ve gone hard on the C-10 file, but we agree with disagreeing with ourselves, and so ran a Flipping The Line from Daniel Bernhard, who argues that much of the rhetoric against the Liberals’ plans to regulate the internet is wildly overblown. We can confirm that this rebuttal has, itself, inspired more rebuttals to come. We are On it.
Andrew Potter wrote this excellent piece on the true gift given to Gen Xers — neglect. My God, would any of them seriously trade childhoods with a Millennial? Would they have preferred an adolescence rife with constant surveillance, and an overabundance of activity?
Lastly, in addition to C-10, there’s another file we at The Line want to be ahead of: aliens. If you haven’t yet, read this fascinating take on the growing acceptance of UFOs by writer Robert Jago. It’s brilliant. The aliens will not be what you think.
All in all, your Line editors are quite pleased with themselves this week. We think we’ve earned our long vacation, and we hope you enjoy yours as well.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: firstname.lastname@example.org