Dispatch from The Front Line: Don't worry, we intended to publish this, honest
Canada's Kamala Mania; limits of leader's courtesy; and a cringeworthy error.
Greetings, Line readers, and for those in Canada, a very happy Thanksgiving weekend, weird as it might be amid the second wave. (No knife-twisting from you Atlantic bubblers, please.) And for our readers in the United States, of course, instead of wishes for a happy Thanksgiving, we offer you a menu of two options:
Thoughts and prayers.
Tasteful averting of our eyes.
Let us know.
It was U.S. politics that dominated our Dispatch to you last week, and we admit we were pretty happy with it. We really did think it was one of our better, snappier offerings. And then, literally three minutes after we hit Publish, it all went to ratshit as the White House announced the president needed to be hospitalized. We hope that this Dispatch fares better, even if we have to pump it full of experimental therapeutics and make increasingly desperate pitches to readers over the age of 65.
We at The Line are letting ourselves get ginned up every time we read something about Canada published in the New York Times, and this week was no exception. On Tuesday, the Times ran a decent piece profiling Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris' time growing up in Canada. As per New York "C-Day" Times tradition, the article took a few liberties with the fair north.
Noting that Harris spent several years attending the tony Westmount High School in Montreal, Canada is said to be suffering from a “Kamala mania.”
"As she makes history as the first woman of color on a presidential ticket, Canadians have claimed her as a native daughter, seeing her as an embodiment of the country’s progressive politics."
No. We don't. That sentence is so silly that we are struggling to formulate a suitably contemptuous and dismissive response.
There is no “Kamala Mania.” There have been some news stories noting that Harris spent a few years here as a pre-teen, as one might expect. There was more media backchannel eye rolling at our national need to find a “Canadian angle” to international news stories because it makes us feel more relevant.
But Harris isn't even particularly well known in Canada. Further, our country is far to the left of America both politically and culturally. As far as some Canadians are concerned, America is a land of baby-snatching imperial running dog warmongers. There are left-leaning American politicians who are admired — chiefly Barack Obama — but there is virtually no mainstream American politician who would be widely considered an embodiment of Canada's progressive policies. Harris herself would barely classify as a Liberal here.
Also, I would love to see who is claiming her as a "native daughter" or anything like it. According to the very few lines she devoted to this country in her autobiography — she seemed to not like it very much. And, to be fair, trekking from sunny California to snow-blown Montreal as a teenager would be a tough sell for any kid. We don't hold it against her.
The Times continues:
"Some also have a sense that if her ticket wins, it could mend Canada’s fraught ties with a once dependable ally."
Who? Who has suggested that? This is a flip claim about the state of international relations between two countries, and it's bizarre that the Times isn't backing it up with an attribution of any kind.
Look, no one is disputing that frosty relations between Canada and the U.S. would be materially improved if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election. But that improvement will have little to do with Joe Biden, less to do with his vice-presidential nominee — and absolutely nothing to do with Harris's childhood connection to Canada. (It also glosses over Biden’s promise to cancel Keystone XL, a crucial piece of infrastructure for this country’s most restive province.)
The election of a houseplant that isn't named Donald Trump "could mend Canada’s fraught ties with a once dependable ally."
These niggles may seem petty — and perhaps they are. But that’s precisely why they are so frustrating. There is simply no need to torque a degree of geopolitical significance into an otherwise perfectly fine and anodyne profile piece about Kamala Harris' time in Canada.
Taking a temporary detour back into Canada, it was announced on Friday that the Staff of the National Post voted in favour of unionization.
This was the second union drive in recent years — the first failed after much guilt-tripping from senior management. As the Post has traditionally been as opposed to collective organization as any newsroom can be, the results are a startling break for a staff still fresh from an internal revolt over a Rex Murphy column.
Historically speaking, non-unionized journalists in the Postmedia chain have been quicker to suffer the chop in the age of endless rationalization. Unionization, we have to presume, thus may afford a certain degree of protection to the staff of a newsroom that may fear a merger with a unionized shop.
We at The Line bring decades of combined journalism experience to the table, across all the major mediums (and most of the newer ones, too). That might sound like a boast. In another context, maybe it would be. But for our purposes today, what it really means is that when it comes to fuck ups, we’ve seen it all.
The kind of errors we’ve seen would curl your hair. Examples include; a mock-up page intended for internal-only use by newspaper copy editors accidentally being swapped with the real page and sent to the presses, an inexplicable decision by a fact-checker to reverse every gendered pronoun used to describe a prominent Canadian, and copy running unedited when it really, really needed editing.
But still. We’ve never had a day quite like some people over at Deadline had on Thursday. That was when Deadline published an entire article — an entire article! — reporting that Vice President Mike Pence had tested positive for COVID-19.
We think we know what happened here: it’s not unusual for news organizations to have early, incomplete versions of stories and obituaries written up in advance — this is especially true when they are related to foreseen but not yet confirmed breaking news situations. For instance, if a major public figure is known to be ill, a reporter will often prepare a draft of the story announcing their passing. Photos will be selected, quotes from friends and family chosen, key biographical factoids prepared. When the unfortunate individual meets their end, the draft of the story is quickly filled in with the relevant last-minute details, and then published.
This is morbid, but routine and essential work. The practice allows outlets to publish news as rapidly and efficiently as possible. But it’s also dangerous: many news outlets use web-publishing program as a content-management system. Unedited drafts are stored there, as well as the bare-bones stories that are prepared in advance. This leads to regrettable incidents; CNN, for instance, accidentally published a series of canned obituaries for non-dead people in 2013. See below for Dick Cheney’s … to the best of our knowledge, he’s still alive and kickin’.
But what happened at Deadline wasn’t precisely that. Yes, it’s true, even the headline of the article noted that it was a “prep,” article, not intended for publication at that time. But it wasn’t just a bare-bones skeleton, to be filled in with more info as it emerged. It was an entire article, including quotes that were never issued.
Deadline apologized, pulled down the article and deleted the tweets. No kidding. But even those as experienced with journalism clusterfuddles as your friends at The Line are still wondering what precisely went wrong at Deadline. If anyone there wants to let us know anonymously, well, find our email below.
Worthwhile to note: the Green Party selected its new leader to replace Elizabeth May with Annamie Paul, who will be running in the coming by-election for Toronto Centre. To mark Paul’s entre into national politics, Green leadership expressed their unhappiness that the other parties declined to demonstrate “leader’s courtesy” by refusing to withdraw their candidates in Toronto Centre.
Leader’s courtesy is, in fact, a parliamentary convention — with notable limits. No such courtesy was extended to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in Burnaby South in 2019, for example. And it’s generally not a courtesy that is granted when the leader in question totally takes the piss by parachuting into a riding that is hotly contested, symbolically important, or a longstanding stronghold for another party. In this case, Toronto Centre is all three; a downtown Toronto riding that encompasses everything from Bay Street to the Gay Village, Toronto Centre is a perfect exemplar of the Liberal power base. Further, the Liberals — who handpicked their own candidate for the riding last month — have held it since 1993.
It takes a rare combination of entitlement, arrogance, and amateurishness to imagine the leader’s courtesy would be extended to a political unknown recently picked to head a distant fourth-place party in Toronto Centre. But we’re glad to see Paul will continue with the Green Party’s longstanding tradition of pretending to be a serious political party by winning the votes of disaffected hippies and teenagers who don’t like politics.
Christina Clark, a Canadian documentary filmmaker, wrote that a need to adhere to a narrow range of acceptable "woke" viewpoints and storylines is strangling her medium. "Many of the stories now told through documentary skew the truth by reinforcing the viewpoint du jour. Interviews and scenes that break with the chosen narrative, that offer something other than a black-and-white approach to society and the complexities of humanity, happen off camera or end up on the editing room floor," she wrote. "Stories told from different demographics of people across the country are essential. But human beings aren’t reducible to their gender, skin colour, sexual or cultural orientations. A powerful story is not defined by identity politics — it transcends them."
Now that is a documentary we'd actually want to see.
Line columnist Jen Gerson nerded out big time explaining why she's heartbroken that the big-screen adaptation of Dune has been delayed by the pandemic. "All my hopes rest with Dune. More human than Star Trek; more compelling than the trash candy of Star Wars, Frank Herbert's Dune is a sprawling, generation-spanning science-fiction franchise that offers an exploration into the nature of politics, dynasties, war, spirituality and the ruthless pursuit of human potential. It's a series that forces us to examine the cost of our own survival."
Survival, Gerson notes, is much on our minds of late, with the pandemic that all of us are trying to adapt to. It's worth reading, but for her terribly dismissive take on Star Trek, which produced a response on Twitter that can best be summed up in the words of Captain Spock:
In his first piece for The Line, Joshua Hind came out strong with a delightful blend of history and current events (we at The Line are suckers for this exactly that). Hind notes that emergency response professionals all over the continent have been working hard to standardize their radio conversations, to allow effective multi-agency responses to major disasters. Poor radio inter-operability is believed to have played a major part in the loss of more than 100 firefighters at the World Trade Center on 9/11, Hind notes, and police, paramedic and fire units across North America, as well as civilian agencies and businesses that host large events, took that lesson to heart.
Great. But ... did no one remember to tell our public-health experts? Because, well, they're terrible at communicating.
Allan Stratton flips the line in a rebuttal to a Gerson column, and makes the case that Cuties is not just a good film, but an important one. "Films like Cuties are such important family viewing," he says. "They let families communicate openly about the silent areas around sex and sexuality that might otherwise never be raised or even thought to be raised. Kids have secrets, fears, confusion and shame about so much. 'Is it okay to ask?' 'What will they think if I ask?' Stories are icebreakers. And because we’re talking about stories with fictional characters there’s a safe space for the conversation."
That’s all from us, folks, but for this programming note: The Line might be a bit quieter than usual at the start of next week due to the long weekend. But we’ll be back, rested and ready, and we hope you will be, too. Take care.
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: email@example.com