Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A response to Toronto City Councillor and Budget Chief Mike Del Grande's editorial in today's Toronto Sun

In today's Toronto Sun, councillor Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) excoriates the Toronto Star and the CBC for its coverage of mayor Rob Ford. I think his comments are mostly stupid. Here is a note I sent his office via his website feedback form.

Mr. Del Grande,

I found your editorial in today's Toronto Sun offensive, misleading, and hypocritical. To call out the CBC and the Toronto Star for having an "agenda", from a pulpit in the most biased of Toronto newspapers, the Sun, is simply silly and frankly ignorant. It is a dangerous and foolish attack on dissent. I think it is you who has made a mistake, and I think you should apologize for it.

Consider your editorial with "politicians" in place of "newspapers". Many people believe what politicians say to be true, but the media demonstrate continuously that politicians lie or mislead the public when it suits them. Where is the standard for factual, accurate reporting for them? It is the press that holds politicians to account for their speech. If you can't see that, if you simply think they hide behind an agenda, you do not deserve to represent this city.


So, Councillor Del Grande got back to me, suggesting that The Star wouldn't have printed his editorial, and that he had no other venue for expressing his opinion. Then he suggested that I was making a personal attack rather than trying to engage in dialogue. I responded thus:

I don't believe the question is who would have printed it or how to express the opinion. Of course you have the right to express whatever opinion you like. But did you ask the Star or CBC to print it? You have a website. You could publish it there, or send a news release, or use twitter or facebook—all neutral platforms.

The point is that the opinion you expressed is tone-deaf. Almost everything that you said about the Star and CBC applies equally to all media outlets, and it also applies to politicians such as yourself.

Think about it. You excoriate the Star and CBC for having an agenda and then argue that they are intentionally misleading readers who often believe what they read. Then you complain that they don't meet standards of journalistic integrity. But you write this in a newspaper whose readers, according to your own logic, are likely to believe what you wrote, whether valid or not.

How is this different from the Sun? Have you read Sue-Ann Levy and Joe Warmington? Do you think they don't have an agenda?

How is it different from the mayor or yourself? Where are the professional standards for politicians?

At least for the press there is the press council (from which the Sun excused itself recently, you surely know). Politicians lie or mislead with impunity. That is not a "personal attack". Many reputable and skilled reporters in Toronto, including from the Sun, have uncovered and exposed such things—and not just from this council and mayor.

I am asking you: do you see how your editorial might be hypocritical? That is a question: dialogue.

For the record, I don't think the CBC is blameless in this latest instance, and I think some have been too quick to jump on non-issues at the expense of more important coverage. But those decisions are not up to me. I think it is important to have a committed fourth estate to challenge our leaders and inform the citizenry.

Thanks for your reply.

Shortly thereafter, Del Grande charmingly dismissed my concerns by saying succinctly, "Agree to disagree".

So, from this exchange I think I can fairly reach these conclusions:

  • Del Grande truly believes that some media outlets are acting in a biased manner, but not others
  • He does not believe that the mayor or any currently sitting politicians has misled the citizens of Toronto, intentionally or otherwise
  • He believes that politicians should not be held to the same standard of truth-telling as the media
  • He sees no conflict in expressing his opinion through a clearly and explicitly biased news organization, but not bothering to seek an alternative outlet, neutral or otherwise
  • He would rather dismiss contrary opinions than engage in dialogue
  • He has no idea what makes a logical argument
Interestingly, I have no way of knowing which of my several points of dialogue Del Grande is dismissing with his "agree to disagree", or whether he disagrees with all of it. One way or another, I believe it shows an unfortunate lack of respect for my response.

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