when journalism fails

While away from Canada, I wondered what had happened with a human rights complaint lodged against a particular right-wing writer named Mark Steyn – someone who IMHO lends a distinct, unpleasant odour to journalism. With a name like that, I thought, he must have roots in South Africa. Perhaps his family hails from proud Boere stock, but according to Wikipedia he was born in Canada.

The complaint was lodged by a national Muslim organization for an excerpt published by Maclean’s Magazine, a so-called national newsmagazine that has seen better days; years actually. That Muslim organization objected to Steyn’s snide, denigrating portrayal of Muslims, their religious beliefs, and the perceived threat by paranoics like himself who see Islamic threats and onslaughts everywhere.

Alerted by StageLeft to Dr. Dawg’s Blog, and his attempt to cut through the b.s. by other loons like Ottawa Citizen columnist, David Warren, I read through the step-by-step deconstruction of a ludicrous exercise in propaganda that really should become the subject of academic study in public relations; how to bullshit the public while simultaneously picking their pockets.

Briefly, the only conclusion to draw from this odiferous collation of inaccuracies, half-truths and outright falsehoods from the Steyn camp is that the truth doesn’t matter. When human rights institutions are the quarry, anything goes. No need to check facts. No need to check sources. No need to render anything like an accurate account. Say whatever you want, no matter how blatantly wrong it is. Smear people. Make stuff up. Some of the mud might stick.

So bravo, David and Ezra, for making so clear the standards that guide journalism on the Right. At this point, I’d be checking outside for myself if you told me the sky was blue.

That excerpt refers, of course, to David Warren and that dahling of the western loonatic fringe, Ezra Levant.

Back to Wikipedia, here’s what it has to say about Steyn’s writing style (if you can call it “style”):

Steyn has been noted for using words to offend political correctness. In 2001, he wrote “it’s one thing to let the Japs build your car and the Chinks supply your cuddly toys”.[5] In another article widely published in 2002, Steyn referred to people of India as wogs[6] and while guest hosting The Rush Limbaugh Show, he spoke about “the gooks in Vietnam.”[7]

Susan Catto in Time noted his interest in controvery, “Instead of shying away from the appearance of conflict, Steyn positively revels in it.”[8] Canadian journalist Steve Burgess wrote in The Tyee “Steyn wields his rhetorical rapier with genuine skill” and that national disasters tended to cause Steyn “…to display his inner wingnut.”[9] Lionel Shriver wrote, “. . . I love Mark Steyn”, adding, “. . . however you may deplore his opinions, Steyn is funny.” [10]

James Wolcott of Vanity Fair says that he asks himself, “how can one man be so wrong” when he reads “the latest dimestore prophesy from neocon jester Mark Steyn, whose occult powers of clairvoyance never fail to fail him.”[11] Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic wrote that Steyn was, “…long on colorful rhetoric but short on dry facts.”[12] British journalist Johann Hari wrote in the New Statesman: “Steyn’s prose has a jangling musicality; like Ann Coulter, he writes in a demonic demotic that makes you chuckle even as you retch.”[13]

I have read Steyn. I don’t find him funny. Life is easy; humour is hard. He fails on both levels and is just plain pitiable, IMHO. I wish he would just stop pretending, and publishers would stop enabling, someone who lacks both talent and insight.



Filed under Canada, Canadian politics, humour, journalism, writing

4 responses to “when journalism fails

  1. Is journalism a hated word in Canada? Some of Canadian friends think so.

  2. shmohawk

    No. Just lousy dumbasses who call themselves journalists and get away with it.

  3. Dalene

    I refer: Perhaps his family hails from proud Boere stock. Just wondering whether that was sarcastic?! I thought we sorted that out: There are Boere and Boere – don’t generalize!

  4. shmohawk

    Yes, you sorted me out good. I mean that sincerely. Nuances matter. I meant that Steyn belongs to that worst kind of boere, the narrow-minded bigot who makes a living by appealing to the worst attitudes and prejudices. But since he is not South African or southern African, but is a Canadian, I should have looked for another word.

    My apologies, Dalene.

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