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A Happy Compromise

Hate Crime Reporting in the Toronto Globe & Mail

by MICHAEL NEUMANN

The Globe and Mail is a respectable paper. It’s probably the most respectable paper in Canada. What’s more, it’s not owned by hard–line Zionists; Toronto has Izzy Asper’s National Post to fill that slot. The editor is Jewish, but so what? so am I. Nothing suggests that the Globe and Mail ought to be biased in favor of Jews or against Muslims, blacks, and native people.

The Globe and Mail abhors racism. The Globe and Mail has often condemned racism. But the Globe and Mail is racist in one precisely definable sense: it assigns more value to Jews than to other ethnic groups.

The mental processes which generate this assignment are unknown to me. One thing is clear: the Globe and Mail folks have a problem. They quite sincerely abhor racism yet exhibit a form of it, a classic example of what is known as cognitive dissonance: they have conflicting attitudes which, unmanipulated, would produce considerable discomfort. Fortunately for the Globe and Mail, there has emerged a happy compromise.

Its reporters, columnists, and in some cases its sources say all the right things, and cover hate crimes against all ethnic groups. Globe articles consistently refer to non–Jewish victims of discrimination with the utmost sympathy and respect — well, as we’ll see, usually. The reports convey, more or less, the message that all hate crimes are abhorrent, all are equally important. But — and here is the compromise — newspapers express and convey their values more in the extent of their coverage than in its contents.

The New York Times could proclaim, when it ran the occasional page 10, 125–word item on irritable bowel syndrome, that irritable bowel syndrome was the most urgent problem confronting the human race. But if cancer grabbed all the front–page coverage, we would understand that the Times did not really regard irritable bowel syndrome as a big deal. The fine words would be a lie or an exercise in self–deception. Cancer would have been assigned far more importance. And in its coverage — usually despite its fine words — the Globe and Mail conveys just that message about hate crimes against Jews and other ethnic groups: the former are important, the latter are not.

Recently this has become obvious. On March 16th, when Jewish homes were spray–painted with slogans. You had to notice because The Globe and Mail put the story on about a third of page one, with a photo taking up over half the space above the fold. The story continued on page 8, where it was tastefully paired with two articles on possible antisemitism at a Toronto golf club. These occupied the entire print area of page 9. The letters column on page 12 led off with two submissions suggesting people needed to pay more attention to antisemitism.

On March 25th, a Islamic centre in the Toronto area was spray–painted with slogans and set on fire. Tables were destroyed and chairs thrown outside. The story (March 26th) made the bottom of page 12. (The top contained a much longer story, with photograph, about a hairdresser who’d won an African–Canadian Achievement Award.) It got little more space than the page 8 continuation of the March 17th anti–semitism story, and ended — as if to validate the seriousness of the incident — with a statement of solidarity from the Canadian Jewish Congress.

A letter to the Globe and Mail about its coverage got no response. Then, a few days later, all hell broke loose.

I am not referring to the start of the Shia revolt in Iraq, which made the front page of the Globe on April 6th. That story was utterly dwarfed by another: at 2:30am, the United Talmud Torah elementary school in Montreal had been firebombed, and its library heavily damaged. A note had been left linking the attacks to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The two stories and accompanying photograph about this event occupied the entire front page above the fold, and about a quarter of the page below the fold. The headline is a large banner across the whole top, something the Globe and Mail doesn’t do very often. It has the Prime Minister proclaiming: ‘This is not our Canada’. (If he proclaimed anything about the Pickering arson, we never heard about it.) The stories continue on page 8, occupying the entire print area, about 7/8 of the page above the fold.

Nothing more happened the next day, but there is another page 1 story on the fire, about how much damage there was and how upset it made the librarian. Page 3 provides an appropriately complementary article on how "A Holocaust victim’s Bible details the horrors of Mauthausen concentration camp." The page 1 story continues on page 6; again the continuation is noticeably longer than the Pickering arson piece. There is also an editorial on page 18.

The next day, on page 19, there is a column on the incident by Margaret Wente — "Race hatred — a sign of social illness." She generously allows that, "For most people across Canada, the front–page pictures of the firebombed Jewish library in Montreal were a hard kick in the stomach." More on her anti–racism later. On Saturday, April 10th, page 2 has a "Letter from the Editor", again with photo: "Book donations rise from the ashes". It talks about how librarians and schoolchildren across Canada are pitching in to restore the library’s collection, and also mentions that the editor spent nine years attending the school. Apparently it did not occur to him that this might skew his perception of the event’s importance. Of course I don’t know whether further editions of the Globe will offer more such material.

So we have a mountain of arson and spraypainting directed against Jews, and a molehill of arson and spraypainting directed against Muslims. Is this simply a response to the current claims of an upsurge in antisemitism, or passing amnesia about racism against other groups? To find out, I checked Globe stories listed under the keyword ‘hate crimes’ in my university library’s database from 2001 to the present. My investigations were probably incomplete, but a couple of things caught my attention.

There are not a lot of reports specifically mentioning hate crimes. For the time period covered, Native Canadians apparently have no problems at all in this department. (Some teenagers shot up native homes with paintballs, but this was found not to have been a hate crime.) Blacks seem to be almost as fortunate: just one incident. This doesn’t quite square with the stories I’ve heard from black people. Are they liars? Whiners? And what about other incidents involving Muslims? Was the Globe and Mail more–even handed?

At least no one was hurt in this year’s events: not in the antisemitic attacks the Globe found so horrifyingly important, not in the anti–Muslim attack it found barely worthy of notice. It was not so ten days after 9–11. Here is the entire story:


"OTTAWA ONT — Police called for anonymous tips yesterday into a brutal hate crime in which a Muslim teen was beaten unconscious last week by a dozen white teens. "The 15–year–old Arabic boy was riding his bicycle home in Orleans, just outside Ottawa, when he was swarmed by a group of about 12 white teens. The teens told the boy he was the reason for the World Trade Center terrorist attack and punched and kicked him repeatedly. He was beaten unconscious and left for five hours."

That’s right. The incident got 86 words on page 10 and no, I don’t know what an ‘Arabic boy’ is. There was, it is true, a longish general piece (757 words) on page 5 concerning the anti–Arab backlash. It does not mention the beating, just a strangling attempt against a female Saudi doctor in Montreal and some fires set at mosques and Sikh temples. (The fires had received modest coverage earlier.) The next day the beating is mentioned in a 865 word piece that made page 9. It contained Prime Minister’s Jean Chrétien’s expressions of concern about attacks on Arabs and others.* This clearly did not call for a banner headline across page 1.

But fear not! A few months later, on March 23, 2002, the Globe did see fit to call the attention of its readers to hate crimes against Muslims, telling us that "More than six months after the tragedy of Sept. 11, Arab and Muslim groups in Canada say their communities still live in fear. An interim report card prepared by the Council on American–Islamic relations indicated there have been 120 anti–Muslim hate incidents across Canada since the terrorist attacks. They included 10 death threats, 13 cases of physical violence and 12 attacks on mosques and Islamic centres." That’s all it said. That’s the whole story. Sixty–six words on page 9.

But the Globe and Mail isn’t against Muslims. It simply regards them, for whatever reason, as less important than Jews. What then of blacks, who are so fortunate as to have been victim to only one newsworthy hate crime?

On July 28th, 2001, we learned that "On July 14, someone soaked a cross in gasoline, pounded it into a black family’s lawn then set it ablaze." Someone had been charged. The quote is from a 119 word story on page 6. On August 25th there was a 246 word item about how a teenager had pled guilty to the crime. It mentioned that "The RCMP initially treated the crime as property mischief, due to a number of acts of vandalism in the area. But as the details of the cross burning surfaced, residents and multicultural groups responded with outrage. The Mounties quickly apologized for not treating the crime more seriously, then assigned a full–time senior investigator to the case."** I would have thought that worthy of an editorial, but then I don’t have the refined journalistic sensibilities of the professionals at the Globe and Mail.

Some comment did come on September 1st in the form of a Margaret Wente column. Remember her, the one who excoriated racial hatred this past April 8th? That was racial hatred against Jews. When blacks were the target, her column began as follows:


"Memo to Hedy Fry [Secretary of State for Multiculturalism]: It’s official! Someone has actually burned a cross in Canada. You’ve been vindicated. "The hate–monger in question is an 18–year–old who lives in Moncton. Last month, he allegedly set a gasoline–soaked cross ablaze on the lawn of a black family in the middle of the night. The flames were quickly doused by the neighbours, and, after a storm of outrage, the teenaged boy was charged with a hate crime. Wisely, he immediately pleaded guilty. "The kid may be just another stupid punk, but he’s a godsend to Canada’s flourishing racism industry, which likes to seize on every shred of evidence to prove how bad we are."

Yes, Ms. Wente courageously savaged the whole racism scam, and, after dumping on a conference held in Durban, asked us to reflect: "Think what we could do if we shut down our whole government–funded racism industry." In other words: "Buncha spoilt brats, those blacks."

Having exhausted my capacity for comment, let alone detachment, I will simply end with a question. Are your newspapers like mine?

———————————————-

* There was another passing reference to Chrétien’s comments on the incident in a page 7 story on September 25th.

** A 263 word page 17 story reported the kid’s conviction on October 11th.

MICHAEL NEUMANN is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at: mneumann@trentu.ca

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