The Shotgun Blog
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Old media habits are hard to break
Even though he hasn't been leader of a political party for more than two years, the media can't stop looking for ways to bash Stockwell Day over the head with a cudgel.
The latest whack: this wire story -- versions of which are in today's papers -- suggesting, quite tenuously, that Day didn't offer condolensces on the death of Yasser Arafat because he might have had AIDS.
Day is the foreign affairs critic for the Conservative Party.
Cited in the story is an email Day apparently sent to caucus members, which included in it this David Frum article, first published in the National Post.
In the Frum piece (an op-ed on Arafat's disgraceful record) one paragraph out of 12 mentions the curious silence about the cause of Arafat's sickness, and repeats a claim that Arafat might have AIDS -- a claim that originates with a former Romanian intelligence chief, not Frum.
For the Canadian Press to turn this into a "story" containing the lede: "Stockwell Day is pointing to a published report that includes the suggestion that Yasser Arafat had AIDS in explaining why he didn't send condolences on the death of the PLO leader" is a giant stretch, not to mention un-newsworthy and totally unprofessional.
This drive-by shooting ranks up there with Paul Hunter's disgraceful "documentary" on Day that appeared on CBC's The National during the 2000 federal election, in which years-old innuendo about Day and his religious beliefs were recycled to scare voters away from the Canadian Alliance.
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Headline: "Rather steps down".
Must be Dan Rather, formerly of CBS?
Posted by: gg | 2004-11-23 10:24:28 AM
I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Canadian Press is a joke of a wire service (except for the photographers, who are fantastic, some of the best in the land.)
Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2004-11-23 10:34:36 AM
Of course the wire story will turn his comments into a sort of anti-gay mentality from Day. It's despicable journalism at its finest and is far from the first time it's happened, as was suggested. However, Like it or not, Stockwell is under the media microscope and should know better than to give the media something to go on. I haven't seen a copy of the actual email and so I cannot comment fully on the matter, but if Day even suggested that Arafat might have died because of AIDS, he's doing nothing more than propagating a probable myth, similar (although not as dangerous) as the "untraceable toxin" canard pushed by Eric Margolis and much of the Arab world. He ought to have known better.
Posted by: Rob Huck | 2004-11-23 12:25:19 PM
Whatever Day meant, it is still pretty embarassing that he, as foreign affairs critic, uses THAT article as his basis for understanding Arafat's role in Palestinian History.
1) Why doesn't he know enough to just make a comment on his own without referring to someone else's article.
2) Out of all of the discussions on Arafat, why pick THAT article?
Posted by: k | 2004-11-23 1:01:01 PM
Don't blame CP.
Stockwell Day shot himself in the foot by distributing a repugnant column.
Posted by: Norman Spector | 2004-11-23 1:46:44 PM
Notice that Frum's column is also critical of international media, including CP. This is not just a hit piece on a politician but an attempt to discredit a critic.
Mr. Spector, by what standards is Frum's column repugnant? I think it is the press that is repugnant: rapidly approaching Ernst Zundel territory. (Where Zundel excuses Nazis, CP excuses Arafat.)
As for CP: the story is that Day withheld condolences because Arafat is an international villain. According to this article, Day withheld condolences because Arafat had AIDS. Can anyone defend that article as even remotely representative of the truth?
Posted by: Pete E | 2004-11-23 2:55:54 PM
Given the facts of this article, we can’t even infer that Day (or Frum) believes Arafat died of AIDS.
Here is what the facts tell us:
Frum thinks that Arafat is a villain, on par with the defendants of Nuremberg.
Frum thinks it plausible that Arafat died of AIDS.
Frum thinks that possibility is so newsworthy that its lack of coverage is suspicious.
Day thinks Frum’s assessment of Arafat is better than anything he could write himself, given the amount of time he is willing to put into an internal memo.
(The point of the AIDS excerpt is not to speculate on Arafat’s medical history, but to criticize the press.
The AIDS issue is a small part of Frum’s column.)
Posted by: Pete E | 2004-11-23 2:59:11 PM
Thanks; you've reminded me of a second repugnant aspect of the column--equating Arafat to a Nuremberg defendant.
As to the media, the Post and other CanWest papers should be criticized for torquing the Frum column with a separate "news" story about Arafat and AIDS. And those criticizing Day now should be criticized for having given the original column and "news" story a pass, presumably out of professional courtesy.
Posted by: Norman Spector | 2004-11-23 3:32:04 PM
The only difference between Arafat and the Nuremberg defendants was opportunity and access to a decent rail system.
In an day in which professional journalists consider Bill Burkett an "unimpeachable source" for 70's era MS Word documents, when reporters talk about Geneva Conventions they have never actually read, while the UN oil-for-blood scandal causes less of a blip on the radar screen than Paris Hilton's latest sex tape, a NHL hockey lockout or a basketball brawl ... I think that criticising Frum for speculating about Arafat's cause of death - while the mainstream media remained curiously disinterested, is pretty damned rich.
Posted by: Kate | 2004-11-23 4:32:47 PM
Presumably, you consider the first repugnant aspect of Frum’s column to be his speculation that Arafat was dying of AIDS. I’ll repeat the question previously asked: why was this “repugnant”? Is there something repulsive about dying of AIDS as opposed to, say, cancer?
Posted by: hkj | 2004-11-23 4:47:58 PM
Perhaps Day din't send condolances about Arrafat because he thought he was a vermonous waste of skin.At least I'd like to have seen at least ONE politician display a set of cojones and actually express what most people really thought of him. ...And as for the AIDS rumour and his gala weekend celebrations in Rumania,even if they're not true,it drives Arrafats's admirerers batty and is therefore worth printing .
Posted by: big al | 2004-11-23 4:51:50 PM
I think Big Al inadvertently answered your question. To speculate that he was dying of AIDS just to drive his supporters crazy would be pretty poor journalism. I'm not sure if that was Frum's intention - but given the number of speculative diagnoses made by actual doctors in which AIDS is only one of numerous possibilities (and not even a very likely possibility at that), you have to wonder. Maybe most other journalists ignored the story because it was pretty unlikely in the first place. Indeed, it seems that everyone else was right and cirrhosis of the liver is most likely.
In addition, as you well know, AIDS is not at all like cancer. There is, indeed, a social stigma attached to AIDS - especially as it relates to homosexuality and Islam. Should there be a difference in how the two diseases are perceived? Probably not. But like it or not there is, and to pretend that there isn't is disingenuous at best.
Posted by: k | 2004-11-23 5:17:11 PM
If Arafat's supporters attach a stigma to AIDS or if it drives them batty, maybe they're the ones who are repugnant.
But I take your point that Frum could be seen to have speculated about Arafat's cause of death in order to incite or offend his (Arafat's) supporters. Even if so, I would not pompously declare Frum's column to be "repugnant".
Posted by: hkj | 2004-11-23 6:28:12 PM
Lord Palmerston once observed that half the world's problems are caused by inappropriate metaphors.
One can say many negative things about Yasser Arafat, and I've written most of them. However, to suggest that the only difference between him and Hitler is "opportunity and a good rail system" betrays a fundamental ignorance about the Mideast conflict. And about the Holocaust.
As to the AIDS reference, several other postings in this thread have explained very well why the Frum column is repugnant.
Posted by: Norman Spector | 2004-11-24 12:08:37 AM
Hitler was at Nuremberg? My historical ignorance is worse than I thought.....
Details and scale aside, there was no fundamental difference between the defendants at Nuremberg and Yassar Arafat as human beings - all equally contemptable for their absense of moral character and unspeakable crimes.
The only difference really, is that Arafat managed to rehabilitate his press persona before some had the chance to properly hang him. Why he wasn't arrested at the United Nations is still beyond me.
Oh right.. he was armed.
Posted by: Kate | 2004-11-24 12:40:55 AM
None of the postings on this thread have explained why the Frum column was "repugnant". "k" put forward a basis for considering the column to be an example of poor journalism. However, you are the only one who has labelled the column "repugnant" and you have still not explained why.
Posted by: hkj | 2004-11-24 1:59:34 AM
Your knowledge of the Nuremburg trial--though not the Mideast conflict--is first rate; however, your logic is more suspect as a result of the last posting. A fortiori.
Posted by: Norman Spector | 2004-11-24 5:54:11 AM
Hand-waving bon mots may be tolerable in your daily Press Review, but they aren't sufficient to establish your argument here. You would like us to accept--on nothing but your own word, apparently--that it is repugnant to make any comparison between Arafat and the men who planned and executed the Holocaust; this despite the fact that Arafat was a serial mass-murderer of Jews who called for the extinguishment of the state of Israel. (It is true that the Nazis never carried out suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, and that Arafat never established death camps in Poland, but surely this does not invalidate all comparisons between them.) You claim that Frum's column was likewise "repugnant", but--once again--conspicuously fail to offer any substantiation for your view.
I don't doubt that you understand both the Mideast crisis and the Holocaust better than most other people here, which is why it's frustrating to see you offering unsupported one-liners in place of an argument. If it's beneath you to participate in these forums, perhaps you shouldn't bother.
Posted by: mgl | 2004-11-24 12:16:28 PM
I'd be happy if Norm would simply provide the quote in which I reference the history of the MidEast conflict"... (or perhaps I'm reading this entirely unfairly -- in that the "repugnant" part of the comparison that Arafat was never brought to trial, to face his crimes the way the architects of the Third Reich did.)
Posted by: Kate | 2004-11-24 1:04:15 PM
MGL, if you are curious about Norman's views about the mideast conflict and find his answers here too brief, he has done you the favour of writing a book on the topic.
Check out: Chronicle of a War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became America's Fight
Available at Amazon:
Posted by: Kevin Jaeger | 2004-11-24 1:51:57 PM
Thanks, Kevin. As I said, I know that Spector is more knowledgeable about the Middle East than most of us here, and I also know about his book (which I intend to read when I get some time). But should I have to read Spector's book to understand why he calls the Arafat-Nuremburg comparison repugnant in a comment thread on this blog? It's irritating to have someone drop in and throw around a few adjectives without bothering to--you know--actually explain his reasoning. And like Kate, I'd like to know what he means here.
Posted by: mgl | 2004-11-24 2:35:22 PM
You seem to agree it was poor journalism.
If you don't find Frum's reference to AIDS and Arafat repugnant (defined by the OED as "distasteful" or "objectionable"), I would not know where to begin to persuade you to share my feelings.
I'd observe, however, that I did not hear many Canadians coming to Stockwell Day's defence.
By referring to Arafat and Nuremberg in the same breath, you are drawing an analogy between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust. I believe this serves to trivialize the latter and clouds the true nature of the latter.
Posted by: Norman Spector | 2004-11-24 3:45:17 PM
Thanks for your reply. I didn't offer any comment on Frum's AIDS comments, though I note that it was hardly a major part of the column in question. Would the column have been better off without it? I think so, sure. Does it invalidate his major argument? Nope. Was Day unwise to cite this column in defence of his refusal to offer condolences? Probably, given the media's eagerness to label conservatives as knuckle-draggers.
But I was more curious about your dismissal of the Nuremburg analogy, and I confess that I'm still not much better informed on this point. Isn't it worth risking Godwin's Law to point out that Arafat's Jew-hatred, murderous record, and lifelong advocacy of the violent ethnic cleansing of the state of Israel puts him in some pretty nasty company? I'm not sure why this is a repugnant observation, but I'll let it rest there.
Posted by: mgl | 2004-11-24 4:06:43 PM
I was the one who asked for elaboration as to why Frum’s speculation on Arafat and AIDS was repugnant. Spector’s response was that if you don’t agree with him that it is repugnant, then he is unable to persuade you that it is. In other words, Frum’s column was repugnant because it was repugnant. That’s all the answer I need. I think I’ll let it rest too.
Posted by: hkj | 2004-11-24 5:08:30 PM
"I was the one who asked for elaboration as to why Frum’s speculation on Arafat and AIDS was repugnant."
I can't speak for Norman Spector, but in general, it seems irresponsible for a prominent journalist to smear someone's reputation--in this case, by speculating that perhaps he had AIDS--with no evidence whatsoever. Even when it's someone like Arafat. Such smears are difficult to defend against: if Frum had actually argued that Arafat had AIDS, his argument could be countered. Instead, Frum is only raising it as a possibility in the minds of his readers. We're getting into Chomsky tactics here: "I never said that!"
When I read Frum's column (before the Stockwell Day kerfuffle), I thought it was irresponsible. But I also thought, well, maybe he does this kind of thing all the time, and his readers don't seem to mind.
Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-11-24 5:33:36 PM
The National Post apologized today for a Gillian Cosgrove column in which "a number of fundamental errors and intentional misrepresentations appeared."
That was all the information readers received. I checked back and found Cosgrove hinting that the Governor-General was having an affair. I won't go into all the titillating details.
On the other hand, the Post has not apologized for the Frum column--or for the news story that accompanied it. I suspect that many of their readers, like hkj, don't find anything objectionable in speculating that Arafat died of AIDS. I do, and am pleased that Russil Wvong does too.
Posted by: Norman Spector | 2004-11-24 11:38:06 PM
The word you used to describe Frum’s column in both your “Press Review” and on this comment thread was “repugnant”. You have since stated that the OED defines repugnant as "distasteful" or "objectionable". Other dictionaries also define it as “offensive”, “disagreeable”, “arousing disgust or aversion” or “repulsive”. It is fair to say that the word “repugnant” has greater negative connotations than the word “objectionable”. It seems clear that you used the term “repugnant” because you found something in Frum’s column to be offensive.
You are the only one on this comment thread to have used the term “repugnant” to describe Frum’s column. “k” and Russil Wvong stated that the column was an example of “pretty poor journalism” and was “irresponsible”, respectively. Unlike you, they gave reasons why they thought the column could be described as such. It does not appear from their comments that they were offended by the things Frum said in his column.
You have still not given your own reasons why you think the Frum column was repugnant. Instead, you have merely repeated your view that it was. In fact, instead of giving a direct answer to why you were offended by the column, you have danced around for two days with increasingly irrelevant answers.
As a previous poster said, if you cannot be bothered to explain your comments when asked politely to do so, maybe you shouldn’t make comments. Stick to your Press Review where you can spout your opinions without having to justify them.
Posted by: hkj | 2004-11-25 11:33:29 AM
..."it seems irresponsible for a prominent journalist to smear someone's reputation-"
Next contraversy: "Paul Bernardo's reputation smeared by unsubstanciated report of unreturned rented chainsaw."
The heart bleeds.
Posted by: Kate | 2004-11-25 11:54:43 AM
"You are the only one on this comment thread to have used the term 'repugnant' to describe Frum’s column. 'k' and Russil Wvong stated that the column was an example of 'pretty poor journalism' and was 'irresponsible', respectively. Unlike you, they gave reasons why they thought the column could be described as such. It does not appear from their comments that they were offended by the things Frum said in his column."
I think you're trying to split hairs. I described Frum's column as an attempt to smear Arafat's reputation; yes, I did think it was repugnant (offensive, objectionable, disagreeable, repulsive). You don't think that it's repugnant to smear someone's reputation, with no evidence whatsoever?
"The heart bleeds."
(shrug) The general principle applies, even when we're talking about Arafat. Condemn him for his actual crimes; it shouldn't be necessary to make stuff up.
Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-11-25 11:57:45 AM
" I described Frum's column as an attempt to smear Arafat's reputation;"
I guess I'll have to be more literal.
There is an annoying habit among the left, the press and political elite of treating the criminal and the crime as separate entities. "Condemn the crime, not the criminal".
This is not only false, it is politically dangerous and intellectually insulting. Criminal and crime are one and the same. Arafat was a terrorist - a murderous, lying, thieving thug to his dying day. By these acts, he relinquished all claims to honour and "reputation" at the most basic human level.
It is not possible to "smear" such a person, to reduce the reputation of this man any further than it had already descended - unless you are suggesting that dying of AIDS is a greater crime than killing innocents and advocating the destruction of a nation.
Posted by: Kate | 2004-11-25 12:38:08 PM
I'm with Russil.
Repugnant is an appropriate term for journalism that manufactures allegations relating to the social/sexual life of an individual (with little to no evidence) for the purpose of harming his reputation among supporters. Indeed, in most situations it is illegal.
I know, I know, Frum never SAID he had AIDS he only speculated. And he never SAID how he contracted it, he only speculated. Nonsense.
As Russil said, condemn him for his crimes, not for his personal life - and especially not for an imaginary personal life. Not only do these sorts of statements draw attention away from Arafat's crimes, but they perpetuate the stigma against AIDS and homosexuality. Is there anything redeeming about the allegation, or is it entirely titilation.
Posted by: k | 2004-11-25 1:15:03 PM
"'Condemn the crime, not the criminal'."
That's not what I'm saying (and for the record, I'm centre-right, not left). I said, _condemn Arafat for his actual crimes_, e.g. encouraging children to launch suicide attacks; just _don't make stuff up_. The general principle applies whether we're talking about Arafat, Hitler, or Stalin. Just because someone's despicable doesn't mean that anything goes. You owe it to your readers, if not your subject, to make sure that what you say is backed by evidence. The truth matters. Don't mislead your readers.
"I know, I know, Frum never SAID he had AIDS he only speculated. And he never SAID how he contracted it, he only speculated. Nonsense."
Chomsky has an even better technique, called "praeterito". "I don't want to suggest that so-and-so is a racist...."
Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-11-25 1:20:48 PM
I can see your argument because you’ve made one (which I appreciate), unlike Spector. I don’t agree with you, however. No, I did not consider Frum’s column to be repugnant. The problem I see with the use of the word “repugnant” to describe Frum’s column is that it attaches itself to the nature of his speculation; namely, that Arafat died of AIDS. Is there something repugnant about dying of AIDS? By referring to Arafat’s “actual crimes” as distinct from the speculation that he died of AIDS, you imply that dying of AIDS would be a crime. If Frum had speculated without basis that Arafat was, say, a paedophile, I would find that repugnant.
Again, I take your point. But a good deal of journalism could be labelled repugnant because it involves allegations relating to the social/sexual life of an individual (with little to no evidence). I’m not sure I agree that statements like Frum’s perpetuate the stigma against AIDS and homosexuality. It may appeal to pre-existing prejudice in the reader (or in Arafat’s supporters), but I don’t see it perpetuating any prejudice.
Posted by: hkj | 2004-11-25 1:29:59 PM
My appealing to a predjudice you automatically perpetuate it.
It is repugnant because Frum KNOWS that AIDS has a social stigma attached to it, and is BANKING ON the reaction of that social stigma to his suggestion.
Far from denying that AIDS should have a social stigma, Frum RELIES on it. That is repugnant.
Posted by: k | 2004-11-25 1:42:53 PM
"Is there something repugnant about dying of AIDS?"
Rational or not, there's a major stigma associated with AIDS and with homosexuality (also brought up by Frum). We can be sure that Frum isn't going to speculate about the sexual preferences of prominent members of the Bush administration. I hope you would agree that this would be repugnant on the part of Bush's prominent critics: not the behaviour itself, but the speculation. Indeed, Kerry was widely criticized for mentioning in one of the debates that Cheney has a lesbian daughter.
Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-11-25 1:59:52 PM
I don’t think Frum was trying to appeal to anyone’s prejudice. As someone previous posted below, Frum raised Arafat’s potential cause of death as an example of the media being overly-sympathetic to Arafat. The cause of death was shrouded in secrecy and Frum thought AIDS seemed as good a possibility as any other.
Frum wrote: “And yet, even as the international media reports on Arafat's condition with the kind of attention normally reserved for ailing popes, unwelcome possibilities like an AIDS diagnosis go unmentioned.”
To whom was the possibility of an AIDS diagnosis unwelcome? You say AIDS has a social stigma attached to it. I think that’s too broad a statement. In some societies it is true, but I think some people are enlightened enough not to consider anything stigmatic about having AIDS (certainly not in comparison to other things Arafat did). But which society likely attaches the greatest stigma to AIDS? I would bet Arafat’s supporters would be high on the list. It seems to me that Frum was trying to illustrate the type of people who are followers of Arafat.
I don’t think the comparison to John Kerry is valid. Kerry received criticism on two levels:
(1) he broke the golden rule that you do not mention the other candidate’s children in the campaign; and
(2) he was seen to be attempting to appeal to the prejudice of evangelical Christians who might be inclined not to vote for Bush/Cheney if they learnt that Cheney’s daughter was a lesbian.
I did not see Frum writing his column to drive Arafat’s supporters “batty” (as someone suggested below) or even to simply slander Arafat. Frum raised the possibility of AIDS because he thought it was being suppressed by the media because they did not want Arafat’s supporters to hear of it. In other words, Frum was accusing the media of having similar views to John Kerry, except the media was trying to prevent information from getting to the prejudiced group, while Kerry was trying to broadcast information to the group he considered to be prejudiced.
I don’t really want to debate this further, although I have found this exchange interesting. I can see your points as to why Frum’s column may deserve criticism. I do not consider his column to be “repugnant” but I can see why you do.
Posted by: hkj | 2004-11-25 2:50:06 PM
Having read today's thread, I'd say that hkj should sign on as a communications adviser to Stockwell Day.
Posted by: Norman Spector | 2004-11-25 3:57:04 PM
"I don’t think Frum was trying to appeal to anyone’s prejudice. ...
"You say AIDS has a social stigma attached to it. I think that’s too broad a statement."
I disagree on both points. They seem pretty clear to me. Hypothetically, if you found out that you had AIDS (but you weren't going to become visibly sick any time soon), would you tell your parents? How about your grandparents? It's not like having pneumonia, say.
"I don’t really want to debate this further, although I have found this exchange interesting. I can see your points as to why Frum’s column may deserve criticism. I do not consider his column to be 'repugnant' but I can see why you do."
Fair enough. Thanks for the discussion.
Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-11-25 5:09:44 PM
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