J-Source.ca has a melancholy wrap-up story on the case of Jill Wiznoski and the displeased MP — melancholy because I expect this is the last we’ll hear of a matter that should have received a lot more national press attention than it did.
Wiznoski, you will remember, was the reporter fired by the scuzzy manager of the Selkirk Record, Brett Mitchell, after MP James Bezan contacted him and complained about her alleged bias. In her capacity as Canadian citizen, Wiznoski had signed a petition against the proposed Canada-China investment deal, along with a lot of other Canadians. Bezan found out about it and, before you could say “get out yer long guns!”, Wiznoski was canned. It didn’t matter that she’d been taken off the political beat six-months before, again because of Bezan’s whining; apparently, the very smell of an honest reporter in Selkirk-Interlake had become too much for him.
Michael Harris broke the story in ipolitics.ca, and the Vancouver Observer did a good follow-up, but elsewhere it barely stirred the journalistic waters — this in a press that just weeks before had been in paroxysms over another case of publishing malfeasance, The Wente Affair. For Aaron Wherry of Macleans it was of interest strictly because it exposed a glimmer of light between Bezan and Harper on the Nexen deal. That an MP had bullied a reporter out of her job? That was just “small town politics.” For the National Post, it was worth a passing mention in Chris Selley’s “Full Pundit” column (also known as “What The Same People We Told You About Last Week Are Saying This Week”). Postmedia picked up a Reuters story that scraped the Nexen content from the incident without even mentioning its context. In The Globe, John Ibbitson gave Wiznoski a brief, sideward glance before also moving on to Nexen. And I feel sorry for the commenter on Wherry’s article who wrote, “This ought to elicit a thunderous response from Coyne — at least I hope it does.” He/she must have been very disappointed.
Why did this story die, pretty much before it ever lived? Of course, like most mainstream journalists, these ones have to worry about maintaining access to those in power, and thus whose toes they step on, and how many times. However, I doubt they’re much concerned about offending James Bezan, even if he is touted as a possible successor to Harper (or was, at any rate, before this glimmer of light appeared between the two of them). No, I expect it has more to do with the fact anything that happens outside their own small towns, Ottawa and Toronto, doesn’t much impinge on our allegedly national press corps. The Wente story was important to them because of, well, what it was important for, but also because it happened to one of their own. Poor Margaret! Bad Margaret! But a story from Selkirk, Manitoba? Even one involving a huge issue that should matter to them even more than some garden-variety plagiarizing — namely, the use of political power to suppress journalism? Meh.
We have returned to the days, I’m afraid, when our national publications are about as national as Gino’s Pizza franchises. (Note to Ontario readers: They’re not.) That changed for awhile, after William Thorsell and Ken Whyte arrived in Toronto, but they’re both long disappeared into executive suites, and their successors have more modest purviews. Too bad. You’d think, given the way digital upstarts like ipolitics have been eating their lunch these days, The Globe and the Post, etc., would want to try once again to extend their reach, rather than foreshorten it. But, no; that would require realizing there’s something to reach for.
And so they left their colleague to gamely, and gracefully, defend herself, and then disappear from sight. Jill Wiznoski deserved better. So does Canadian journalism.