By Frank Moher
In our last episode, I said I’d tell you what I found out about why my review of What the Furies Bring disappeared from The National Post website a day after being put up. My little investigation provides a tonic insight into what happens when journalists find themselves on the receiving end of an interview.
First, I phoned up Mark Medley, co-editor of the Post‘s online books section. Medley had earlier e-mailed me that he was looking into the matter. Now that I was calling as a reporter, though, he didn’t want to say what he’d found out. Hm.
So then I phoned up Duncan Clark, “Executive Editor, Digital.” If anyone would know why an article went poof on the Post‘s website, it’d be the Executive Editor, Digital, right? But Mr. Clark said he knew nothing of the matter and that he’d pass my number on to those who might. Something told me, however, that I wouldn’t be getting a call back from those who might.
So then I called up a third individual who, it turned out, did know what had happened but would only tell me off the record. So, of course, I can’t tell you what this individual said. I will say, though, that my prognostication skills, as demonstrated in that previous post, are pretty damn good.
You have to wonder what it is about 9/11 that puts the Post into such a dither. I have previously written about the inertia that keeps newsrooms firmly locked in groupthink. And yet all over the world, millions of people are now speculating about what really led to that day, and what really happened. And not just on internet fringe sites, but increasingly in the mainstream press and TV (see here and here and here and here), and in academic articles such as the one I cited. Truthiness isn’t just for Truthers anymore.
For the Post, however, the matter must remain fixed and dry, because . . . because why? Because otherwise it might have to look into the matter? Because corporations dislike uncertainty? Because they’ve been told to toe the line? Because other newspaper people might laugh at them?
Of course, the Post might say that they simply have high standards for certitude. According to that scholarly article, there’s only a 1% chance that the sort of extraordinary stock trading that went on prior to 9/11 could have occurred randomly. But hey, 1% is 1%. “Beyond reasonable doubt” may be good enough for the court system, but not for the Post! Mind you, this is a paper that regularly publishes articles sceptical of global warming, also in the face of official explanations, and based on quite a bit less evidence than I can offer about those stock trades. But ya choose yer conspiracy theories. And besides, most of those were opinion pieces.
Oh, wait, so was mine.
And that’s what really makes what the Post did scuzzy, not to mention a bit dumb. The books section of a newspaper has traditionally been the place for a trade in ideas — ideas that originate between covers, and ideas that are offered in response. It is not just a place to remark on prose styles; it is, much of the time, a place for debate. Or should be. The appropriate response to my piece, from both a journalistic and business point-of-view, would have been to leave it on the site and let the festivities begin. Let some readers damn me, let others comment in support — think of all those page views! Let its columnists go after me, run an op-ed dissociating itself; whatever. The Books section would never have been livelier.
Instead, it chose the Delete key. If this is the way the Post intends to toddle into the prismatic future created by the internet, in which there is no one “truth,” and control of information is an anachronism, it truly is doomed, and deserves to be.