Sunday, August 10, 2008

No better than a blogger, pt. 2

Jonathan Kay of the National Post assures us that "You'll Miss Us When We're Gone" because "certain kinds of important stories that simply cannot be covered, except by deep-pocketed traditional media organizations employing professional journalists."

He presumably wasn't thinking about his own blogging at the National Post, which has led to him being sued, as I pointed out here.

He probably also wasn't thinking about the National Post's Jewish-badges-in-Iran story, which is surely one of the most embarrassing moments in that paper's history -- perhaps, indeed, in the history of Canadian journalism.

To refresh your memory. On May 19, 2006, the National Post ran a front page story that claimed that Iran had passed a law requiring and defining proper dress for Muslims that included an order for Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians to wear special insignia (yellow for Jews, red for Christians and blue for Zoroastrians).

The resonances to Nazi-era Germany were obvious. And just in case a reader might miss them, the article was accompanied by a picture from Nazi-era German of Jews wearing a yellow star (see the screen-cap to the left).

The problem? The story was completely unfounded. Within a few days, it was quickly proven to be false: there was indeed a law before the Iranian parliament concerning dress, but it contained nothing about minorities. The National Post issued a full retraction a few days later.

In this case, of course, those "deep pockets" and "professional journalists" at the National Post's disposal seem to have been no great help. Other news agencies around the world, however, used their resources to better effect in exposing the falsehood.

Before the story could be corrected, however, it had been picked up by news agencies around the world and brought stern denunciation, including from Stephen Harper, newly installed as PM:
    "Unfortunately, we've seen enough already from the Iranian regime to suggest that it is very capable of this kind of action. It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the Earth would want to do anything that could remind people of Nazi Germany."
Iran, unsurprisingly, reacted by summoning Canada's ambassador to Tehran to explain.

Now, anyone who has spent any time in the blogosphere knows that there are plenty of untruths, half-truths, distortions and misrepresentations to be found, often (as with the National Post) with an axe to grind.

It is not often, however, that a blogger causes an international incident. That, too, apparently requires "deep-pocketed traditional media organizations employing professional journalists".

Update. Some useful blogging references from the time: pogge, Canadian Cynic