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January 13, 2011

The Globe and Mail, a saga of recklessness and lack of accountability

Dr. Anthony J. Hall

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In its December 17 missive entitled, "The Archetypal Outsider," the editorial board of The Globe and Mail added yet another establishment voice to the condemnation of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. The authors asked what happens when Assange "acts recklessly?" They continue, "To whom is he accountable?" OK. But this second question begs another question. To whom are the publishers of The Globe and Mail and its owners, Bell Canada Enterprises and Woodbridge Inc. accountable? Does The Globe and Mail ever recklessly use its extraordinary power to decide what to place on the public record of national discourse and what to keep out?

In its effort to discredit Assange, The Globe and Mail proclaims he is not a good keeper of secrets because he has no respect for the claimed imperatives of modern-day decision-making. The editorialists assert: “Cabinets need to deliberate. Diplomats (and spies) need to talk to one another, and to their governments.”

The idea that officials of our emerging global police state should have the power to spy on all the Internet communications and telephone calls of regular citizens, while concurrently retaining a place of secrecy for themselves as well as their political and corporate masters, is no longer tenable. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Personally I have been appalled in recent years by many of the editorial calls of The Globe and Mail in deciding whose secrecy and privacy will be protected and who will be sacrificed at the altar of so-called national security. I have become especially distrustful of the journalistic creation of all-purpose boogey people presented to Globe readers as the Black Bloc or the Mohawk Warriors or the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

All of these labels, deployed again and again to dehumanize, discredit, and defame those to whom they are attached, need to be subjected to skeptical scrutiny.

They need to be viewed through the lens of historical contextualization so as not to become caricatures and stereotypes such as those regularly drawn by The Globe’s journalistic cartoonists, but especially by Christie Blatchford, Margaret Wente and Colin Freeze. I could add, as well, Tom Flanagan, a frequent columnist in The Globe who claimed he was being “very manly” when he made a public proposal to Evan Solomon on the CBC that Julian Assange should be assassinated.

The Globe’s report on August 27, 2010 of a supposed preemptive strike aimed at an alleged terrorist cell in Ottawa showed all the signs of a newspaper acting recklessly.

Unfortunately, The Globe was far from alone in its irresponsible journalistic handling of this matter. Reporters, editorialists and publishers showed no decent respect for the line between the public and private. The rights of regular citizens were assaulted in the media, even as federal politicians and their politicized police forces were protected by the lack of skepticism shown by journalists covering the episode.

As in the crucial hours following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the journalist choir failed to insist on seeing actual evidence to back up elaborate government accounts of a vast conspiracy detailing the global scope and deadly effectiveness of alleged Islamic terrorist cells.

As in the aftermath of 9/11, the public relations divisions of the national security state went into spin doctor overdrive. Again and again, media relations officials assigned to the police operations in Ottawa pointed to the enormity of the violence supposedly being planned by the homegrown jihadists for both Canada and the international arena.

The Globe’s unwillingness to deviate from the uniformity of reporting on the apprehension of a supposedly “homegrown” terrorist cell constitutes striking proof of the failure of the mainstream media to provide a diversity of perspectives on stories pertaining to the so-called Global War on Terror.

This failure of skepticism and this lack of respect for the imperatives of evidence repeated patterns of reportage that were put on public display in most mainstream accounts of the case involving the politically-motivated police entrapment of the Toronto 18.

The sad narrative of journalistic conformity with police state orthodoxy was broken most notably by the detailed investigations of University of Guelph English Professor, Michael Keefer. [I]

Many reports of the supposed Ottawa terrorist cell emphasized the alleged distance between the relative order and efficiency of the accused men’s public lives and the supposed ghoulish depravity of their broadly publicized identity as coconspirators in jihad.

For example The Globe and Mail filled the full front page above the fold with a single wordy headline. It began, “Homemade bombs, Afghan-style attacks.”

It continued, “A mysterious ringleader and his hockey-playing co-conspirators planned to help fund Canada’s enemies in Afghanistan” even as they were “just months away from waging their own terror on home soil.”

While the homegrown nature of the alleged threat was emphasized, the brief news report underneath the lengthy headline depicted the scope of the alleged terrorist plot as “stretching from Ottawa across the globe to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Dubai.”

The urgent tone of The Globe’s lead editorial was hardly distinguishable from its news reports.

Under the banner, “The call of jihad rings far and wide,” the editorialists wrote, “What terrifies in the terrorism arrests” is that “individuals who seem to be, and may in fact be, well integrated into their communities” succumb, nevertheless, “to the lure of jihad.”

The trial by media included expressions of dismay by family members who articulated disbelief that the suspects, all young professionals, were capable of envisaging, let alone doing, the kind of murderous acts they were allegedly conspiring to perform.

Much of the media hysteria highlighted the case of Dr. Khurram Sher. Twenty-eight years old, Dr. Sher is married and the father of three children. He is a recent graduate of McGill University’s medical school and “an avid ball hockey player” whose performance as a contestant on Canadian Idol is readily available on You Tube. [ii] Once the police advertised this clip in their media relations packages, it received hundreds of thousands of hits.

The expansive claims uttered in this well-coordinated intervention by police officials and their media mouthpieces constitute the domestic equivalent of a preemptive military strike.

Without any judge or jury making a single finding, citizens are instantly transformed into criminals. In the flash of a single news cycle, the lives of individuals and families are overturned forever. The changed climate of public opinion benefits certain elites and their political representatives while it further poisons the already-diminished health of our body politic.

The disparity between the broad scope of police allegations and the quality of the proof tendered is suggested by the tight juxtaposition of weasel words in key passages in The Globe’s reportage. For example, in the article by Colin Freeze, Greg McArthur and Joe Friesen, one of the accused men “is alleged to have been trained in bomb-making, possibly a person who is believed to have travelled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.” [my italics][iii]

Some might view this episode as a simple case of business-as-usual in an era transformed by the events of 9/11.

The idea that police and armed forces must intervene to stop possible terrorists before they direct acts of arbitrary violence at innocent civilians has been widely accepted as the necessary cost of preventive vigilance. Others, however, are not so sanguine. They are not so willing simply to trust that authorities will not take advantage of the climate of fear by constructing tailor-made enemies and designer scenarios to advance their own self-serving agendas.

Professor Michel Chossudovsky is one such skeptic. He is the controversial economist at the University of Ottawa who has been raising alarms about the government’s resort to political policing linking jihadism with the familiar fixtures of everyday life such as hockey, You Tube and Canadian Idol. [iv]

Until this point, Chossudovsky asserted just days after the Ottawa arrests, the main psychological thrust of War on Terror’s media managers has been to distinguish between so-called moderate Muslims and real or imagined extremists. The effect has been to divide the Islamic world into imposed categories of good Muslims (i.e., Irshad Manji) and bad Muslims (i.e., Mohamed Atta and Khalid Sheik Mohammed).

The underlying politics of this imposed distinction forms the basis for two significant texts, one by Tariq Ramadan and the other by Mamood Mandani. [v] Drawing on these and other sources, Professor Chossudovsky identifies some of the more radical activists of the loony right who have manipulated the War on Terror to further entrench and expand the West’s permanent war economy. These propagandists have been pushing public opinion and public policy towards a closed system of total war. They have been doing so by planting stories whose effect is to inflate public perceptions that Islamic extremism is not an isolated phenomenon but, rather, one that permeates the entire Muslim community.

Ground zero of this strategic shift, Chossudovsky argued, was the manipulation of populist sentiments to oppose the building of the mosque dubbed “Park51” near the site of the three pulverized towers, exploded to smitherines in what some have termed the most offensive snuff film ever televised live. As the anti-Muslim, anti-mosque fires were being stoked by the opponents of Park51, the poisonous vapors emanating from their nativist pow wow induced heightened racial and religious tensions in cities and towns all over North America.

In supporting his theory that the demonization of Islam is becoming an all-out witch-hunt reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, Chossudovsky cites the following passage in an article in The Ottawa Citizen entitled “How Terrorism Came Home to Roost.” The Citizen’s Andrew Duffy writes, “the threat increasingly comes not from strangers with rough English and dubious passports. Instead, it resides much closer to home: in urban townhouses, darkened basements—anywhere with an Internet connection. Homegrown terrorism is the latest incarnation of the al-Qaeda threat.”[vi]

The full story behind the spectacular case of Julian Assange is yet to be fully revealed. Some are already predicting that his arrest is preparing the ground for an oppressive assault on Internet freedoms such as that seemingly being promoted in The Globe’s editorial of December 17, 2010. Others speculate that Assange is not what he seems, but that he may have made deals with companies and governments to determine what would be released to the public and what would be held back. Who can say at this stage of a fast-moving story where the weight of evidence will eventually point?

As the editorialists at The Globe properly point out, the strange case of Julian Assange raises issues that are far larger than the individuals most immediately involved in the matter. The publishers and editors of The Globe and Mail and many other similar venues of corporate media manipulation are sadly mistaken, however, if they think they can turn back the clock. They are sadly misinformed if they do not understand the growing public resentment at the way media managers and directors have often abused their function as gatekeepers in drawing the line between what information becomes public and what information will be kept entirely private, or at least not subjected to detailed scrutiny.

Julian Assange has become a flashpoint of resentment for followers of the news who see in mainstream sources, including our own CBC, layer upon layer of cover up, deception, disinformation, spin, and slavish devotion to serving power rather than speaking truth to its operatives. The Globe’s irresponsible handling of the police crackdown on the supposed homegrown terrorist cell in Ottawa is just one of hundreds of cases that could be cited to illustrate the recklessness of traditional media captivated by forces that, I suspect, could not stand up to the sustained scrutiny of honest, truth-seeking investigators.

Dr. Anthony J. Hall is Professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge. His most recent book, Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism (McGill-Queen’s University Press) was included by The Independent in the UK among its Christmas picks for best books of 2010. So far neither the existence nor the substance of the text has been noticed by any major media venue in his home and native land.

[i] Michael Keefer, “The Toronto 18 Frame-Up: Fraud and Fear-Mongering in the ‘War on Terror’,” Global Outlook, Issue 13 (2009), 64-71; “Further Reflections on the ‘Toronto 18’ Case,” Global Outlook, Issue 13 (2009), 72-74; “The Toronto 18: A Second Update,” Global Outlook, Issue 13 (2009), 74-76;


[iii] The Globe and Mail (27 August 2010), A1, A9, A12;

[iv] Michel Chossudovsky, “America’s Holy Crusade in the Muslim World,” Centre for Research on Globalization (30 August 2010),

[v] Tariq Ramidan, “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim,” New Statesman (12 February 2010),; Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (New York: Pantheon, 2004). 

[vi] Andrew Duffy, “How terror came home to roost: Canada’s homegrown terrorism is the cancerous result of al-Qaeda’s successful marketing of Islamic extremism,” The Ottawa Citizen (28 August 2010),

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