Oh, it’s on, now.
Gloves off. Gauntlet hurling towards the floor.
After I spent an hour this week criticizing Rabble, that bastion of lefty thought, I have been publicly shamed by, um, Rabble.
I have truly poked the bear, now.
“An object lesson, perhaps, in just what’s wrong with the great, grey, rancid mindset that passes for mainstream Canadian ‘journalism’ these days,”wrote one blogger for the left-wing website, singling out my lament that Rabble would publish a news-y looking piece entitled “Ukrainian Air Force jet shot down Malaysian airliner.”
National Post opinion guy-turned-Walrus editor, Jonathan Kay (who is going to do a great job in that post, by the way) originally tweeted the link, and I picked up on it. Me and Kay are the prime targets for blogger John Baglow — who goes by the truly misleading monicker of @DrDawg.
Baglow fumed that those fat cats in the corporate media were out to get little ol’ Rabble, merely because they published a piece, for the sake of debate!
Debate! He called into the night. What loftier goal is there?
Before you think I’m just navel gazing, I’m en route to a broader point.
The original Rabble piece — a blog, on a site that makes no hard and fast distinction between blogs and, er, news content — was nothing short of lunacy.
It contended, based entirely on suspiciously sourced report from the ‘Russian Union of Engineers’— a group that has a very thin history, and an unnerving number of Vladimir Putin photos on its website — that stems from a single conspiracy-oriented blog.
The blog padded its flimsy claims with pure conjecture, including such takes on Rabble standards as suggesting that the official report — that Russian-supplied anti-aircraft missiles [sic] down the jet — is “the version fed to a salivating Western media by U.S. officials.”
Well, except that it’s the Dutch who published the official report, not the Americans. But hey, that’s just a minor quibble.
Point being: the blog post is utter hogwash.
And who better to expel the conspiracy demons than a fellow Rabble blogger?
Indeed, blogger Christopher Majka took a sharpened axe to the confounding propaganda published elsewhere on the same site.
I’ll go ahead and underscore the obvious here: Majka’s expert take-down was only made possible because of the boneheaded decision to publish the original drivel.
I suppose, to some degree, it was a debate. On one side: facts. On the other: anti-American, anti-media, anti-‘mainstream’ conspiracy.
And here we get to the crux of my problem with Rabble.
That piece betrayed Rabble’s duty to adhere to basic journalistic standards and principles. It was a story relying on a single source, not dutifully checked, advancing an obviously political point, under the guise of reporting.
It continues a long trend of wannabe-journalists on the left trying to challenge the big boys, only to forgo the only rules separating us newspaper folk from the apes.
Full disclosure: I’ve actually written for Rabble before, years ago. It was some poorly-written lefty tripe, from back when I was a college student interested in consuming and producing lefty tripe, that was probably well below the already nebulous standard set by the other content on the site. I think they may have even payed me for it.
I’m not out to get Rabble. I’m out to make it better.
Make no mistake, Canada needs a bona fide left-wing news site. While a noticeable majority of news-writers in this country (a club to which I’m party) foster some sort of left-leaning bent on social issues — and, arguably, a nominally right-wing list on fiscal ones — there needs to be an offset.
For the right, there’s Sun News.
Say what you will about that network and its problems — it has many — it, at least, offers a voice to those otherwise turned-off or disaffected by the mainstream news. It still has an onus to report accurately and fairly — a standard which it doesn’t always meet, but a level it tries to rise to. Case in point: Ezra Levant, just today, accused a school board of forsaking Remembrance Day to kow-tow to the Muslim community, when in actuality the board was just respecting parents’ wishes to not put their kids near targets of possible domestic terror attacks. Oops. (Though, for what it’s worth, this may have been merely a communications snafu.)
Full disclosure: I’m also a Sun News contributor. Whee!
All this to say: the left does not have a monopoly in despising the ‘lamestream media’ nor is it the only side trying to push back against it. And to them I say: fair game. An unchallenged press isn’t a press I want to be a part of.
But what Rabble should not do is eschew all standards of quality, fact-checking, editorial control, or concern for journalistic standards for the sake of, um, ‘debate.’
Indeed, that’s exactly what this absurd conspiracy theory post betrays — a preference to accommodate a wide range of wackos, rather than to put forward a professional, high-quality news product.
And when I pointed that out, I got accused of “lazy journalism.”
Rather than do what reasonable news outlets do, and consider criticism of poorly-sourced pieces — or, better yet, never publish them in the first place — the blog editor at Rabble leapt to the defence of their author, writing: “the blogger is making a case based on the report and gives background evidence on the org.”
That editor went on to insist that I don’t have the relevant experience necessary to refute the blog, and that my insistence that the Putin-laden organization that nobody has ever heard of ought to be taken at their word, unless evidence arrives to the contrary.
Most interestingly, the editor parried by insisting that just because it’s on the Rabble website, doesn’t mean Rabble likes it!
Bringing me back to my core point: Rabble, please be better.
Because there is a real dearth of effective investigative journalism from the left.
To that end, I would recommend the Media Co-op chain of sites, and their print edition: The Dominion. (I’ve got a subscription. You get a t-shirt!) Their editorial line wobbles from urban-garden-endorsing community reporting to broad eco-activist and even anarchistic mindsets. Despite editorial lines that sometimes hit you like a 10-ton truck, the reporting is often compelling and, usually, quite factual.
Full disclosure: I organized for the Halifax chapter of the Media Cop-op, and worked as a (paid) intern for one summer at The Dominion. Yes, I’ve worked virtually everywhere, at this point.
Then you’ve got the new kid on the block, Ricochet. It came about thanks to an aggressive crowdfunding campaign, vowing to disrupt the whole goddang media market overnight, with aggressive, independent journalism. That, as of yet, hasn’t quite materialized. The site is heavy on opinion, but light on actual journalism.
There’s also Briarpatch Magazine — an outlet I’m less familiar with, so that’s one you’ll have to judge for yourself.
Beyond those three, and Rabble, there’s not a whole lot.
Yes, the Toronto Star has a left-leaning outlook. Ditto, for arts-and-culture-minded central Canadian publications like the Walrus and Maisonneuve. But no political outlook in this country should be fostered and informed by a monolithic media market.
So, one more time: Rabble, please, don’t publish junk like this. Follow your mandate and report the news. Perusing through the website, there’s a lot of havering on why the Liberals aren’t true middle class champions, on why Stephen Harper is ruining the country, and why I’m a signifier of everything wrong with the media.
I say sincerely: if you’re wasting your time writing about my Twitter account, something has gone terribly wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
Investigative journalism is really hard. But it’s not impossible.
So, please, do that.
Addendum: In casually mentioning left-leaning outlets, I neglected two obvious standouts: The Tyee, and the Vancouver Observer (full disclosure: I’ve worked for both). Those two outlets have proven a willingness to put aside cheap partisanship in the name of reporting. So consider supporting both endeavours.
Furthermore, I want to make clear that staff at Rabble have been doing their best. Indeed, some of their organizers have been friends of mine. I don’t mean to suggest that they’re not trying. I just mean that they need to try something different.
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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling