What exactly happened between Percy Paris and Keith Colwell outside the MLAs’ washroom in Province House last Thursday night? Was it a “scuffle” (CBC, Global), an “alleged scuffle” (Metro, Globe and Mail), an “altercation” (Chronicle-Herald), an “incident” (CTV, Yarmouth Vanguard), a “bizarre incident” (CBC), a “fight” (Yahoo), a “kerfuffle” (also Yahoo), or even a “brawl” (SunNews).
“Brawl” seems way over the top, and to my ear, a term tinged with racism in this context. “Scuffle” and “altercation” seem about right.
“I guess there would be some physical contact,” said Inverness Conservative MLA Allan MacMaster, the one uninvolved eye-witness who has spoken about what took place. “I encouraged them to relax. I know things have been getting heated.”
Angry over criticism that his government was not doing enough to atone for past abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, Paris apparently grabbed Colwell by the lapels and perhaps shoved him against a wall. Colwell admits he was unhurt, but said “I felt I was assaulted.” He also alleged Paris threatened him.
Colwell complained to the HRM Police, and the following day he told the House of Assembly, “I was assaulted and threatened by the minister of economic and rural development and tourism. This improper behaviour by the minister was quite clearly an execution of a threat and intimidation, an attempt to prevent me from performing my function as a legislator, elected representative for my constituents and member of this assembly.”
For his part, Paris told reporters he had briefly “lost his cool,” and the two men had “an animated exchange outside of the House.”
“I think most people that know me would say that Percy Paris is pretty cool most of the time,” he said “I regret that I lost my cool for a few seconds.”
Upon learning that Colwell called the police, Paris voluntarily went to the station and made a statement, after which he was charged with simple assault and uttering threats. By telephone from police headquarters, he resigned his cabinet posts.
We may learn a few more details once this gets to court, but it seems safe to reach a few conclusions:
- A minor but unbecoming altercation occurred between the two MLAs in which Paris got physical with Colwell for a few seconds. As assaults go, it was at the extreme low end of the spectrum.
- Colwell called the police and, the following day in the House, called the incident an act of “intimidation” and “an attempt to prevent me from performing my function as a legislator.” As reactions go, it was at the high end of the spectrum.
Others will disagree, but I would put Colwell’s behaviour somewhere between “overreaction” and “milking it.” In contrast, Paris manned up by, one, expressing regret for losing his cool, two, voluntarily giving police a statement that led them to lay minor charges against him; and three, resigning his cabinet posts.
Legislative debates should never get physical. But let’s keep this in perspective.
Peter Barss thinks newscasters overuse puns. In a letter to CTV, he wrote:
Like many news stations (radio and television) you seem inclined to use as many puns as you can fit into a story. The question I’d like to suggest that you ask yourselves is, “Why?”
Does a pun help to elucidate a story? I don’t think so. In fact, the use–overuse actually–of puns acts as a distraction from the news. Instead of helping to clarify a story, puns draw attention to the “cleverness” of the speaker. It’s like “Hey, look at me. I just found another pun.” Just because a pun can be made does not mean that it should be made.
Another thing to keep in mind is that puns are generally defined as a “humorous” play on words.
A couple of nights ago Jacqueline Foster was describing the incident in Mexico when a woman was badly beaten in an elevator.
Quoting a relative Foster said, “Prosser (the woman’s uncle) says every bone in her face was broken.” And then Foster added, ” The family also shattered…”
Clever? No. Humorous? Nope.
I don’t think it was Peter’s intent to single out Foster or CTV, since, as he points out, many newscasters are equally guilty. The habit is less irritating when it occurs in the banter among co-hosts, but puns, like alliteration, should be used sparingly in the news.
There are times, however, when puns are irresistible. Doug MacKay, former editor of the late lamented Halifax Daily News (celebrating its fourth deathaversary this weekend) recalls one from his days out west:
At the Winnipeg Free Press in the 1970s, there was a rough and ready sports deskman named Dallis Beck. Harold Ballard, the controversial owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was on trial for his financial shenanigans. On the wintry day after Ballard testified in his own defence, Beck headed the story: “Hark, the angel Harold sings.”
At the risk of undercutting Peter’s point, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I’ll note that MacKay’s yarn appears in a roundup of news puns, intentional and otherwise, compiled by the late Charles Stough of the Burned Out Newspapercreatures Guild listserv, aka BONG. [Archive link, anyone?]
[Disclosure: Barss was once my brother-in-law and remains my pal; MacKay was never a relative but is always a pal.]
[UPDATES appended at end]
Contrarian reader SL shares our ink-stained correspondent‘s distaste for the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s malodorous apology to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. She wonders why departing Harper Communications Director Kory Teneycke included the precise timing of his decision to resign so prominently in his resignation talking points. The second paragraph of the CBC story reads:
Teneycke said he told Harper just after Canada Day and before the G8 meeting in Italy earlier this month that he was going to step down.
That would be, uh, just before the Prime Minister did or did not consume the sacramental Host at Romeo LeBlanc’s funeral. (The timing of Teneckye’s decision appeared in the sixth paragraph of the Toronto Star story.)
If the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal’s groveling apology was brokered as part of a deal that included Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard’s efforts to woo federal shipbuilding contracts, maybe Teneycke, Harper’s third director of communications in 3-1/2 years, decided the backroom machinations could do permanent damage to his career. Or maybe not.
Another piece of speculation, promoted by CTV and the always impartial National Post, holds that the whole wafergate scandal was a Liberal set-up. As CTV’s Bob Fife put it (at 10:30 into the aforementioned video):
I’m told the Liberals passed the story on to young Jamie Irving, who is the publisher of the paper. He passed it on to the editor who put it into the paper without checking it out, and today the editor has been fired and Jamie’s father has suspended his son for 30 days, and I’m told the Prime Minister is pretty thrilled with that decision.
So T-J editor Shawna Richer is indeed out of a job, but somehow publisher Jamie Irving (that last name has a nice ring) escaped with a 30-day suspension—facts the paper neglected to include when making a clean breast of the matter. (An Irving spokesperson now acknowledges that the pair have been relieved of their duties, but still will not reveal their employment status.)
National Post columnist Seve Janke points the finger at former NB Liberal MP and current Ignatieff staffer Paul Zed based on, well, zero evidence (“I’m not saying Paul Zed had anything to do with this”), except that Zed “is related by marriage to the Irving family, having been married to Judith Irving, the granddaughter of K.C. Irving.”
The operative words there are “having been.” The couple is divorced, so perhaps Paul is no longer whispering sweet nothings into Judy’s ear, or Cousin Jamie’s for that matter. Nevertheless, Janke wants Ignatieff “to direct Paul Zed to uncover the identities of those did the deed and who had knowledge of it.”
Oh my, my, my. Does the Post actually pay for this crap?
For what it’s worth, Maclean’s Magazine’s Kady O’Malley reports that Doug Finlay, the Conservative Party’s National Director of Political Operations, is flogging the same line:
Can Michael Ignatieff assure Canadians that no Liberal staffer, executive or advisor contacted Jamie Irving or Shawna Richer regarding the Prime Minister’s acceptance of communion at Romeo LeBlanc’s funeral?
So O’Malley put the question to Ignatieff’s office. Response:
This is nonsense. We didn’t record the videotape–CPAC did. And as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Canadians need only look at the video on You Tube to see what happened.
Meanwhile, LifeSiteNews.com, a Toronto-based Campaign Life website, suspects Liberal blogger-strategist (and Chretien acolyte) Warren Kinsella‘s hand at work, noting that Kinsella has apparently changed the time-stamp on his blog to make it appear that he posted a refernce to the original T-J story somewhat later in the morning (9:53 am) of July 8 than was actually the case (6:53 am), the implication being that Kinsella is trying to obscure the fact he had advance knowledge of the story. (Pretty bad when you have to turn away from our august papers of record to an anti-abortion website for actual reporting.)
No question, Kinsella has aggressively promoted the alleged scandal, drawing “the faint outlines of a link between the shipbuilding announcement and, hours later, mincing, shit-eating apology,” which he describes as “fundamentally false.”
Meanwhile, what the hell is this?
A copyright claim by Radio-Canada? CBC spokesperson Angus MacKinnon confims to Maclean’s:
Radio-Canada requested that the footage be removed from YouTube due to copyright infringement (something it does on a regular basis). It was deemed that no ‘fair dealing’ exception was applicable in this case… [O]ur policy on fair dealing with regard to YouTube-d material [is] judged on a case-by-case basis.
Excuse me? Since when is it part of a news-gathering organization’s role to block public access to primary research sources, especially when those sources were created with taxpayers’ money? Since Harper became PM, perhaps? How much faith can we now place in Radio-Canada’s coverage of the current copyright debate, where Crown copyright is a key issue? Suckholing to the government of the day has long been endemic within the CBC, but rarely has a Mother Corp flack acknowledged it so brazenly.
Happily, Canadians can still see video evidence of Harper’s nontransubstantiation here, here, and here. The videos show pretty conclusively that, whatever Harper may have done with the Saviour’s virtual Body, he didn’t consume It promptly.
Here’s a novel idea: Could someone in our nation’s Parliamentary Press Gallery separate their puckered lips from Harper’s posterior long enough to do some actual reporting? Or does endlessly opining on the terminal inadequacy of any possible pretender to Harper’s throne keep you too busy for honest work?
Scarborough blogger Jeff Jedras parses the T-J apology in meticulous detail, pointing out additional oddities and inconsistencies.
The apology exonerates the reporters whose bylines appeared on the story on grounds that the inaccurate material was added in the editing process without their knowledge. But the story, which appeared five days after the funeral, was all about the wafer issue.
This is a daily newspaper, so they’d covered the funeral story already. So clearly the original, untainted story the two reporters wrote was more than just “there was a state funeral a week ago.” That’s not a story. The story they wrote had to centre around Harper accepting communion, was that right or not, and when did he consume it? Then some things were inserted to beef that up that were apparently troublesome.
So which part of the story is true, and which fabricated? That’s the central problem with the Irvings’ highly selective account of the events: we can’t tell. As Jedras puts it:
[T]he Telegraph Journal’s apology doesn’t really change the original story, whether you think it’s a dumb or newsworthy story or not: Harper accepted communion when he shouldn’t have, and took his sweet time consuming it, when he should have consumed it right away. All they’re retracting is “senior priest wants answers” and “he pocketed it.”
There’s more. It’s worth reading.
Blogger Stephen Taylor, who bills himself as a scientist and political analyst, and who organized rallies to protest last December’s aborted coalition government, also weighs in. Taylor notes the massive character of the edits that would have been required to sustain the apology’s odd claim that, although the central facts of the story were wrong, the reporters who wrote it bore no responsibility for the erroneous material. Then he adds an intriguing twist:
I’ve learned from a source close to one of the journalists that at least one of them may have gone so far as to seek advice and consider a lawsuit against the newspaper if the paper did not retract the story and absolve (no pun intended) the journalists of fabricating a significant portion the article.
That would be consistent with the highly unusual lengths the apology went to in exonerating the reporters.
Curiouser and curiouser. Too bad that journalism is the only public institution journals and journalists deem off limits.
Contrarian reader Justin Ling wonders:
One wonders why ‘investigating’ this non-issue (a) counts as journalism or (b) matters to anyone but the media. If he pocketed it, he did so because he did not want to offend Catholics by refusing the wafer. Shouldn’t we be focusing on the other host of issues out there surrounding Mr. Harper?
Well, of course the original story wasn’t important. It was amusing and ironic, and treated as such by the media. But then the Prime Minister blew a gasket, and the CBC invoked copyright to bar public access to the video evidence, and the Telegraph-Journal issued this astonishing and hard-to-credit apology (just as its owners queued up for lucrative shipbuilding contracts), and the PM’s director of communications resigned a year into the job. And finally, there’s the Ottawa press corps’s disinclination to look into the inconsistencies.
Contrarian reader WT observes:
Whatever else there is to be said about the TJ wafergate apology, it must rank as one of the great pooh-eaters of all time.
Mervin Hollingsworth of Saskatoon thinks we’re off our trolley:
Do you know how silly your report reads? Who cares what Harper did with the Host. It is between him and his God. Try to move on to something that all Canadians care about. This is pure speculation and garbage and a waste of everybody’s time. It truly must be a slow summer.
To be clear, which I thought I had been, I don’t give a flying fig what SH did with the Host. I care about the fallout, which reeks of dishonesty.