More woes in media

In addition to stenography, media damages the quality of information through misleading headlines. Here is an example sent to me by an In-Sights reader. It is a Kamloops Daily News article written for reporter Jason Hewlett. The headline:

 Infighting, lack of platform crippled public interest in NDP, says political scientist.

The headline is drawn from comments by one Ray Pillar, who is identified as a Political Science Professor of Thompson Rivers University, perhaps known to some as Cariboo College. I looked for information about Professor Pillar but found almost none. There is no one by that name listed on the college’s website, even on the faculty list for Philosophy, History and Politics.

Additionally, an extensive Google search produces no papers authored by a political scientist of that name. Yet, his comment is headlined despite the general context of the article suggesting something different. I wrote the newspaper asking for comment about their source but heard no response. I also left this opinion on the Kamloops Daily News website:

Pillar speaks one person’s opinion, his own version of truth, to which he is entitled. However, he has not been paying attention if he thinks there are no discussions of policy underway in the NDP leadership campaign. There are many great proposals which would reverse the corrupt giveaways of public assets that BC Liberals engage in.

John Horgan, for example, wants a fair taxation commission so that, instead of focusing on a single tax (HST), we review the entire revenue structure of government, including medical fees, ICBC rates, BC Hydro rates, property taxes, user fees, water and gas royalties (or lack of), federal transfers, personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, etc. Anyone who thinks that fair taxation is only about a yes or no on HST is uninformed.

Adrian Dix has talked about making post-secondary education accessible to all and suggested a program to reform delivery of public healthcare. All candidates want to see improved environment oversight and scientific evaluation of hydraulic fracturing in the province’s northeast. They also question the spending of public funds to build roads and other facilities for the gas production industry.

The entire NDP wants to see an honest and independent examination of government corruption related to BC Rail and the Agricultural Land Reserve. They want to see an end to secret no-bid contracts for multi-billion dollar projects like the Port Mann Bridge and they want BC Liberals to reveal the details of hidden shadow tolls on the Sea to Sky Highway and the Bennett Bridge.

Ray Pillar may think the NDP remains divided and has no platform but he could not be more incorrect. If he is indeed a working political scientist, he does disservice to his profession for such an inane opinion. I also suggest that Jason Hewlett’s piece is a perfect example of stenographic journalism as discussed here.

Another example of an hysterical and misleading headline was this one by CNN:

Tests detect radioactivity on 17 U.S. Navy crew members in Japan.

The actual story was this:

Tests detected low levels of radioactivity on 17 U.S. Navy helicopter crew members when they returned to the USS Ronald Reagan after conducting disaster relief missions in Japan, the military said Monday. No further contamination was detected after the crew members washed with soap and water, the Navy said.

After publishing this article, I exchanged communications with the editor of the Kamloops Daily News. It turns out the expert Ray Pillar was a retired university administrator who had returned to teach two sections  for an instructor on medical leave. The correspondence is detailed in my article:

“It would probably be appropriate for you to post an apology on your blog.”

Categories: Journalism

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17 replies »

  1. This actually sounds (with notable obvious differences) like another BC Liberal caper – remember Paul Reitsma?


  2. I did a little searching too Norman….and came up with this:

    We are building a new international building that is privately funded,” said Ray Pillar, admissions and records manager at University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops, B.C., “and in order to pay for it and make other revenue contributions, we plan to increase international student intake by probably another 33 percent.”

    Which I found in an article by Dan Drolet from 2003…

    Have you gotten anything from the 'reporter' who wrote the piece?


  3. Reitsma – that would be the BC Liberal MLA who took to writing letters to the editors applauding his own work and criticizing others. That would have been fair except he wrote the letters over false names.

    Liberals, you recall, also had (have?) a program of organizing callers to radio talk shows aimed at spreading pro-Liberal news. Still today, they employ loyalists through the taxpayer funded Public Affairs Bureau (PAB)who camp out on blogs and websites to provide the party line using anonymous handles.


  4. No response from the Kamloops News. I waited a fair number of hours before posting this but, to be honest, the media does not like to engage in discussion about their own performance.

    As Kimberly Daum, formerly of The Province, said on Alex Tsakumis' blog:
    “Every newsroom has a “nut” list.”

    In media talk, that means almost anyone who criticizes them.


  5. I did note another person on a TRU website with the name Pillar. She was a faculty advisor in the School of Arts.

    TRU, formerly Cariboo College, is one of the institutions raised from “college” status, then to “university college” then “university.” Same with Capilano College in North Van, Malaspina College etc.

    I like the idea of community post-secondary colleges but every administrator and instructor now wants status, prestige and salaries equivalent to UBC, SFU and UVic. It is a costly, costly affair so, like every other institution in the Canada, they aim to create revenue through foreign student fees. I'm hearing reports that, in the rush to recruit overseas students, homegrown people are ignored or underserved.


  6. I was actually writing a comment on their site early this afternoon when I noticed your post come up… I could not have worded a better educational reprimand than you Norm, I left it at that. Now I read here that the entire premise of the article is suspect…I am quite speechless actually..


  7. Hi Norm – “Professor” is a bit over the top as my links sent to you show….he was an “Instructor”, it seems not well regarded by the students, and is now teaching a course being offered through Adult Learning – hardly the stuff to warrant being held up as an “expert” on the BC political scene…

    Warren White
    Gordon Head, Victoria


  8. Norman:
    Apparently the email address I posted earlier for Mr Pillar is no longer in service…you'll have seen a bcc of an email I tried to send him a few moments ago.

    I take it you haven't heard anything as yet from Hewlett.


  9. Norman, your blog is a treat to read. I think you should rule the world — it would be a much saner place than it is now!

    Thanks for bringing me to the word “stenography” as it relates to journalism. I chuckled to myself, though, as I first read it as “steganography”.

    From wikipedia at “Steganography is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message, a form of security through obscurity.”

    I first thought that the definition of steganography *could* apply to some of our mainstream media outlets but then thought “no, that's way too sophisticated for them”.

    Take care. Keep on writing your thoughtful, intelligent posts.


  10. Norm, I know the reviews were old..but found them very enlightening and smile worthy…considering. I'd bet his ex-students were more critical of his “expertise” than those who read this “reporter's” recent article though. :))


  11. True. It is fun to read through those rating sites but I do not take them too seriously. I know there are usually many sides to a story. Like the doctor rating sites, the credibility is questionable unless you have many reports.

    BTW, the Kamloops Daily News editor has now acknowledged my inquiry so we will probably get an explanation soon.


  12. Well done Norm.
    As a resident of Kamloops I find our Newspapers to be very selective of what they write about the Liberals, for instance the Liberal leadership race hit the front page and the NDP debate of March 22, 2011 was third page news.
    The write up seemed to favor Adrian Dix and of course the only mention of Dana Larson was of his marijuana activism. Mike Farnsworth and Nicolas Simons had three of four line mentions about the minimum wage and the costing of the NDP platform.
    Nothing was mentioned of the candidate’s reference to the 6 millions given to the Basi Virk BC Rail debacle. Overall very thin gruel.
    Let’s not forget that the owners of this newspaper gave the BC Liberals $500,000.00 in election funds over the last ten years.
    I found all of the Candidates to very well informed on all of the issues and very capable of articulating their thoughts.
    The whole affair was very well done.
    Keep up the good fight Norm, although a lot of readers, like myself, don’t comment too often we all appreciate your commitment to getting out the information the so call media doesn’t.

    Ken Barry


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