A Mirror for the Hall Monitors

Three years removed from the worst of pandemic panic, many in our chattering classes still won't admit fault. On the wrongness of compliance as currency, and the need for remembrance.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.” -Orwell

I’m enjoying a Stolichnaya and soda with a few unnamed politicos, on the first humid day in Canada in six months, when an acquaintance tells me he’s sorry.

“Look, in the early days of whatever lockdown it was, I was a bit of a jerk. I was scared. I was upset. And I disagreed with some of the things you were writing, so I lashed out. Months later, I realized how wrong I was, and I’m sorry.”

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you also learned to take it on the chin from a few colleagues, friends, family even…

As the often defamatory texts and DMs piled up, I just stopped replying. There are only so many ways to say “I’m sorry you feel that way, that wasn’t my intention.” And there’s certainly no reasoning with a mob.

I accepted his apology; it was heartfelt and showed character.

I also didn’t expect it, because, “if you’re reading this,” we’re all aware of how few and far between these little acts of mea culpa can be.

I still have friends, and even family members, who have been ostracized, disinvited from life’s most important moments, and abandoned by lifelong companions who now choose to view them as lepers, only because the TV once told them so.

Forget all that shared history, those years stretched out behind us, the screens in our houses and on our desks and in our hands said so, dammit, and what they say goes.

Much as I’d like to move on, I still find myself wondering about these acts of cruelty, particularly on sunny days at the park, or while enjoying a workout in the gym (two of the pandemic scolds’ most hated acts of health and humanity).

I do believe in extending an olive branch for those rolled up in the wheels of the Covid industrial complex. After all, this was the piece that launched the Substack (and eventually helped garner thousands of subscribers, for which I am eternally grateful). 

An olive branch for team apocalypse

But I don’t believe in amnesty for the hall monitors; the ones who knew better; the ones who now hold their breath as they pass the graveyards of their cowardly reporting and even worse tweets; or those who still choose to pretend that all that needless hurt, and hate, and compliance, was for the better.

I wonder aloud about these men (and women) on sunny days such as this.

And then I decide to write.

Yup, these were our journalists.

And it matters that theyre still our journalists.

Over Mother’s Day, I compiled a short Twitter thread of the worst of the CBC’s Travis Dhanraj from memory.

In the throes of Toronto’s love affair with pretending it was Hubei province for the likes, clicks, and retweets, Travis had a thing for deciding to go to beaches, parks, or downtown, and then crying foul upon the discovery that others had the same idea.

Travis was wrong, of course. This ‘reporting’ served no one. In a vacuum, it existed only to shame the working families that kept a city running, while ‘reporters’ got to play pretend wartime correspondent on the couch, or out in the undeniable safety of the open air.

A few respected strategists weighed in, which ultimately lead to the above pearl-clutching from the representative from Global News, Sean O’Shea.

Sean felt “assailed” by criticism of his dogged ‘reporting’ that once staked out gym owners trying to earn a living and keep their clients healthy (to no detriment to public health, in fact, quite the opposite).

Sean was also wrong. He was wrong then, he was wrong when he took his show on the road to catastrophize the events of the Freedom Convoy, and he’s wrong now.

“He’s a decent guy, who remains utterly lost on all matters of Covid,” a friend in media tells me. I choose to believe the former, but there are no more excuses for the latter. Lockdowns didn’t work, neither did mandates, and ‘zero Covid’ was a neo-communist delusion in an era of ‘essential’ workers and animal reservoirs, that was propagated by a well-organized group of fringe political activist doctors and oft-unwell academics who already had a problem with ‘normal,’ and seized on their opportunity to Build Back Bed-wetter.

If journalism is indeed “printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations,” then this cottage industry of Compliance-Based Reporting certainly qualified as public relations.

“Most others abided by the rules in the public interest,” says the journalist, but what of the “rules” to begin with? And of what “public interest” do they speak?

I remember the government killing people with ventilators, lying about “two weeks to flatten the curve,” wrongly closing schools, delaying the detection and treatment of millions of diseases, putting in place snitch lines, banning unvaccinated Covid-recovered teenagers from trains and planes, and, if politicians like Steven Del Duca had their way, that would have included schools.

‘What a f*cking idiot’: On Steven Del Duca, the man who almost harmed thousands with booster mandates

'What a f*cking idiot': On Steven Del Duca, the man who almost harmed thousands with booster mandates

Descending from high upon Piz Gloria and his Swiss mountain ‘allergy institute’ (read: the Queen’s Park visitors’ gallery), Steven Del Duca cuts a menacing figure. His head freshly shorn beneath his cap and goggles, Del Duca and his henchmen (read: teachers’ unions) make a valiant effort of chasing down two concerned parents who have read the studies, consulted with a family physician and their child’s pediatrician, and don’t yet feel comfortable with one, two, or even three doses of mRNA.

Read full story

Is that the “public interest” of which Sean speaks?

And is that the hill he still wishes to die on? That we were all just following orders?

Has compliance really become the raison d’etre of the legacy journalist?

In a nation that so heavily subsidizes the news, wherein a sitting Liberal government is actively seeking to define who is and isn’t a publisher, and that just granted itself the power to rejig seemingly every algorithm to show its preferred content first, are the O’Sheas and Dhanrajs of the world just positioning themselves for the inevitable?

Or has something else been broken? Something in the social contract that’s far more precious? The natural inclination to speak truth to power, not power to truth.

We used to turn to the Woodwards and Bernsteins of the world, now, we’re all but forced to handle matters ourselves.

A good rule of thumb in the post-every-boondoggle-of-the-last-two-decades era is to ask one’s self, “How am I being manipulated right now?”

If you’re lucky, you’re capable of that self-reflection, and the compassion and empathy that’s required to right some wrongs.

And if you’re not?

Well, then you might just be a government journalist.

The original version of this post was published on the author’s own site, Acceptable Views, and has been reprinted with permission.