Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • ?Alternative facts?? Journalists from Venezuela to Turkey have ?seen this movie before?

    WASHINGTON—Lisseth Boon, a veteran investigative journalist in Venezuela, was in her Caracas office on Saturday when she came across the brazenly inaccurate claims from Donald Trump and his chief spokesman about the size of the crowds at his inauguration.

    Her response: “Déjà vu.”

    “That is so Venezuela,” she wrote on Twitter.

    She was not alone.

    “I immediately thought of Venezuela … (Former president Hugo) Chavez and his ministers always tried to create a parallel reality,” said investigative journalist Tamoa Calzadilla, who left the country for the U.S. in 2015 because of the oppressive media environment under Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro. “I’m so worried.”

    More at

    The 5 false things Donald Trump has already said as president

    Mahir Zeynalov, a prominent journalist deported from Turkey in 2014 for writing about a corruption scandal involving the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, felt a rapid recognition of his own.

    “We have seen this movie before in Turkey. Whenever I see what Trump and his team are doing, I say, wait a minute, this is somehow familiar,” he said. “What has been happening in Turkey for years is now being replicated in the United States.”

    The early months of the Trump presidency will involve fierce battles about such policy matters as health care, trade and immigration. As its very first fight, though, his administration chose a target that has alarmed observers of authoritarian leaders: verifiable facts.

    In a monologue at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency on the first full day of his presidency, Trump blasted the media for correctly reporting on the size of his inauguration crowd, falsely claiming it was actually much bigger. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, then did the same from a podium at the White House, making five provably false claims and walking out.

    Spicer’s words were not lies, Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway said on NBC the next morning. They were, she said, “alternative facts.”

    The instantly immortal piece of spin triggered another round of mockery on social media and beyond. For watchdogs in countries that have slid away from democracy, it was not a laughing matter in the slightest. Phillip Gunson, an International Crisis Group senior analyst in Caracas, wrote on Twitter: “This is how it begins: casting doubt on the veracity of things you can see with your own eyes. After a while, you start to doubt your eyes.”

    “It doesn’t take long before the ordinary citizen, who is not best equipped to investigate each and every lie (especially when they are coming thick and fast and daily), starts to doubt everything, and even those who don’t necessarily believe the government no longer have a firm grip on reality,” Gunson, a former journalist, said in an email.

    “This also makes political debate virtually impossible. Not only is it difficult to reach consensus when the two sides believe diametrically opposite things, (but) the very rules of evidence have been undermined, so there can be no appealing to any agreed means of establishing the truth. Domination is much easier under these circumstances.”

    Fomenting doubt about the traditional providers of facts helps inoculate politicians such as Erdogan and Trump against future stories about their wrongdoing, Zeynalov said. He said they are especially sensitive to truths that call into question the supposed popular support they use to justify their governing.

    “Crowd sizes, how many people applauded me, how many people voted for me — this is the essence of populist leaders: to make sure that the people who love them, who applaud them, are ‘bigger.’ Whenever you challenge that notion, you’re assaulting the crux of their argument,” he said.

    Social and political conditions are different in the U.S., of course, than in Turkey or Venezuela. Spicer struck a friendlier tone on Monday, when he took questions for more than 75 minutes and reluctantly acknowledged that he had provided some incorrect information in his weekend diatribe.

    “Our intention is never to lie to you,” he said. “You’re in the same boat: I mean, there are times when you guys tweet something out or write a story and you publish a correction. That doesn’t mean that you were intentionally trying to deceive readers and the American people, does it? And I think that we should be afforded the same opportunity.”

    Trump, though, has a proven pattern of intentional deceit, and he has systematically attempted to undermine public faith in scientific and economic authorities. Asked on Monday what the unemployment rate is, Spicer refused to acknowledge even that there is a standard measure of unemployment, saying Trump is “not focused on statistics as much as he is on whether or not the American people are doing better as a whole.”

    It was a smooth rejoinder. It was also another instance of Trump’s team urging people to accept his own amorphous definition of truth over long-accepted figures. The U.S. media now faces a delicate balancing act: how to challenge the serial inaccuracy of such an administration without appearing hysterical or gleefully antagonistic.

    “Trump wants a flat-out war with the nation’s media for one well-calculated reason: because he believes it will continue to serve his political purposes, as it has for months,” wrote Margret Sullivan, media columnist for the Washington Post. “Journalists should respond by doing their jobs responsibly, fairly and fearlessly, in service of the public good.”

    But even basic journalistic acts like fact-checking Trump’s claims can further alienate a conservative base already inclined to see the mainstream press as biased and petty. The challenge, said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative talk radio host who is critical of Trump, is that the president and his aides “flood the zone” with a gusher of audacious lies.

    “You can’t keep the outrage meter up all the time,” Sykes said. “I would think it would be incumbent on the media to do everything possible to rebuild its credibility. Which is to be aggressive and hold him to account, but don’t necessarily take the bait and become completely oppositional.”

    He paused.

    “I can say those words. What that actually means, I don’t know. In terms of a day-to-day ‘how do you behave,’ I just don’t know.”

    Zeynalov threw up his hands, too, saying nobody had yet figured out the “$5-million question.”

    Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, said major media organizations should “send the interns” to White House briefings, leaving top reporters to dig into “the real story” elsewhere and avoiding their being used as strategic punching bags.

    “Defend and monitor democracy,” Calzadilla pleaded. “Colleagues and editors have to defend journalism principles with courage,” said Boon.

    Some U.S. editors are already departing from their old practices. In a highly unusual fact-check headline at the top of its Sunday front page, the New York Times wrote: “Slamming media, Trump advances two falsehoods.”

    No other major newspaper did anything similar.

  • Boy, 17, stabbed inside Etobicoke high school

    An Etobicoke high school community is in shock following the stabbing of a 17-year old boy in the cafeteria Monday afternoon.

    A student was rushed to hospital with serious injuries after an altercation at Thistletown Collegiate Institute. The teenager is now in “serious but non-life threatening” condition, according to Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board.

    Toronto Police received a call for the incident midday. The resource officer, a Toronto Police officer who works with the school, was on campus at the time and was “instrumental” in dealing with the incident, according to Schwartz-Maltz.

    “We’re all feeling very fortunate that she was here,” she said.

    The school was under lockdown as a result of the stabbing before it was placed under a hold and secure procedure, which was lifted shortly after 3 p.m. TPS also had K9 units search the school.

    A 15-year-old boy was placed in custody, according to TPS, and he will be charged with assault causing bodily harm. Schwartz-Maltz could not confirm if the suspect is also a student at the school.

    The reasons behind the altercation are still under investigation but “initial reports to 9-1-1 claimed it stemmed from a robbery,” according to Toronto Police.

    Students were visibly upset following the stabbing, according to Schwartz-Maltz. Thistletown Collegiate Institute has a “feeling of community,” she said. While there is a permanent social worker on site, a team will be brought in Tuesday to help students and teachers.

    “I did see some kids in the office and they were upset. They were friends of the victim but they will have all the resources they need,” Schwartz-Maltz said. “They will rally around these particular kids...and the social workers are here for the kids and the staff.”

    This isn’t the first time Thistletown Collegiate high school was the scene of armed crime. In 2013, a group of teenagers fired a gunshot at a student inside the school during an attempted robbery. Four people were charged in connection with the shooting.

    “Stabbings inside schools are quite rare,” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird. “They have happened in the past, but they are still very rare at TDSB.”

    There are also a number of safety measures in place at the school, according to Schwartz-Maltz, besides the two school resource officers who are on campus regularly. The school has 31 cameras, 2 hall monitors, and all doors are locked during the day, except for the front door.

    Schwartz-Maltz added: “It’s my feeling this is an isolated event but every time there is an incident in a school the situation is looked at.”

    With files from Sophie van Bastelaer

  • SNL writer Katie Rich suspended indefinitely after joke about Donald Trump?s 10-year-old son

    A Saturday Night Live writer has been suspended indefinitely after a joke on Twitter about U.S. President Donald Trump’s 10-year-old son Barron.

    A person familiar with the situation confirmed to the Star on Monday that SNL writer Katie Rich was suspended indefinitely by NBC, immediately after she tweeted on Friday that Barron would be America’s first “homeschool shooter.”

    The tweet was quickly deleted and Rich’s Twitter account was reset, and her name was reportedly missing from the credits of last weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live. The only tweet now on Rich’s account is an apology about the joke.

    “I sincerely apologize for the insensitive tweet. I deeply regret my actions and offensive words. It was inexcusable and I’m so sorry,” Rich tweeted on Monday afternoon.

    The now-deleted joke drew criticism from media outlets and social media outlets across the world.

    Barron Trump was widely seen at Friday’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. However, even Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Trump’s former presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, was quick to defend the boy from any attacks that came with the spotlight.

    “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does — to be a kid,” Chelsea wrote on Facebook, garnering over 100,000 reactions.

    Barron is the first young boy in the White House since John F. Kennedy’s presidency, although much of his first year will be spent going to school in New York City.

    SNL has drawn a lot of criticism from Donald Trump himself throughout the presidential campaign, but this is the first time that their jokes on Trump have drawn widespread outrage from people on both sides of the political spectrum.

    Multiple petitions demanding that NBC fire Katie Rich have surfaced, including one that had 80,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

    Though Rich was not on the credits for last Saturday’s episode, hosted by Aziz Ansari, it did not lack for satirical pokes at Trump, notably in Ansari’s opening monologue, in which he joked that Trump made him wistful for a past president he disliked at the time: “What the hell has happened? I’m sitting here wistfully watching old George W. Bush speeches?”

    The episode ended with two cast members singing “To Sir With Love” to a projected image of Barack Obama.

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007