Jan Wong returns to talk about Canada’s war criminals, the CBC on the take, and the Globe and Mail fishing for awards

Episode Rundown

[00:00:10] “Where do we go now? Where do we go Jan Wong? Welcome back to Canadaland. That was my Axl. It’s better than Stephen Harper’s Axl Rose.” Jesse

“Yeah I guess so. That’s not saying much though.” Wong

“No, that’s Stephen Harper and myself ruining a perfectly good song. Jan Wong is back on Canadaland, this time for Shortcuts. And Jan Wong you are a Patron of Canadaland.” Jesse

“Yes I am.” Wong

“I like to rock out to some Stephen Harper cover tunes in front of my George W Bush still life paintings. No I don’t keep them here, the valuables are at home.” Jesse

[00:01:58] “For Torture to suddenly be in the news. ‘Oh my god they’ve been torturing people and of course oh my god Canada’s been complicit in this’. It’s not news is it? We knew and we’ve known for years.” Jesse

“Yes and No. We’ve known for years but we really didn’t grasp with all the gory details and this scope, and we didn’t really know the ins and outs of who knew and who was trying not to know. Also I think one of the big revelations to me, is that they didn’t get anything out of it but they tried to lie about it. They tried to say, ‘we caught bad guys, we saved American lives.’ When in fact this report makes it quite clear, nobody was saved. No good information came out of the torture sessions.” Wong

“That’s right, they lost all moral authority, and the information you get is no good because people will say anything. But I knew that last week.” Jesse

“You did? I’m not sure I did.” Wong

“I didn’t know all these gory details and I think I’m not against the senate doing a full transparent (report) if it was indeed full. Trying to account for over a decade of government sanctioned torture, that is a necessary process that has to happen.” Jesse

“It wasn’t necessarily going to happen, there was a big political fight behind the scenes and all we got was the executive summary. We haven’t seen and probably won’t see the full report.” Wong

“That has a familiar ring to it.” Jesse

“This is what you’re allowed to see.” Wong

“An institution investigating itself and disclosing certain key findings. But ok, I’m glad that they did that and it’s not like I think the news should not cover that that came out. But from a Canadian perspective we’re suddenly filled with headlines. Maher Arar is back in the news, the fact that we were totally complicit and allowed the CIA to use our airports, and that we knew what was going on and we used information that was gleaned bad information that was gleaned from torture, and we shared information with the Americans that led to people to lend to rendition that led to torture. All of that was  part of the public record and I can’t help but push back a little bit. It’s America that started this whole thing, that’s most guilty. Why do we need them to tell us that we were guilty when we knew it. It’s that same Canadian thing, ‘oh the Americans said that Canada was complicit so now we can finally have a really open conversation and hold people to account.’ It gets picked up as news cycles do, Trudeau and the NDP are of banging their drums against Harper and saying ‘You know we need to stop this and account for this.’ It becomes a political event when from our perspective, I don’t think we’ve learned anything. There was a tiny tidbit in the Star about one terrorism suspect who called another terrorism suspect from Canadian soil. As far as I can tell, that is the sum total of the revelation, of the news that from a Canadian perspective we’ve gotten out of this. It’s back to that same issue of why is the media afraid to make an issue out of something? Why do they have to wait for some external body to release a report or do a poll?” Jesse

“Well I think we have to wait because we didn’t know the gory details and we couldn’t have known the gory details because this was classified. Actually in the report they talk about the CIA selectivily leaking stuff to journalists that would make the CIA look good and nobody went after them or procecuted the leaked information. So this was all part of a conspiracy and the media went along with it because when you get a secret document or leak, you get really excited and it is news so you get it but really you’re being manipulated to show a certain picture of what’s going on. So I disagree with you. I think this CIA report is full of really interesting stuff and yes Maher Arar is back in the news but in a different way. We saw them before as oh my god this happened to this poor guy and it’s unbelievable but now we get the whole picture…We had one guy in focus, now we have the panoramic shot of what was happening under CIA administration. I think the New York Times makes the point, the CIA was a spy agency. They weren’t really in charge of torture and prisoners, so they didn’t really have training or whatever you want to call it. They just went in and manipulated the bureaucratic forces to give them a free hand. They did whatever they wanted and they were telling people you don’t actually want to know this.” Wong

[00:07:04] “When I hear on the news this morning, people digging up sound clips of W saying ‘we don’t torture.’ Actually you did.” Jesse

“So that’s important and I know you feel like ‘ah there’s nothing new about this‘. But I think it’s really important to know all the harm that was done. Can you imagine if you were waterboarded and they go ‘well we already knew somebody was water boarded so whats another guy getting waterboarded.’ You wouldn’t like that, I think everybody counts. I think every bit of torture counts and it all needs to be recorded and that’s why journalism is important. We don’t just say ‘yeah it happens, so what.’ We actually do want to go back and rake through it and parse it and report it and it is good because people are writing news stories.” Wong

“Forget about what I think about it. Maher Arar was on twitter today and he wasn’t saying oh why do you suddenly care about me now. ‘Oh good people today for whatever reason care about this.’ He was tweeting about the issue itself and not the meta issue. He was tweeting about what torture. It tells you so little about actual information but it tells you volumes about the torture.” Jesse

[00:08:31] “These guys are war criminals, and right now they’re in power, they’re not touchable. But for the record and for history we know now, they are war criminals.” Wong

[00:09:31] “So that was Jian Ghomeshi.” Jesse

“Yeah, miss his voice don’t you.” Wong

“It’s odd to hear his voice. But that was him in the summer. A feature interview with Tom Petty that we just learned thanks to Kevin Donovan at the Star. He was paid by Tom Petty’s label five thousand dollars. The CBC was paid.” Jesse

“His expenses were covered. He didn’t get five-thousand to put into his back account.” Wong

“Essentially money changed hands.” Jesse

“Money changed hands to do the story.” Wong

“To do the story for Q and there is one defense there that and this is something that people have made. Well you the Toronto Star, ‘who are you to point fingers about expenses being covered (with) your travel writers. What is happening in the wheels section?’ We have different standards for lifestyle, culture and service journalism than we do for hard news. Of course there’s two main distinctions, one is this is the public broadcaster and they actually have rules against this, the second is that interview also airs on the National. Which is a hard news show.” Jesse

“Just because the Star does things that they shouldn’t do doesn’t mean that when they talk about what the CBC shouldn’t do, it negates it, it neutralized. It doesnt’.” Wong

“So do you think that there is an argument to be made to defend that practice?” Jesse

“No I think it’s a terrible practice. I don’t think journalists should take anything to cover a subject or a topic. No, you should pay your own way. Maybe not for a movie ticket, maybe movie critics go in and see a movie and they don’t pay. They flash their id and I think that’s small enough. I think if you get under ten or fifteen dollars. I’m ok with that. Used to be five dollars, that shows you old I am.” Wong

[00:12:04] “Yeah apparently they take free hotels and airfare to go to another city to produce their show cause they say nice things about the other city.” Wong

“I was surprised and I’m not easily shocked by this stuff. I know that every newspaper out there, every news organization has these kind of deals going. But somehow even after everything that we’ve learned about that show. That was one area where I thought, I was still able to be surprised by that. Part of it, is that show became CBC’s flagship arts and culture broadcast that every musician wanted to get on. And there are two stories, the Star’s been good on this. Cause not only did they uncover this five-thousand dollar payment also were able to cover how there is sort of a network of Ghomeshi’s lawyer, agent and all their other clients would get on the show as well. When lights album came out and Ghomeshi is the manager of Lights, it was all over the CBC. When his book came out, it was all over. There’s a lot of stuff like that coming out now as well…It is Tom Petty were talking about. It’s not like Tom Petty bought his way on to Q.” Jesse

“Well I have to say it but i didn’t even know who he was. He’s like a big deal?” Wong

“He can get on to Q.” Jesse

“Who knew. The point is if Tom Petty refused to go into a studio and do this and insisted it had to be face to face. Q should’ve said well sorry, we don’t have the budget. Theres a hundred other musicians that want to come on, so you don’t have to do this. I don’t see the point. Especially because I don’t know who Tom Petty is.” Wong

“You don’t know Tom Petty?” Jesse

“No I don’t.” Wong

Refugee.” Jesse

“No, sorry.” Wong

[00:15:00] “A lot of the places that have policies that don’t take a dime. Those policies only apply to their staff members. But then you talk to the freelancer. The freelancer travel writer, the freelance film critic, ‘well for what you’re paying me to do this stuff absolutely no way I could do it.'” Jesse

“So I don’t see how you can be a reporter and take it. I don’t see how you can get a free trip and write about it. You just can’t, it’s like going to your friends house for dinner and writing a review of the dinner.” Wong

“I would do that but only to Corey Mintz. You know what I think that whatever you’re going to do, you got to disclose it.” Jesse

“Yeah and they don’t cause it’s wrong and it’s embarrassing and readers will go ‘that’s not worth the paper it’s written on’. That’s why they don’t.” Wong

“If you’re not comfortable disclosing it, theres probably a reason. You probably shouldn’t be doing it.” Jesse

“I’m not talking freelance. Freelance, the rates haven’t gone up in thirty years and they’re struggling and they’re starving.” Wong

“When you’re talking about freelancers, there’s a whole generation that is essentially freelance. This stuff is only getting more and more problematic. It’s tempting even if you got a full time job and benefits to take those types of deals. When you are a freelancer, going from contract to contract, meanwhile if you are published in the New York Times, or the Globe and Mail or the CBC. You have the voice of this major institution but you are getting compensated so poorly that it is a way for organizations to sort of high jack that voice. There is a weakness in the whole machinery that they could slip into.” Jesse

“And the big organizations are pretending they don’t see it.” Wong

[00:16:47] “So I wanted to talk about these special features the Globe has been running. They don’t look like other Globe stories. They’re very big and pretty and if you look at them in the paper they look like magazine stories. If you look at them online, this Thalidomide story. Eddie Snowshoe, this First Nation guy who hung himself in solitary confinement. Very serious stories and very important stories that the Globe gives this kind of looks treatment.” Jesse

[00:18:02] “They’re hard to navigate and they’re hard to find and these are banner stories that they’re really thumping and I’m sure are going to be submitted for newspaper awards. When you try to google them because they’re sort of formatted differently, I was able to get all of these follow up stories to Thalidomide story but not the Thalidomide story. It’s not indexing properly. It all follows, what is it called. Snow fall, The New York Times did this beautiful multimedia treatment.” Jesse

“About an avalanche right?” Wong

“Yeah. But I was of two minds about it.” Jesse

“I found it really annoying in the end. I read that story about the avalanche and it just took so long and nobody died or maybe one guy died and I thought that was a lot of trouble. I don’t mean to be cold hearted but it was kind of long. They had nice graphics but I thought well is this going to end with a hundred people dead. It didn’t so I felt kind of let down.” Wong

“That’s it. The Thalidomide story, that’s a really good news story and apparently there picking up some work that was done by the british press and there was also like a movement from the Thalidomide survivors. All credit due to Ingrid Peritz for writing this thing which totally was like the Globe gets results. This lead to the government unanimous support to compensate the survivors whose mothers took this drug and were born with deformities and the government has treated them terribly. An apology is forthcoming it seems, adequate payment is forthcoming and the Globe was not afraid in this instance to even like beat a drum. Andre Picard followed up with ‘no, it has to happen now and the money has to come out now and the apology has to come out now.’… I still found like why is this so long and the actual newsworthy parts of it I could of read in like three paragraphs.” Jesse

“But it takes so long to scroll down because of all the stuff they’ve hung on it like Christmas tree ornaments. It’s very fancy. So they’re trying, they are trying to get fresh eyes…Maybe you and I both like to read fast and we don’t want all this junk. We have to leapfrog  over it to get to the texts. I personally just like to read fast and if I want to click on something, a link, and I’ll do that but don’t interrupt me. I don’t know how you feel but as soon a I’m reading something and it’s a link. I’m sort of tempted to click on it but I know I just want to read through first. But when they start embedding on all this in it. I find it kind of ADDish. It’s very distracting.” Wong

“There’s that and it takes you away from the storyline. It sort of presented to you, this is a rich documentary with sound and pictures and video and this and that. They really try to create a mood with these little fancy effects… You had me at paragraph two, it’s wrong it’s an outrage and nothing really shocking or revealing came out pass that. But I was distracted by the prestige of the whole enterprise. Also this is something that no casual reader, only somebody working in the field would probably obsess about. I felt this was very expensive.” Jesse

“Yes, I think it’s national newspaper award time. I think that’s what it is. In an editorial meeting, the top people are sitting down and going ok we got to win some awards. I think it’s great to start bringing in photography and video if the documents are right there. Maybe they could offer two versions, one for old fashioned people who just want to read and then for people who are totally distracted and only have an attention span of four seconds, they could put in the other one.” Wong

[00:22:17] “Well what would’ve been a dangerous story?” Wong

“Well to do something on torture a month ago might have been.” Jesse

“Yeah and to go after certain people in the Canadian power structure that enabled it. That would’ve been gutsy. But to stand on the sideline of the people who are deeply oppressed, yeah theres no risk.” Wong

“It’s better than the first time I saw one of these special reports, which was Ian Brown.” Jesse

“The Lobster.” Wong

“Reporting on a lobster.” Jesse

“Following a lobster around. I remember reading that and I thought, you paid that much for your lobster dinner. And all they do is boil it. Like come to my house, I know where to get good/giant lobsters and it doesn’t cost anything.” Wong

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