Blog by John Miller

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Check. It. Out.

You know you’ve taught too long when a former student asks you to comment on a story she’s working on about another former student who was fired for printing a story written by a third former student.

That happened to me in the wake of the so-called “Wafergate scandal,” which involved the bogus story about Prime Minister Stephen Harper pocketing a communion wafer at the Roman Catholic funeral of former governor-general Romeo Leblanc.

I ended up not doing the interview, but the facts are these: Originally published on the front page of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal under the headline “It’s a scandal,” the story was picked up by the national media for three weeks until the paper apologized – to the PM and, here’s the rub, the two reporters whose bylines were on the story. Seems they didn’t write it in their story – their editor did.

So editor Shawna Richer and her publisher, Jamie Irving, were fired. Well, Richer was fired. Irving, scion of the powerful clan that owns all the newspapers in New Brunswick, will likely do okay at some other desk in his family’s company.

It’s hard to know what the strongest lesson is from this fiasco: Never, if you’re a WASP and a doofus, get into line for the Holy Sacrament? Don’t act on news tips from the publisher? Try not to repeat second-hand stories involving the prime minister without checking?

The unfortunate Richer had to drink Kool-Aid for following orders. So be it, and are other editors across Canada not now maybe feeling extra calcium in their backbones about standing up to the big guy next time? They should. Jamie Irving wasn’t at the funeral and may have been prompted by Liberal friends or relatives to order his editor to write in the allegation that Harper put it in his pocket.

We’ll leave aside the big question for the Prime Minister: Where were your protocol people, since you obviously didn’t know what to do at a Catholic religious service and looked like a dummy?

My concern is broader: Why is there no self-correcting mechanism in the Canadian media? Why did this non-story (yeah, I know, it’s summer but ...) get carried so far on such spindly legs when someone should have simply checked real sources and believed them –  the priest, who said Harper ate it, a Liberal senator, who saw him eat it, or anyone who was in the first five rows at a televised state funeral?

With all the trees that were destroyed to convey wrong facts across the country, one anonymous comment to a Maclean’s magazine blog got it right: “What the apology from the TJ paper in New Brunswick has confirmed in the minds of many Canadians is that the media in this country is corrupt and unscrupulous. They operate in a pack mentality and so if one media outlet reports it then the rest follow suit and take no time to verify that the story is credible and factual.”

The writer added, somewhat hopefully: “The Canadian media should be hanging their heads in shame today.”

But that ain’t happening. The media in Canada are oblivious to shame. It’s not in their vocabulary. They passed beyond shame many years ago. They will simply wait for the next juicy non-story – probably involving shoes or a nanny – pump lots of hot air into it until it floats, then spend weeks nudging it along with reaction.

“Rip and read” used to be a radio sin. In the age of Internet, we need stronger hands at the controls of our major national newspapers and television channels.

Check. It. Out.

Or we may decide we can do without you.