Blog by John Miller

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Not fit to print

The media demonization of Darcy Allan Sheppard knows no bounds.

If it has a low point, it was in two columns -- one by George Jonas in the National Post (Sept. 9), the other by Jim Coyle in the Star (Sept. 11). Both implied the bicycle courier was the author of his own death, absolving the man whose car ran him down, former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant.

Here's what Jonas wrote in part: "Whatever made the 33-year-old victim, Darcy Allan Sheppard, turn physical, a number of media reports indicate he did -- and as it came to light later, not for the first time that evening. His earlier involvement in a boozy altercation also required police intervention. When Sheppard threw down his bicycle and reached for Bryant who was sitting behind the wheel of his convertible with his wife beside him, the ex-A-G's alternatives were fighting or fleeing."

He cited no sources who saw Sheppard "turn physical," and admits he did no independent reporting himself. Since the facts about what happened that night have not been presented in court, there is absolutely no basis for saying Bryant's only options were fighting or fleeing. And is it "fleeing" when you accelerate your car into the wrong lane of traffic with someone hanging on?

Now here is Coyle, who admits in his column "I know and like Bryant. He's precisely the sort of cocky, mischievous little SOB I loved to have on my team, the kind who wasn't much fun to play against." By contrast, he says of Sheppard: "By no stretch was Darcy Sheppard a member of life's lucky sperm club."

But Coyle goes further, and says the confrontation "had little to do with the hazards of cycling ... What (it) seems more to be about is mental health and the menace of untreated addiction."

Like Jonas, Coyle appears to have done no independent reporting. He does not explain how he knows Sheppard instigated the confrontation, or what form of mental illness he allegedly suffered from. He does not outline what choices either man had in their confrontation, but delivers his verdict out of the blue: "Sheppard's day had been marked by a long string of bad decisions, Bryant's by choices and actions that were responsible, even charming."

Here he is referring to an earlier Star story, leaked by a "source close to the family" (more about this in a sec), that Bryant and his wife had eaten at a modest College Street shawarma joint, then walked on the beach and finally finished up at a Greek pastry shop on the Danforth -- an idyllic and alcohol-free anniversary celebration that Coyle eulogizes as "so romantic and so Toronto."

But, again with no facts to back it up, he speculates that Bryant exercised similar class and good judgment during his altercation with Sheppard. "In the hours leading up to it, Bryant did lots that was good and proper. So, too, in the confrontation. He probably hasn't walked away from many fights. But that night, by all accounts, he tried to disengage. It's worth remembering that Bryant is a boxer. Whatever his impulse and inclination, he opted out of the bout. The other party didn't."

What is troubling is that, two days before Coyle's column was published, NOW magazine put up on its website a surveillance video that, although grainy, appeared to show that Bryant touched off the incident by "bumping" Sheppard and his bike from behind.

I have no idea what prompted Jonas or Coyle to write those columns. I hope it wasn't that ubiquitous "source close to the family," which is almost certainly shorthand for Navagator, the image consultant hired by Bryant shortly after the accident. Planting favourable information about your client in the media is standard operating procedure. So, too, is trying to knock down the image of an adversary, in this case, someone who is not alive to defend himself.

What's clear is that, whatever the motive for writing those columns, neither newspaper should have published them.