Jan Wong, disgrace to journalism

Affaire Jan Wong et The Globe and Mail

Nobody in my family was surprised to see Jan Wong in lots of trouble recently for writing something that was thoughtless and stupid. Thoughtless and stupid things are what Ms. Wong writes for her newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It's her beat.
Pretty much everyone in Canada, by now, has heard about Ms. Wong's latest bit of unthinking and unintelligent "journalism." About two weeks ago, she wrote a feature in the Globe about the tragedy at Montreal's Dawson College. It was more than 3,000 words long, and it was mostly unremarkable, with the exception of one part, midway through. In it, Ms. Wong stated, as fact, that -- in the killings at Dawson, l'Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 and Concordia University in 1992 -- "the perpetrator was not pure laine, the argot for a 'pure' francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial 'purity' is repugnant. Not in Quebec."
As you may have also heard, Ms. Wong wrote that what "outsiders don't realize is how alienating the decades-long linguistic struggle has been." In effect, she was implying that the Montreal killers had been victims of Quebec's language laws. Or, at the very least, they had been spurred into homicidal rages by linguistic policies.
A veritable avalanche of outrage -- real outrage, and not just the stuff that politicians claim to be outraged about, but aren't, day in and day out -- followed the Globe's ill-advised decision to print Jan Wong's latest defamation. Letters of condemnation from the Premier of Quebec and the Prime Minister of Canada; angry editorials; dozens of indignant letters sent to the Globe's editor; polls demanding that Wong apologize; a House of Commons resolution censuring Wong; and so on and so on.
Jan Wong, being a sophist, enthusiastically waved the flag of journalistic freedom. The Post's own Graeme Hamilton tracked her down, and Wong sniffed: "Who's going to ask the next tough question? Who's going to say the next unpopular thing about Quebec, right or wrong?"
So there you go. Jan Wong wasn't merely being thoughtless and stupid. She was motivated by a higher purpose: asking tough questions, and saying unpopular things. She's courageous. She's a freedom fighter.
My family, as I mentioned at the outset, have some experience with Ms. Wong's technique when her outrages whip up rather too much outrage for her employers. In our case, the story is a very painful one. In Sept., 2001, two days before 9/11, we pulled our 18-month-old son from a lake near Peterborough, Ont. He was not breathing. He had slipped out a side door at a friend's cottage, and he was lifeless. We do not know how long he had been floating, face-down, in the lake.
Somehow, my wife and a doctor friend brought him back. To us, watching his eyes flutter open was, and is, a miracle. A tour in support for a book I had written about politics was immediately cancelled. Weeks later, my publisher persuaded me -- objecting as I was -- to sit down with Ms. Wong for one of her skewer-the-subject lunches.
When her column appeared, it was pretty much what I (if not my publisher) had expected. The column did contain one surprise, however. The surprise, as with the Dawson College story, came about midway through: Ms. Wong wrote that I would use our son's near-death to sell books. Within minutes, friends at the Globe started to call, actually urging us to sue the newspaper that employed them.
So we did, and we won. We weren't after money: just a statement by the Globe and Mail that what she wrote wasn't true. They published it, although not without a fight.
Nobody seemed to hear from Jan Wong quite as much after that. She lost her "lunch" column, and she sent me a threatening lawyer's letter when I wrote about it on my Web log. (I ignored it.)
Every so often, she'd file a story -- one about impersonating a maid, another about sneaking sharp objects onto airplanes -- that seemed to be all about Jan Wong, but not so much about the subject matter. All of this suggests she does not really want to be a journalist.
Which brings us to the present, and to another friend, who has toiled at the Globe and many other newspapers, and has won many awards for his work. "What she wrote was a bloody disgrace," he said, over burgers last week. "She rarely has by-lines, and she doesn't even come into the newsroom any more. Why does the Globe keep her around?"
Why, indeed.
In fairness to Jan Wong, this much can be said: If the Globe and Mail didn't keep her on the payroll, who else would write the thoughtless and stupid stuff?
When it comes to being thoughtless and stupid, after all, Jan Wong wins all the awards.
- Warren Kinsella blogs for the Post and at www.warrenkinsella.com.

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