Real Journalism?


Let us imagine that at some point in his youth Bartley Kives received a visit from the News Fairy who told him that someday, if he was very, very good, she would grant his wish and he would become a real journalist.   Kives, however, after high school went on to receive a degree in sociology from the University of Winnipeg.   It is very difficult to take a degree in sociology from anywhere without squashing your conscience like a chirping little annoying bug.   When the school is the University of Winnipeg it is virtually impossible.    While signing away your soul in a blood contract with Mephistopheles and Karl Marx may not actually be a formal requirement for the degree, it would seem to be de rigueur. 

For almost two decades Kives reported and wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press, covering pretty much everything from music to city politics to restaurants.   While occasionally the Winnipeg Free Press has employed a real journalist – Ted Byfield, believe it or not, worked for the paper back in the fifties and, of course, the late, great Tom Oleson graced its pages until shortly before his death almost ten years ago – for the most part Manitoba’s “paper of repute” has preferred hack writers that mindlessly toe its party line.    On issues that pertain to the Dominion of Canada as a whole, that party line is and always has been, Liberal, both big and small l.   In John Wesley Dafoe’s day the paper existed to promote the Grits’ agenda of Americanizing Canada and turning her into a vassal satellite of the United States.   When the federal Liberal Party was taken over by Communist operatives in the 1960s – Lester Pearson, who had been a Cambridge Five style Soviet spy when attached to our embassy in Washington D. C. in World War II, and Pierre Trudeau who had led the Canadian delegation to a Communist economic conference in Moscow in 1952and who never met a Community tyrant he didn’t love and adore and fawn over – the paper dutifully followed its party into the fever swamps of the far left.   Radically opposite as those two positions seem, they were united in their contempt for the traditional constitution of Canada and for the Common Law freedoms of Canadians.  John Farthing showed in Freedom Wears a Crown, (1956) how the policies of the earlier, Mackenzie King Liberals, had undermined freedom and paved the way for Prime Ministerial dictatorship.   A decade earlier Eugene Forsey, after his doctoral dissertation was published, had debated the very same issues with Dafoe, making mincemeat out of the partisan publisher. On the provincial level, where the Grits have been mostly a non-entity for the larger part of a century, the paper has tended to support the NDP. 

In more recent years Kives has been reporting locally for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.   Abandoning the overt and heavy progressive bias of the Winnipeg Free Press is hardly a requirement for employment at the CBC.    Although the publicly funded Crown broadcaster is supposed to fairly represent the views of all Canadians it has long behaved like “anybody but the Conservatives” was its official policy, regardless of who happens to be in power at the moment in either Parliament or any of the provincial legislatures. 

The Progressive Conservatives have been in government in Manitoba since 2016 and the CBC, like the Winnipeg Free Press, has been striving to unseat them ever since.    Coincidentally or not 2016 was also the year that Kives was brought onboard CBC Manitoba.   In 2019, the efforts of the media failed and the Conservatives, led by Brian Pallister, were returned to power in an early provincial election.   The following year the bat flu pandemic struck, and the media in general, and Kives in particular found in it a stick with which to bludgeon the provincial government.

Now if, as has been thought to be case for centuries, it is the role and duty of the fourth estate to hold government accountable, to ask it the tough questions, to shine a light in every dark corner of the halls of authority, to expose all the secrets, to speak truth to power, does this not mean that the News Fairy has returned at long last and turned Kives into a real journalist after all?

Alas the answer is no.

It would be one thing if he really were asking Pallister and his chief health mandarin Brent Roussin the hard questions.   Questions like:

Do you recognize any constitutional limits to your powers that remain in effect even in an emergency?

In your opinion are the fundamental rights and freedoms of Manitobans their own property or something that is permitted to them by your government as you see fit?

How much mental, social, and economic damage would the lockdowns have to do before the cost of the lockdowns exceeds the cost of doing nothing at all?

How far would government restrictions have to go before you would admit they have gone too far and crossed a line that should never be crossed?

Kives does not seem to be interested in the answers to questions like these however.   He does not even seem to be interested in questions like those that Pallister groupie, Josh Aldrich of the Winnipeg Sun, is occasionally willing to interrupt his sycophantic boot-licking to ask about why the government has been consistently picking on small businesses and restaurants, which are not significant sources of transmission, with its public health orders.

No, the only questions Kives seems to be interested in are “why didn’t you lock us down again faster?” and “why didn’t you lock us down again harder?”

The theory that Kives appears to be operating on, based upon much of his recent commentary but especially “Lockdown 3, the one everyone could foresee” from the 8th of May, and last Sunday’s “In Manitoba’s darkest days, the premier casts shade”, is that the province’s slapping down a hard lockdown as fast as possible last spring was a success, that their gradually increasing the restrictions in stages in the fall as the case numbers rose only to see them continue to rise was a failure, and that therefore they should have locked down the entire province hard as soon as they saw case numbers start to rise again this spring.  

One problem with this theory is that while Manitoba’s initial hard lockdown did indeed, seem to work, last spring, other provinces and other jurisdictions in other countries that tried the same thing at the same time, met with failure instead, and had the sort of results that we saw in the fall.   What is the explanation for this difference?

The most obvious explanation is that the virus had only just arrived in the province and had been caught before it had begun to spread in the brief period in which it was capable of being contained in this manner.      If this is indeed the true explanation, then last spring’s success would not have been duplicable in the fall.   All an earlier and harder lockdown would have accomplished would have been to make the lockdown that much worse in its harmful and destructive effects.  

Anybody familiar with the history of infectious disease and the way quarantines work should be able to grasp this.   Quarantines control the spread of infectious disease by either a) keeping it out in the first place or b) containing it so that it doesn’t spread.    The former is what the traditional method of placing ships and their passengers and cargo under quarantine before letting them into a country was designed to accomplish.   The latter is what the kind of quarantine where a doctor locked you into your house for a couple of weeks and had your neighbours drop food off on your doorstep when you had the smallpox or measles or some such thing was designed to accomplish.    The strongest quarantine of the latter type was the kind the French called the cordon sanitaire, where an entire city or region was sealed off, in the hopes of preventing the disease from spreading outside the area.   This practice was depicted in a fictional example by Albert Camus in The Plague (1947).   In more recent real life it was used in several places to contain the original SARS virus and Ebola.   What governments around the world have attempted to do with the lockdown model since last spring is something radically different from these traditional quarantine methods.   Indeed, it could be called the inversion of a quarantine.    It is not designed to keep a disease out of a country or contain it locally because it is imposed on societies where the disease is already present and spreading.   It is not imposed merely upon the sick and those known to have been in contact with the sick while contagious but upon all healthy members of a society, thus causing a ton of collateral damage.   It is not remotely as effective as traditional quarantines – last year’s experiment demonstrated that countries and regions that rejected the lockdown model did not end up being the countries and regions most devastated by the disease or even being significantly worse off than countries and regions that locked down.  In some cases they fared slightly better with regards to the disease itself and in all cases avoided the tremendous harmful effects of the lockdown.

Kives’ commentary is padded with tear-jerking rhetoric about the “deaths of hundreds of grandfathers and grandmothers”.   How many of those grandfathers and grandmothers died, not because of the disease this overhyped virus causes, but because of the extreme loneliness and despair created by being forced into social isolation in the name of saving their lives?   This is the sort of question a real journalist would be asking.   A real journalist would also be interested in all the sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters lost to opioid and other narcotic overdoses and suicides brought about by social isolation and/or the loss of the business in which all of their life’s work and savings had been invested caused by lockdown experiment.   Anyone interested in such people would not be so quick to shoot his mouth off about how the government has not been doing enough by not locking down fast enough and hard enough.

Where Kives does get it right is in raising questions about Brian Pallister’s stock excuse for how bad the province has done in the fall and again this spring.   In his remarks on Sunday, for example, Kives said:

The premier and public health officials routinely state that Manitobans are simply not following the rules at a time when community spread makes it difficult for people to avoid the virus in the workplace and elsewhere.

He then quoted an ICU physician from Winnipeg to the effect that most of her patients had been trying to follow the rules.

It is, of course, disgusting for Pallister, Roussin, and their underlings to continuously scapegoat ordinary Manitobans in this way.     To scapegoat is to blame someone else for your own failure.   The provincial government has failed Manitobans and not the other way around.   The government’s failure, however, is not a matter of them not suspending our constitutional rights and freedoms severely and quickly enough.   It is rather their refusal or inability to consider the myriad of options other than preventing us from socializing with one another until everyone is vaccinated.   

On Tuesday, the 25th of May, a number of Manitoban physicians held a press conference in which they talked about “tens of thousands” of Manitobans who are suffering and dying, waiting for surgeries and cancer tests, because the hospitals are too busy dealing with bat flu patients.   They begged the province to issue a stay-at-home order and to order all “non-essential” businesses to shut down.   Sure enough, come the evening news, there is Bartley Kives on CBC, gushing all over these doctors and uncritically sympathizing with their plea, even though he was supposed to be reporting rather than editorializing.

“For nearly two months”, Kives said, “doctors have been pleading with the province to enact tougher restrictions to prevent the crush of COVID patients from getting out of hand.   Those pleas largely went unanswered.”

Who is he trying to kid?   For the nearly two months in question, I have watched as what little of Manitobans’ constitutional rights and freedoms as were left to us after the previous six months of Code Red have been whittled away as the government has given in to demand after demand from these doctors who are largely sheltered from the harmful effects of the fascism for which they are asking.

Doctors, as a rule, live in houses rather than apartments or single-rooms, and so, a stay-at-home order, restricting them to their homes outside of work hours and grocery shopping, would simply not be as confining to them as it would to the thousands of other Manitobans far more adversely affected by such an order.   Doctors are pretty much the hottest commodity in the marriage market and so, even though their notoriously insufferable egos keep the divorce rate high, a stay-at-home order would simply not leave them as completely isolated from human social contact as it would the thousands of people in the province who live alone.    Lockdowns do not threaten the livelihoods and savings of doctors – they will continue to rake in their highly overinflated salaries for the duration, with all the overtime they could dream of to boot.

Perhaps if a law were enacted requiring any doctor, journalist, or politician that calls for a lockdown to experience that lockdown in its harshest rather than its mildest form – confine them to a single room, not just their home in general, deny them contact with their immediate family, strip them of their salaries, for the duration of the orders they request – they would think twice before asking the government to place burdens on their neighbours that they are not willing to lift themselves.

Earlier, in his 8th of May commentary, Kives had quoted Brent Roussin as saying, when he announced the third lockdown:

“We need to have these restrictions be the least restrictive that we need for that time.”

The necessity to which Roussin was likely alluding is that created by the requirements of our constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1986 Oakes ruling.   It is indeed, required, the Supreme Court ruled, that when the government has a legitimate reason for limiting our basic rights and freedoms, that the limits it so imposes be as few as possible.   A real journalist who believed it to be the fourth estate’s duty to stand up for the rights and freedoms of the people by sounding the alarm and calling the government out whenever it overstepped the constitutional boundaries on its powers, would have grilled Roussin on his claim that the restrictions he has imposed have indeed been minimal.

Kives, however, took the opposite approach of insisting that the government could have and should have done more.

Is it just me or did I see his nose grow a little in his last news segment?

He’s got a long way to go, I am afraid, before the News Fairy makes him a real journalist.  

Real Journalism?