Apology of the Year

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Quite a zinger from Saint John Telegraph-Journal

This has got to be the media apology of the year and 2009 is just barely half over!

The Saint John Telegraph Journal was one of the first, if not the first, media outlets to report on Prime Minister Stephen Harpers alleged communion faux pas.

I say alleged because, well, after reading that apology, Im going to be damn careful! I dont want to bring the opprobrium of the Prime Ministers Office down on these shoulders.

Following is the papers full apology. You can also read at the source by clicking here.

Telegraph-Journal apologizes to Prime Minister

On Wednesday, July 8, 2009, the Telegraph-Journal published a story about the funeral mass celebrating the life of former Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc that was inaccurate and should not have been published. We pride ourselves in maintaining high standards of journalism and ethical reporting, and regret this was not followed in this case.

The story stated that a senior Roman Catholic priest in New Brunswick had demanded that the Prime Minister's Office explain what happened to the communion wafer which was handed to Prime Minister Harper during the celebration of communion at the funeral mass. The story also said that during the communion celebration, the Prime Minister slipped the thin wafer that Catholics call 'the host' into his jacket pocket.

There was no credible support for these statements of fact at the time this article was published, nor is the Telegraph-Journal aware of any credible support for these statements now. Our reporters Rob Linke and Adam Huras, who wrote the story reporting on the funeral, did not include these statements in the version of the story that they wrote. In the editing process, these statements were added without the knowledge of the reporters and without any credible support for them.

The Telegraph-Journal sincerely apologizes to the Prime Minister for the harm that this inaccurate story has caused. We also apologize to reporters Rob Linke and Adam Huras and to our readers for our failure to meet our own standards of responsible journalism and accuracy in reporting.

As apologies go, its more significant than most for the astonishing length the editors go to show contrition.

But whats most amazing is the apology to the papers own reporters. In all of my years watching and participating in journalism, I dont recalling ever seen a paper apologize to its own writers for an editing error. Its not a bad thing, mind you heaven knows how many reporters everywhere have had to eat crow for mistakes inserted by their editors.

Its fun to speculate on the chain of events that preceded this apology, but we can assume it involved some furious letters from the PMOs legal team. The story seemed like a bit of a tempest in a teapot to me, though the PMO has clearly identified as important its reputation with and relationship to its Catholic constituency.

I became aware of this link through the blog of Philip Lee, a former Sunday Express colleague who is now an associate professor of journalism at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Lees blog should be a regular stop for anyone interested in the craft of journalism.

In fact, I will draw your attention to another of Lees recent blog entries that will frighten anyone who cares about freedom of speech.

Earlier this year, blogger Charles LeBlanc was banned from the grounds of the provincial legislature in New Brunswick. A citizen journalist, his only sin, apparently, was to approach politicians and ask for interviews on various topics of the day. When LeBlanc violated that ban, he was arrested and now faces a criminal trial.

Heres how Lee summed up the matter in his blog:

It seems these bans, initiated by Daniel Bussires, the legislatures sergeant-at-arms, are approved by the legislative administration committee, which meets in secret. It is not acceptable in to have citizens in a democracy banned from the Legislature and its grounds, on the recommendation of one man and a committee that meets in secret and refuses to release the details of its deliberations. This is outrageous. If we believe in free speech and free association, if we support the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then we welcome the participation of Charles LeBlanc in our public debates, even if he can be at times abrasive and rough. The ban should be lifted, or LeBlanc should be offered some kind of public, due process, other than the criminal trial he is facing for breaking the ban and walking on the Legislature grounds.

Its scandalous! I only hope our current government doesnt get any ideas from it.

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Recent comments

  • Ed
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    LeBlanc has been a thorn in the side of New Brunswick politicians for years.

    He's also no stranger to the courts either. Police in Saint John arrested him in 2005 and charged him with obstruction for the crime of taking pictures of them as they broke up a protest.

    The case was tossed, not surprisingly.

    The most recent charge is most likely to get tossed as well, even if it takes a trip to the Wise Ones in Ottawa to get it sorted.

    In this province, the status of bloggers as a form of media has never been tested when it comes to things like the gallery of the legislature, going to government gainsburger distribution sessions (news conferences and scrums) or for other reporter-like things.

    Would be interesting to see how they handle it.