A reading from the book of Cross

Most people who know me know that I’m a big fan of the stand-up comedy of David Cross. Allow me to share with you one of his more sparkling insights. As he tells it, he was sitting through an episode of Paris Hilton’s “The Simple Life,” watching a commercial for electric scissors, when he realizes that the terrorists might be on to something, hating our freedom.
“You know what,” he muses. “I hate our freedom. That’s all we’ve done with it? We’re fucking assholes, man.”

Which leads me to the coverage of Karla Homolka.

Evidently “THE SCHOOLGIRL KILLER” reads the papers, cause she’s starting to worry (quite rightly, I figure) that her life might be in danger when she gets out of jail. So she asked the courts to bring down the big top on the media circus outside the jail and give her some privacy.
The judge dismissed it.

Predictably, the papers heralded this news in many an editorial celebrating press freedom. I’ll let them have that. I don’t like when papers cover themselves, let alone editorialize on themselves, but I want to believe that the media – concerned about the public good as they are – would exercise restraint and take their court victory as an affirmation of the believe in the role of the media in a just society. Sure, some lesser publications may go over the top, but at least the papers of high esteem would take the road of the same description, yes?


Globe and Mail, A1. Columnist (for lack of better word) Christie Blatchford analyzes the letters Homolka exchanged with various love interests during her time in prison. Complete with a copy of one of the letters, full colour above the fold. The article about the court ruling is wedged into the corner, as though to say, “see, this bullshit is justified.”
If you don’t have a Globe handy, have a look at their A1 here.
I’m not sure what is more astonishing. That Blatchford has the nerve to mock Karla’s “junvenile” language (Ms. Pot, meet Ms. Kettle) or the fact that it comes five days after writing a column entitled “Are you as fed up with Karla as I am?” in which she writes “I don’t care, any more, what she eats, wears, says, does or, God forbid, believes – unless and until she breaks the law.”
You fucking hypocrite.
For the record, she also wrote about Homolka three days after writing that column.

The Globe wasn’t done there, sadly. On A9 they report on the results of handwriting analysis they commissioned on Karla’s letters. They sent it to two analysts, one of whom “got a certificate after completing a mail-order course from Handwriting University.” Amazingly, they even debunk their own story, by ending it with “apart from forensic expertise used to verify document authorship, courts take a dim view of personality experts such as handwriting analysts. However, scores of such people around North America try to sell their services to customers looking to, say, gauge the suitability of a mate or hire the right employee.”

As they say in their editorial, “no court or government body should tell people (or the media which reflect their interests) what they have the right to know about Ms. Homolka.” Do you feel your interests reflected yet?

Globe, I’m ashamed of you.

Why on earth did the Post skip this?
Read this story from the Globe’s A1 (they were kind enough to limit Karla to half a page). Terrifying isn’t it? It essentially says that in the face of a large-scale tragedy, the people in charge of our security panicked and threw out all the safeguards in place to protect Canadians’ privacy.
Umm, what?
This is the sort of panic-induced bullshit I can understand when Ozark yokels arm themselves to the tits in the face of certain Armageddon, but from the RCMP? Shouldn’t they have more . . . what’s the word? . . . restraint? professionalism? sanity?
This is, quite likely, the most terrifying bit of testimony to come from the Arar Inquiry (and does a fair bit to discredit all of Anne McLellan’s assurances of privacy protection under the new integrated security regime we’re now part of). CanWest’s Neco Cockburn (a man I know and respect a great deal) is covering the inquiry and his report is in the Citizen and Gazette, among others. Yet the Post takes a pass.
What gives? Is their blind adherence to the security-above-all mantra so strong that they don’t want to report on anything that questions the post-9/11 security regime?

And finally, Ipsos vindicates Megalomedia
Yesterday, in the midst of my anti-Marsden diatribe, I highlighted the blatant hypocrisy of criticizing skewed polls while skewing polls later in the same column. Evidently I was too kind, as John Wright, Senior Vice-President at Ipsos-Reid points out in a letter to the Post. She didn’t just skew the poll results on the same-sex marriage thing, she actually skewed the results of the poll she accused of skewing!
The Post hides their letters behind their subscriber-only wall, but since it’s fairly short and entirely poignant, I will copy and paste below.

(National Post, June 30)

In her column of June 29, “Blue Martin Puts On A Pink Dress,” Rachel Marsden states: “According to an Ipsos-Reid poll from last November, 51% of Canadians agreed with the statement that decriminalization of pot is ‘a sound idea as many people will no longer have to suffer a criminal record for a relatively minor offence.’ Notice the torque? If they’re going to load a poll question like that, they may as well just say that if pot isn’t decriminalized, Baby Jesus will bawl his eyes out.”

In fact, Ms. Marsden has cherry-picked only part of the actual poll question — thus applying her own torque to an issue she obviously feels strongly about.

In the survey in question, respondents were read a factual introductory statement that indicated as follows: “The Canadian government is considering legislation that would not legalize marijuana but would make possession of small quantities not a criminal offence so a person would not have a criminal record but may have to pay a fine instead.”

Next, respondents were asked whether they thought “this is a sound idea as many people will no longer have to suffer a criminal record for a relatively minor offence and the Canadian government should go ahead with its proposals”; or if they thought “this is a bad idea as marijuana is a gateway drug that can only lead to harder drugs and threatens the war on drugs wherever it’s being fought so the Canadian government should stop these changes right now”; or if they “really don’t care about this change.” It makes little sense to criticize the pro-decriminalization option as “torqued” when the anti-marijuana one provides countervailing language.

The survey results indicated that half of Canadians (51%) agree this potential legislation would be a “sound idea”; 33% agree this potential legislation would be a “bad idea”; 15% say they “don’t really care about this change”; and 1% said they “don’t know.”

The idea that this poll somehow distorts the attitudes of Canadians is demonstrably false. Indeed, the level of support for marijuana decriminalization reported by respondents has actually been higher in various other polls going back several years. In a 2000 National Post poll, for instance, fully two-thirds of respondents indicated their belief that “possession of marijuana should not be a criminal offence.”

We don’t think there’s anything loaded or divine in our polling on this issue — merely a true reflection of what Canadians think when they have a bowl full of cherries, not just one or two plucked by a columnist who is obviously out on a limb.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, John.


  1. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times, polling is ludicrous because once results get into the hands of people like Ms. Marsden (seriously, how does this woman do it? She must be *trying* to be an idiot… no one’s really like that, right?…) they become completely meaningless. In the hands of people who are trained in the methodology of analysing poll results neat information sometimes comes out, but that is generally confined to academia and rarely does the public get a chance to see an accurate picture. Argh. This issue makes me crazy annoyed…

  2. I don’t put any faith in polls. The first question a research company will typically ask you when you’re divising the methodology is “What do you want the results to be.”

    And Melissa – everyone is an armchair statistician. You should know that.

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