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Safety warning: Globe editorial may cause choking, hysterical laughter

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All over Canada yesterday morning you could hear the sound of old journos choking on their Wheaties, dropping tableware and spitting coffee all over their copies of the Globe and Mail.

A few more may suffer similar symptoms today, if they happened to leave the weekend paper until Sunday. So if you have an aged parent who used to work at "Canada's National Newspaper" or you work in a dementia ward that's now home to some of the last remaining English-speaking copy editors on the planet, you might want to confiscate any copies of the Globe you see lying around, or at least check in on your charges to ensure everyone is breathing normally.

By the way, be careful if you must apply the Heimlich Maneuver! Remember, old bones can be brittle! Especially after years of smoking and alcohol abuse.

The cause of all this hacking and sputtering, not to mention a few frightening thousand-yard stares, was a bizarre editorial, at once unctuous and toadying, on page A22 of the Globe and Mail's vastly overpriced weekend edition. The editorial lauded the generosity and profound wisdom of the Thomson family and its members' noble pursuit of "the greater good and their own admirable gain."

Let's just stop here for a moment. I want to assure readers that I am really, really, not making this up!

You can go and read it for yourself simply by following this link to the Globe and Mail's excellent Website, which was the creation of that journal's wonderful former editor, what was his name…? It just seems to escape me at the moment. Oh well, whatever… Whoever…

Anyway, it’s a terrific world when one doesn’t have to actually buy a copy of the paper any more. Indeed, as David Thomson, the latest scion of the Thomson family to take the helm of the Globe, once said, we are told, "it is necessary to make money to publish a good newspaper." And by good, the anonymous editorialist explained, his young lordship "meant honest, fair and free." Well, nowadays, thanks to the Internet, the Globe is certainly free, although one supposes the Thomson family is looking into ways to fix that.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the editorial. Do not attempt to read this article while eating or drinking, or if you suffer from headaches, dizziness, prickling sensations in the chest or shortness of breath, or if you are taking medication for high blood pressure. In addition, do not allow anyone to read it to you over a mobile telephone while driving.

This piece was supposedly written in praise of the latest episode in the concentration of Canada's media to the point where it has almost as few official owners as did Pravda and Izvestia, which served much the same purpose in another place and another time. However, the editorial's anonymous author succumbed to the temptation to write possibly the most grovelling paean to his or her spectacularly wealthy patrons in the storied history of sycophancy.

What a relief to know, then, that David Thomson, son of Ken, who in turn was the son of Roy (who along with Lord Beaverbrook anticipated Conrad Black's elevation to the magnificent House of Lords from the tawdry halls of Canadian hackery), "made it clear that his family will continue to respect the autonomy of these pages and the independence of Globe staff to pursue the finest, most accurate and reliable journalism available to Canadians."

You just can't make up stuff like this. But, just the same, thank the Lord that someone did!

Moreover, the hymnist reminded readers that these are "essential principles to state, given this country's long and unsettling history of the opposite phenomenon: newspaper proprietors who have used the press in order to advance political agendas and special interests." (Emphasis added.)

My goodness! Can this author be an employee of the same Globe and Mail that during prime minister Brian Mulroney's 1988 election campaign instructed humble copy editors, your blogger included, always to base their headlines on the pro-free-trade angle, no matter how deep they had to dig into the story to find it?

This instruction, of course, was transmitted verbally. The name of the senior editor who passed it on from wherever it originated shall ever remain anonymous, the better to protect the guilty. I can only tell you this, that, thereafter, more than one rebellious copy editor always based the headline on the anti-free-trade angle, no matter how deep they had to dig in the story to find it.

Never mind that now, though, for those who faithfully followed their instructions won out in the end. And that, thank God, gave rise to business conditions that allow the third Baron Thomson of Fleet, to be passionate in "his belief in courageous and independent journalism."

"As the Thomson experience reminds us," the Globe's editorialist earnestly reminded us in closing, "economic cycles can come and go. Even technological revolutions can take their toll. But strong principles, they endure."

Indeed. Speaking of strong principles, let us turn to the words of another writer with an interest in courageous and independent journalism, the author of the 1981 Royal Commission on Newspapers: "…where we are is, in the Commission's opinion, entirely unacceptable for a democratic society. Too much power is put in too few hands; and it is power without accountability. Whether the power is in practice well used or ill used or not used at all is beside the point. The point is that how it is used is subject to the indifference or to the whim of a few individuals, whether hidden or not in a faceless corporation."

But for the Internet, which the business deal extolled in the Globe's panegyric is designed in part to throttle, the situation is infinitely worse almost three decades after those words were written.

Tom Kent, where are you now that we really need you?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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