Friday, June 27, 2008

Ancient History: what passes for journalism, and how it affected me once upon a time...

I was reading back through old LiveJournal posts, looking for a particular link, and I happened across an entry from 2005 that brought back a whole lot of memories.

See, at the time, I was kinda-sorta romantically involved with my boss - a doctor - and he was dealing with a College of Physicians and Surgeons case that simply would not go away. Everyone who knew anything about the situation knew that the complainant was a lunatic, and while I'll grant that the doctor's judgment was lacking in a lot of respects, I cannot - even now, long after an unpleasant personal and professional breakup - tolerate reading the outright bullshit that one columnist was passing off as truth.

The "journalist"'s name is Mike Strobel, and somehow he still has his job at the Toronto Sun. I don't read his trashy paper any longer, but I see his name every so often when I'm surfing Canoe for entertainment news and the like. He's deplorable. I and my friends had already started taking issue with the biased and just plain BAD writing in which he'd been engaging, especially with respect to another doctor whose tawdry life story apparently made great copy (because, you know, exploiting the childhood sexual abuse a man suffered at the hands of his mother is oh, so tasteful!). But when the shit hit the fan, and Strobel turned his beady little eyes toward the man I called my friend, my lover, and my colleague, I went ballistic.

I found the letter I wrote to him, and thought it was worth reprinting here. It's from April 2005, and I think I ought to re-send it to his inbox every single day, just to piss him off.

From my LiveJournal (with a few identifying details - my own name and that of my beau, for example - redacted for privacy):

In case the guy was bored and hadn't been harassed in a while, I finally got around to sending a letter of my own to Jackass Mike Strobel. HW was kind enough to draw my attention to this article, his latest piece of crap. Here was my response:

Mr. Strobel:

The first time I recall reading an article penned by you was in January of this year. I'm sure I'd read others before, having spent much of my life in the GTA, but the articles you wrote about Dr. Kevin White, the London physician whose license was lost due to come rather shocking circumstances...? That seems as good a place as any for me to start.

Upon reading your coverage, I must admit, I was intrigued by the picture you were painting. Whatever issues I may have had with your almost insultingly informal writing style were set aside, for the moment, because I assumed (foolishly) that I was at least getting "the real story" about this doctor and his exploits. I posted links on my weblog, directing my readers and friends to your articles so they, too, could share in my surprise that such things were going on in the Ontario medical profession.

What struck me about my readers' responses, though, was not that they shared in my surprise about Dr. White's secrets and behaviour. Rather, they each commented first upon how skewed your perspective seemed, and how nobody felt like they were getting an actual story out of you. They all made mention of how biased you seemed, how willing you were to simply play up the salacious bits and never try to explain another side - or even indicate that there was another side. Surely there was. Dr. White's explanations were played down in your article, apparently for the sake of you making your piece into something funny or entertaining. I daresay the subject matter was not meant to be amusing for the public to read. (In my opinion, writing the article in such a way was almost as sick as what the doctor himself purportedly did.)

Let's fast forward a bit. Last month, you again had occasion to descend upon the College of Physicians and Surgeons to get another scoop. This time it was the case of Dr. L. I am actually very familiar with this case, and have been for the better part of four years now. I've heard all sides of it firsthand. I know what is fact and what is opinion. I know why Dr. L chose to submit the "agreed statement of facts" that he did. I know what the College and the lawyers agreed upon. I know what the accusers reneged. Having said all of that, then, I know that the article you wrote on March 25th was factually incorrect, and once again simply showed your penchant for crucifying doctors without ever giving any indication that there could be another side to a story.

It was then, reading your article about Dr. L, that I realized I couldn't possibly believe much of what you said about Dr. White. I know nothing of Dr. White; I have never met him and have not heard of him outside of your reporting. Even so, seeing how off-centre your storytelling (a more appropriate word, I think, than "reporting") was in terms of Dr. L's situation, there seems to be no way for the public to have any clue how close you've come to the truth with any of your other articles.

Yes, the College makes its own decisions. Yes, these men have to answer for whatever it is they may have done. No, we should not have to read one-sided, half-baked analyses of these stories. The public deserves a better view of things than that.

I'm now reading another piece you somehow slipped by your editor today. It's about Dr. DeLuco, and the "ménage à trois" about which you seemed to have so much fun writing over the past couple of days. Strangely enough, I had been reading the Sun last night and had come across the article about DeLuco's appearance at the College, and as I read all of the "ooh la la"s and so on, I found myself thinking, "Who on earth writes like this in a paper that's supposed to be several steps up from the National Enquirer?"

Sure enough, it was your article.

I'm cancelling my subscription to the Toronto Sun. I was disgusted enough by your coverage of the L case on a personal level, and how you gave no thought to the way a story is told and its effects on a person's family, friends and practice; now I'm left to doubt practically every word your editor allows into print. If the Sun ever chooses to begin actually reporting again, and giving a whole story without so much sensationalist garbage thrown in for fun, I may consider picking up another issue. Until then, I wouldn't lower myself to read the trash you churn out every day.


P.S. [a note to my LJ readers] I know at least a couple of you actually got responses to your emails to Mike Strobel. Thank you again for writing to him. And I'll be sure to let you know if I hear back myself.

I did, in fact, hear back from him - a smug little email that read something like, "Thank you, Ms. S. It's always nice to hear from my fans." I should have known.

In any case, let this be out there for all to see. The man still, inexplicably, has his job. Mike Strobel is a hack, and worse yet, he is a liar. Libel doesn't seem to faze him; no matter how many of us wrote to him or to his editor, to give them a chance to remedy his countless factual errors, he made no move to admit any error on his part or print any corrections. Keep that in mind the next time you're on a GO Train and you pick up a crumpled issue of The Toronto Sun. What you're reading really is the trash that it appears to be.

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