A Dalhousie story – Don’t write something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read

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Like many newsies and feminists alike,  I have been following the story surrounding the Dentistry school at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Amidst a time of Canadian sex scandals and rape culture awareness these men chose to be sexist, misogynistic and downright rude regarding their female colleagues. From a personal standpoint, I find  their choices to be awful and am glad to see that these men have been suspended. Their wild lack of professionalism should earn them nothing less.

That being said, this post is not about the punishments awarded to these men.

I plan to discuss the fact that this group of people chose to use social media as a place to share these thoughts.

When I was a teenager, I was told, quite emphatically, never to put into writing something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read. I cannot remember who gave me this piece of advice, but I owe them a lot of thanks. As social media has expanded it is much easier for unwanted text comments to gain public scrutiny. As I have both of my grandmothers as Facebook friends, my mother following my Facebook, Twitter as well as all the other social media accounts I manage and many other family members able to access everything I say and do online, I tend to choose my words wisely. I try not to swear too much, substituting “effing” for more crass wording and generally keeping my profile clean of overwhelming smut.

These men ignored this protocol so spectacularly it makes my head spin. What these men did can be loosely classified as “hate speech” as defined by Random House Dictionary (speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability). moreover, now they have left written proof. As we all know, Facebook owns everything we put on their site and almost nothing is ever truly deleted. These awful statements made about their once and future colleagues can and will come back to haunt them.

I have always loved the old tattoo adage, think before you ink. the same principle applies to writing. We have all made off-colour jokes in our time – most of us are smart enough not to put it in writing.

AI

In the age of spin doctors – the art of PR in the Jian Ghomeshi scandal

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Strike first, strike fast and strike the heart.

This seems to be the tactic taken by the Ghomeshi PR team regarding allegations of abuse against the former Q host.

I have been watching this situation unfold since the get-go and anticipated the wild path this story has taken. From the moment I saw the CBC bulletin show up on my Twitter feed I knew we were in for a wild ride; Ghomeshi’s public statement on his Facebook page created a solid groundwork and the court of public opinion took off running.

See, this scandal meets the trifecta: a loveable public figure, wild allegations and sex; moreover, a largely taboo sexual practice.

After my knee-jerk reaction of “how could they fire him for something that has yet to be proven?” I started to think about everything I had read; not just the statement by Ghomeshi but all of the articles that had popped up near-simultaneously on the internet. I reread a few of the articles wondering what was pulling at the back of my mind, making me want to investigate further – then it hit me – The recurring mention of a public relations firm.

After taking a cursory look into the company (Navigator), I found out that their specialty is crisis management and “image recovery.” The to following text was taken from their website:

Issues Management, Crisis Response and Reputation Recovery

Corporations and individuals sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. We quickly pull together the right team to manage issues before they escalate into major crises. But when disaster strikes, our clients depend on our custom-built communications plans to minimize reputational damage. We formulate crisp messaging, handle media inquiries and provide media training. Once the crisis has passed, we develop strategies to quickly rebuild and recover.

Activation and Persuasion Campaigns

We help clients deliver on stakeholders’ expectations through participatory, transparent campaigns that track shifting opinion, drive engagement and change behaviour. A variety of qualitative and quantitative research approaches support the development of appropriate hypotheses and nuanced strategies to create a critical mass of public support.

These guys are good. They have helped former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (re: the Airbus Affair) and former TTC commissioner Adam Giambrone (re: 2010 sex scandal). It is heavily speculated that they helped navigate Maple Leaf through the Listeriosis outbreak of 2008. they have been contracted by Bell Media, Rogers and Labatt just to name a few. They work hard and they get results.

I revisited the 1,500+ word statement by Ghomeshi and realized what I was actually reading – I was reading a carefully crafted, painstakingly precise work of art made to victimize the man, demonize the women, create context and take advantage of lack-of knowledge.

I am not saying that what Ghomeshi wrote was true or false. What I am saying is that he put his story in the hands of professional spin doctors and watched the world shake their fists in rage at the CBC while patting him on the back and telling him it would be alright.

First, Ghomeshi got ahead of the media curve by presenting the “facts.” The intent was simple: make sure everyone hears your side of the truth before anyone else can get a word in edgewise. People are likely to believe what they hear first, especially when it comes from the accused and deals with facts that most people would try to keep very private. I believe that’s why Ghomeshi went into as much detail as he did regarding his personal kink. He crafted the statement to make it sound as if a jilted ex was out for revenge instead of anything he may have done wrong.

This idea leads into my second point; the demonization of the women implicated in this scandal. There has been a lot of talk in the media over the past few years about rape culture and victim blaming (for more information visit slutwalktoronto.com). There are hundreds of reasons that women choose not to press charges but that does not mean their allegations are any less true. Ghomeshi has already proven through his $55 million lawsuit that he is more than willing to use the legal system to his advantage. This further intimidates these women into anonymity, making it harder for us to side with them. On one side of the fence we have a friendly and recognizable face and on the other we have seven masks (plus one courageous actress) screaming assault. Who are you more likely to believe? By keeping these women hiding in the shadows Ghomeshi is helping to further the idea that these women are just trying to ruin him. People like to believe that others will automatically press charges if something illegal happened – no charges equals no real wrongdoing in many facets of the pubic eye.

Context is also a huge thing. He made his kink relatable by pulling in pop culture references, calling it “Fifty Shades of Grey light.” Many people bought and read (and enjoyed) that book and by using this analogy he was able to use the story to his advantage. The message in this statement was, very simply, “You liked the book, right? You didn’t think it was bad what Mr. Grey was doing? I am doing less than that, so clearly I can’t be that bad!” And we bought it, hook, line and sinker. He created a scenario in which we might find these things alright or even a bit titillating. He played on our own sexual curiousity.

That leads me into my final observation – the blatant play on the general populous’s lack of knowledge regarding BDSM practices. Many people will take what he says on face value as they have no context (minus Fifty Shades) regarding this sexual kink. Most wouldn’t do any research past the end of Ghomeshi’s statement and would not understand that what these women are alleging goes well beyond anything that would be considered light BDSM and into some practices that are considered highly dangerous and improper by people in the scene (ex. the alleged aggressive choking and hard face hitting). If you are interested in reading some more about BDSM in regards to this case, I suggest PhD student Andrea Zanin’s post, Poor Persecuted Pervert (NSFW!!!). Ghomeshi is relying on the fact that we will be uncomfortable enough with the taboo issue that we will not look further than his post.

I don’t know whether Ghomeshi is innocent or guilty. I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction. I don’t know if we will ever find out the truth.

I do know that his strike fast and hide tactic (since his statement Ghomeshi has kept complete social media silence) was carefully planned, plotted and executed to gain mass support before the other side had a chance to speak. We were duped by a bit of PR genius designed to keep the speculations flying and allow Ghomeshi to slip out of sight until the dust starts to settle.

AI

Writing – openening the emotional spigot

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It happens every time I start writing a large amount regardless of age, experience or time with pen in hand.

What am I talking about?

The emotions that come with writing, of course!

Any creative mind can tell you that art in every form is a sort of emotional endeavour. The emotions bubble to the surface and sometimes have the unfortunate tendency to boil over.

I recently broke months of writer’s block and am living again in the creative head space. This is wonderful in terms of productivity but horrible for my sleep patterns. When creativity hits I have to get up and write. It seems my most productive hours are still between midnight and 2:00 a.m. Worse still, once I have finished my writing I immediately start running it over in my head, figuring out how to evoke the proper tone and emotion from the piece. By the time I get my brain to settle down I am exhausted.

And when I write about emotional events…

When I am creative I open myself up to a lot of energies, both positive and negative. I am extremely empathetic and find that when working on emotionally charged pieces, happy or sad, i tend to strongly mirror those emotions. This week has been a sad one with the passing of W.O. Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in two brutal acts of violence. The country has reeled and I have been crafting a piece about the cultural mosaic that is Canada (moreover how one bad piece does not ruin the entire picture) and have have had to step back again and again as news and pictures flood the media. My heart breaks for these families. As well I have been working on an essay about the impact of being bullied as a teenager. This piece was very cathartic but has also left me very depressed after looking at the plights of my younger self. Both are emotionally charged pieces and both have caused me to lose sleep.

My point is every time I put pen to paper I end up opening my heart a little wider; exposing myself a little bit more. It comes part and parcel with my ability to write. The proof is in the rambling paragraphs you just read; I am writing while mentally working through the first draft of my bullying essay. It is making me feel anxious, frustrated and scattered and that is translating directly into this blog post.

It is not a trait I can turn on and off and it can make life interesting, to say the least.

AI

Cirillo/Vincent article:

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/memorial-held-montreal-soldiers-patrice-vincent-nathan-cirillo-193539769.html

A/N The full bullying essay will be up once it has been subjected to the editing process (also known as the red pen of doom).

Toronto: The Rob Ford issue and why we have yet to reach media fatigue

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As a writer and general follower of news and politics, I have naturally been interested in following the Rob Ford scandal. We are in day 20 of this 50-car wreck of a story and it seems that every time we may be reaching a point of media fatigue, Ford does something else that is the metaphorical equivalent of 10 more cars slamming into the back of this mess.

First, I will explain what I mean by media fatigue; I have borrowed the term from where I first heard it, Drew Curtis’s book, It’s not news, it’s Fark (www.fark.com). The main concept of media fatigue is that when reporting on a large news item, the media has a tendency to take things too far and generally run the story into the ground, so much so that they start reporting on whether they have been reporting on this subject for too long. It’s very common in the media world but I don’t believe it has been happening in this case.

Usually by day 20 of any story, there is nothing new to report. Journalists start regurgitating information, creating sidebars and generally doing anything that could sell more papers. With a large scandal like this one, it’s not uncommon for stories to outrun their course because, hey, who doesn’t like a good scandal? The big difference here is that, unlike most other people who would have crawled into a hole somewhere to let this blow over, Ford has not only stayed in the public eye but has been followed by a continuous stream of incriminating evidence and buffoonish comments, giving the media more to write about without exhausting the well.

Here is an abridged timeline of the scandal starting Oct. 31, 2013 (information from http://www.thestar.com):

  • Toronto police have the “crack tape” in their possession. (Oct. 31)
  • Rob and Doug Ford radio show: apologies for drunkenness, but refuses to step down or take a leave of absence. (Nov. 3)
  • Ford admits to crack cocaine use and apologizes, but again refuses to step down; blames the media for why he didn’t admit it in May (stating that they did not ask the right questions). Ford also states that he smoked the crack in one of his “drunken stupors.” (Nov. 5)
  • Ford video rant hits the internet. (Nov. 7)
  • Ford admits to buying drugs in front of council (Nov. 13)
  • More allegations of Ford’s drunken behaviour surfaces (Nov. 13)
  • Ford makes sexually inappropriate comments in front of media about sexual harassment allegations. (Nov. 14)

For media fatigue to truly set in, there has to be no development in the story for an extended period of time. Ford has managed to beat fatigue by continually doing things that no public figure should. Also, the ford story has seen a true (journalistic) cornucopia of allegations, videos and other incriminating situations come to light. In all seriousness, the media just has to sit and wait for a couple days and boom, another comment. Another flub. Another mistake. This man cannot keep his nose out of trouble.

I am tired of hearing about Ford in many ways; the entire world now understands he is a fool and Toronto is no longer getting invited to parties, but everything that has happened up to this point has managed to stop the story from getting tired.

I am interested, however, in what will happen over the coming weeks regarding the scandal. He has been stripped of much power and left like a clown that no one wants to hire. The world has pointed and laughed. The “Rob Ford should step down” angle has been taken time and again (Even MP Jason Kenney seems to be getting on the bandwagon now). This is the point that will determine whether the media will let sleeping dogs lie or whether they will beat this poor sucker into the ground. I am leaning toward the latter. Why? Remember when Cheney shot his buddy in the face (Again, thank you Drew Curtis of Fark for the example)? It was such an outlandish accident that it took on a mind of its own after initial reports. Ford has made buffoonish remarks mixed with social faux pas and a smattering of illicit substance use. Better yet, he spread it out over almost 20 days; this story may never see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope to see the media leave this alone… but I doubt that will happen.

AI

  • Shortly before he was stripped of many of his mayoral duties, he likened this situation to a coup d’état, suggesting that this was like when the US attacked Kuwait and threatened to make the next election a bloodbath (Nov 18)

http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2013/11/19/rob_ford_97_allegations_against_the_mayor.html

http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Toronto/ID/2419135766/