Monday, May 12, 2014


I don't like the behaviour of Rob Ford and Donald Sterling.
Yet I also hate those "friends" who trap them in private moments with tapes and videos that reveal their reviled inner thoughts and addled behaviour.
We know they have bad judgment. They certainly prove that with their girls and their friends.
But all of us need protection in our darkest moments. And the public reaction to what we say or do at such times must be governed by whether it was truly in public.
A jealous Sterling was demeaning blacks and Ford was being a crude and racist drunk.
Disgusting! But unless it can be demonstrated they were trapped by strangers and not the mistress/friends/acquaintances they were with, the offensive crap can't be held against them.
We are still entitled to privacy, and most of us have a good sense of when our behaviour is private and when it can be dealt with by public rules.
I learned early in a Ryerson journalism class that if you put something in writing that could be read  by a third person, not just the person to whom you sent the letter or memo, you were subject to libel laws. And if you said something that easily could be heard by a third person, not just the person to whom you were talking, you were subject to slander laws.
So I have always governed myself by that. The audience size doesn't matter.
For more than 50 years I have made my living by writing stuff that has been read by millions and producing electronic communication from radio and TV to blogs that also had huge audiences.
There is, and there must be, a distinct difference between private and public communications. And this must be protected in our law and in our behaviour or the alternative is a distemper that in the end will poison our society.
Any editor knows that Americans can get away with murder in what they say and that the British laws are the toughest with Canadians in the middle.
I quickly learned as a reporter and columnist that, for example,  the kind of slanderous commentary about restaurant chains and individuals that is routine in the monologues of U.S. TV hosts would get you sued so quickly in Canada, you would have to pay up within days.
As The Editor of the Toronto Sun, I was named in every libel action. Despite many threats and many suits, I was never sued successfully for what I wrote or allowed in. Same with many commentaries on radio and TV.  I know a little about the subject.
Sterling is an awful person with a screwed up love life, but being trapped on tape by his alleged mistress is interesting but common sense insists it doesn't mean a damn legally.
As for our out-of-control mayor from the family with a berserk ego, if he is photographed by strangers when he is flopping around in public like a seal on crack cocaine, then that's fair game.
As I have had to explain to countless cops and celebrities in defence of photographers under my supervision, there is no law in Canada preventing the taking of pictures or film when there is no trespassing or law breaking involved.
But surely the media and the public should treat the sneaky shots and recordings from crooks, con men and would-be blackmailers as revealing but not convicting. And editors should treat those who come waving their poisoned fruit for profit like you would any low-life who probably steals the flowers out of cemeteries to give to their tarts.
It's really lazy journalism. If some team owner is a flamboyant racist, and if some mayor is a foul-mouthed ass, any experienced reporter should be able to document that quickly and legally without using the "evidence" provided by some strange kept woman or petty crooks preying on a bloated politician like sharks on a carcass.
It is almost bizarre to consider the media's devotion to sneaked observations of these Terrible Twos when Ford and Sterling have so often said to the nearest microphone or behaved before dozens of people like boors. Tracking their antics has been as easy as following a wounded bull moose through snow. There is no need to hide in ambush.

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