I have never taken a journalism class but I do know that there are certain rules and codes of conduct that professional journalists must follow. Many of these rules are written but there are a number of important ones that are unwritten. One of which, at least it seems to me by the way we treat most people who have recently died, is that a writer shouldn’t be spitting on the legacy of the deceased or go out of their way to badmouth the deceased.
Christie Blatchford’s article in the National Post about Jack Layton on Tuesday broke these conventions. I’m not saying she’s right or wrong in what she said but the day after his death was certainly the wrong time. There will be plenty of time to debate the legacy of Jack Layton and determining his defining contributions to Canadians. Tuesday was not the day for that discussion to begin.
I’m not a big reader of the National Post to begin with but that’s only because I prefer The Globe and Mail and considering that I read anywhere between three to six newspapers a day (closer to the three number on a normal day and six when I’m stuck somewhere with nothing better to do), I don’t have time to read both papers. I used to get the National Post for free for years because of promotions involving home delivery of the Montreal Gazette and later when I was in college and university. I mention all this because I don’t really get the impression that the National Post is a paper that would go after someone without merit as the way Blatchford did in her article.
I also find it distressing that there seems to be no attempt by either Blatchford or the paper itself to apologize for the article. Again, I’m not saying that she’s right or wrong but I find it doubtful that if Bill Clinton would pass away that people would find it acceptable that there was a hit-piece written up about him the day after his death saying that his legacy is worth nothing because he’s a sexual deviant. Nobody would have stood for it if someone in the press wrote something mainly negative about Terry Fox after his immediate death.
Please don’t think I’m trying to compare Clinton and/or Fox with Layton as all three individuals have led different lives and contributed differently to society. I’m just saying that there’s a time and a place for everything and Tuesday was not the time to have a critical meltdown against Jack Layton. Even his ideological opponents had nothing but nice things to say about him. Stephen Harper spoke kindly about Jack Layton despite the fact that the two sit on the polar opposite ends of the political spectrum. Even Kevin O’Leary, on his CBC News Network show “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange” went out of his way to say some really nice things about Layton (going as far as to break his normal character of being an egotistical jerk who cares only about money and appeared to be more genuine than any other time I’ve seen him on TV).
To be fair to Blatchford, she’s not beating on the guy from start to finish. It’s like a sandwich; she says some kind words about Layton at the beginning and end and in the middle she’s very critical. If Blatchford wrote the article in the fall as the NDP starts their search for a new leader that’s one thing but doing so the day after Layton’s death crosses the line. If that’s the kind of journalism that the National Post wants to sell newspapers with by creating controversy then they don’t have to concern themselves with me buying a copy of their newspaper again. You may not like the man, his ideas, or his policies but at least have some courtesy by letting people get over their grief before attacking him and what he stood for.