June 07, 2006

The bogeymen are coming!

As I walked through downtown Ottawa, I passed by a row of newspaper boxes, featuring the Ottawa Citizen, the Ottawa Sun, and Metro News. Each front page yelled the same message, accentuated by one word: BEHEAD. "There's an allegation my client indicated he wanted to behead the Prime Minister of Canada." "Plans to behead PM." "Plot to storm Parliament Hill and ... BEHEAD THE PM."

This is just getting juvenile; the fear tactics are reprehensible. All the papers say the same thing: that one of the suspects is "alleged" to have wanted to behead the prime minister. Where these allegations come from, nobody will say. It's not very different than if I were to say that you, the reader, are being accused of plotting to destroy the Alexandra Bridge. You would say, "what kind of allegation is that? No one would accuse me of that!" And I would say, yes, someone would accuse you of that: I just did.

But above all, the objective is to reduce the suspects to caricatures - evil, insane, Saturday morning supervillains, with sociopathic tendencies and no regard for human life or dignity. Once you've got the word "beheading" in the vocabulary, the lunatic must be guilty! He's a crazy nutcase! How could someone even think of something so awful? And whether the allegations are proven or not is irrelevant; the image of the suspect has been tainted, and that alone is sufficient to destroy his future.

It's very easy to paint a dirty picture of someone. Below are two descriptions that one might expect to hear in the media:

Case One

He was always a good and dependable student, and was highly regarded at the office where he worked. He was known for his charity and social work, and often spoke on behalf of the voiceless minority in the face of discrimination. He had a dry but unique sense of humour, probably inspired by his love of the daily comics. Most of his colleagues considered him a pleasure to work with, and respected his work ethic and dependability.

Case Two

He always appeared distant and reserved, even at a young age. Sources say he once accidentally stabbed a friend with a compass as a child, and that he frequently played violent video games such as Doom or Wolfenstein, where he would kill Nazis. He has spent a significant amount of time overseas, in places such as Saudi Arabia, and was in Pakistan shortly before the attacks on September 11th. On the morning of the attacks, he may have been flying towards North America from a formerly Communist state. He has publicly supported a charitable organization that briefly had it's assets frozen due to suspicions of funding terrorism."

At first glance, the first case appears to represent a model citizen; the poor soul who often ends up being the victim of tragedy. The second case appears to describe a much more disturbed individual, capable of some pretty nasty stuff.

Unfortunately, the two cases describe the same person. The statements may all have been true, but media spin is a dangerous beast. Get spun the wrong way, and you are now a heartless and insane bomber.

And for the record, Human Concern International has gotten past the completely baseless allegations that came against it several years ago, and continues to work tirelessly to alleviate human suffering around the world. Their overhead costs are remarkably less than most other charitable organizations, and their hard work deserves our support.

Again, my hope is for a transparent process, where the suspects will rise or fall based only on the proof brought against them. Let justice prevail, and let the bogeymen disappear along with the lies that created them.

The cartoon villain given above, "Evil Midnight Bomber what Bombs at Midnight!", belongs to Ben Edlund and the good folks who produced the Tick cartoons.

1 comment:

  1. Strangely enough the same word (behead) caught my eye. That and an article title which I caught in The Star while looking over someone's shoulder in the GO train: "Has Terrorism become a Lifestyle?". After which I promptly removed myself from stated location since unfortunately I seemed to have been struck with a laughing fit.

    After reading the above paragraph I have no clue how to fix it, grammatically, without losing context of what I'm trying to say. So... tough. :)