Tyee’s Gutstein Responds to Norman Spector

The 'logical problem' lies with my attacker.

By Donald Gutstein 21 Mar 2005 |

I submitted the following letter to the Vancouver Sun in response to Norman Spector’s attack on my professional credibility in his recent Saturday column. The letter was published in a highly edited form which omitted most of the important points, proving once again, I guess, that freedom of the press is a right only for those who own it. I’ve expanded my letter here:

Norman Spector is wrong to claim that my analysis of the Vancouver Sun’s budget coverage, which was published in The Tyee, is afflicted with “a huge logical problem.”

The logical problem in his attack is that he addresses only the editorials in my analysis, neglecting the extensive news coverage. While it is possible that the editor-in-chief shapes the paper’s editorial page, the claim that the same holds true for the news pages is not credible. Does she tell reporters what stories to write and how to write them?

A new Sun?

I analyzed two small sets of news stories, editorials and opinion pieces, headlines and photographs, and found some striking differences. Nowhere did I say why the differences might exist. Nor was I interested in that question. Content analysis looks only at the content on the page. It cannot tell us why the content exists. We need to look elsewhere to find causes for why the coverage clearly was more supportive of the Liberal budget this time around, compared to the NDP’s, though there were many similarities between the two budgets.

It may well be that, as Mr. Spector suggests, the differences are due to changed ownership, editors-in-chief, and editorial board members. However, from where I sit, I don’t see that much ideological distance between Conrad Black and the Aspers. And the current editor-in-chief, Patricia Graham, served as the Sun’s opinion page editor and, later, managing editor, under Conrad Black.

His claim of a diminished libertarian viewpoint on the editorial pages after the departure of Neil Reynolds is fallacious. Both the current and former editorial page editors were associated with libertarian think tanks (Mihlar - Fraser Institute; Cayo – Atlantic Institute for Market Studies).

We also need to remember that Mr. Spector once worked for Mr. Black at the Jerusalem Post and may be too close to his subject for a proper perspective.

The differences could also be due to the unequal abilities of the political source organizations. The Liberals may be much better than New Democrats at working the media and getting their messages out unfiltered.

Or the differences could be due to changes in newsroom staffing and routines. With the cuts to newsroom staff, reporters have less time for their stories and are more likely to go for the official handouts rather than seek out critical and alternative voices.

These and other factors – are advertisers putting heat on the paper to promote the Liberal cause? – need to be considered before we can jump to any conclusion as to why the differences may exist.

Spector’s resume

But we should never forget that the Sun is B.C.’s newspaper of record. It was in 2001. It still is today. People turn to the paper for its reporting and analysis of important events so they can be informed and make responsible electoral and policy choices.

So whatever the reasons for the disparities in coverage of the two budgets, the paper must be held to account for its performance.

Mr. Spector says he would have failed my study if I had been a student of his 30 years ago. From his biography it appears he taught for just one year before going to work for the government of Ontario.

He has vast experience in public and private sector institutions but I see nowhere in his biography any special expertise in content or discourse analysis that would qualify him for this hypothetical grading exercise.

And one final point. Mr. Spector’s column makes a big deal that The Tyee is a refuge for “lefties” but how can it be left-wing if one of the most frequent contributors to the discussions is Mr. Spector?

SFU communications professor Donald Gutstein writes a twice-monthly media column for The Tyee.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox


The Barometer

Has Canada been infected with the Trumpian sickness?

Take this week's poll