stenographers for power

September 17, 2008

don’t challenge the subjects of their stories, they just tell
you what the government is saying. In other words, they’ve become
stenographers for power and not journalists.

I have just come across the Capital Xtra post-Pride edition–with a picture of a Pride reveler on the cover. I didn’t pick it up when it came out because I find Capital Xtra not to be particularly credible–I do read columns online on occasion, particularly when I am denounced. As has happened over one, two and possibly three recent columns by the former editor/publisher, Gareth Kirkby. As he and another columnist denounced me some 18 months ago.

There might be some question about the actual number of pieces in the current series of denunciations. One, if you accept only the column where I am denounced by name; two, if you accept “not one lone Ottawa individual” as being me; three if you accept this as sequlae.


I found this edition in the staff room of the Chapters big box bookstore where I work in Ottawa. Flipping through it, the fourth page actually, I found Letters to the Editor.

In a section captioned The Trans Movement I found a letter from me and one from Shannon Blatt. It was Blatt’s notice of return of her Capital Xtra Community Hero Award for 2007.

I don’t believe I have ever written a letter to the editor–certainly not this one. It was a comment posted to the second of Kirkby’s series of three–“not one lone Ottawa individual.” It was lifted and published without my permission and without my knowledge.

Can they do this?

I know of no law or rule to prevent it. And there is a notice in the Guidelines to Readers that it may be published in an Xtra paper. So I suppose that makes it alright.

However, I certainly wonder about the intellectual honesty of doing this without notice.

This is not the first time Capital Xtra has lifted a comment.

The quote which so incensed Kirkby, published in the first of this series of three columns–on “hierarchies of oppression,” linked above–was lifted from my blog, The most marginalized of LGBT people, and reads

I have always thought of marginalization/oppression to be, not a stagnant body of water, but a series of cascades from the most mainstream to the most marginal. We are all holders of privilege and invisibilize those more marginal than ourselves, unless we are diligent and open.

About a year ago a ‘reporter,’ no doubt meeting a deadline, lifted a quote from an email I had posted to Egale Canada’s main email list. I hadn’t gotten back to her because of a reluctance to participate in Capital Xtra due to the earlier denunciation–more on that later.

Again, I don’t think there is any legal prohibition against doing this–there is, of course, no fine print on Egale Canada’s terms of use saying posts will appear in an Xtra newspaper.

Shannon Blatt in her posts to Kirkby’s columns on challenged his intellectual honesty and it was because these columns were published, as she noted in her letter to the editor, that she returned her award.

There is also history between the new Managing Editor, Marcus McCann, and me.

About 2 years ago, in what was probably one of his very first news pieces for Capital Xtra, McCann was present when the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) LGBT Liaison Committee held a Trans Services educational for senior officers, and others, at Centerpointe Theatre.

Along with Jade Pichet (Capital Xtra Youth Community Hero Award Winner for 2007) I was invited to speak.

We did. At length.

Senior Officer Kai Liuk gave a presentation on the Forester Human Rights Tribunal decision on searches of trans people. A training video on traffic stops of trans women–produced by the Ottawa Police Service–was shown.

Joanne Law, long time transgender activist–and long active on the Committee–recounted pounding on the table to get ‘transgender’ added to the Committee’s Mandate. David Culpepper, civilian employee of the OPS attached to the Committee, presented a cake celebrating 25 years of the Committee’s work and bantered with Law on their experiences together on the Committee.

None of this appeared in McCann’s piece, except banging on the table. It became a tangent point to an opinion piece on community policing and, if memory serves, gay people.

Somewhat later, speaking to then editor/publisher Kirkby about this work of imagination, I was told his reporters are not stenographers. Although somewhat cryptic, I now believe he was referring to the notion of reporters becoming “stenographers for power” as we have clearly seen in the United States and first pointed out by Norman Soloman in his 1990 book, Unreliable Sources. This notion was discussed around the cite I have placed at the top of this comment.

What power do trans people have? Why didn’t McCann challenge us instead of erasing us?

Trans people are so marginalized a ‘reporter’–and Managing Editor to be–feels free to erase a whole event and imagine something else–as if the event had never happened.

Further history: About 18 months ago, McCann did a profile of me when I was, for a short time, acting chair of the GLBTTQ Community Centre. In it I spoke of the need to focus on the marginal among LGBT people–bisexual and trans people. This became the basis for two denunciations in the same issue of Capital Xtra, one, an editorial from then editor/publisher Gareth Kirkby and another from another gay man who was writing columns at the time.

I must say how upset I was by this; I resigned as chair at the next meeting.

I must also say I no longer feel this way about Capital Xtra denunciations!

This was part of a successful campaign by Kirkby, started previously, to undermine the Community Centre.

It began during a screaming match over the name of the Centre–Kirkby’s preference was either Gay and Lesbian Community Centre or Queer Community Centre. His concern was that the Centre maintain a queer identity which he defined as growing out of the bars, gyms, spas, clubs, etc, of the gay community. It remains unclear how those of us who didn’t come up through the bars, gyms, spas, clubs, etc, of the gay community can share in this ‘queer identity.’ I think this covers many GLBTTQ people.

I have commented elsewhere on Capital Xtra’s erasing of trans people.

I believe these several cites without notice–even though one is noticed by the Guidelines to Readers–along with Shannon Blatt’s concerns call into continuing question the intellectual honesty of Capital Xtra, even as Kirkby has stepped down/possibly up into the higher reaches of Pink Triangle Press–the owner of the Xtra papers–in June and installing Marcus McCann as Managing Editor.

I have previously commented upon Pink Triangle Press’s exclusion not only of trans people but also bisexual people from its rather lyric Mandate, Daring Together–the title of Kirkby’s column. In this way, I suppose, there is a certain intellectual consistency to Capital Xtra and the way it works.

But, given this consistency, why would its editors and reporters not notify me when they lift my internet posts and publish them; there is no legal recourse I am aware of–and if their notice was the evening before that issue appeared, what could I do?

To my mind a question of power arises from this now apparently facile habit–which is probably not even noticed by Capital Xtra’s staff.

This invisibility also makes it a matter of privilege.

Some hold out hope for McCann to be something other than a Kirkby clone, yet I am uncertain how far he has diverged/will diverge from his mentor when omission of notice continues.

A small thing, perhaps; tip of the iceberg, perhaps.

All I can do is write this commentary–speak truth to these stenographers for power.