The Scoop: Alternative News & Views

Morley: Thinking Outside the Box

John Tomlinson

17 July 2016 in Media

One of the odd things about TV is the random nature of finding what is good to watch, especially between hockey games.

Sometimes, there is something good.  Lately, one of the best was the 60 Minutes program on Morley Safer, the Canadian who changed much of the way reporting is done, or should be done on American television.  He might have been fired several times, doing his job.

As a young reporter for The Woodstock-Sentinel, I learned that it was a big deal that Safer had worked there, even though we weren't aware of what he would become.   Morley was a topic in the editorial department for those of us starting out. It is good to know that others have 'made it'.  Today, without post-secondary certification he might not be hired.

Morley also worked for The London Free Press, as well as The Toronto Telegram and the CBC. In 1964, Safer joined CBS news as a London-based correspondent.  In 1965 he opened the CBS News bureau in Saigon.

Perhaps being a Canadian gave him a different perspective on the world, but his story about the village of Cam Ne, where the American troops torched the houses in a 'search and destroy' mission, or one where a warning to others was sent as some shots had been fired towards U.S. soldiers from the area.  President Lyndon Baines Johnson reacted to his coverage with anger, and tried to get Safer fired, suggesting he was a Communist—certainly not 'an American'. In fact, Safer has citizenship as a Canadian and American.

This was a crucial part of the material used to highlight the ugly war that was Vietnam. This type of destruction seemed to doom 'Winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese' attempts.

In an unusual connection, I had the opportunity to meet Charles Kuralt, also an excellent television reporter, in Philadelphia in the 1960s at a university editors' meeting at the Ben Franklin. I was editor of The Lance at the university.

He told the story about returning to the same place in Vietnam several years after doing a feature on the area.  Not much had changed, he said—implying that the war was not being won, and it probably couldn't be won.  Like Safer, he was willing to tell the truth.

What might be important to review, is the ability of the media to 'think outside the box', to do investigative reporting.  Very little effort is made, as we know, to do the necessary work at the international level. Few resources are devoted to in-depth international coverage.

Even the opportunity to have open and informed discussions in an academic setting is not always possible.  As founding president of The Canadian International Council in Windsor/Essex, the chance to have a program on Cuba, or changes in Cuba, was blocked by University of Windsor faculty on the executive, because "…it was Communist".  Within a few weeks the Toronto branch had a program on Cuba.

Often, a spokesperson from Political Science who is prominent in the Conservative Party, federally, speaks on current events. Her political involvement is not mentioned.

While there is even less opportunity today to discuss in depth what is really going on, given media chain ownership and editorial control, which all but eliminates a variety of editorial positions being presented, it is not clear that schools in general are always able to deal with the nuances of foreign policy and the effects of international investments, especially what Canadian mining companies have done in developing countries, with support of the federal government.

Development education is not part of the curriculum, but awareness of international issues should be something students encounter either because they may not go on to further education, or because, unlike students in many other countries, the sophistication level on the world stage as a factor in their citizenship, is not recognized.

When teachers had their resistance some years ago against the Mike Harris 'reforms', it was clear that ability to raise crucial issues that might be seen as 'controversial' would be finished.  At the time, I had presented two Ontario Educational Research Council grant presentations in Toronto, and pointed out that the provincial Progressive Conservatives had actually referred to an Opposition party as Communist, i.e. the New Democratic Party.  Progressive or alternative ideas were suspect.

In discussing issues which dealt with viewpoints from leaders in developing countries who were critical of the policies of Canadian and American governments, there was a 'Third World curriculum' available from OISE. Dr. Gerald Caplan had put together, with the assistance of students at OISE, a collection of literary and political commentary which was offered to school boards across the province.  No board accepted, which meant that if there was a discussion, there was little if any, truly informed opinion.

The ability of educators to engage the media in this sort of dialogue was difficult, but not impossible.

As a former journalist, with some ties to the press club, it was possible to have a feature from time to time on current events in the media.  For example, I I was approached by local CBC radio on how secondary History teachers were dealing with 'the war', during the time when Serbians were involved with Bosnia.  This was a topic, which was particularly well covered by The Toronto Star so there was good analysis available.  I chose to look at Chiapas, where there was a North American war which was not well covered, if at all.

We are still not doing justice to coverage of Mexican social issues.  Serious human rights violations are ignored.

The discussion at Walkerville C.I. with students caught the attention of the CBC, and Ontario Today carried our Tartan classroom program across the province.

As usual, there was no feedback from 'the board'.  But, it proved that something from Windsor could be used provincially as an example of doing something original.  A clip from 60 minutes was used in the presentation.  It was an interview with the leader of the resistance in Chiapas, who was thought to be a university professor.  The students in Windsor were ahead of the rest of the province, it seemed.

Thinking outside the box remains a challenge for progressive educators, and reporters. Where previously, 'op-ed' pieces by persons with alternative views were welcomed, only guest columns, and columnists who play by the rules according to conservative ideology dominate our mainstream media as we know.  The effect is to lessen the need to pay attention to most mainstream media.  While there are some exceptions, the alternative media is necessary for any balance in reporting.

'Alternative' thinking and the ability to challenge or expose what needs to be brought into the public domain is a constant problem with few, if any, resources given for investigative reporting at any level.

In education, at the post-secondary level, it is still awkward to promote an alternative viewpoint, or one that strays from the accepted 'status quo'.  I have yet to see any alternative media material used in a Political Science class, for example.  This may have changed, but—in particular—discussions about Quebec overlooked Cite Libre and/or The Last Post, and never acknowledged the work of the CNTU, which had significant influence as a more progressive Quebec developed.  What is lost in an historical perspective are the nuances.

Some years ago, in an international relations course, my reference to comments by Eric Sevareid, a distinguished journalist, elite war correspondent, and a respected analyst at the highest level, was crossed out, as not being worthy.

My argument would be that some professors, who have no first-hand experience in the field, don't know what they are talking about… but 'I digress'. Morley might have something to say.