A semi-scandal is about more than a hard-to-hear letter D

PROVINCE by Geraldine Malone


In late November the letter “D” became the alphabet’s most newsworthy letter after a video surfaced that may or may not have caught a veteran Saskatchewan member of Parliament calling a female politician a Very Bad Word.

But the real question people should be asking revolves around responsibility of the media after a journalist walked away from her job over the (potentially) scandalizing video.

On Nov. 19, Moose Jaw Times Herald reporter Mickey Djuric published a blog post with a video of Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan MP Tom Lukiwski possibly calling a female politician either an “NDP whore or an “NDP horde”. The video isn’t conclusive: online polls suggest more than a third of listeners hear the word “horde”.

The blog post also contained Djuric’s resignation from the paper.

In the video, taken by Djuric after the MP won his seat in the federal election, Lukiwski tells a room full of supporters to vote for Saskatchewan Party MLA for Moose Jaw Wakamow, Greg Lawrence, in the upcoming provincial election. “[Greg] is too important of an MLA to let go down to an NDP [whore/horde] just because of a bad boundary,” Lukiwski said in the video — likely in reference to Lawrence’s opponent, NDP candidate Karen Purdy.

Which is it? On Buzzfeed, an obviously scientific breakdown of the video described as “like The Dress but maybe awful” saw a 50/50 split from over 3,000 people who voted whether Lukiwski said “whore” or “horde”.

After listening to the clip around 20 times, I’m personally about 70 per cent sure he said whore. That’s not enough to convict someone in court.

In any case it’s easy enough to find the clip online so you can listen for yourself.

While the linguistics of this particular comment are debated in the public sphere, context matters — and Lukiwski has an easily searchable history of inflammatory comments. In 2008, a 1991 video emerged that showed Lukiwski, at the time a political organizer for the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservatives, saying horrible things.

“There’s As and there’s Bs. The As are guys like me. The Bs are homosexual faggots with dirt on their fingernails that transmit diseases,” Lukiwski said in the 1991 video.

Lukiwski later went on to apologize for the comments to reporters and in the House of Commons in 2008.

As for Whoregate 2015: Lukiwski insists he said “horde”. Conservative Party interim Leader Rona Ambrose accepts his explanation. The “D” debate will not cost Lukiwski his job.

It has cost one Moose Jaw Times Herald reporter her job, however.

Epithets And Principles

Mickey Djuric’s name has been in a lot bigger papers than the Moose Jaw Times Herald lately but it’s not for ideal reasons — it was for her resignation.

In her blog, Djuric explained she captured the now-infamous video of Lukiwski and, after editorial discussions and research, was directed by management to write the story about the MPs comments.

Only five days after that decision, says Djuric, “management unexpectedly and surprisingly changed their mind.”

According to her account, the newspaper’s top brass told Djuric that it was in their best interest to not publish the story or video and that they were worried it would draw negative attention to the Moose Jaw Times Herald.

In an e-mail obtained by media criticism podcast and blog Canadaland, the reason for the decision is outlined. The document explains the Times Herald was hesitant because although nine out of 10 people were likely to hear “whore”, the 10th person concerned them.

They also explained that the gap in timing — over a month since the recording — was worrisome.

Finally they brought up that no one else in the room seemed phased by the possible use of “whore” when speaking about a female candidate.

“I don’t fear his court action as much as making it seem we are out to get him or making ourselves the story,” the document said. “It becomes him against us rather than a search for the truth.”

Beyond explaining the decision to hold back the article, the document also instructed all of the other journalists not to speak about the incident through “idle chatter” outside the walls of the Times Herald.

That excuse didn’t satisfy Djuric. She wrote that her job is to seek the truth and report news fairly.

“I’ve always upheld the belief that the public is the jury in such matters. Denying the public the opportunity to view/hear the video is dishonest and unethical, as we clearly know that the public has the right to know about what occurs in their own backyard,” Djuric wrote. “The event that occurred is news, and it is especially of interest to the public… Following (the Times Herald’s) mandate would lead to me compromising my values, ethics and morals as a journalist.”

Citing censorship and deceit, Djuric resigned her position. Her blog post and the video were picked up by local and national media outlets. The Moose Jaw Times Herald was obliged to respond.

In an editorial, the Times Herald wrote that they don’t go with best guesses when full facts are needed.

“The reporter failed to tell editors until almost a month after the event that anything potentially newsworthy was said. Despite the fact there were other people in the room, and other news media as well, there had been no other coverage of this comment. What had they heard?” the editorial asked.

“While we knew readers would wonder about the time lapse — asking ‘Why now?’” As someone who has spent time in several newsrooms in Canada and abroad, I know editorial decisions like this don’t come lightly. At the same time, I certainly know how hard it can be for a journalist to stand up for their values — especially when it comes to a story you know will engage the public in a dialogue about political leaders who already have questionable histories.

I don’t have the answer on the “whore” or “horde” debate and I certainly don’t know the proper editorial decision. But I do have some wise words for Djuric from one of my heroes, who never let anything get in his way when it came to telling an important story: the late David Carr.

“Keep in mind that when public figures get in trouble for something they said, it is usually not because they misspoke, but because they accidentally told the truth.”