7 March 2013

How to create a false impression

Before I begin, I just want to say that I did not vote for Rob Ford for mayor, and I would not vote to re-elect him.  I do not think he is a good mayor.  But, having said that, I am weary of the incessant attacks upon Ford, lead by the Toronto Star, which has taken to printing any complaint about Ford, no matter how trivial or unfounded, in the hope of getting something to stick.  Today, for instance, there was this:

Catholic school board investigating Rob Ford’s ‘inaccurate’ Sun News interview

That's the online title.  The print version has a more forceful title:  "Ford slammed for 'demeaning' school remarks."
“We’d be better off without him as the football coach if he continues to speak this way,” the co-chair of the Don Bosco parent council said.
That's the lead in and the thesis of this article.  What could all this be about?

Mayor Rob Ford has angered teachers and parents at the Etobicoke high school where he coaches football — and prompted an investigation by the Catholic school board — with comments the teachers say depicted the school in a “demeaning way that was filled with untruths.”
Oh no! Sounds bad.  What did he say?
The board’s review of Ford’s interview with Sun News last week comes in response to an anonymous letter sent to senior board officials by a “significant” number of teachers at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School.
Um... is anyone else a little confused here?  Is the letter anonymous or was it sent by a significant number of teachers?  How can it be both?  What is significant?  Is one? or is ten a more significant number?  Why doesn't the article say?  If they are refuting someone's inaccuracies, should they not replace them with their own accuracies, as opposed to, say, innuendo?

In the letter, signed “The Don Bosco Staff,” the teachers said Ford’s words were “disgusting” and “no reflection of the real Don Bosco.”
So it was signed by the Don Bosco Staff, or someone claiming to be the Don Bosco Staff.  They have found Ford's words to be 'disgusting', which poses a bit of a problem.  Disgust is an emotion, not a thought.  One can argue and defend oneself against facts, or against logic.  There is no argument against an emotion.  So, Ford has failed to reflect the "real Don Bosco."  So what is the real Don Bosco?  Let's see what the next paragraph has to say.
The Don Bosco parent council was so perturbed by Ford’s comments that it is calling a special meeting to decide how to respond, said co-chair Teresa Bridport.
Nope.  No real Don Bosco here.  Just more feelings- 'perturbed"- to pile onto the disgust.  The impression- and I use that word advisedly, as the article so far has only given emotions and impressions, not facts- is that Ford must have done something heinous to have offended so many people.  But what was it?

Ford, Bridport said, conveyed the false impression that Don Bosco is an unsafe and gang-infested place whose only redeeming feature is football. In fact, she said, the school is a thriving and improving institution with a dedicated faculty, motivated students, and other attractive extracurriculars.
Back to impressions.  Ford has conveyed a false one.  But where are his actual words?  Did he actually in fact say any such thing?
“I still believe his heart is in the right place. And I’ve said that before. It’s just that he does not know how to speak. He does not know how to communicate in a positive light. The way that he’s talking makes it look like all the kids at Don Bosco would be in the gutter if it wasn’t for him and his football program. And that’s not true,” said Bridport, who has two children at the school.
I completely agree with the assessment of Ford in the third and fourth sentence.  I have often been embarrassed by his pronouncements.  I have the 'impression' that the book he read on public speaking contained the two instructions: "1: Open Mouth.  2: Insert Foot."  But that's my impression.  The impression of the person speaking here is that Ford has given a bad 'impression' of the school while trying to convey a good impression of himself, of Ford the saviour.  If he has done that, I would like to see it.  Why have they not quoted Ford yet?  All they are doing is piling up negative comments about something he said, so that by the time we actually get to a quotation, the reader will already have formed an opinion on what it says.

It’s such a negative thing, what he’s saying, and it’s so untrue. For him to say that unless they play football their life is shot is so untrue. So untrue. We appreciate that he volunteers at the school; we appreciate the time he puts in for the football program. But not if he’s going to speak the way he’s speaking. We’d be better off without him as the football coach if he continues to speak this way. . . This has to stop.”
Board spokesperson John Yan said the interview contained “a number of inaccuracies,” which he would not specifically identify. (emphasis mine) In general, Yan said, “the interview is an inaccurate portrayal of the community.”
"We share the same concerns expressed by the Don Bosco community,” Yan said. “We really don’t have any comment at this time. We’re taking all their concerns under advisement, and we’re seeing what appropriate actions, if any, we may take.”
If this statement is so inaccurate, why are they not addressing the inaccuracies instead of dealing with impressions?  When I think someone is wrong, I will state chapter and verse where I believe them to be wrong.  What these people are saying is that the big bad nasty Ford hurt all their feelings, and as I said before:  Ford may be able to argue against their facts or their logic or their interpretations, but he cannot defend himself against feelings.

Before he became the coach at Don Bosco, Ford was told he was no longer welcome as the coach at North York’s Newtonbrook Secondary after a 2001 confrontation with a player. His spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Fascinating, but what does it have to do with the case at hand?  Merely more mudslinging.  Another unspecific charge to be attached onto the other unspecified charges in order to create an impression.  Apparently for the Star, impressions are the only reality worth bothering about.
Ford made his contested statements in a conversation with Sun News early-morning host David Menzies, who lavished praise on Ford for his work with the Don Bosco team. Don Bosco, located at Islington Ave. and Dixon Rd., is home to many low-income students, and Ford has said frequently that football helps players avoid crime and keep their grades high.
Finally, with that, we get to the crux of the matter.  We actually start to get a few quotes from Ford himself, and possibly judge for ourselves whether or not what he said was in his words.
Speaking to Menzies, Ford said members of the team “just wouldn’t go to school” and would have “no reason to go to school” if not for football.
“You can’t tell them to get an education. But I use the football as a carrot. I said: If you don’t go to school, and you’re (not) passing, you don’t play football. Oh, they’ll do backflips to play football,” Ford said.
Ford also called the football players “smart,” hard-working and financially prudent. But he said many players “come from gangs” and have “broken homes.”
He spoke of bailing players out of jail. He referred to Don Bosco as a “tough school” in a “tough area.” And he agreed with Menzies’ suggestion that some former or current members of the team would be in jail or dead if he had not launched the team.
"I truly believe that,” Ford said. “A lot of kids have said that to me. A lot of parents have said that to me.”
Since they have spent so much time and energy vilifying Ford, I would guess that they would also take the time to cherry pick their quotations to set Ford in the worst possible light. These few words here are what has caused that "impression".  This is the very worst of what Ford said. This is what the school is upset about.  A guy who runs a football program for a school in a tough neighbourhood says his program is working and helping the kids.  Now back to our regularly scheduled outrage.

The teachers’ letter said: “There is a sense of outrage in our school community in regards to his continued detrimental messages. Once again his comments depict our school in a very negative light. It is exasperating since we have been spending so much volunteer time and energy on community outreach to demonstrate the commitment, the excellent programs and the successes of our student body. Again, much of this good will and good work has been lost with his most recent media interview.”
More hurt feelings.  Perhaps Ford could have made a token gesture, saying that his program is one several designed to help the students, or put his laudable volunteer work in the context of one of many laudable volunteer groups in this school aimed at helping the students.  But that doesn't seem to be in Ford's makeup, and he was answering questions about his program, so I can't blame him for that..

However, not everyone is against him.
In a 2008 interview with Menzies for a National Post article, a former Don Bosco player who had received a NCAA scholarship, Jerome Miller, said “Rob Ford has been able to take a lot of kids off the street.” The mother of another player told the Globe and Mail last year that the media would be “reporting on the body on the street” without the football program.
So Ford's comments are therefore accurate.  He has said that some students and some parents have told him as much as is reported here.  But that doesn't seem to matter.

Some Don Bosco students, parents and staff, however, have bristled at Ford’s portrayal of students as would-be criminals. Some teachers were unhappy when Ford said, during a high-profile controversy about the team’s use of a private TTC bus, that “very few people can control these kids.” His brother, Councillor Doug Ford, drew private criticism for saying players “look up in the stands and they don’t see a father, they don’t see a mother, they see Rob Ford standing there and supporting them.”
Again, we are back to hurt feelings.  The article is arguing that Ford hurt some feelings by telling lies about the school, and what I am getting here is the possibility that he hurt even more feelings by saying some truths people did not want to hear.  If what he has said was a lie, where is the proof that he lied?
It is not clear how many teachers endorse the anonymous letter. Rene Jansen in de Wal, president of the Toronto secondary unit of the Catholic teachers’ union, said the letter “was broadly supported by the staff.”
Anonymous letters "broadly" supported.  How is a vagary supposed to refute an inaccuracy?
Don Bosco’s students and staff have made a concerted effort to repair the school’s reputation. In April, three busloads of supporters attended a board meeting to ask for trustees’ help in eliminating the spread of negative messages about the school, which they said has improved markedly in recent years under principal Ugo Rossi.
In October, students and teachers invited reporters to a “Give Your School a Hug Day” intended to bring attention to the Don Bosco’s positive attributes. Student Nicholas Thompson, 16, who gave a speech about stereotypes, said black students at the school are portrayed unfairly. “It’s just like, ‘We’re bad, we’re thieves, we’re criminals, we’re just sports stars,’” he told the Star.
Now race is in the mix?  Not that Ford said anything about black students, but not that it matters.  We are dealing with impressions and feelings.  If a black student feels the mayor is being unfair to black students, then that feeling must be aired, viewed, and recognized as concrete reality.

Said Bridport: “Many of the teachers spend many hours volunteering for the leadership program; taking the kids on trips; there’s a group of kids going to Europe on March break, my daughter’s going to Boston in April. So, lots of teachers that put in extra hours to help with things that are not football. And I think people forget that. Although football is wonderful for the people who play it, that’s not what our school is all about. We’re about a lot more.”
True, the school is about more than a football program, but what does that have to do with Ford's interview?  As I said, Ford could have put his program in the context of being one of many programs at the school, but he didn't. he was giving an interview about one of his passions, and mentioned little else.His remarks, as far as they go, were not accurate in the least or in their meaning.  The false impressions created are not about what Ford said, seeing as, as near as we may tell from this article, his words were factually accurate, but over what he did not say. 

The Star is actively engaging in creating a false impression of its own.  Its report is factually accurate.  Ford did say some things, and people were offended at what he did and did not say, or seemed to say, or something.  The Star even reports briefly that accusers who believe Ford's statements were inaccurate cannot actually point out the inaccuracies, and furthermore that there are those who have confirmed Ford's remarks as accurate.  But the bulk of the piece is about hurt feelings, and top heavy with accusations of Ford's misleading statements, to the point that the over all impression is that Ford must have said and done something wrong, even though that wrongdoing is not stated and is nowhere to be found in the article.  What a filthy, deceitful rag this paper is.

As I said, I share a common purpose with this paper: I would prefer Ford to be out of office.  But I would prefer to do it it without lies, prevarications.,  and false impressions.  The job of the paper is to report truth and facts so that people may make an informed opinion, not skew the facts into the view the paper wants them to have. I did not vote for Ford, but many people did.  No one voted for the Star to be our representative and our voice, or our former of opinion.  If I am to be ruled, I prefer to be ruled by one who has been elected, not by one who has appointed themself the task of being my ruler for my own good, and who decides what I need to know, and how I should think about it.

No comments: