Earlier today, The National Post published this piece from legendary Canadian author Margaret Atwood. (It’s well worth reading.) In the midst of poking fun at the Conservative government’s relentless fixation on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s “nice hair” (because that’s the only nice thing they can say about him), Atwood makes some serious points about Prime Minister Stephen Harper: how he wastes taxpayer’s money on his personal appearance; his party’s history of vicious, personal attack ads; his secret benefactors; and, of course, his role in the Mike Duffy scandal.
But just hours after the piece first surfaced, it was mysteriously yanked from the website. (For a time, you could only access the Google cache version.) This did not go unnoticed online.
Then, just as mysteriously, the piece returned. Unfortunately, changes have been made, changes that have not been acknowledged by the Post at all. (According to Buzzfeed, it was “management” who demanded these changes, not the editorial department.)
So, what’s different about the reposted “hair” column? All told, not much, with the exception of a few suspicious deletions & one curious addition in its second half.
The first change comes in paragraph 11. It originally began thusly:
“Next: Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for the micromanagement of Harper’s hair?”
Now it reads:
“Next: Why should the taxpayer foot the bill, even in part [my emphasis], for the micromanagement of Harper’s hair?”
The first deletion occurs four paragraphs later. Paragraph 15 begins the same way in both versions:
“Don’t go there, Cons! Because then we’ll all start thinking about ‘hiding.'”
These next two sentences are not in the revised posting:
“Why is Harper still coyly hiding the 2-million-dollar donors to his party leadership race? Don’t we have a right to know who put him in there? Who’s he working for, them or us? [my emphasis]”
Instead, paragraph 16 from the original version begins right where the second line of paragraph 15 left off. But then, this line, the second-to-last from the original paragraph 16, has been excised:
“In his [meaning Harper] earlier quoted comment, ‘I don’t care what they say,’ who are they? [my emphasis]”
The last line of that paragraph – “Aren’t you agog to know if you’re on Harper’s hidden ‘enemies list’? – remains intact.
Moving on to paragraph 17. The final omission occurs at the end. These two lines are missing from the revised posting:
“[Regarding Harper’s reaction to the Duffy scandal] He’s given four mutually exclusive answers so far. Is there a hidden real answer? [my emphasis]”
All that’s left of the second-to-last paragraph is this line from the original:
“Why is he hiding what he knew about the Duffy cover-up, and when he knew it?”
Both versions end with the same line in a separate paragraph:
“And if he’s hiding all this, what else is he hiding?”
So, has there been any explanation from the Post about why they felt the need to post the piece, disappear it for a time and then repost it with these changes without notifying readers at all?
Gerry Nott, the vice-president of Postmedia, the parent company of The National Post, told The Toronto Star, “The column was taken down because the necessary fact checking had not been completed…Senior editorial leadership at Postmedia also had not concluded whether the column was aligned with the values of the National Post and its readers.”
This sounds like bullshit. If Buzzfeed’s reporting is correct and management demanded these changes, and not the editorial department, then fact checking isn’t the problem. It’s political embarrassment. It’s no secret that the Post, founded by ex-con Conrad Black, has always been a right-wing newspaper, like its tabloid competitor, The Toronto Sun. Are the paper’s meddling managers planning to urge the editorial board to endorse Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative, for reelection in the coming weeks as we approach the October election date? Is this why the Atwood column lost four significant lines just hours after it was first posted without incident?
It’s also no secret that the Post remains a money loser. Who knows how much more financial hemorrhaging it can take after nearly 20 years in business.
Regardless, this looks bad, really bad. I mean if there really were mistakes made that weren’t caught before the “hair” column was first posted, obviously correcting them as quickly as possible (with an added note acknowledging such changes) is imperative. But there weren’t any mistakes, none that I can see, anyway. Instead, we get this somewhat sanitized version of Atwood’s work (which apparently first appeared on Walrus Magazine’s official site before the Post reposted) with no explanation whatsoever. That’s not acceptable.
The Post needs to immediately address its readers and explain why the above-noted changes I laid out were made in the first place. Whether we will accept their reasoning, if they even address this at all, remains an open question.
As for Atwood, the controversy has done nothing but helped her piece. As I write this, #hairgate (terrible name) is trending at number three on Twitter.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 22, 2015
UPDATE: Unbeknownst to me, hours before this was posted, Toronto journalist Jonathan Goldsbie had already noted all the differences between the two columns as I eventually did on Twitter. Meanwhile, Canadaland reporter Jesse Brown has an excellent story on how Postmedia VP Gerry Nott played a major role in the censorship of Atwood’s now widely read piece. He asks several pointed questions about why it ever happened in the first place. We’ll see if he gets any good answers.
Additionally, he reveals that contrary to what Nott told The Star, the “hair” column was properly edited and vetted before its first posting on The Post’s website. Nott ordered the changes made without first notifying Atwood. Brown also notes an additional change made before the column’s original publication:
“…a reference to Harper’s ‘enemy stakeholders list’ was changed to ‘enemies list.'”
Unlike the post-publication alterations made when the original column was pulled, Atwood approved the edit. You can read Brown’s full story here.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 22, 2015