QMI Agency reporter Julien McEvoy must have thought he had a pretty good scoop when he spotted an ad in a community paper from one of the new NDP MPs that contained some grammatical errors.
The ad was by Matthew Dubé, the former president of the McGill NDP club who had to quit because he got elected as an MP on May 2 in the riding of Chambly-Borduas (that's the riding Jean-François Mercier ran in as an independent).
Politicians are always putting ads in community newspapers wishing them well during all sorts of holidays. But this one contained some errors. Specifically, two verbs were improperly conjugated, and the ad referred to the riding of Quebec (as in Quebec City), even though his constituency is just east of Montreal.
The Journal de Montréal printed the article on Page 2 on Wednesday (PDF), complete with a reproduction of the ad that circled its errors. At the end, it asks readers to weigh in on whether these kinds of mistakes will affect Jack Layton's credibility.
McEvoy apparently made no effort to contact Dubé or the NDP for comment. They quickly responded after the story was published, saying it was the newspaper that was responsible. The NDP had not approved the final text of the ad, he says.
The party acted quickly, and got l'Oeil Régional to publish an apology on its website. The Journal and Canoë also published a follow-up piece.
But McEvoy didn't back down. Despite the paper's apology, he insists the error was still the NDP's, that it was the party - not the paper - that drafted the erroneous text in the first place. He has also posted images of another NDP MP's similar mistakes, and another ad that uses the logo for the NDP (in English, instead of NPD in French).
Perhaps this is why the original articles online have not been corrected or updated. Neither has this article, which erroneously refers to it as a card sent through the mail.
I shouldn't need to explain why erroneous articles online need to be corrected. The mistake gets passed around a lot more than the correction. And people aren't going to search the website of every article they read to see if a corrected article was published the next day.
Whether you believe the paper or the NDP is ultimately at fault here (I'm more inclined to believe the latter, though I also think newspapers should proofread all their ads), there are some unfortunate implications of this story. It's clear that the Journal and Quebecor have an agenda here and are pushing it. They feel the NDP MPs are incompetent and want to expose their troubles with the French language. This story is being fuelled as much by the usual sensationalist bias of the media (and particularly the Journal) as it is by Quebecor's growing right-wing bias that puts the NDP in its sights.
There's the fact that McEvoy appears to have made no attempt to contact a politician before publishing a piece designed to smear him. Whether or not such a smear is justified, basic journalistic ethics require at least an attempt to seek comment before publishing it. Had McEvoy done so, he would have learned of the NDP's response and there would have been little need for a follow-up piece.
And then there's the simple fact that L'Oeil Régional is now owned by Quebecor. Which brings up the question: Why were Quebecor newspaper employees not able to spot basic grammatical errors in an ad before it was published?
I'd ask these questions to McEvoy, but apparently the new rules of journalism say I don't have to.