Welcome to misquotania, Luc

Plateau borough mayor Luc Ferrandez went on a bit of a rant Saturday on his blog about the media’s handling of a story about changes to parking regulations. Apparently a Radio-Canada story was exaggerated with its headline, a Presse Canadienne story and an Astral Media story just re-reported the RadCan story without checking it, and everyone went crazy over a non-story that’s had no new developments since the election.

The outburst was enough for an Agence QMI story to be written about Ferrandez’s reaction (the QMI story quotes 24H, apparently unable to read Ferrandez’s blog for itself).

UPDATE (Jan. 10): Ferrandez has cut out the media-critical part of that post, explaining in another that it was un-mayor-like. To me, the best part about Ferrandez is that he’s un-mayor-like. But maybe it rubbed a few people the wrong way.

It’s funny (and unusual) for us regular folk to see a politician air these annoyances publicly like this. Normally they just call the reporter directly, or call the reporter’s manager, or complain to friends. If the case is serious enough, they might write a letter to the editor.

But what strikes me about Ferrandez’s post is that this is part of his education process as a rookie borough mayor. He’s not used to the idea of the media getting a story wrong and that error propagating more quickly than it can be stopped.

As much as I’d like to defend journalists and the media here, to say that he’s got it all wrong, instead I can only offer that he should get used to this. This isn’t the last time he’ll be misquoted, not the last time someone will get the story wrong because they went for the sensationalism over caution, were lazy or just confused.

Journalists are human. They make mistakes. And with all the cutbacks in the news business these days, those mistakes are going to get worse.

16 thoughts on “Welcome to misquotania, Luc

  1. Nicolas

    I really love the Ferrandez blog (in general, not just this post). I love the transparency and general frankness of it. However, I wonder if it will become counter-productive in the end because of too much media attention / distortion. What do you think?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I expect media will continue to quote from it, which is fair. But I’m also hopeful that it will do more good than harm, and that he’ll use it to actually connect with his constituents and give them an honest look at what happens behind the scenes.

  2. Heather H.

    He just updated his post, removed the anti-media rant (which was really a long, personal attack against Radio-Canada’s David Gentile and anchor Patrice Roy, and said he was “advised” to do so by his PR people. He concluded that it was “fun while it lasted.”

    His rant wasn’t against the story iteself, which was indeed accurate, but about the fact that the story was critical of his anti-automobile approach to every decision he sends out.

    Something tells me His Majesty Herrandez is in for a long, tough ride as an odd-ball mayor who lives in the borough with the highest concentration of news reporters in the city!

  3. corinthian rick

    The Projeckt Montreal’s councillors will learn pretty fast that discretion has a lot more value than blowhardism. Once the stuff you say starts to carry weight, the less said the better.

  4. Karine

    Once again, another case of criticizing an initiative before they’ve had a chance to actually try it. I’m still waiting for the reports showing the disaster that is the Plateau’s snow removal initiative…

  5. Jean Naimard

    Let’s not forget that journalists have to please their croporate masters, who have agendas to push.

    Journalists are masters of the art of out-of-context quotes and creative editing to make something look not quite like it is really; after all, they have to earn their paycheques.

    By past experience with journalists, they cannot be trusted anymore than croporate P.R. flacks. Heck, they are croporate flacks themselves.

    It’s funny, haven’t you noticed that journalists seem to be extremely competent in all the subjects they talk about, ecxept those one personally knows very well…

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Not to criticize your conspiracy theory or anything, but the journalist involved works for Radio-Canada, and the story was repeated by the nonprofit Presse Canadienne.

      Please use that information to reframe this story to fit your preconceived narrative.

      1. Jean Naimard

        Just because the journalist does not ultimately answer to a huge press conglomerate does not mean that there is no underlying agenda.

        We don’t call it «Radio-Cadenas» for nothing.

        As an anglo-saxon, you ought to understand the concept of not trusting the government…

  6. JF

    I predict the Plateau mayor will continue to be plainspoken, because it gets his message out. Perhaps he will refine his message, but reporters on deadline ALWAYS seek out politicians – or their blogs – with a ready quote. They call them “quot-a-matic”. The fact is that most politicians have the opposite problem: the media (and their bureaucrats) find them boring with nothing useful to say. In higher reaches of politics, their leaders simply tell them to shut up and keep digging. Ferrandez’ only risk is that he can’t deliver the goods.

  7. Jim J.

    Mrs. Billsby: Hello? Is this the Register-Post?

    Editor: Good morning, Mrs. Billsby. How’s the arthritis?

    Mrs. Billsby: Fine, thank you. But you folks printed that I died.

    Editor: That’s impossible. We don’t make mistakes on the obituary page, Mrs. Billsby.

    Mrs. Billsby: But I’m looking at it right here.

    Editor: Okay… Find some good light and read it to me slowly.

    Mrs. Billsby: “Billsby slashes four, dies in cocaine brawl”

    Editor: That’s the front page, Mrs. Billsby.

  8. Alex Norris, city councillor for Mile End

    Heather H. is wrong when she says of Luc Ferrandez: “His rant wasn’t against the story iteself, which was indeed accurate, but about the fact that the story was critical of his anti-automobile approach to every decision he sends out.”
    Actually, our beef with the story was precisely that it was inaccurate. Davide Gentile, who is generally an excellent reporter, over-hyped his piece by saying we’d get rid of all free parking on the Plateau 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year starting this fall. Luc Ferrandez never said this, nor did any of our Projet Montreal team on the Plateau. All we said is that we intend to reduce the number of free parking spaces, with precise measures to be spelled out later. The story was wrong. That is our beef.
    We take no issue with Patrice Roy editorializing at the outset that this is a bad idea — “étonnant” was the term he used — nor with his expressing the opinion that “ça va être l’enfer !” If Patrice Roy and Radio-Canada want to do opinion journalism on their show that is their right. Roy has made clear he opposes this policy, which is fine; our constituents feel otherwise. What we weren’t so happy about was the inaccuracy, which then got repeated incessantly, based on the original erroneous story.
    Steve, I enjoy your blog. Keep up the great work!

  9. Jim J.

    So this begs the question: what responsibility does the individual reporter owe in a circumstance when s/he gets some significant facts incorrect? Or, as it may be in this case, they take a specific fact and weave an either an overblown or entirely incorrect narrative around it?

    The newspaper itself, in a wonderful gesture of accountability, gets away with maybe publishing a boilerplate ‘correction’ in a very small unobtrusive box tucked into one of the lower corners on page A2 or B2, so as not to call attention to itself, with a entirely insufficient “we regret the error.”

    But what is the ethical and moral obligation of the individual reporter? Do you owe a personal apology to the subject of the story? I’m not saying that reporters don’t feel disappointed in themselves if they get something wrong; I’m just asking what specific action they should take when they are confronted with the fact that they wrote a story based on incomplete, incorrect or inaccurate facts.

    A mere shrugging the shoulders and moving on, with a promise to oneself to “do better next time” could be construed as entirely and callously insufficient, at least from a certain perspective.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      It varies, but I don’t know of any media outlets that have a specific policy when it comes to individual reporters. Some do this intentionally, arguing that a journalistic failure is one of the system, and the paper shares the blame (along with copy editors, fact checkers etc. who didn’t catch the mistake). A personal apology is certainly warranted if the error is entirely on the side of the journalist.

      There’s also a bit of self-policing that comes into play here: a journalist who gets the facts wrong regularly won’t be trusted by a source to get it right. It’s in a journalist’s best interest to make sure a source isn’t suspicious, and that requires genuine remorse when a mistake is made.

      Most of the time the mistake is minor and the source (especially if the source is a politician) lets it go, accepting that such errors are a fact of life. In a few cases, people hold grudges (sometimes unreasonable ones) because of errors.

      1. Jim J.

        accepting that such errors are a fact of life.

        This is fine. Mistakes happen; we’re all human. My only observation is that elected officials are held to an entirely different set of standards than journalists. An elected official who makes any public mistake that is more serious than a jaywalking ticket is almost invariably confronted by a bombardment of questions – usually from journalists – that are almost entirely a variant of, “will you resign?”

        A journalist who makes a mistake is his or her work is rarely, if ever, held to any kind of direct account, even though journalism is, in my opinion, a position of public trust that is on a par with being an elected official.

        …and hiding behind fact checkers and copy editors won’t wash. If the journalist is so concerned with having the by-line, that means that the final responsibility needs to rest with him or her.


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