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The Bank Street Bully walks away

Police watchdog drops blogger case (Ottawa Citizen, September 25, 2009)

And so ends another chapter in the life of the Bank Street Bully.

There are no surprises here. But how come, in the Citizen article, everything I said or wrote is qualified by words like “allegedly” or “claimed,” which makes it sound like I’m lying? And everything the cops say is stated as fact?

[Hat tip to my friend Gilles Seguin.]

15 comments to The Bank Street Bully walks away

  • The article allegedly refers to any comments you apparently wrote in your blog because the author, Neco Cockburn, according to the Citizen’s website, appears to have spoken directly with the officer, while testimony related to your blog post appears to have only been garnered from reading the blog post (which may or may not contain unverified claims and/or photos whose genuineness could not be corroborated) and not, it would seem, from you directly.

    - RG>

  • XUP

    Because you are being quoted as making allegations that cannot and have not been supported and the police statements are indisputable facts. They’re not even printing your actual name, so they have to be really clear that this is all unsubstantiated. And what happened to all the bloody witnesses to this incident anyway? You can’t blame this on “sweeping it under the rug” if not one single person is willing to come forward. Nothing will change by everyone just grumbling about things amongst themselves. But you did your best!

    Anyway, it’s interesting that they even did this particular story. I wonder what the purpose behind it was? To show how on top of things Vern White is for picking up a random blogger’s post and initiating an investigation? To let people know that they’re allowed to take photos of police incidents? To encourage people to come forward with such information/photos?

  • I don’t quite understand the criticism here. Everything you’ve said and written and everything the police sergeant said and wrote is attributed in the story, completely by the book. The words “claimed” and “alleged” are used exactly the same way in this story as we use them in, say, criminal cases where the Crown brings allegations that haven’t been proved, or when we report on a civil lawsuit or a formal human-rights complaint.

    (There IS probably a surplus “allegedly” in paragraph five.)

    The only three things stated as fact in the story are up top — the investigation is over, the police aren’t doing anything, and the review was ordered by the chief. None of that is is controversial.

    Nothing the police sergeant said about the incident itself is presented in the story as objectively true, only as what the sergeant *said* the investigation found.

    Even he’s not saying this stuff didn’t happen, just that their investigation wasn’t able to corroborate it. The professional-standards section brings enough charges against serving cops that I can’t assume the sergeant is lying.

    It’s also a significant thing, I think, that the guy says explicitly that cops have no authority to ask people to erase photos they don’t like.

    David

  • @XUP: This story’s a follow-up to an earlier story about the investigation into the incident — “closing the loop,” so to speak.

    We did THAT story because I saw Zoom’s original blog post and asked a reporter to pursue it with the cops, with questions about possible police brutality and possible abuse of authority in asking a civilian to erase perfectly legal photographs.

  • David, I have no doubt that “claimed” and “allegedly” were used in accordance with the standard ways the media uses them in court cases and so on. But that doesn’t mean there’s no bias in media reports of court cases either.

    There’s a subtle difference between the words “said” and “claimed,” for instance. One sounds more authoritative than the other, while the other sounds a little doubtful, a little suspect. You’ll note that in the story, the police generally ‘said’ things, while I more often ‘claimed’ them. In fact, it appears that the police never ‘claimed’ or ‘alleged’ anything at all. They simply said and stated everything.

    It’s subtle. But when you’re the one whose ‘claims’ and ‘allegations’ – unsubstantiated by corroborating witnesses – are being written about, maybe you tend to be a little more sensitive to the subtleties.

    I do, however, appreciate the clearly stated citizen rights with respect to photography.

    (Incidentally, for what it’s worth, the only factual discrepancy I noticed in the article was that in discussions with me several months ago, the investigator claimed that they were unable to interview the victim because they couldn’t find her. According to the article, the police now claim to have interviewed her.)

  • Eric G

    It’s like the police are proud of the reputation they have downtown.

    I, for one, feel a chill every time I pass one of our honorable law-enforcement officers on Bank St. or Rideau.

    I think their interaction with the public, particularly those at the fringes is disgraceful.

    Your initial post on the Bully drew me to your blog and I’ve been following it ever since. Keep up the good work.

  • felonius bunk

    who’s in charge of erasing confiscated cameras for the police auction? i want the ‘before’ shots of the witness who did come forward…(just kiddin’, of course)

  • The reason for words like “claimed” and “allegedly” is that newspapers have to be very, very careful of libel. Even at the student journalism level (where I work, hence the fact I’m not linking to my blog like I would normally), we have to be very careful of libel, and all of our editors a trained how to avoid it. And in legal cases, we generally cannot print *anything* that hasn’t been proven in court, otherwise we leave ourselves open to a libel suit. That even includes “claimed” instead of “said”. One is definitive, the other is not, which is a very important distinction in journalistic writing.

    So, from that perspective, I wouldn’t say the Citizen is being biased or trying to portray you as a liar. It’s simply standard editorial practice for newspapers, and, in effect, is them covering their asses. No one wants to be sued, not even the “big fish” like the Citizen, and it’s almost always better to be safe than sorry.

  • Anne Onimos

    The Blue Gang wins another.

  • “And what happened to all the bloody witnesses to this incident anyway? You can’t blame this on “sweeping it under the rug” if not one single person is willing to come forward.”

    But XUP, they only asked for witnesses to step forward ON KNITNUT.NET. I love blogs :-) But I don’t think they count as canvassing people who frequent Bank Street in front of Hartman’s.

  • Carmen

    Hum…no surprise…

  • You know, I do understand the use of language, when I think about it. I guess I just feel differently than I think about this one.

    Eric, thanks for letting me know that you’ve been following my blog since then. I like knowing where I picked up readers along the way.

    Mudmama, that’s a good point. I wonder what channels the police would have used if they’d really wanted witnesses to come forward.

  • Em

    I’m not surprised, but I guess it’s nice to see they bothered to look into it at all?
    Weird that the OC reported on it too. I like seeing people I know in the news. :)

  • Laura Payton

    Why is it weird that the OC reported on it? All the media outlets were on the story about the cab driver who said he was beaten up by an off-duty cop, and Neco Cockburn writes frequently about officers who face disciplinary action.
    There are a lot of people who criticize the media without being a regular consumer of it. Of course there are things we can do better, but there are also editors like David who work every day to properly cover the community.
    I can also tell you, as a reporter, how hard it is to go with a story like this when the main witness won’t give her name. Zoom has built up a lot of credibility among Ottawa readers and bloggers but that’s not exactly enough to go with when you’re trying to write this story.

  • Focus

    The Ottawa Citizen is part of the old media– often corporate, propagandistic, unrepresentative. The OC can hardly give their papers away on the buses these days. We people are the new mainstream media. Long live the new. :)

    My previous reply to your post, Bank Street Bully, talks about smart mobs:

    “In a society increasingly armed with ‘smart mob’ communications like ever-more inconspicuous e-video devices that netcast in realtime (too late to confiscate), the responsibilities, consequences and dangers for police misbehavior shift ever more acutely back where they belong. [to the police :]

    If a police officer’s job is supposedly hard enough as it is, some of their questionable behaviours may only serve to make it harder still.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_mob

    High five, Zoom. :)