Green Island Letters

The bizarre and scary measles witch hunt of 2015
- Part II - my original letter to the CBC Ombudsman about Ms Tremonti's vicious ambush of a so-called 'anti-vaxxer'

Date: 13/02/2015

Dear Ombudsman,
I have a complaint about a segment on the Current, from Feb 9/2015, "Vaccinations: Pro and Anti-Vaxxer parents make their cases" (podcast here)

The essence of the complaint about this outrageous segment is:

  • 1 - brutal attack on a more-or-less innocent young Canadian woman very obviously invited onto the show under false pretenses for the bully to beat up in public, evidently for daring to disagree with the CBC's opinion on a media-led national witch hunt
  • 2 - lie about the theme of the show (false pretenses) - not a conversation, a pre-planned assault
  • 3 - a blatantly unequal attack, obviously, again, a bully intentionally picking a weak opponent to humiliate in public - if they intended a fair exchange of ideas, there are many learned and able defenders of the quite-mislabeled 'anti-vax' movement who would have been far, far more able to defend themselves against Ms Tremonti's attacks - all obviously ignored, to cherry pick someone who would present a weak defence they could bully - very, very low and despicable behaviour on the part of the CBC, which is supposed to demonstrate better ethics, morality, honesty, etc
  • 4. on top of, or taking advantage of, the weak defence, the CBC stage-managed an obviously one-sided attack rather than any 'discussion' or 'conversation', as a bully beating on a non-assertive individual can do, although the CBC should not be doing this - a 'heads I win tails you lose' strategy in the presentation of the claims of each side - a common weapon when experienced rhetoricians bring a fish in a barrel into the studio for just such a purpose, but not something a 'for the people' public broadcaster ought to be engaging in
- all of which is outrageous, despicable, and very much not the CBC I used to know or much want to see continuing.

Some more detail:

This show, as noted in the link above, was promoted as 'Vaccinations: Pro and Anti-Vaxxer parents make their cases', but this was not what the show was about at all, as within minutes, it had turned into simply a brutal attack on one of the young ladies on the show, an attack led by an experienced broadcaster very used to and able to attack people she disagrees with and/or does not like, Ms Tremonti, obviously briefed by people sharing her beliefs, or for whom she was speaking, and speaking with the full weight of the CBC and her years of experience in interviewing people, out to destroy and humiliate a young woman who believed something the broadcaster, and whoever oversees her/their programs, evidently thought she should not believe, nor be allowed to share with others without aggressive challenge from the media; it was quite apparent from the course of the interview/beating this young lady had obviously not been warned about the type of hostile confrontation the CBC, and Ms Tremonti, had planned for her.

Secondly, related, if the Current was indeed planning this kind of hostile attack, as they rather obviously were, then they were very dishonest about what they were doing, in the sense of suggesting this was a 'fair contest' or 'conversation' between two people with different beliefs - an honest show description might have been something like "The Current berates an anti-science anti-vaccer innocent on the error of her ways' or something - although, as noted, they might have had trouble getting Ms Tindall on the show had they been honest about their intentions. I do have my own opinions about this controversy, but with this complaint I am not writing to make any arguments for one side of this discussion or the other, as I said, but to complain about the way this 'discussion' was obviously planned to have a specific outcome, a 'win' for the CBC side, trying to make the 'anti' side look weak and baseless, by cherry picking a victim not able to present a strong defence of her views under the hostile attack of an experienced interviewer's well-prepared attacks and aggressive interview. If the CBC/the Current were honestly interested in presenting a true 'conversation' between honest and able people from each side of this issue, as they pretended to be doing, very falsely, rather than throwing a simple Christian into the lion pit for dismemberment and the entertainment and derision of the mob, there are any number of people they could have invited who would have been much more able to give a strong defence of the 'anti-vax' side than was Ms Tindall, whom the very capable producers at the CBC would have been able to find very easily if they wanted. There are several names, for example, given in this story (a much more honest presentation of the situation than anything that has ever been offered on the CBC one might note in passing). If the CBC was actually interested in a 'conversation' between 'equals' rather than the obvious hatchet job beating up on a nice but somewhat innocent young victim as they orchestrated, they could have had far more able presenters for the 'anti' side (the writer of the referenced piece above, for example, would have been a good choice, a Canadian - Lawrence Solomon, research director at Toronto-based Consumer Policy Institute. ) This type of setup is truly despicable coming from the CBC. (not to mention lessening their credibility and the whole 'pro-science pro-vax movement' - the transparency of setting up a nice but ineffective defender of the vaccine skeptic beliefs like Ms Tindall for some experienced bullies to beat up on with next to no resistance, like a loud mean teacher berating a student daring to voice any disagreement is a quite clear indication they know their arguments are weak ...)

But the merits of either argument are not directly at issue in this complaint - the attitude and approach and behaviour of Ms Tremonti towards this ordinary nice Canadian citizen are what were and are completely unacceptable on the CBC. This is not supposed to be US 'attack radio', in which rightwing crazies scream and shout abuse at anyone they don't like and can get to appear on their show for the American spectacle, which thrives on this kind of stuff, but the (once at least) civilized CBC, in which informed, engaged Canadians share their thoughts and concerns in a calm, thoughtful manner about what is going on in our country and world - you know, the CBC of Gzowski in years gone by, long gone to rest, sadly for all of us who care about Canada. The CBC is meant to facilitate these civilized exchanges, not assume the role of propagandist for one side or another either gatekeeping serious alternative voices or choosing ineffectual defenders of some position they don't like to shoot down, although admittedly in recent years they have been doing a lot of this, and not generally on the side of 'we the people of Canada'.

I want to emphasize this, the very nasty bullying and essential dishonesty of Ms Tremonti's basic approach in dealing with her much meeker victim, who was just trying to have a calm and civilized conversation, as it would appear she had been deceived into believing the show would be. Right from the beginning the aggressive hypocrisy appears, as Ms Tremonti opens her show with three anecdotes from different people obviously, as people in a debate do, carefully picked to stir the heart strings of the listener. But - a few minutes later, when she called on Ms Tindall and asked her to present her case, and she began by saying she had talked to many people who shared her concerns, and such talks had helped inform her decision not to vaccinate her children - Ms Tremonti immediately interrupted her, with the mocking and paternalistic tone which she used throughout, the expert teacher telling her not-too-bright student about her misperceptions - 'But these are only anecdotes, not scientific at all - don't you have any scientific reports to support your case?!' - so, in Ms Tremonti's strident advocacy for the 'provax' side, anecdotes such as she began with to illustrate the supposed dangers of not getting vaccinated are perfectly valid, even compelling, 'evidence', but when Ms Tindall tried to respond by offering her own anecdotes about children being hurt *because* of vaccinations, Ms Tremonti immediately challenged her, and without even allowing her to finish the rebuttal Ms Tremonti asked for, dismissed what she was saying as non-scientific and irrelevant, and moved on to another line of attack. This is of course a very effective tactic when you are in a 'debate' of some kind with a powerful advocate for one side who can pull this off against a rather ineffectual speaker on the other - but for a CBC host to pull such stunts while supposedly simply moderating a discussion between equals is extremely objectionable.

I could deconstruct the entire show, really, with several other such examples of Ms Tremonti blatantly attacking Ms Tindall as 'anti science' without even letting her finish what she tries to say, but it would not really add much to the complaint, but I do want to mention the part that got me angry enough to send this complaint, the completely over-the-line, juvenile, outrageous and unfair attack on this very nice lady near the end. Towards the end, as Ms Tindall was, in 'fighting' parlance, dazed and ready to go down after a few minutes of nonstop bullying and irrational (we can use anecdotes but not you, papers supporting our position are 'scientific' but yours are not, etc) attack from Ms Tremonti and her puppet/co-conspirator pro-vax witness on Ms Tindall's beliefs and ignorance, she brought out the big hammer to apply the coup de grace to her emotionally weakened victim, saying, in essence, Alright, you nice lady - but everyone in your community needs you to put aside your personal beliefs, because Science has proven you wrong, and you need to get these vaccinations for your children to protect the children of all the other mothers who do not want their babies to die from this horrible disease which they are really in increased danger of getting because of your anti-scientific beliefs - how do you respond to the concerns of our other guest, who does not want her baby to die because you don't understand science and refuse to get your children vaccinated?' - just outrageous and unfair bullying, really, to this young lady who obviously was very concerned about other people, in a show advertised as a 'conversation' between two Canadians on the vaccine controversy, and a statement far more reflective of hyperbole than fact. If this was a 'fair' debate moderated by Ms Tremonti, why didn't she then ask a similar question of her other guest - for instance - Well, Ms Olsheski, how would you feel if you forced Ms Tindall to have her children vaccinated, and one of them suffered a terrible brain disease from the vaccination? Would you feel good about that?

In summary, this segment was just one of the worst things I have ever heard on the CBC - and you can believe me, I have been shaking my head in disgust regularly the last few years at what they have been doing in terms of really outrageous offences against 'truth' with their propaganda about various things, and other things they have been getting up to, which I won't get into here. But this attack, this blind-siding and bullying of what sounds to be a very sweet and lovely lady just trying to be a good, informed citizen in her community, doing what she thinks best for her family, by the Current, has gone way, way over any line of decency we should allow on our national broadcaster, and I really think they need to be told to try and find a bit more civility and honesty in their approach to what is going on in our world and country.

As an act of contrition for the Current, if you agree with my complaint, you might consider something like forcing them to allow Lawrence Solomon, mentioned above, to have a free half hour to present the 'vaccine skeptic' position, or at least set up another debate, with a less obviously prejudiced moderator, between him and whoever the pro-vaccine people want. And they really should issue a public apology to Ms Tindall for their completely unacceptable bullying.

We miss you Peter. So much.

Dave Patterson
Ontario, PEI, currently Thailand

(note later - I have been working on this letter for a couple of days, and now on the same show, the Current, Thursday Feb 12, they expose themselves completely - they offer a few 'responses' to the show I write about, with several supporting letters heaping abuse on the 'stupid anti-science anti-vaxxers!!!' stance they took and one meek response defending Ms Tindall - and then actually had another strident pro-vaxxer on given 10 minutes to 'make the case' that people who did not support the vaccination programs were really, basically, just too stupid to be talked to, so there was no need for the CBC or any media to give them any time at all (with, very brazenly and amazingly hypocritically, Ms Tremonti playing the role of concerned 'journalist' just wanting to do her job well, not a hit man of any kind as she had demonstrated on the earlier show, asking as if she was really concerned about just doing a good job for Canadians listening to and trusting the CBC 'but how do we deal with this kind of controversy' etc). (maybe this 'journalist' could repeat his over-the-top accusations with Mr Solomon above to talk to??? That might be an interesting conversation...) And that, I guess, is the new Canada Harper has been creating, and the new CBC our new rightwing governments of the last 30 years have been creating. In some ways, I am glad I am getting on in years, and will probably be gone before the final descent of this once great broadcaster, and this once great country, are fully realised. But in others, I feel great sadness for those who will have to live in that world - which is, I guess, why I keep fighting, even though it's not going to affect me that much personally. Or you, I daresay.)

Dave's Challenge of the CBC Current's Evisceration of an Anti-Vaxxer

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