Friday, December 30, 2011

Margaret Wente: Fabulous Fake Protesters, Fishermen, Polls, Pew Reports (and other possible P words?)

The Globe and Mail added an Editor's Note to address Margaret Wente’s latest error (about the Pew Global Christianity report) that we identified here - the fourth correction in seven months (sadly, others equally worthy, have been ignored).

Hmmm...anything worth looking at in the rest of the column?

For example, Wente mentions Philip Jenkins’ 2002 book “The Next Christendom” only late in the article and in passing, even though much of her column relies on his ideas (and the corrected claims are now attributed to him). Some parts also sound a lot like previous reviews of Jenkins’ book.

Library Journal: by the year 2050, only about one-fifth of the world's three billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Caucasian.

Wente: By 2050, only a fifth of the world’s three billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Caucasians.

Library Journal: with the rise of Islam and Christianity in the heavily populated areas of the Southern Hemisphere, we could see a wave of religious struggles, a new age of Christian crusades and Muslim jihads.

Wente: The rise of Islam and Christianity in the heavily populated South could create a new era of religious strife, of jihads and crusades.

Ms. Wente also provides exactly the same Jenkins quote that had appeared in another online review, then follows up with a paragraph that begins: “Or, you could argue that Christianity is simply returning to its roots” - sort of like the “or” indicates that what follows is her own contribution or counter-theory, when in fact, the paragraph includes both Jenkins words (Jenkins: “As Christianity moves South and East, it is returning to its roots” – emphasis added), and a number of his other ideas in a form similar to the same book review which contained the quote.

Wente: It was born as the religion of the outcast and the dispossessed. Today, it’s embraced by young rural migrants flooding to the giant, impersonal cities. Like Islam, Christianity is a reaction to urbanization, cultural upheaval and displacement. It provides meaning, community, refuge, support networks and an anchor. It also offers blessings and redemption. Christianity, in its original form, preaches that supernatural intervention can help you in the here and now… They are, quite simply, fulfilling profound social needs. Countries in the south are experiencing great economic and demographic difficulties – traditional ways of life are fading away while young people are moving in increasing numbers to the cities…Increasing numbers of people, disconnected from tradition and family, are searching for meaning and community in impersonal cities….Christian groups form a sort of “radical community”…where supernatural power is shown to act in their lives, here and now…

Wente doesn’t attribute these ideas to Jenkins or the various reviews. But as we’ve seen, there are other instances of what people might consider plagiarism or improper attribution. And it’s difficult to understand why the Globe would correct a 19 word attribution issue from the New York Times, but leave other, longer examples standing.

And there’s this little attribution problem (noted in comments) from December 22: “According to a poll by Ipsos Reid, two-thirds of Canadians approve of its efforts to boost the military and fight crime. Sixty per cent of the public feel the government is enhancing Canada’s reputation in the world. And a whopping 80 per cent agree with its decision to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies – a move derided by much of the progressive left,” Wente informs us.

The last of those results are not from Ipsos Reid, who didn’t poll on the subject of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. Could be an older Angus Reid poll on the niqab in Québec, or a Forum Research survey done for Sun News. We don’t know, because the Globe and Mail won’t say.

I wonder if Ms. Wente will offer up one of those year-end reflections on columns past? As a member of the Q Media Panel on CBC, she was asked to select the most over-rated story of the year. She chose the Occupy protests, and had the brazenness to claim that they were a “media projection”.

Well, in her hands they were. Wente set out to paint the Occupiers as lazy, entitled students. The laziness and entitlement seem to be hers, though – since, rather than go out and interview anyone herself, she just picked up characters from other stories - one of whom, it turned out, was not an Occupy protester at all.

While Wente’s “John” was not fabulism (among other things, inventing a character from scratch would have required more work), one could argue that the effect was the same – and that “John” as a “face” of the Occupiers, went past the notion of a ‘media projection’ into fiction – a character cut and pasted from one narrative into a different one (in which he had no part), similar to the scientist who mysteriously became a fisherman in Margaret’s story.

The Globe corrected the most recent Pew error, probably because Pew contacted them, and they carry some weight. But it should have been corrected because it was wrong. Otherwise, they seem more interested in protecting their long-time columnist and former editor from further embarrassment. Sadly, in so doing, they seem less concerned with their responsibilities to readers, or with upholding the standards that (hopefully) the rest of their writers still respect. Let’s hope for better things in the New Year.


  1. There's no real reason to suppose that anything you read in the G&M is factually accurate anymore. There are reasons based on tradition and reasons based on hope. But there are no reasons based on the paper's performance.

    I still read it, online only, but if there's an important story I immediately start looking for alternate source corroboration. As for columnists - well, I read lots of fiction.

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