Wanna know the truth?
"The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read."
- Mark Twain
It's a great quote, because it says so much in so few words. Of course it makes sense that it would come from the mind of Mark Twain. Except it didn't. There is a plethora of online sources for this quote which confidently insist it came from Twain. To this day many people believe it did. They're wrong. The irony is that just a little reading reveals a factual assessment proving the quote is a fake. So maybe the quote is more on point than even Twain could have made it.
Since it’s publication in January, I’ve been overwhelmed by virtually unanimous praise for Blamed and Broken. From general readers to journalists I admire and respect including Linden MacIntyre and Anna Maria Tremonti. The book, which is the product of someone who’s spent more than a decade of investigating the death of Robert Dziekanski and its aftermath, directly challenges a troubling narrative some in the media were instrumental in creating and sustaining. I always imagined that when reasonable people read the facts I uncovered it would compel a long overdue public accounting of the mistakes and misjudgments that destroyed lives and reputations, and contributed to not just one death, but three. I felt that as a journalist myself, if someone had placed this book on my desk and I’d either followed and/or covered this tragic story, my first instinct would be to read the book to see what it says. Then I’d start asking questions about how we’d gotten the story so wrong. I was naive and overly optimistic about the vein of curiosity and acceptance of self-criticism that runs through my profession.
Eight months after publication, my efforts to raise interest among some of the leaders in Canadian Journalism who’ve touched this story over the years, have been met largely with silence. As an example, while The Globe and Mail’s Books section heralded Blamed and Broken as one of THE books to read before it was even published, the paper’s news pages ignored the book’s content and revelations. Further, it went on to print material about the case that was simply false. When I took the time to point out the mistakes and the problems inherent in perpetuating false notions that have a direct effect on real people’s lives, my efforts didn’t even merit an acknowledgement, let alone any correction.
I don’t mean to single out The Globe. Other responsible media outlets have simply shrugged when offered an opportunity to examine the record of mistakes and misjudgment I compiled that lead one man to kill himself, sent two to prison and permanently stained the reputations of two others who’s acquittals were essentially invalidated by judges who saw fit to effectively convict them without trial. After more than 30 years a journalist with ample experience covering court cases, I thought I’d seen it all. I was wrong.
I know why it’s so hard for some people to confront their biases. In Blamed and Broken I meticulously deconstruct the psychology of why that is in this case. What I don’t understand is why some people - outwardly reasonable and intelligent people - won’t even pick up the book and put their beliefs based on hearsay, opinion and incomplete understanding to the test. Many of those in my profession won’t do it, neither will some who have no duty to test a story by considering what might tear it down.
As I’ve written previously, I got in touch with the creator of an opera about Robert Dziekanski, to point out some of the false claims and assumptions he’d made about what happened. I offered to send him a copy of Blamed and Broken. While the learned academic and author didn’t dispute the errors he’d made, he didn’t just decline to read the book. He ignored the offer completely.
When I had occasion to meet an RCMP Investigator looking into a complaint about the Force’s conduct in dealing with what happened - the details of which are substantially documented in the book - he declared he would never read Blamed and Broken. At first he said his avoidance stemmed from the book being entirely my “opinion”. Putting aside for the moment that the book is actually a fact-based investigation and not mere opinion, I saw his rejection of the facts as both ironically absurd and sadly, predictable: absurd that a senior police investigator could be so certain of the words on the pages of Blamed and Broken without having read a single one; predictable because one of the reasons I wrote the book was to explore the propensity for people to rush to judgement. Perhaps he realized the contradiction of claiming to know the content of a book he hadn’t read, because the Investigator later added that Blamed and Broken was too daunting to read because it’s “a lot of pages".
We are living in an era of unparalleled human potential for individual capacity to know and understand what's happening around us. But the corollary is that now it only takes a second for the birth of a scandal, and anyone with “an opinion” potentially wields the power to forge falsehoods as truth and call it history. But truth - even when it is apparent without digging - has never been about accepting what you’re told without question. It’s never been for me as a journalist. It’s why I wrote Blamed and Broken. Read it. By all means, question it. But read it.