Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Zerb vs. Kathy English: are we being had?

OK: we're all familiar
at this point with the sickeningly prissy, obsequious, condescending tone of the now-infamous column by the Toronto Star's "public editor," Kathy English. And on both sides of the blogospheric aisle, we've blasted considerable scorn in her direction.

Now I'm scratching my head. Indeed, that head-scratching began last evening over wings and beer with my co-blogger.

Are there wheels within wheels here?

Let's quickly sum up the events from July 1 on:

There was the Canada Day column by the Zerb that started everything off. Then, six days later, manufactured outrage by Bernie Farber: all of us, except those born without a brain, know that the "Bernie Farber is gay" comment was sarcastic, right down to the Seinfeldian echo. But it became a juicy "gotcha" moment for the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Farber, who enjoys a surfeit of social capital, called a meeting of the CJC's Executive Committee, which was followed by calls to the Star brass. A lot of kneeling, kowtowing and forelock-tugging ensued--and a public scolding of one of the Star's best journos and columnists by the "public editor."

Ironically, the July 1 column mentioned initiatives by various pro-Israel organizations to shut down debate in Canada. Subsequently, we've been watching a living example unfold, attempted this time by indirect means.

But English is no tyro. She's been in the journalism game for more than three decades, and has taught journalism at Ryerson for one. Yet her column looked like the overwrought, earnest, sententious work of a fresh-faced intern.

What, I asked myself and Marie-Ève, if this colossal flub on her part was deliberate?

Read that truly dreadful screed once again. Is there not something parodic about it? Something almost self-consciously schoolmarmish?

Look what she actually conveys. First, the Star's publisher, John Cruikshank, is quoted at length in the column--it becomes pretty clear, from that, that she had been given an assignment. And we are also informed in her piece that she had at least one direct conversation with Farber, although we aren't told who initiated the call.

Then check out the results she managed to achieve. With one over-the-top fawning, priggish, patronizing article, English pressed nearly everybody's buttons, Left, Right and centre. Everyone from Mark Steyn and Kathy Shaidle to Mattt, Stageleft, rabble and a horde of others, were up in arms. Frankly, anyone who can bring together Kathy and the Zerb should be sent to the Middle East forthwith to broker a peace deal.

And cui bono (and malo)? Farber ends up looking ridiculous, the Star's publisher, cowardly, the CJC, censorious yet again--and Antonia Zerbisias like the straight-talking, humorous, independent-thinking heroine she is. She's probably doubled her traffic, and has certainly expanded her fan base.

Not half bad for one column. I bet it's the last time English is asked to do the publisher's dirty work.

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