PRESS RELEASE [This was faxed out four days after the first article, after continuing reports to me that Ms. Malenfant was saying the reporter would publish the article about me at any time. [Back]
My lawyer will likely object to any sort of public response from me, but I cannot remain silent while being maligned. I hope that limiting my remarks on the record to this brief document--one dealing not with any substantive facts regarding defamatory claims but with ancillary issues--will not compromise any legal action which may be necessary.
Two weeks ago, Post columnist Donna Laframboise began contacting people associated with a volunteer group to which I belong (the Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society). She told them she was preparing an expose' about my views in an academic book published 11 years ago, views which she considered extremely inappropriate for anyone in such an organization. Now, through the entire history of that group, those views have never even been mentioned. Much more importantly, her claim of inappropriateness is totally unfounded, based seemingly on gross misinterpretation on her part. Indeed, it was reported to me that Ms. Laframboise has, in telephone conversation, said and insinuated specific false claims about my views which I regard as legally slanderous.
My response was to engage a Toronto lawyer to fax an immediate message (March 23) to the editor-in-chief of The Post, threatening legal action if any article making or insinuating such claims should be published. Also, I attempted to cover all bases by sending the Post editor an anticipatory reply-article, one based on what the columnist had been saying to individuals, with the following request: that a finalized version of my proposed reply also be published, should they go ahead and print the expose' in a form they felt stopped short of libel.
Now, the threatened article by Ms. Laframboise was originally described as exposing both me and another person, one just elected to the Board of ECMAS, Mr. [Tim] Adams. Since my warning, what has appeared in The Post so far is an article discussing only him. However, The Post has not responded to my lawyer, hence has given no assurance that another article attacking me is not forthcoming. In fact, a certain friend and ally of Ms. Laframboise in Edmonton has been sending out a stream of e-mail messages to members of the organization, and to others including media people, saying that a second article, one indicated to be about me, would appear very soon. (This friend of Ms. Laframboise, through earlier e-mail correspondence, had herself already made false claims about my views which I consider legally actionable.)
As a result of this activity, claims deleterious to me have already been spread about and mentioned in the media in Alberta, and I have received multiple phone calls from reporters on the matter. This situation is intolerable. I feel compelled to raise some questions about the methods and motives of Ms. Laframboise herself.
First, in the article which has already been published, she does not reveal that the story grew out of a pre-existing bitter personal dispute between me and the above-mentioned confederate of hers. In the preceding months, this person has been threatening to ECMAS members to make accusations in public about behavior by me; the complaint to them about my book and about Mr. Adams was merely the most recent one. Moreover, the conflict between the friend of Ms. Laframboise and Mr. Adams included this important fact: he stood for election solely to prevent this person from getting a seeming ally of hers elected. Surely, failure to disclose these relevant matters raises questions about the proper relationship between a journalist and her information sources.
A second piece of undisclosed information is Ms. Laframboise's own role in influencing the actions of ECMAS leaders regarding Mr. Adams and me. Her article (March 30, "Dispute erupts...") clearly indicates that the reaction within ECMAS, including the resignation of the Calgary Board, was autonomous. In fact, ECMAS-Calgary did not even approach the Edmonton group about the matter until contacted by Ms. Laframboise. She told them an article by her exposing Mr. Adams and me was scheduled for publication that very weekend (March 24). This is not exactly William Randolph Hearst inciting the Spanish-American War so he could have lurid stories for his newspapers, but the same principle of journalistic integrity is at stake. [Clearly, this whole paragraph is about making news instead of just reporting it, as is the next paragraph and parts of those that follow it:]
The details of this conduct by Ms. Laframboise are important. When she first contacted ECMAS-Edmonton, it was to tell them that the expose' was already slated for publication--she was not phoning to make a good-faith investigation of the other side of the story. Nor did she even contact Mr. Adams or me; we were forced to make hurried attempts to reach her. This also speaks volumes about her level of impartiality. Finally, the sole reason why she then offered to delay publication of her article until the following Monday was to create an opportunity for the ECMAS Boards to take action regarding the two of us. (Further delay occurred beyond that time --perhaps because of my lawyer's warning, perhaps because the Calgary group had still taken no final action; see below.) To repeat, this is creating the news, not just reporting it. [Back]
Consider the foreseeable impact of this conduct on her part, especially on the group in distant Calgary. They had no firsthand knowlege about Mr. Adams, and (like the Edmonton group) no prior knowledge of what I had said in my book: the context, the motives for saying it, the evidence adduced, etc.--other than what she and her friend chose to tell them. Yet she approached them before contacting ECMAS-Edmonton, and rigidly allowed them no adequate time to investigate any of these things before scandal would erupt--no reasonable time to make decisions on matters crucial to the survival of all they have worked for years to achieve.
Less than two days after she contacted them, then, the Calgary group sent (March 22) a letter to the Edmonton group suggesting serious falsehoods about me which evidently came out of contact with her. The letter did not ask for information to help them decide what the facts were, but demanded that the Edmonton Board by itself "act on these issues appropriately" in time for Ms. Laframboise's new deadline. Immediately after the Edmonton group made its decision not to revoke my membership (it had decided two days earlier to accept Mr. Adam's resignation from the Board but not to revoke his), the Calgary Board resigned.
That they would feel panicked by the power of the national press was, to repeat, foreseeable if not planned. Ironically, such panicking is especially likely given the overwrought fears which in years past I wrote my book to disarm. Making claims and insinuations involving subjects which already strongly engage people's negative emotions can, indeed, create discord in a group where before there was harmony. Surprise.
So the degree to which Ms. Laframboise has influenced the behavior of our members proves little more than the power she wields from her bully pulpit, which can intimidate a small group of individuals with little opportunity to get their side presented to the public. There is a vast power imbalance between ordinary citizens and those few who control what the public hears about them. This is, one would think, a major reason why there are principles of journalistic ethics. I can only hope that other journalists take such principles seriously enough to inquire into Ms. Laframboise's behavior in this matter.
Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta
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