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Friday, August 04, 2006

Credibility Cloud over Axworthy

Not so fast, Lloyd.

Did you forget something?

Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg and Canada's former foreign minister, has been a busy boy these past two weeks, giving interviews and writing op-ed pieces on his opinion of how Stephen Harper has botched the country's foreign policy.

How, you ask? By supporting Israel.

Axworthy's latest work appeared Wednesday in the Winnipeg Free Press. It was part of the newspaper's buck and wing to placate Axworthy for an embarassing mistake by the paper's Ottawa reporter, Paul Samyn.

Samyn, you see, allegedly misquoted Axworthy so that it sounded like Axworthy was criticizing Winnipeg's Asper family for using their "media empire" to unduly influence the government in Israel's favour.

The Free Press was desperate to forestall anyone from concluding that Axworthy was saying Jews (in the proxy of the Aspers) had too much influence in Canada because they control the media.

The newspaper apologized profusely to Axworthy and the Aspers, blamed Samyn, and gave Axworthy a whole page to deliver the message that was lost in the, still unresolved, controversy.

But a reading of the latest essay by Axworthy, in conjunction with three other interviews and articles by him in the past two weeks, suggests Samyn may have been sacrificed too soon.

This all started with an op-ed article by Lloyd in the Globe and Mail, Saturday, July 22, titled Losing Our Way In The World.

Samyn read the piece, then interviewed Axworthy the following Wednesday, after an Israeli missile accidentally killed a Canadian soldier at a UN observation station on the Lebanon border. That story, barely 10 paragraphs long, was shoehorned onto a page of Lebanon war news on Thursday, July 27.

The last two paragraphs, where Axworthy allegedly criticizes the Aspers, were incendiary and ignited an orgy of grovelling by the paper.

A reading of Samyn's story followed by Axworthy's latest article is intriguing.

Axworthy was obviously worked up by the the Israeli attack on a UN post. His words to Samyn, even paraphrased, were passionate. Canada was aping George Bush's stance in the Middle East, Samyn quoted Axworthy.

"I am increasingly concerned about the view that the only role that Canada should play is to adhesively stick itself to Bush adminstration policies...."

"The morass in Iraq is such a talisman for everything that is going on."

"And what is really ironic is that at a time when increasingly the U.S. ability to influence events in the Middle East has run aground because of its one-sided (something, lost due to the usual incompetence of Free Press editors who don't read the stories they edit) which opens up space for countries like Canada to exercise that role we are at the very same time following the same (U.S.) track."


Wordy, isn't he? But note the quotation marks. Samyn taped the interview, so he could get the quotes just right. Remember that.

On Wednesday, Axworthy wrote with the dispassion of an academic. Every word (about 2,500) had been carefully vetted. There was only a single mention of U.S. President George Bush, to say Canada shifted its attention to border security after 9-11 "influenced by the pressure from the Bush administration."

The Winnipeg Free Press blamed Samyn for misquoting Axworthy by writing that he talked about the Aspers, when he actually talked about "diasporas."

"Axworthy also took a shot at Winnipeg's Asper family, saying they are using their media empire to advocate stauncly right-wing positions when it comes to defending Israel." wrote Samyn.

"The Aspers are inceasingly playing a far more important role in shaping Canadian foreign policy," was a direct quote attributed to Axworthy.

No, no, no, said the Free Press. Axworthy said diasporas. Diasporas are increasingly playing a far more important role in shaping Canadian foreign policy.

And sure enough, in his op-ed, Axworthy wrote about Diaspora, which he defined for his readers as "any group or groups of people that maintain an ongoing interest and sense of belonging to other regions or states as well as to Canada."


Note his use of the capital D.

* Disapora, with a capital D, has a specific meaning.
Wikipedia gives this definition:

...the word diaspora was used to refer specifically to the populations of Jews exiled from Judea in 586 BC by the Babylonians , and Jerusalem in 136 AD by the Roman Empire. This term is used interchangeably to refer to the historical movements of the dispersed ethnic population of Israel , the cultural development of that population, or the population itself. The probable origin of the word is the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 28:25, "thou shalt be a diaspora (Greek for dispersion) in all kingdoms of the earth".

* The term has been expanded to mean the dispersion of any designated group of people and it's this meaning Axworthy hopes you understand.

Except that in a discussion of Israel and the Middle East, it's easy to see how Samyn might have accepted the original meaning.

* But the Free Press says that didn't happen because Samyn simply misquoted Axworthy. Diasporas became the Aspers.

How he misquoted the preceeding sentence is not explained, because it cannot be explained. Not when someone is referring to a tape recording to get the quotes right.

* Muddying the story even more is Axworthy's second paragraph in his Globe and Mail article.

"What is being lauded by right-wing commentators as taking a firm stand in defence of Israel's right to defend itself by "a measured response" to Hezbollah provocation is, in fact, a major step away from helping find solutions that can end the violence and killing."

Now compare that to Samyn's paraphrase of Axworthy on the Aspers."Axworthy also took a shot at Winnipeg's Asper family, saying they are using their media empire to advocate staunchly right-wing positions when it comes to defending Israel."

* Axworthy admits he talked to Samyn about Diaspora. He writes it with a big D. It was in a discussion about Israel.

* Samyn paraphrases a comment about the Aspers and their "right-wing "defence of Israel. Axworthy writes about right-wing commentators who defend Israel.

All in all, we're not convinced the cloud surrounding Axworthy's credibility has been lifted.

There's evidence that he said what he's quoted as saying. The proof lies in the tape recording of the interview.

The Winnipeg Free Press refuses to print a transcript of the tape. Why?

For the same reason the FP has clamped the cone of silence on its columnists and staff "bloggers".

Funny how editor Bob Cox, who so wants to communicate with his readers, hasn't written a word about the Axworthy controversy. Neither has Dan Lett, who, you would think, would come to the defence of his colleague. Nor has Lindor Reynolds, who recently married a Jewish groom. Nor has publisher Andy Ritchie. Gordon Sinclair wrote it off as a funny story, but never got around to the "Aspers control the media" part of the joke.

The silence of the Free Press is suspicious. The inexplicable quotations by Samyn when he has a tape recording to refer to speak volumes.

Lloyd Axworthy's own words seem to confirm he talked with Samyn about the Aspers, possibly in the context of a discussion of diasporas.

We're watching a mainstream newspaper ignore an amazing national story here.

A fomer foreign minister criticizing the influence of a prominent media- owning Jewish family by name is news.

And there's more than that.

We mentioned Axworthy has been quoted four times on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. But we've only referred to three.

The fourth was an interview with Embassy, "an unbiased and authoritative newsweekly focused on international affairs from a distinctively Canadian point of view and on the diplomatic community in Ottawa."

In it he's quoted:

While Canada maintained some key principles, including Israel's right to exist, Canada worked not to alienate one side or the other, which was a unique approach on the international stage.

"You just had to do that because if you simply adhere to one position in an unbending way then there was no room for a dialogue," Mr. Axworthy said. "And there were enough countries doing that. There was already too many people who were seized by unbending convictions, so the need for those who could bridge the gap was a role that we could effectively play."

But that approach began to shift under the Paul Martin government, Mr. Axworthy said, as Canada began voting at the United Nations against any resolution critical of Israel and those who supported it.

"There was always a very careful assessment resolution by resolution as to: Did this help lower the temperature," he said.. "It began to change under Mr. Martin's government ..."

In other words, when Lloyd Axworthy was foreign minister, Canada didn't vote in the United Nations by deciding which side was right and which side was wrong, but by deciding how that vote would lower international tensions.

We think that's news. Especially when filtered through Axworthy's opinion of the influence of the diasporas of the Middle East.

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