Man Bites Man
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Man Bites Man

It’s hard to disagree with the wisdom attributed to New York Sun editor John B. Bogart, that “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
And if a man bites another man? Depends. And if a man eats (even a part of) another man? In that regard, we have to respectfully differ from the CBC.
The other day, while finally getting around to listening on the Star website to the leaked audio of the radio communications between RCMP officers responding to that crazy fucking incident on the Greyhound, we were startled by the last line: “Okay, [the suspect’s] at the back of the bus, hacking off pieces [of the body] and eating it.” What? We had to consult the transcript to be sure what we’d heard. We’d been following this story on and certainly would have recalled reading about such a transcendently weird detail.
Later, in the default news pane of Yahoo! Mail, we saw a headline about the incident that used the word “cannibalized.” Thinking this was a major new revelation, we rushed back to to have this characterization confirmed by a reputable source. No such luck. Same details as before.
As it turns out, this was official CBC policy. “Any time we have a story that we’re covering in an ongoing way, we have a discussion around what to cover, what time of day it would air,” Esther Enkin, Executive Editor of CBC News, is quoted as saying on “[But] we have to report the essence of it.”
On the one hand, it’s understandable that an outlet that primarily deals in broadcast journalism would refrain from reporting gruesome details. A viewer or listener doesn’t always have the ability or opportunity to turn off or get away from the TV or radio when something truly awful comes on. (These horrifying WSIB ads from last year were just plain cruel.) But on the other hand, with print and online journalism there’s a considerably greater deal of agency on the part of the reader, something which is pretty much inherent in the written medium. You choose what to read about and in what context. And if you do choose to read about this sort of incident, chances are that you’d rather learn more than less.
2008_8_7PieceOfALip.jpg All of this turned out to be rather moot, however, as the day before wrote that “CBC News will not air or publish some of the more gory details emerging from the case,” CBC News was doing just that, online and on TV (and presumably on the radio, too). It seems that the information, now having been uttered by Crown lawyers in court, suddenly became legitimate and relevant in CBC’s eyes—which is not a totally unreasonable approach, but begs the question whether, with regard to the leaked tape, the CBC took greater issue with the message or the medium.
Photo of an RCMP car by QuickLunarCop. Capture of a reporter doing a hand gesture to indicate “a piece of a lip” from this CBC video.