If you’ve lived in Canada over the past 25 or 3o years, you have read at least one piece by Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno. I’ve read a lot of them. I’ve liked one or two. I particularly liked the piece she did the time she violated Olympic security, snuck into the athlete’s village residences, and wrote about what was going on behind the scenes. I thought that was funny and demonstrated an interesting disregard for the rules. Mostly, though, I have found her work a little too tabloid-based for me. And now she’s proven it.
Rosie never plays it safe. She is paid a serious amount of money to write a handful of columns a week, and she’s given free reign to Be Rosie. She’s one of the few Canadian “personality” journalists whose byline is a brand of its own.
She picked up a lot of new readers today when The Star published her take on the suicide of accused child molester David Dewees. After acknowledging that the paper erred in reporting charges against Dewees, Rosie goes on to point out that since libel laws don’t apply to dead people, she’s free to decide that he was, in fact, guilty, and she goes on to pillory him in paragraph after paragraph of assumption, non-libelous libel and sloppy, self-rightous writing.
The outrage is ripping through the Internet. The fact is, David Dewees was accused of a crime. This does not make him guilty. We know that many men are accused of these crimes unjustly, and we know that we have a court system that analyzes the evidence before passing judgment. We also know that newspapers have to be very careful about reporting these things; this is where the word “alleged” comes into play. This is basic journalism. And while it doesn’t apply to dead people, and Rosie is right about that, there’s still a thing called decency. She ignored that today.
Maybe David Dewees did it. Maybe he didn’t. The world will never know for sure, and neither will Rosie DiManno, despite what she tells you. She has, with one piece of writing, kicked print journalism in the balls and sent its already teetering reputation down into Fox News territory. I’m a print journalist with more than 20 years in the ink, and what she wrote made me grit my teeth and shake my head. It will take a long time to recover from her stunt.
It gets worse. The news aggregator site reddit.com picked up DiManno’s column, and within a few hours almost 1,000 people had chimed in with their comments. Most of these are typical reddit slams, loaded with childish attacks, but some of them include some well-written letters to DiManno pointing out their concerns. These writers are repeating what they say are responses they got when they e-mailed Rosie to complain. Some of them posted screenshots of their correspondences. Others just quoted Rosie’s responses to them:
“Oh great, the pedophile constituency heard from.”
“Ah yes, the pro-pedophilia constituency heard from. Your email is being forward to police.”
She sticks to a theme there, and in many others: if you are upset about her assumption of a dead man’s guilt, you must be in favour of pedophilia. Cheap, nasty and amateurish, it avoids the issue people are pointing out in their complaints. It’s the kind of response I would expect from college newspaper hacks, not from a writer for the country’s largest newspaper.