- by Anne Finlay-Stewart

One of the ways we give people status in our culture is by quoting their words.  I was disconcerted when a local columnist, published in various Post Media papers, gave ink to the name of a former entertainer who is a convicted multiple child sex offender.

Mr. Merriam is a free-lance writer and former editor of the Sun Times in Owen Sound. Merriam often holds people to account in his columns, and he doesn't pull his punches - "crappy ways in which governments serve Canadians", "Wynne has brought democratic debate to a new low", "shameful missteps" etc. His target is often the Bluewater District School Board, as he presents as a defender of our local public school children.

Merriam's column often starts with a quote – this time, topping a column about the important cause of men's health, the quote was from Rolf Harris of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" fame, who spent some of his recent time in prison for eleven sexual offences against children writing a song deriding his victims.

Merriam ends his columns with his email address, so I wrote to express my concern about the suitability of quoting Rolf Harris, regardless of the subject. I was clear I had no objection to the content of either the quote or the column. Our email exchange is reprinted here.


Dear Jim
I'm sorry I did not see this column until today.  You often take the position of defender of the schoolchildren of Grey-Bruce, so I found it disturbing that you chose a quote from a convicted child molester, Rolf Harris.
The internet is a great research tool, but it still requires attention to sources.

Respectfully, Anne


Anne: I'm not sure I understand how the quote about a beard relates to child molestation. I believe in rehabilitation and allowing people to live as normally as possible after serving their time. I'm surprised we differ on that. Thanks for writing.
PS: The inference that I knew nothing about the individual I was quoting really is beneath both of us, don't you think?


Yes Jim. We disagree on this. We are not talking about whether or not the man deserves a job or his pension, but whether or not  he deserves to be quoted - on any subject - in a newspaper.
I do not believe that pedophiles are rehabilitated - nor do most experts on the subject, but I am all for him living normally. Normal people don't get place of privilege in "brainy quotes" websites.
If you did know his history, I am still disappointed, but for other reasons.

Fair enough to disagree but I still don't accept the hint that I just grabbed a quote off the web with no checking. I don't know how it works in vanity journalism but in the field I've served for 55 years there's a lot more to it than that. Your assumption that there isn't speaks volumes.


Dear Jim
My issue was the person you chose to quote. I made that clear. I was almost hoping that you had not known his history rather than that you had ignored it for the sake of a quote.
I believe that at some point a person who is convicted of a crime that is considered one of the most heinous in our culture loses the honour of being quoted in print, unless perhaps it is on a subject for which they have gained other glory - a scholar or statesman perhaps. Mr. Harris was an entertainer, and most of the honours he received for that work - including his honorary degrees and CBE - were revoked in light of his convictions.
Bill Cosby has said many entertaining things in his career, and he has never been convicted of anything, but he isn't quoted much these days. Mr. Harris' career peaked over 30 years ago and his convictions were in this decade. He only got out of jail this year, and had not served his full sentence. His crimes are in contemporary news.
I accept your "vanity journalism" swipe. I don't pretend to be anything other than what I am - a very amateur columnist who accepted an offer to buy an on-line news site. I am also a community member who has subscribed to the Sun Times since the week we arrived in town, and I have a right to state my criticism as much as any reader.

It is true that your career is long and professional. It is why I hold you to a high standard, as you constantly hold others in your column.
Respectfully, Anne

photo source:https://www.flickr.com/photos/raver_mikey/14626558678








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