Steve Paikin Believed: Cleared? With no criminal or civil charges? Let's stick with reality.

Canada isn’t in a #MeToo frame of mind, unlike the US where it originated. You are not going to see it here because that would require an admission that not everything is perfect, and it takes work and doing something against the status quo to get it. The US was built on the concept of improvement, and that explains why #MeToo began over there instead of over here. That is the paradox of optimistic filters: when you see the positive, regardless of how bad things actually are, you are not compelled to improve. When you see flaws, you are driven to improve and evolve.

That’s why in the United States, “America’s Dad” Bill Cosby could be convicted of harming women who had less prestige, clout, and financial resources. For all its flaws, the United States is a nation that wants to be better and push forward. No citizen who truly loves his or her nation can do it without being critical of it, and #MeToo is a critical lens. This was not a minor victory for #MeToo. Once upon a time, there would be no way those women would have been believed by their own family members, let alone have their day in court, get torn apart by expensive defense attorneys, and still be believed by jurors based on less than perfect evidence.

If you want to understand the difference in mindsets, compare the Cosby trial with the “report” TVO commissioned after Sarah Thomson accused Steve Paikin of sexual harassment.

This report was paid for by TVO, which had a vested interest in the outcome. This wasn’t a criminal or civil proceeding, and that’s important. This would be the equivalent of reading a a court transcript of a criminal trial, and skipping anything the prosecution said.

As a journalist, something like this may be a guide, but it wouldn’t be something I would accept as gospel truth, either. While it gets high marks for looking professional and thorough with an air authoritative definitiveness, there is a narrative in it, and there shouldn’t be.

I would still have to verify information independently, and as other similar documents I have used in the past, what I’d find would often deviate from the original document – sometimes it would be minor, sometimes it would nullify an account, and sometimes I would find something not covered in it that should have been considered.

There are several troubling flaws with this report itself, and this statement is particularly problematic:

When the investigator considered all of the available evidence, and determined the appropriate weight to place on the evidence, Paikin’s version of events was accepted. Specifically, Paikin as a seasoned journalist with an immense knowledge of politics and politicians, would not have propositioned, in any manner, Thomson in a public place in the presence of a stranger.

You don’t know that. That is an unfounded assumption. Why would Bill Cosby, for instance, drug and sexually assault women when he had millions of dollars, a sterling reputation, and would have women willing to have flings with him? Why did Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer make that kind of trouble, given their illustrious track record – and they had far more money, power, and fame than Paikin did or ever will.

As with a lot of men on the #MeToo hitlist who admitted to their atrocious behaviour, they had no reason to abuse women as they had too much to lose, and not much to gain from their boorishness.

In other words, this statement had no place in an investigative report and is a red flag that sits very uneasy with me.

But that is not enough to dismiss it one way or another, but it does taint it in a very troubling way: that comment reveals the lens of the investigators, and has to be taken into account.

They interviewed quite a few people of the 2010 incident – most of whom aren’t relevant to the accusations. You don’t need to know who they are for one reason: none of them were present in that spot when the alleged incident happened, and that is the bottom line. There were three key people: Thomson, Paikin, and the person who was said to be there at the table when it happened, and this witness was identified as “Witness J”.

Everything in the report hinged on “Witness J” – the one witness who was reported to be there when the comments were allegedly said. This ended up to be someone who was inconsistent, and that was enough to dismiss Thomson’s accusations.

On the face of it, that vindicates Paikin, but on closer inspection, Witness J undermines the credibility of both Thomson and Paikin for the same reason.

Often, with reluctant witnesses who do not want to be dragged into anything inconvenient, they give inconsistent information on purpose – whether something happened – or didn’t. I have had dealings with people like this who will muddy waters for various reasons. Sometimes they saw it, but don’t want to commit because they shun responsibility. Sometimes they know nothing happened, but still don’t want to commit because there is power in being noncommittal. It is a passive aggressive tactic, and many sources I have dealt with over the years fall into this category.

In the end, the report didn’t do what it claims it did. It merely decided the people who paid for the report would get the confirmation they wanted to hear. It didn’t “clear” Paikin: it merely could not prove Thomson’s accusations. It doesn’t secretly prove her right, either.

The problem is Witness J.

If it happened, Witness J should have just said it outright. If it didn’t happen, Witness J should have just said it outright. The answer should have been unequivocal and consistent, either in favour of Thomson or Paikin. The fact that Witness J went all over the place and was inconsistent was mystifying. It means that something else here was at play – and the true reason for that is important to know – but the report provides no evidence, just conjecture with this unfounded assumption:

Witness J also presented, based on his in-person interview and relevant documents, that he was someone who likely panders or seeks to appease based on his audience.

You don’t know that, either. You cannot guess someone’s motives – you can merely impose your expectations on behaviour unless you have facts to prove it one way or another. Someone may be playing you, and playing dumb is often a misdirection, and playing dumb is an excellent stratagem when the people who are interviewing you have the natural inclination to think they are the smartest people in the room.

The report boasts it determined more than it did – and that’s not helpful one way or another. It is not definitive by any means. It neither cleared nor condemned Paikin. The press is chirping that one of their own as “cleared” – but it is not true.

Paikin’s account was believed. That’s all.

If I was a journalist who was given this report, I would not appeal to its authority: I would still have to go over it line by line. Was Thomson blacklisted from The Agenda? Not likely, and that’s important, but having just one appearance after the alleged incident doesn’t prove anything one way or another. In my own life, I have had a people try to pull something that didn’t work with me that often resulted in the person contacting me once again, and I knew why – if I were to say anything against the person, they could deny it and then point to that extra incident as “proof” that there was no problem, bad blood, or incident.

The coverage of the Paikin story has been skewed and inflated. Accusations were made, and nothing was found to confirm or deny it. The female is seen as eccentric. The male is seen as straight-laced. She is an easy target for barbs and bullying by the well-heeled, and she’d be wise to keep the voice recorder turned on her smart phone from now on.

I am not one to be convinced by persona or reports – one way or another. A little independent research goes a long way. For instance, the report doesn’t identify the people interviewed, or transcripts of the actual interviews. It is hardly a transparent investigation.

I had no opinion on the veracity of the accusation when it first came out – and the report has not changed my assessment. To be accurate, a headline would have been Steve Paikin believed by the Establishment, not Steve Paikin Cleared. As there were no criminal charges, there was nothing to be “cleared” from.

It was a clumsy and awkward episode in Canadian journalism and explains why women south of the border are making strides against those in power, while Canadians continue to defer to their power players…