One of my guiding principles is "If you dish it out, you'd better be prepared to take it."
Which is why, last week, I was happy to post a letter from Alan Parker, deputy managing editor of the Toronto Sun, who complained about my attack on the paper's stories about the fake Internet virgin. Parker made it seem as if I misrepresented the stories here, as if I made it seem that the Sun wasn't ''skeptical'' about the putative innocence of ''Geoff."
Never mind that, when the Sun launched its triple play of stories, it began with a sensational front page hit boasting two photos of "Geoff,'' including one with his pal ''Jen'' who would relieve him of his frustration should he get a sufficient number of hits on his website.
And I quote the entire front-page Sun headline of Tues, May 16: "MILLIONS HELP 25-YEAR-OLD T.O. VIRGIN GET LUCKY ON ... eLAY." The cutline under the photo read "Sexual innocent Geoff launched a website on a bet and needs 5 million hits in 30 days to lose his virginity. Platonic friend Jen, left (whose identity hasn't been confirmed so we can't show her face), says she'll support him with his 'problem' if he pulls off his online stunt. With two weeks to go, he's logged 3 million votes of support.''
That's it. That's all. Not a hint of a shred of evidence that the story wasn't true. No skepticism to be found anywhere. Inside, the page 3 report, while tongue in cheek, did nothing to disprove the story.
On Wednesday, yet another picture of "Geoff'' on the front, this time ''pictured at his high school grad with then-girlfriend Emily who has shot down his web tale of sexual woe.'' Headline: ''He sticks to his web story, but his ex-gal pal of 'chaste' 25-year-old says: HE'S NO VIRGIN!" On page 3, a story debunking Geoff's scam.
So, strictly speaking, Parker was correct to say that I was wrong in my ''vitriolic rant'' to write that the Sun ''retracted'' its story. As he charged:
The Sun, and only the Sun, shone a bright light on an Internet scam, talked to real people face-to-face, and busted a phony site that could have easily surpassed the 5 million hits in a month which the marketers were seeking.
The Sun's cred is fine. It's yours, Antonia, that nosedived.
So the Sun milks a fake story which it should have checked before splashing it all over its front page -- and then it dumps on me?
Like I said, I can take it.
But this -- this! -- is just too much. On Sunday, Sun Readership Editor Alison Downie, who really should have been looking into her own paper's ethics, instead attacked the Star's and mine.
In explaining to her readers why the Toronto Star had nothing on the story, media columnist Antonia Zerbisias wrote on her blog site, "because it was ridiculous, trivial, a waste of bandwidth -- and as it turned out, untrue." Like she knew that a week ago.
Uh. No. I explained why I had not blogged about how STUPID the Sun had been in getting caught with its journalistc pants down on the story. I did not even attempt to explain why the Star itself did not chase this ridiculous piece of fluff that the Sun seems so proud to have covered. (Nice try, Ms. Downie. Too bad it isn't true.)
She gets to the heart of the matter deep into her column (my comments are in blue):
We ran with the story Tuesday after speaking with Geoff and photographing him. (That's some journalism!) Some readers questioned why we would put what they felt was a non-story on front when there was much more important news happening (especially true stories), but Geoff's tale of woe had lots of interesting elements, said associate managing editor Mike Burke-Gaffney.
"You have a local guy getting attention from all over the world, there's the sex angle and the Internet angle," he said. "It's a perfect Sun story."
Whether the story belonged on front page is debatable (you'd think there would be no debate), but sometimes our editors like to shake things up and play up what's fun, or shocking, or exclusive (or hasn't yet been thoroughly checked out.) Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But at least we're not predictable. (or always credible.)
Some readers suggested Geoff's story only made front because we had two slow news day but not so. Editors liked the Internet Virgin story for front because it's what's known in the business as "a talker." (Not to mention a ''seller.'') Even those who hated the front page placement were talking about the story. (Finally, some honesty here.)
As usual, when we try to have a little fun or do somethig a little different, we are accused of acting like a tabloid, like that's a bad thing. We are a tabloid! We have always been a tabloid. In fact, all Sun newspapers -- Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary -- are tabloids. We're not ashamed of that, in fact it allows us to report news in a different way than those other stuffy guys. (I won't touch that one.)
Frankly, I think the Sun people are just still steamed about this.