The topic was “Immunization in the 21st Century,” and the organizers of the December 2000 Halifax conference, Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society, had invited me to speak to about 800 doctors, nurses and public health officials.
The medical professionals were worried that the mainstream news media might give sensational publicity to agitators in the anti-vax movement and they hoped that as a journalism professor, I would be able to shed light on whether that might happen.
I reassured conference goers journalists would continue to support the medical consensus that vaccinations are safe and effective in preventing disease.
I explained that mainstream media routinely rely on voices of authority — elected leaders, senior government officials and recognized experts — to give their reporting the credibility they strive to maintain.
“Without credibility, all is dust,” writes Nick Russell in Morals and the Media, a leading Canadian journalism ethics textbook.
And so, the Canadian media have maintained their credibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, daily transmitting voices of authority in the effort to keep the virus from spreading.
As the late scholar Richard Ericson wrote, news media focus on disorder (in this case, the pandemic) to show how order (and normal life) might be restored.1
But journalism has another role and that is to question authority.
Linda Pannozzo, a Nova Scotia-based investigative reporter and author, was intrigued by an online article she read by David Cayley, a writer and CBC radio documentary maker who produced a 24-part Ideas series in 2007/08 called “How to Think About Science.”
Cayley’s Ideas documentaries also include interviews with the Canadian philosopher George Grant, literary critic Northrop Frye, German linguist Uwe Poerksen, author of Plastic Words, as well as Ivan Illich, the Austrian-born social critic who questioned dominant institutions in such books as Deschooling Society and Medical Nemesis.
On his blog, Cayley wrote about the fight against the pandemic from the perspective of Ivan Illich. It’s a controversial view — one rarely, if ever, discussed in mainstream media.
To read Linda Pannozzo’s interview with David Cayley, click here.