2016-46 Kary vs Toronto Star

Download Complaint PDF

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

File number: 2016-46

Name of Complainant and the Media: Joseph Kary vs Toronto Star

Article: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2016/07/15/elie-wiesel-was-the-beacon-who-lost-his-waysalutin.html
“Elie Wiesel was the beacon who lost his way”, July 15, 2016

Issue: Inaccuracy

Standards: Toronto Star “Statement of Principles”: Every effort must be made to ensure that everything
published in the Star is accurate, presented in context, and that all sides are presented fairly.

Complaint: Complainant Joseph Kary stated that columnist Rick Salutin was inaccurate in two instances:
first, in writing that Wiesel was a denier of the Armenian genocide, and second, that Wiesel’s admirers
called him the high priest of the Holocaust.

The complainant stated that “Wiesel never denied the Armenian genocide at any time in his life”. He
stated that admirers would not describe Wiesel as “high priest of the Holocaust”, because it stands as a
derisive label that supports language used by Holocaust deniers. He challenged the writer to identify an
admirer who used the term.

News media response: The news media organization responded by noting that opinion writers have
wide latitude to express points of view that may not be shared by all readers. It also consulted the
opinion writer, who stated that the point was that Wiesel did not discuss the Armenian genocide until
later in his life. He said the word genocide is in quotes because using that term in relation to the
Armenian massacres is considered controversial in some circles.

The writer stated that he is aware of the negative use of the phrase “high priest of the Holocaust”, but
chose to use the label in order to reclaim the power of a term that had been used “sincerely and
gratefully” by admirers before it was applied by Holocaust deniers.

He cited support for that decision in recounting a meeting with Holocaust scholar Emil Fackenheim, who
said he’d met “the high priest of Auschwitz”, meaning Wiesel.

Discussion: This article is an opinion piece reflecting on the life and influence of Elie Wiesel, an
Auschwitz survivor, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The NNC has held extensive discussions on
this complaint because the complainant clearly understood the difference between opinion and hard
fact. Two separate panel hearings discussed the issues and the areas of dispute.

The complaint about factual accuracy is centered on the statement that Wiesel denied the Armenian
genocide, and described him as the “high priest of the Holocaust”.

The writer explained his statement by acknowledging that Wiesel spoke out to some degree about the
Armenian massacre, but at the same time, noted controversy over use of the term genocide relating to
that event. The complainant stated that Wiesel never denied the Armenian genocide. The article clearly
states that Wiesel spoke of the genocide later in his career.

The complainant objected strongly to the use of the phrase “high priest of the Holocaust” to describe
Wiesel, and argued the label is used in a derisive way by Holocaust deniers. The writer stated he is
aware of that use, but also that it was earlier used approvingly by Wiesel’s supporters. He cited a
meeting with a Holocaust scholar to support his view.

Recommendation from the Hearing Panel: Dismiss.

This position was arrived at after considering the extensive written materials submitted by the parties as well as
the further oral commentary provided during the hearing. The reasons are as follows:

The complainant’s contention is that Elie Wiesel denied the Armenian genocide until later in life,
maintained that there is no concrete proof that Wiesel ever denied the Armenian genocide and that the
columnist, therefore, made a factual error. The main evidence the complainant relied on was a
conference on the Holocaust that was scheduled to take place in Israel in 1982, where a number of
academic papers were to be presented – including several on the Armenian genocide. Wiesel was a cochair
of the conference and presumably had participated in putting the program together, including
inviting Armenian academics to present on the Armenian genocide. Before the conference could take
place, Turkey pressured Israel (including alleged threats to harm Jews living in Turkey) to dis-invite the
Armenian academics. Wiesel resigned his position as co-chair of the conference, as did many others,
leading to cancellation of the conference. Wiesel was criticized for stepping away from the conference
as a form of capitulation to Turkey’s wishes. The complainant’s view was that this could be legitimately
characterized as Wiesel being ‘guilty’ of not speaking up loudly enough for the Armenians, but not as a
denial.

The Star’s view was that the question of Wiesel’s acknowledgement, or lack thereof, of the Armenian
genocide was indisputably a highly debatable point among commentators, and, as such, the columnist’s
position is therefore defensible. The columnist further added that as a passionate voice against
genocide, Wiesel’s silence on the matter for many decades was tantamount to a denial. The Star further
argued that the columnist was not writing as an academic, and did not, therefore, have to provide
factual evidence of an explicit denial by Wiesel. This defense argued that the columnist had the
legitimate latitude to choose to state that there was an implicit act of denial on Wiesel’s part.

The panel agreed with the Star’s position that opinion columnists are given wide latitude to express
their own views and perspectives on controversial matters of public interest, and this particular matter
appears to fall in that category. In dismissing this complaint, however, the panel noted that the question
turns on the columnist’s use of the word “deny”. In choosing that term, he strongly implied there had
been an active denial on Wiesel’s part. The panel felt that had the columnist included his in his column
the perspective that he saw Wieisel’s silence ‘as an act of denial’, as he testified during the hearing,
there would have been no room for misinterpretation of his view on the matter.

With regard to the second issue raised by the complainant – that referring to Wiesel as the ‘high priest of
the Holocaust’ was a slur – the columnist defended his position by insisting it was a title used by
admirers, which other variations including ‘high priest of our generation’ and ‘high priest of Auschwitz’.

The panel again agreed with the Star, as it could be argued that in everyday usage these phrases are
quite similar. Moreover, given that the columnist is an opinion writer, and not an academic, he had the
latitude to use the phrase as he has done. However, in the original complaint, it was clear the Star had
not bothered to respond. During the panel hearing, a spokesperson for the Star said he thought the
issues the complainant was addressing were more appropriate in the form of a guest column or letter to
the editor. The council/panel suggested that this information might have been more properly conveyed
to the complainant at the time, rather than at the hearing.