Flag flap folly

On June 13, in the middle of layout for last week’s Advertiser, our Newsroom was abuzz after the Toronto Star posted a story online about a pride flag being removed from Wellington Heights Secondary School (WHSS) in Mount Forest.

The Star, motivated by its liberal-to-the-extreme agenda, decided to publish a story about a non-existent controversy in a town many of its staff would likely struggle to find on a map.

Of course, in typical Star fashion, the implication was that spineless small-town education officials caved to the demands of intolerant bumpkins (in this case from little ole Mount Forest) who were so offended by the mere sight of the rainbow flag that they demanded the LGBTQ symbol be banished forthwith from the school grounds.

After all, the Star can’t let the facts get in the way of what it thinks is a juicy story, especially at the expense of small-town Ontario.

Completely ignored in the Star’s story were the following:

– the flag removal actually took place four months ago (the article was devoid of any sort of timeline);

– the school and school board had, three weeks prior to the publication of the Star story, already found a solution to the issue (the installation of a second flag pole);

– the school/board received just one complaint about the flag itself and the rest were about flag etiquette (the Star article  cited “several complaints about the flag’s political weight”); and

– flag removal within the school board was not limited to the pride flag (earlier this year a Guelph school removed a Canada 150 flag because it violated the same etiquette guideline).

In what appeared to be a half-hearted attempt to remedy shoddy journalism, the Star posted a follow-up story by the same reporter two days later that noted a new flag pole has been ordered for the Mount Forest school.

But that article simply blamed the Newspaper’s gaffes on a school board spokesperson and failed to  mention the other glaring omissions in the original piece.

Of course, people in the community reacted strongly to the Star articles. Some, without all the facts, were shocked the school board would cave to intolerance and homophobia, while others staunchly defended the pride flag’s removal out of respect for our national flag.

The Star went out of its way to stress that the protocol stating the Canadian the flag should be flown on its own pole is simply a guideline – and not governed by legislation. That’s true, but being respectful isn’t the law either, it’s just the right thing to do.

We believe, particularly as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, few things are more sacred than our national flag. No other flag should fly on the same pole – ever.

And while one of the complaints about the WHSS pride flag may have been motivated by intolerance, that is not reflective of the attitudes of the people of Mount Forest. They generally are good people who want the best for everyone in their community.

Students at the school who identify themselves as part of the LGBTQ community, and those who support them, need not fear a backlash of any kind should they choose to speak out on matters of inclusion and acceptance.

But everyone knew all that already. The real lesson learned here is to get the entire story before forming an opinion and to be wary of big-city media telling small-town stories.

Don’t get us wrong, all media serve an important role. We’ve just seen it too many times: big media outlets, who mostly ignore this area, rolling in at the first hint of a controversy they can exploit (ie. – the proposed quarry in Rockwood, Nestlé Waters’ plans for a well near Elora, etc.).

Some locals get so intoxicated by the allure of a “national story,” they fail to realize that more often than not, the sensationalized accounts from these large, outside media sources are inaccurate.

Who gets it right? The local media outlets that are here every single day, all year long. We’re the ones who care about the communities we serve. We’re the ones who work hard to ensure all types of local stories are told – not just the negative ones. We’re the ones who have a vested interest in ensuring readers get all the pertinent details, not just the select few that help advance a predetermined agenda.

Most Advertiser readers realize these facts. And we hope the few  who don’t, keep us in mind the next time they want to run to Toronto-based media with a story idea.

We’re just down the road, after all, and we’ve been getting it right for close to 50 years.