It's time to deal with the tactics I've encountered since deciding to work against the slaughter of pit-bull-like dogs. The behavior of Barbara Kay, in particular -- a columnist at the National Post -- has become disturbing. Ms. Kay is apparently incensed that I'm collaborating on a children's book that features a dog of this type. One of the many aims of this book, Galunker, is to rehabilitate the reputation of these slandered creatures. This upsets her.
Now, heated argument is normal, when it comes to contentious issues. What deviates from standard practice, however -- especially on the part of a professional journalist -- is an effort to silence your opponent.
Barbara Kay has yet to come after me in the National Post itself; she insists that she will; but much of our exchange has already ended up quite public. I told her via email that I was investigating Merritt Clifton, for instance, the self-styled "statistician" whose numbers uniquely support legislation against pit bulls. His conclusions go against every respectable study of this issue, so I thought I'd do some research into his work. Where does he publish? Are his statistics peer-reviewed?
Soon after I told her that I was looking into this, Barbara Kay published a review of my children's book -- a book that she hadn't read, because it did not yet exist. And where did she publish this? Not in the National Post, but on Merritt Clifton's blog. A savvy gesture. She expressly warned me that, if I published my exposé of Clifton, she would claim that it was retaliatory.
I published it anyway. Because I'm like that. (Most writers are; being silenced is unpleasant.) My piece on Clifton went up on September 24, and was shared widely; this was not welcomed by her cabal, whose entire argument rests upon these dubious statistics. Barbara Kay was given the opportunity to respond on the Huffington Post. I urge you to read both pieces and come to your own conclusions.
I'm happy that this site gave Barbara Kay an opportunity to respond. I sincerely hopes she responds to this piece as well. This is called "dialogue." It is the opposite of what she seems to enjoy.
The issue now goes beyond the unscientific effort to eradicate hundreds of thousands of dogs. It's about the effort to shut people up if they disagree with you.
Barbara Kay is determined to keep me from publishing what she deems unacceptable. She sent me the following ominous words in an email some time ago. I was hesitant to share them then, as we were in the midst of what I considered a civilized interview. Ms. Kay had approached me politely; she'd said that she was writing a book, and wanted to talk to me about "the role of intellectuals in rebranding the pit bull as a breed that presents no special risks." Fair enough. I was still giving her the benefit of the doubt: I assumed she was a well-intentioned writer, who had perhaps gotten a little carried away, rhetorically, just this once. Now that I'm aware that this is hardly an anomaly -- it's her modus operandi -- I think it's best to have this aired.
From Barbara Kay, on July 13:
And there is also no doubt in my mind that soon after the release of your book, when maybe hundreds of children have nagged their parents into getting them a rescue pit bull, the bad stories will start rolling in. And the stark reality is that the blood of those children will be on your hands, Doug. Which will be part and parcel of the themes I will explore when I write about Galunker.
I am not a celebrity journalist, but I do have a solid readership in Canada, most of them of the bourgeois educated type that are particularly gung ho on child safety. You are going to have to weigh your passion for pit bulls and your infatuation with the idea of sharing that passion with children against the possibility that rational minds in elite cultural circles will recoil from the dubious ethics inherent in the project. Which may in turn have a negative impact on your 'day job,' so to speak.
Please don't take that as a threat, although it is a head's up. I think of it more as honest counsel to think very seriously about what you are doing and perhaps reconsider. We can continue to discuss the issue if you like.
"Elite cultural circles." Oy. Ridiculous, but it's certainly not mean to be ridiculous: it's meant to be chilling. When I suggested that I might go public with these charming words, she emailed:
You know it was not a threat, and if you imply that it was, you will be lying. I will simply chalk it up as one more clue to your level of integrity and general character altogether. I won't bother writing to the HuffPo, though. Perhaps I will discuss it in my book's chapter on Galunker.
I'd hate to lie. Implication is cowardly. So, let's simply state this, categorically: what she sent me was a threat.
As I explained to her: "I take threats as threats. And for a journalist to tell someone that they'd better do something that goes against their conscience, or you'll compromise their employment, is -- to put it mildly -- unprofessional."
How precisely should I characterize those words? A "forceful suggestion"? An "offer I can't refuse"? I don't see any ambiguity: if I publish this book, Ms. Kay tells me, then she will use her influence as a journalist with the National Post to damage my career.
I have quoted what she sent, verbatim and in context. You are welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but I assure you that my reading of her words is utterly sincere: I firmly regard them as a threat. I suppose I could be mistaken -- not likely; that's your call. But it can't really be a matter of lying, can it.
Despite her threat, by the way, I do intend to release this book. And no, I won't have blood on my hands. You see, this book -- the one that she hasn't read -- has one overarching goal: to teach families how to keep their children safe in the presence of dogs. Part of that will involve concentrating upon what matters: behavior and circumstance. As opposed to what doesn't matter: breed.
Meanwhile, Barbara Kay can already take some credit for the million or so pit-bull-like dogs killed unnecessarily, every single year, in shelters across the continent. Maybe just a little bit of credit -- a few drops of blood -- but those hands aren't quite clean. Pardon the ugly joke, but I imagine her staring at pictures of still-living pit bulls and crying, "Out, damned Spot!"
My nefarious goal, I'm afraid, is to keep Spot alive.
For those concerned: I suspect my day job will survive. I've yet to hear of a novelist whose career foundered because a journalist bitterly opposed his principled position on animal welfare.