Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Hercule Poirot and Nancy Drew.
Part of our fictional world list of some of the best “investigators”. All, amazingly adept at solving crime and the puzzles created by dastardly human behaviour. They were also very quick– often taking less than two hours or a few hundred pages to get to the bottom of it all. Of course, they were largely unburdened of actually presenting scrutable evidence and were also able to evade the vagaries of court rooms. Sadly, reality is much different. Or is it?
Like those fictional characters our new world reality has let loose upon us a burgeoning group of “investigators”. Strutting their investigational chops via the internet and the ever broadening world of social media. We are being inundated by a variety of individuals, from every walk of life, from every strata of society, all proclaiming themselves to be conducting revealing “investigations”. A cacophony of personalities with a view, a particular bent, a hunch, or just full of righteous indignation, wanting and willing to expose all of society’s evils. Able to reach quick decisions and thus clearing the way for simple formulations and black and white conclusions. We, the demanding public, have created the 21st century ‘investigator”, but is it our very own Frankenstein?
Television, podcasts, blogs, and the like are all granting themselves diplomas in a range of investigative abilities. No one is a poor investigator (which actually would be refreshing) everyone is a top notch, state of the art, card carrying 007. Overnight, they become self-proclaimed experts in forensics, interviewing, psychology, sociology and anthropology. Often they are polygraphic savants.
Their tools are their laptops and video viewers, able to see in video and photos the clues that have apparently long evaded all others.
They make broad assumptions such as: police can not see what we see; that their single witness can be relied upon for the singular truth; that the blood on the wall must be the blood of the victim; that clearly he/she is lying.
In this country, the big media; CTV, Global and the CBC have all fallen into the trap of filler versus content. They zealously portray many of their programs as being “investigative” journalism. Then, annually they take turns giving awards to each other.
Netflix, Amazon, Apple are all pushing programs claiming new or re-opened cases. Old murders, new murders, all slotted in and vying for views and likes, spliced in amongst their UFO “investigations”.
According to Wikipedia, an investigator “searches for clues, to gather evidence. They interview people, verify information, conduct surveillance, find missing persons, and gather vital facts for cases.” A rather shallow hurdle, allowing for a broad range of people with access to a microphone or a laptop to search for clues and evidence. All are now becoming involved, from the clearly mentally unstable to the geek in the basement watching his neighbours with his Ring camera.
The general public are equally at fault, falling into the irrational abyss– that if it is posted it must be true. It is truly rare that someone examines the information being provided with any sense of a critical eye. We look at an insurance company investigating an auto accident equally to that of the police investigating that same accident? A private investigator working for defence counsel proclaims findings in front of a herd of photographers is seen and measured through the same lens as the actual court record itself.
The internet investigators, the ones who are in some cases interfering with the actual gathering of evidence are often in a category to themselves. Digital photo or video captures often represent the height of their evidence and in most cases no attempts are made for corroboration.
Podcasts abound where the evidence is gathered on a slant, the perspective honed by a clear pre-set belief, often allowing a singular allegation as sufficient to condemn a person in the court of public opinion. The most recent glaring example in the U.S. is the Kyle Rittenhouse case in Kenosha Wisconsin, where even the President of the United States Joe Biden was quickly convinced by the media “investigation” that he suggested that Rittenhouse was a white Supremacist on two occasions. The fact that the victims were in fact white eluded the media and internet investigators. Since it was at a protest over Black Lives Matter– that it must have been black individuals who were the victims.
The CBC is one of this country’s greatest advocates of this investigative sleight of hand. A recent example is what prompted this particular blog.
The template seemingly being followed by the CBC goes like this:
1) Have a viewpoint and then set out to prove it.
2) Make sure it is portrayed as ‘ground breaking” (even if it isn’t)
3) Find people who are willing to support both your proposition and your findings. (Disregard all others)
4) The headlines should reflect some sort of conclusion. (whether the body of work supports it or not)
e) Make it look like a massive amount of work.
There are plenty of examples, but this most recent example is a classic.
There are three identified “investigative” journalists in the masthead: Tara Carman, Kimberly Ivany, and Eva Uguen-Csenge. Tara is the “senior investigator” and is a “data journalist” which should give you a bit of clue of the nature of the evidence that is about to be revealed. Kimberly is an associate producer for the 5th Estate (another clue) and Eva is an “investigative video journalist” with a like for “data-driven” stories.
So these three individuals spent 16 months, put in over 30 Freedom of Information requests, then scoured the media entries and looked for fifty different “data points” concerning domestic homicides. They looked at the period of time between 2015 and 2020. The headline of the eventual story in its many forms is to be titled “Deadly Relationships”.
They claim and there is no reason to doubt them, that they have “examined” 400 cases.
Their pre-theory seems to have been that there are commonalities to all domestic homicides; and that they can be measured as predictors of the future of the crime.
Their conclusion was that “these crimes are preventable.” Pretty dubious theory, but using their measuring stick one can maybe say all crime is “preventable”.
Remembering the pre-mentioned template and the need to hype the findings they say– “the data points a never-before-seen mosaic of relationships that turn deadly. ” Never before seen is clearly a stretch of the truth, but the idea that they could predict and thus prevent this horrendous problem is really playing outside the sandbox. This is a crime that has been around as long as humankind and studied in many courses of psychology and sociology, but this investigative series is somehow new and revealing?
So what earth shattering “evidence” did they find in their quest? Well, lets start off with the mind-bending statistic that 3/4 of the victims were women, and, that 78% of the accused were men. Who could have guessed that?
Here are some other examples of their purported belief altering discoveries.
- 1 in 5 cases had been involved in recent or pending separations
- that in 15% of the cases there were patterns of coercive and controlling behaviours
- 36 out of the 400 had had protective court orders in place
- the most common charge was 2nd degree murder, followed by manslaughter
- the most common weapon, the knife, the 2nd the gun (you were probably guessing blow dart)
- 1 in 4 victims of homicide were Indigenous, clearly making them “over represented”. They represent 6% of the population and 18% of the homicides. By the way more Indigenous men were killed as well, then caucasian. Again “over-represented”.
Of course there would be no story without a villain.
So they point to some nefarious police behaviour. They accuse the police of “hiding these things” under ” a cloak of secrecy”. This is because the police did not reveal all the names on some of these investigations when served with a Freedom of Information request, the police arguing the privacy act. Not good enough according to these intrepid investigators.
Then came the interviews of all the victims of domestic violence who praised the CBC investigators for uncovering such a large stash of un-before seen findings. It would be all so laughable if it wasn’t such a serious subject.
So what should constitute an investigation? What are “investigator” qualifications? Is there a characteristic that is unique to being allowed to pronounce one as an investigator or your findings constituting an investigation?
It comes down to experience, one’s qualifications, and the level of inquiry.
In policing, it is the ability to sit in a room with someone having just killed their child and remain above the mental sewage and still able to try and show empathy. Or to sit with the rape victim through a rape forensic kit –knowing that this is the easy first step in a long investigation and court process. It’s the ability to enter a blood encased crime scene and interpret the meaning of the splatter, the placement of a fibre or a shell casing.
In some investigations, forensics, data knowledge and the ability to follow a paper trail is an asset, but in the end, there still has to be some knowledge and measurement of human behaviour. An ability to interact with people, to read and predict their reactions and their level of truthfulness. Not to judge, not to assume, to always be wary of preconceived notions. One needs to pick up and learn the patterns of human frailty.
We simply can not continue to downplay experience and the passage of time spent embracing a particular field of knowledge.
Of course, it takes years for this level of understanding to be able to refer to yourself as an investigator. By saying you are an investigator on LinkedIn or in a podcast does not make it so. Taking a Masterclass by an investigator will not make it so, just as a Masterclass by a novelist will not make you Ernest Hemingway.
We are a too impatient a society. We demand instant answers to complex situations. We don’t like grey, just black and white. We need to understand that it takes time. It is hard work. If it is not there then the contents and findings should be disregarded.
This is not to say that the media and some news organizations are not doing investigative journalism. ProPublica, the New Yorker, PBS Frontline, and the Washington Post are examples of investigative journalism, definitely left leaning but they are still maintaining standards of fact checking and corroboration. The Globe, the National Post, and the Financial Times have sporadic moments of in depth coverage, but they too are getting pulled into the fires of hyperbole.
For you in the CBC, and your latest foray into in-depth reporting, I am just asking that you call your “investigation” what it was– a “review” of data. No doubt it was time consuming and maybe even worthy in someone’s eyes, but it was not an “investigation”.
I think one should have to earn the moniker of “investigator”.