Where were the trail bosses? Responsible journalism failed: Jim Brown & the media
In the wake of the resignation of Corporal Jim Brown just days before his scheduled disciplinary hearing, which resulted after the widespread, and often wrong, reporting regarding his BDSM pictures and activities, this blogger felt it was worth revisiting that media investigation.
The RCMP investigation may very well have uncovered some allegations or received proof of some unsavory behavior on the part of Corporal Brown, in the course of my covering this story I certainly heard some allegations that were concerning about him. The sort of accusation the RCMP vehemently defends with regards to a great many other officers, to its shame.
What is clear, at this point, is that Jim Brown is out of a job, because of an internal investigation that never would have happened had a Vancouver Sun reporter not made questionable ethical decisions of his own, and a rush to judgement that would predicated a national media scandal. This is that story, as it originally appeared here on July 9, 2012, with updates added afterwards below it.
July 9, 2012: The media is often like a herd of cattle, one starts to run with what they see as a major story, then there’s a stampede, and once they’ve got their head it’s hard to get them to switch directions, even if they’re running the wrong way.
In the case of the Corporal Jim Brown story the stampede was started by Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun, who broke a story the basis for which was a series of photographs purported to be of the Mountie engaged in BDSM activities, the most sensational of those being ones of a man engaged in a staged but violent appearing sequence involving a knife, fake blood and a naked woman. As first reported here on Erotic Vancouver the man in those photos is not Brown. The stampede, it turns out, began with a false premise. A premise made sensationalized not only by those photos, but by a description of one by Mr. Mulgrew. A description Erotic Vancouver asserts was fabricated by Mr. Mulgrew.
“In some of the graphic pictures obtained by The Vancouver Sun, Coquitlam Cpl. Jim Brown appears to wear only his regulation-issue Mountie boots and an erection as he wields a huge knife and a bound naked woman cringes in terror.” Besides the sensational but now discredited photos this was the money shot of the story. The line is catchy, no doubt formulated with water cooler conversations in mind. It would run not only in Mr. Mulgrew’s story, which was picked up by papers across Canada, but it would be parroted in the National Post article which gave a nod to its author.
And it appears that, like the work of many great authors, it is a work of fiction. Erotic Vancouver has covered the details of the fabricated picture and Mr. Mulgrew’s at best-questionable sourcing.
But the problem goes beyond one reporter, one paragraph and one story. The problem goes to the difficulty in turning the herd.
The first bull to run
This blogger isn’t going to try to piece together all of the events that lead to this point; the questions surrounding the Pickton investigation, and specifically the Coquitlam RCMP detachment; the Missing Women’s Inquiry; and of course the details of Corporal Brown’s private life. What we are going to do is to look at the timeline of the press involvement in this story.
We’ll start not with the first media to begin the investigation, but with Mr. Mulgrew’s assertions of where it all began for him.
On either Monday July 2 or Tuesday July 3* Mr. Mulgrew met with an anonymous source who he claims showed him pictures on a computer screen. These appeared to be shots taken from the web, but they were not on any website when Mr. Mulgrew viewed them. (Despite the fact that Mr. Mulgrew refers to “an internet website” and a “S&M website” in his story, in my conversation with him on Friday afternoon he purported not to know where the photographs had been posted. He claimed to have not even have heard of Fetlife until after his story had run.)
After showing him the pictures and telling them they were of Corporal Brown, Mr. Mulgrew’s anonymous source asked if he would like to see more. Mr. Mulgrew said yes, and shortly thereafter he says a plain brown envelope showed up on his desk with about 60 photos inside. 60 photos which did not include one of a man, naked except for Mountie boots and a knife.
At this point Mr. Mulgrew contacted the Mounties, he claims he expected them to deny that this could be Corporal Brown, and when they didn’t the old press bull got the scent of something in his nostrils. He started to run.
A second bull is spooked
Meanwhile the CBC was in the midst of an investigative report of Corporal Brown. As far back as June 27 they had made inquiries of the RCMP, asking whether Brown was being investigated. Their aired report on Thursday, July 5 contained footage of and a description of an email exchange from weeks or months earlier, allegedly between Corporal Brown and someone he believed to be a prospective partner. Erotic Vancouver has learned that CBC investigative journalist Natalie Clancy had in fact been at work on a story concerning Corporal Brown for months.
Whatever the case, Erotic Vancouver speculates that the CBC had either not yet committed to a story, or felt they still needed more information to go to air with one. But then Mr. Mulgrew started to run with it, and fearing they’d be left behind by the herd the CBC started to run as well, with more information than Mr. Mulgrew, but unfortunately basing much of their coverage on the soon to be discredited photo sequence. But at least their report was minus any fabricated information.
The herd follows
After the Sun story hit the stands Mr. Mulgrew appeared on the CKNW morning shows. His report would run on the Global BC website and form the basis of their television coverage. Because the Vancouver Sun is owned by Post Media Mr. Mulgrew’s report was picked up by at least one other paper in that group.
CTV ran with the story, receiving their own set of pictures, albeit a much smaller one, shortly after the Sun piece had run.
The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, The Canadian Press and the National Post all ran stories with information they’d gleaned from the early coverage by the CBC and the Sun, and what more they could learn with a few quick interviews.
Psychologists, lawyers for the Missing Women’s Inquiry and others were consulted and weighed in with their own agendas and views, often shaped by the misinformation provided by the media.
Television newscasts, radio stations and daily newspapers joined the stampede, from Victoria to Halifax. None, it seemed, wanted to be the lone cow left standing in the field, left behind by a herd that must know where it was going.
Hard to turn
In the early hours of Friday morning, at just about 3:15am, this blog was first to report that the most sensational pictures associated with the story were not of Corporal Jim Brown. That information was press released to many of the major news outlets covering the story immediately. The Vancouver Sun, CKNW, the CBC, Global BC, and the Huffington Post were amongst the first to receive that information. In addition to contacting their news desks attempts were made to reach individual reporters who had written on the story.
CKNW was first to contact this blogger, and I appeared on the Bill Good show via phone on Friday morning to state categorically that the man in the knife photos was not Corporal Brown. Jennifer Skrukwa, a local sex positive activist and educator, also appeared on the show and stated that the man was not Jim Brown. At that point the herd began to falter a little, phoning and checking to find out what they could about the knife photos. I was personally contacted by the CBC, CTV and The Canadian Press within hours. Ms. Skrukwa and others in the local BDSM scene were contacted by some of those same news outlets and others.
Over the course of the next 24 hours we would learn that many in the media had begun to regret joining the stampede. Still, nobody it seemed was prepared to change direction. Part of the herd would proceed on the path they’d set out on, seeking new justifications for taking that path. Others would just stop dead.
As I spoke to reporters on Friday afternoon and into the early evening it became clear that some had had reservations about the story, but they’d felt compelled to run anyway. The Canadian Press reporter Terri Theodore expressed regret for not trusting her instincts from the start that something wasn’t right with the story. She worried about her credibility because she’d written that all of the photos were of Brown. She barely thought there was story when she believed that the knife photos were of Brown, minus those there was simply no story.
Much of the rest of the media would refuse to see that logic. The herd had run, damn it, so there had to be a good reason. Jim Brown was a bad seed. A sadomasochist. A possible sexual sadist. He had to be, after all, because the herd had run.
After Friday fewer stories would appear in the press about Corporal Brown. Of those that had appeared many would remove the photos that were of a man other than Corporal Brown. Despite the fact that many people had stepped forward to categorically state that the man in the knife photos that had run in the press was not Brown, most outlets chose to claim that there was controversy over the images, or that they were in question. The Globe and Mail, for instance, stated “But the matter became muddled on Friday when a local erotica organization said the most controversial images linked to the officer were not, in fact, him but someone else. (The B.C. RCMP refused to comment on developments Friday, saying there is an investigation under way).”
When everyone who has stepped forward says that the knife photos are not of Brown, including individuals such as this blogger who are willing to do it publicly, and the only source claiming they are Brown is a plain envelope delivered anonymously, then that’s something that isn’t controversial, in question or muddled, it’s refuted.
Most media outlets were also reluctant to credit the breaking of the picture story. That portion of the herd simply wanted to stop. They didn’t want anyone finding out anymore about their unfortunate choice to run.
When I spoke to Mr. Mulgrew on Friday he indicated that there was more to come. He insisted I shouldn’t judge him on his early coverage of the story, even if he’d gotten things wrong, he’d be making up for that. He insisted his story in Friday’s paper was somehow better, and that still more information would be forthcoming. I was left with the impression that a story would run in Saturday’s Sun. None did.
While the Sun ran no stories, they also ran no corrections or retractions. Unlike other media outlets they would make few concessions on the photographs. They would take them down off their website but they would not mention why. In fact they wouldn’t even mention they had once been there – they would simply disappear. Of course Mulgrew’s damning descriptions of those photos would remain, along with the money quote and the description of a photograph that Mr. Mulgrew cannot produce, and which no one else has seen. One individual I asked for an opinion on Mr. Mulgrew’s story of the photos simply said, “That’s bull.”
Bringing the herd home
The herd has stampeded, and it’s important to get them back on the path. That means that we need to hold them accountable. Letters to the editor need to be written. Phone calls need to be made. Individuals have been calling lawyers.
But not everyone has simply stopped. I’m confident that there are reporters out there starting to wonder and ask some of the same questions I am.
- Who or what started this stampede? Mr. Mulgrew claims to have one anonymous source (an individual known to him) and one unknown source – the source of the plain brown envelope?
- What is that source’s motivation and link to Corporal Brown? Do they hold a grudge? Did they believe that it was Corporal Brown in all of the photographs, or did they just hope that others would?
- Would this have been a story minus the knife photos? If not, is a near total retraction warranted?
- Where, as the title of this piece asks, were the trail bosses?
- What led editors to sign off on this, particularly Mr. Mulgrew’s editors?
Repeated calls to Mr. Mulgrew Sunday night and Monday morning were not returned.
The Vancouver Sun editorial staff was contacted and asked about the Sun’s anonymous sourcing requirements and whether those protocols were followed in this case. No call back had been received by the time this blog post went up.
And there are questions about Corporal Brown to be asked as well.
Was his decision to wear his RCMP riding boots in BDSM photographs acceptable? Should he face some disciplinary action if it was not?
Did he conduct himself professionally at all times while acting as an RCMP officer? A complaint against the Corporal that was apparently dismissed is going to warrant attention from the media.
Finally, there are questions about the officer’s possible attendance at parties at Piggy’s Palace, the after hour’s party house on the Pickton farm. If Jim Brown, or any police officer, was at parties at Piggy’s Palace and has not come forward before now it’s a serious matter. An unconscionable one. But it appears there is nothing to suggest that there is anything more to this than rumour and innuendo. At this point no one can point to a source that suggests this ever occurred.
Photos showing Jim Brown engaged in SM play do not constitute such evidence. Nor do they mean, as some would suggest, that Corporal Brown is a sexual sadist, a damning psychiatric diagnosis. The evidence is that he is a consensual sadomasochist; there is a world of difference. It is, quite simply, vilification.
Many of the questions that are going to be asked of Corporal Brown are, quite frankly, unfair. They should not need to be asked. They should not need to be answered.
But the herd has stampeded, and some of the beasts have yet to stop or turn. And the danger in not having those questions answered is that Corporal Brown, and potentially other innocent parties, are going to get flattened.
As for Mr. Mulgrew, if this stampede was in part started not simply because of a credulous mistake, but if it was lent speed by fabricated description or fact, then it’s time for the trail bosses, for the Vancouver Sun, to cull him from the herd.
By Reive Doig
*Correction: This story initially incorrectly indicated Mr. Mulgrew was first learned of Corporal Brown’s BDSM photos on July 9 or 10, rather than July 2 or 3.
Reive Doig is the editor of Erotic Vancouver Magazine, a website devoted to promoting local sex positive events, spotlighting and linking to sexuality stories in the media, and offering media criticism of sex negative stories in the press. Reive is a sex positive activist, polyamorist and a proud bisexual man. He is an active member of Vancouver’s kink community.
He is also a partner in the monthly fetish night NOIR Fetish Ball and sits on the board of PACE.
Erotic Vancouver would like to acknowledge and thank CKNW , CTV and CBC, the only three media outlets to acknowledge Erotic Vancouver’s role in this story.
Update April 27, 2016: Coroporal Jim Brown resigned from the RCMP days ahead of a scheduled disciplinary hearing on the allegations that arose as a result of the Vancouver Sun story and the ensuing media scandal, the CBC has reported. More information to come.
Update July 15, 2014: On Wednesday, July 9th Darryl Greer reported in Courthouse Newsthat “James Charles Brown sued the Pacific Newspaper Group, Postmedia Network, columnist Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun publisher Kevin D. Bent, Wayne Moriarty (the complaint misidentifies Moriarty as editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Sun; he is, in fact, the editor-in-chief of the group’s Province Newspaper), former National Post editor Stephen Meurice, columnist Brian Hutchinson, and former Post publisher Doug Kelly.“
Update October 18, 2012: In the wake of recent revelations regarding this case, and with the media spotlight once again shining brightly on it, Erotic Vancouver wanted to once again make this article available on the front page for our regular readers and new visitors.
You can expect to read more about this case, and specifically our investigation into the Vancouver Sun’s initial handling of it, in the weeks ahead with legal action being taken by Corporal Brown against the publishers of the Sun and reporter Ian Mulgrew.
Update September 6, 2012: Erotic Vancouver was informed by a source at the CBC that there was a picture that of Corporal Brown that was similar to the description Ian Mulgrew provided that this piece takes issue with. That picture has not been produced, despite requests to see it, and no other source at the CBC or with any other news outlet has supported that claim. The Vancouver Sun has declined to comment.