Spokesgayte 2012

It’s a tempest in a teapot in one sense, but did you know that TPL’s Spokesgaysian, Ab “Six-Pack” Velasco, wrote an entire article for a city blog about a tenant of the Toronto Public Library without disclosing that he too is linked to the library?

I didn’t know, either – until cherubic Hebraic gadfly Goldsbie Twitted about it. So that gives you an indication of just how much impact Velasco’s article, grandly entitled “Why Balzac’s and the Reference Library are a perfect fit,” really made after it was published a month and a half ago. I’m sure that had something to do with the fact the publisher was the near-irrelevant BlogTO. (They’re Number 1 at being Number 2.)

Just to remind you what conflict of interest means

It is an ethical violation for a paid employee of an institution to write an advertorial for a paid tenant of that institution without a disclaimer. (It might still be unethical even with a disclaimer.) Not only wasn’t a disclaimer included at time of publication, one still isn’t visible now.

Guess who doesn’t see a problem with any of this?

  1. BlogTO editor Tim Shore:

    We are aware of Ab’s role at the TPL, but we didn’t feel this was a conflict. We don’t feel the reporting was biased at all by his position at the TPL, nor was Balzac’s or the TPL portrayed in a way that we feel would not have been done by any other writer on our team.

    In other words, we would have published a rave anyway.

    If you have specific issues with facts or details presented in the story, please let me know.

    I wanted to believe that Shore was pretending not to understand that conflict of interest is a structural issue, not one of New Yorker–style fact-checking. Since Shore wouldn’t comment on that issue at all after I brought it up, I think he really is unclear on the concept. He later insisted “We are more vigilant than most to keep a strict separation between editorial and advertising.” Those less-strict publications would be which, exactly? And besides, this isn’t about paid advertisers.

    Like so many Millennials, Shore exhibits a fatal combination of ignorance and entitlement. He isn’t just acting this stupid.

  2. Spokesgaysian himself: “When I pitched my piece and before I wrote it, I checked first with both the library and BlogTO. Both didn’t feel there was/is a conflict.”

  3. Spokesgaysian’s boss, the generally level-headed and sensible Linda Hazzan: “Ab made us aware of his interest in writing this article, and he checked with the library before pitching it to his editor to see if we felt there was any conflict. We didn’t feel there was, as it was a profile of the Balzac’s owner, rather than a piece on the library.” Except that a TPL employee is talking up a TPL tenant.

The punchline

Neither the Toronto Ombudsman nor the Integrity Commissioner has purview over the library. (At all!) The city auditor probably doesn’t, either.

That leaves the pols, hacks, seat-fillers, apologists, and registered lobbyists on the TPL Board – the same Board that wants advertising plastered hither and yon on date-due slips, library vans, and elsewhere. I can already hear Mike Foderick’s boisterous defence of somebody who doesn’t even work for him, delivered in a tone of disbelief that anyone would dare bring this up.