Maclean’s, Mark Steyn Fact check

We're used to warnings about European demographic collapse from Maclean's magazine. But who knew the entire population of one northern European country (plus several million extra invented nationals) had succumbed already? Apparently not even Mark Steyn, who covers that beat when he's not writing about movies, music, comics, and “free speech” or, Mark Steyn. In May 2009, a Maclean’s report claimed that “10 million Finns died under Lenin, almost half due to starvation” - remarkable, given Finland's 5 million current inhabitants numbered only about 3 million during the lifetime of Lenin. And he didn't even get to rule the small country.

Occasional corrections for minor errors or spelling mistakes lead us to believe editors are scrupulous about the truth. So why wouldn’t accidentally losing an entire ethnic group - an extermination almost twice as big as the holocaust - be worth as much as a dropped apostrophe in the corrections box of a major news magazine?

Finns I spoke to while there recently were surprised to hear about their demise. Steyn has already apparently claimed that 40% of neighbouring Malmo, Sweden, had been taken by the Muslims (this despite the city's website listing the 171 different national groups comprising Malmo’s 27% foreign-born population, the largest of which comes from Denmark). But Nokia country was not just going, it was gone. The author of the Finland piece seemed to disappear from Maclean's World section for a while, before re-emerging in the Winter Travel Guide area. In her new beat, she might check out Finland. Skiing’s good, and I hear there’s not many people.

The Globe and Mail and a few other outlets still seem willing to acknowledge errors, though Maclean's Paul Wells, writing recently about a Globe retraction, slammed it for “inaccuracy” and “weasel wording”. But he's consistent. Wells also penned an article addressing earlier inaccuracies in the work of Mark Steyn. Steyn himself, in another publication, rebuked those who don't “fact-check our own reporting”, outraged over one unconfirmed and (retracted), racist quote by Rush Limbaugh. “Where's the audio? Where's the transcript? Name the year!” he demanded. But neither his editors, nor Mr. Steyn, seem willing to deal with similar problems.

Here’s one:

In October 2009 Steyn wrote about environmentalists secretly plotting world government. “In the name of ‘the environment,’ the state gets to regulate everything you do", he reported. "The cap-and-trade bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, for example, is a bold assault on property rights: in order to sell your home—whether built in 2006 or 1772—you would have to bring it into compliance with whimsical, eternally evolving national ‘energy efficiency’ standards, starting with a 50 per cent reduction in energy use by 2018. Fail to do so and it would be illegal for you to enter into a private contract with a willing buyer”.

That claim was shown to be false by, along with the U.S. Homebuilders and Realtors Associations months before Steyn’s article was published.

"There’s no such requirement in the bill", they report, addressing an erroneous chain email. "It’s true that the bill sets new national efficiency standards for new residential and commercial buildings…But those efficiency benchmarks apply only to homes constructed after the bill becomes law, not currently existing ones. We found no requirement for energy audits or energy-efficiency inspections in the bill".

Weeks later, Steyn writes of Nidal Hasan: “barely had he got to Texas when he started making idle chit-chat praising the jihadist murderer of two soldiers outside a recruitment centre in Little Rock. 'This is what Muslims should do, stand up to the aggressors,' Major Hasan told his superior officer, Colonel Terry Lee. 'People should strap bombs on themselves and go into Times Square'. In less enlightened times, Colonel Lee would have concluded that, being in favour of the murder of his comrades, Major Hasan was objectively on the side of the enemy. But instead he merely cautioned the major …'You need to lock it up, major,’ advised the colonel”.

Those words are used to condemn Colonel Lee for "political correctness" - the "enabler", Steyn says, in Hasan's killing of 14 soldiers. Trouble is, Col. Lee is identified as “retired” in interviews he gave to Fox News, and all other reports, not as Hasan's "superior officer". And in the interview, Lee himself makes quite clear that the words Steyn claims Hasan said to him in Texas – “People should strap bombs on themselves and go into Times Square”, are unconfirmed, third party anecdote from some other time and place. Lee describes it as: “from a third source, so I can’t confirm that”, and as “comments to other individuals” “6 months ago”.

“Six months ago” would also be before July 2009, the date at which Hasan was posted to Texas (according to reports). So the unconfirmed comment appears to have been overheard by someone else, before Hasan arrived in Texas, not while he was there, as Steyn claims, and not by his “superior officer”, Col. Lee. Taken together, it would seem that the exchange Steyn reports did not take place as Steyn wrote it. A correction? Mark Steyn himself demands no less - for other writers.

Offering something other than music trivia, or cultivated ethnic resentment wrapped in prurient humour, is tough, and maybe not as entertaining as Muslim "sheep shagging" jokes and the scatological stuff, which, were you to simply quote Steyn in the comments section, disappears into the offensive language filter. What one might expect from someone who truly believes that civilization hangs in the balance is intelligent, workable solutions to real, complex problems - come to think of it, the things we might expect of any columnist. But if you're not up for that, there’s Barbie.

“Resisting terror is exhausting. It’s easier to appease it”, Steyn writes in “What signal does Barbie's burka send?” taking a brave stand against the plastic doll, and showing us he's no wimp (like the guys on that Greyhound Bus, or at L'Ecole Polytechnique). First Europe falls to the Islamists, now full-scale invasion by girls' toys.

Given 1,500 words in which the doll is linked to a list of Muslim atrocities (including Barbie’s missing clitoris) Steyn might have mentioned that there is no Burka Barbie on the market.

One of several reports: “'Burka Barbie' is part of a collection of 500 Barbie dolls previewed Friday in Florence, Italy, for an auction to benefit Save the Children. The exhibition and auction are backed by toy-maker Mattel, but the dolls were dressed by Italian designer Eliana Lorena... Three dolls are dressed in traditional Islamic dress”.

Let’s count those invading Barbies again: three. Three ordinary Barbies on which an idividual placed an ‘Islamic dress’, to be displayed on one occasion with 497 differently dressed Barbies, perhaps wearing her S&M look, Harley Davidson biker get-up, any of hundreds of other ethnic outfits, or posed in a wheelchair. (Orthodox Jewish Barbie is also available from someone in the U.S.) The answer to Steyn’s rhetorical question is that Barbie’s burka sends no signal, except the one Steyn has created for it by withholding that information, and linking her with rampant North American "honour killings".

On April 9, 2009, Steyn wrote about the slippery slope to polygamy that gay marriage has brought about, claiming: “Aly Hindy, a Scarborough imam, told the Toronto Star that he’d performed 30 polygamous marriages just in the last few weeks”.

I can’t find anything in the Toronto Star to support this. But a Toronto Star report (from May 24, 2008, a year earlier) reads: “In the past five years, Hindy said he has officiated or "blessed" more than 30 polygamous marriages; the most recent was two months ago.”

While the inflated numbers might be consistent with Steyn’s one-note theme or repeated reprise about the Muslim menace, there’s a pretty big difference between “30 polygamous marriages just in the last few weeks”, and 30 polygamous marriages “in the past five years”. (Steyn also neglects to mention that reports describe the unions as illegal). That looks like a slippery slope alright, but not to polygamy. Next thing you know, figures for demographic decline in newspapers and magazines could be inflated. Whole countries could disappear. Oh wait...that already happened… to Finland.