Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The FLQ and the Quebec October Crisis

A Media Chasm

English and French newspapers and radio stations in Montreal were divided by a deep ideological chasm, with the Anglo media expressing outrage at the kidnappings and some among the French all but cheering on the terrorists.

On Oct. 11, the French-language Quebec-Presse published a remarkable editorial endorsement:

To our way of thinking the shattering diagnosis attributed to the sickness in Quebec by the Front de liberation du Quebec is well-founded and correct. ... Clandestine action is chosen for tactical reasons: when and in what circumstances is terrorist action justified? This much is certain, it is not up to those in power to pass judgment. The winners of the last election ... are not in a position to teach anyone any moral, political or social lessons. The fact that the spokesmen of an establishment, which has been denounced by the FLQ, take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the majority and to condemn terrorist action this week proves nothing...The only valid judgment possible can come from the people.

James Cross' captors also allowed him to write a series of personal letters, which were delivered via French radio stations. News employees there read the letters on the air before allowing the victim's loved ones or the authorities to have a look, and journalists speculated wildly on the air about possible secret messages in the notes.

The terrorists communicated frequently with competing French radio stations, which rushed on the air with any new "exclusive" communiques.

Media analyst Raphael Cohen-Almagor later concluded that the coverage was a textbook example of irresponsible journalism.

"Influential segments of the French media served the interests of the terrorists and ignored the interests of the victims, as well as the interests of Canada as a free, democratic society," Cohen-Almagor wrote. "Journalists broke almost every ethical norm that is accepted during hostage-taking episodes; they did not hesitate to sensationalize and to dramatize the event, stirring up emotions in a way that hindered governmental operations...They gladly offered their services as mediators and messengers of the terrorists, disregarding their obligation to accurate reporting, and broadcast the terrorists' communiques without the consent of the authorities. Through their extensive sympathetic coverage, French journalists not only provided a grand platform for the terrorists, but also legitimized their demands and actions...With their sensational speculations about Cross' coded letters, the reporters endangered his life. They forgot that their story was Cross' real-life drama."

 

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