Author: Catherine Duquette
Editor: Ruth Sandwell
Series Editor: Roland Case
A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-16
Late in the evening of October 28, 1924, Peter Verigin boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Brilliant, British Columbia, the headquarters of the Doukhobor community. About one in the morning a horrific explosion blew away the roof and sides of the coach. Verigin and eight others perished in the explosion, which investigators on the scene quickly concluded was no accident.
Known by the single name “Lordly,” Peter Verigin lived like royalty among a group of Russian immigrants to Canada, the Doukhobors, whose motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life.” The Doukhobors preached equality and rejected the authority of both Church and State. As a result, they were persecuted in Russia. In 1902, their leader, Peter Verigin, and many of his community came to Canada to take up a new life.
Yet they did not find peace in Canada. Doukhobor protests against what they saw as governmental interference with their religious and political freedoms involved arson, public nudity, and refusal to pay taxes or send their children to school. Because of this unusual behaviour, many regarded the Doukhobors as undesirable citizens and they were under surveillance by the RCMP. The reports about the Doukhobors in the press were often negative. Was this fair reporting or evidence of media bias against this group? Even if the reporting was positive, does it mean that it was necessarily unbiased?
In this Mystery Quest, you will evaluate two articles written in 1924 about the controversial behaviour of a religious group, the Doukhobors. You must determine the extent to which each of the articles is fair or impartial reporting, and then defend or rewrite one of the articles.
In order to complete this task, you will first learn about the Doukhobors – their religious practices, their communal way of life, and their dislike of many aspects of Canadian society. You will also consider criteria for distinguishing biased from impartial reporting. Next, you will assess the two articles and decide on the extent to which they represent biased or fair reporting of the Doukhobors. Finally, you will write an editorial explaining why the least impartial article is substantially fair or you will rewrite it to offer a more impartial report.
STEP 1: Learn About the Doukhobors
To begin it will be helpful to learn something about the Doukhobors and their most famous leader, Peter Verigin. The historians working on the website Explosion on the Kettle Valley Line have provided two documents that they believe to offer an impartial summary of Doukhobor activities during the 1920s. The two documents are found in the “Secondary documents” section of Evidence in the Case.
As you read these interpretations, make note of key details about the Doukhobors’ history and way of life. You may want to use the chart Information Summary to record information on the following topics:
STEP 2: Reflect on bias and perspective
Before we can decide whether or not a newspaper account is unbiased, we must be clear about the difference between the concepts of “bias” and “perspective.” Many people use these terms interchangeably, creating the impression that everyone is biased simply because each of us has our own perspective or view on the world. This may be an overly simplistic and misleading assumption. If all people are necessarily biased, does this mean that no one is able to examine issues fairly and draw warranted conclusions in light of the available evidence?
If we look carefully at the meaning of these terms, we can better understand how some perspectives may be biased and others may not be. A perspective is a viewpoint from which a person sees an event. A perspective is biased if it unfairly prejudices the result in favour of one person or group. The opposite of bias is impartial. An impartial perspective indicates that the person has attempted to remove any prejudice in favour of or against one person or group by ensuring that all sides are fully represented and respected. Because it is difficult to be completely impartial, it makes more sense to talk about the degree to which a person’s perspective is biased or impartial. The following factors are helpful when making this assessment:
A perspective is impartial to the extent that the person is
A perspective is biased to the extent that the person is
Read the three fictional newspaper accounts of a high school hockey game found in Exploring Media Bias. In each case, look for indications of author bias or impartiality. If you have trouble determining which of the three accounts is the most impartial, go to Distinguishing Biased and Impartial Perspectives to learn more about these concepts.
STEP 3: Analysing the articles
You are now ready to analyse the two articles found in the “Primary documents” section of Evidence in the Case. We suggest you read each article twice. The first time look for the overall tone and purpose of the article. You may want to use the four questions found in the chart Putting the Articles in Context to guide your initial reading of the articles.
As you read each article a second time, look more closely for evidence of the following factors:
For each article, use a copy of Identifying the Degree of Bias to record clues you find about the author’s impartiality or bias. Assign each factor a score from +4 (highly impartial) to -4 (highly biased). Afterwards, offer your overall assessment of the degree of bias or impartiality of the document.
STEP 4: Rewrite or defend one of the articles
Choose one of the two articles you assessed, perhaps the one that is more biased. Your task is rewrite the article if it is biased, making sure you respect the criteria for impartial reporting, OR to write a newspaper editorial that explains to readers how and why it is fair or unbiased reporting.
Review the criteria for impartial reporting as you rework the text to bring it up to standard, or to defend its impartial nature. Make sure that your text meets the criteria of impartial reporting. Don’t forget you are writing for a newspaper and that it will be important to respect the style appropriate for an article.
The evaluation rubric Assessing the Degree of Bias may be used to assess how well you were able to meet the following criteria:
The evaluation rubric Assessing an Impartial Account may be used to assess how well you were able to meet the following criteria:
Explore other articles about the Doukhobors
Go the Archives and find other articles on the Doukhobors. Using the criteria for impartial reporting, determine the extent to which these articles are biased.
Are present-day newspapers more fair?
Find an article in your own local newspaper and apply the criteria for impartial reporting to see if it is more or less biased than the articles from 1924 that you read.
Find out more about the Doukbobors
Using the following websites, do more research into the Doukhobor society of early twentieth century society:
Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to other mysteries associated with the Doukhobors:
Activity Sheet: Information Summary
Activity Sheet: Exploring Media Bias
Activity Sheet: Putting the Articles in Context
Activity Sheet:Identifying the Degree of Bias
Background Information: Distinguishing Biased and Impartial Perspectives