The Canadian Menace

SARS, Toronto, and danger.

The SARS epidemic requires American newspaper readers to adjust to the novelty of seeing the words “danger” and “Toronto” in the same sentence. Canada is a famous underperformer in the creation of interesting news, so much so that the New Republic once pronounced “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” (the actual title of a column by the late New York Times panjandrum Flora Lewis) the most boring headline in human history. To assess precisely how dull a story Toronto has been until now, Chatterbox searched the Nexis database for all news stories published in the United States in which the words “danger” and “Toronto” could be found in close proximity (defined here as within three words of one another). The grand total was 75. By contrast, the alluringly noir Los Angeles and Miami scored 690 and 479, respectively; Chicago scored 480; New York City scored 285; and Washington, D.C., scored 137. Internationally, Moscow scored 401; London scored 326; Beijing (also counting its former anglicized spelling, “Peking”) scored 282; Baghdad scored 245; and Paris scored 136.

When you search all news stories in the Nexis database published internationally, “Toronto” has a much higher “danger” proximity score of 634. But this total is heavily reliant on the Canadian press, which we can presume has a much lower threshold for calling anything dangerous, in much the same way that a San Diegan will shiver and fret when the temperature dips below 70 degrees. Interestingly, the opposite phenomenon is at work when it comes to assessing the (very real) danger from SARS. Toronto’s official Web site finds fault with the World Health Organization’s travel advisory recommending that people who don’t absolutely have to go stay away from Toronto (along with China’s Shanxi province and Beijing). It pronounces the city perfectly safe. Well, sure, maybe compared to Bogotá