Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Has the Media Become Canada's Natural Governing Body?

I really like Glen Pearson's blog. He is a decent guy, and while a Liberal MP, is always pragmatic. But he brought up an interesting point about the media. It really doesn't matter what a politician does or doesn't do, it would seem. It's about media perception and how it can make or break you.

"Andrew Coyne put forward an interesting premise a few days ago: “Time For Ignatieff To Take A Chance.” The popular Maclean’s columnist suggested it might be time for Michael Ignatieff to rip up those prepared speeches and just speak from the heart. He believes the public is looking for someone who’s truly “authentic” and they would likely “rush the barriers” to see Ignatieff if he just put it all out there. Coyne presses on to say that Canada’s present political climate is largely dishonest and timid – incapable of taking Canadians where they really need to go. It was a well-written column but I still wonder as to its premise.

"Let’s be honest: No political leader in their right mind dares to be as truthful as Coyne challenges because it would be the media itself that couldn’t withhold its skepticism long enough to truly investigate the merits of that leader’s case.

"Opposition parties would immediately pounce and all manner of bloggers, pundits and columnists would discuss the scary ramifications of such a daredevil proposition. I recall when Ignatieff came to London following a visit to Cambridge, in which he stated no leader would be worthy of the name if he or she didn’t place the possibility of raising taxes on a long list of future considerations if a deficit couldn’t be brought under control.

Political staffers mulled around, worried that it would be taken out of context, which it inevitably was. Media had a field day with it. Ignatieff, suffering from a gruelling cold, sat in a chair prior to the event in London and wondered what became of honesty in the public space. The very next day in the House, Conservative members used every possible occasion to ridicule Ignatieff, calling him just another “tax and spend” Liberal. The media ate it up.

We don't seem to want honesty anymore. It's like a reality television show, where everyone is hanging onto their seats waiting for a bikini top to fall off. What in the hell has happened to us?

"I watch it every day in Question Period. Like the half-mortal gods of the ancient Greeks, the media occupies the upper tier of seats in the press gallery and amuses itself on the vain actions and ambitions of the mere mortals below. When a minister, whom the gods appear to favour, responds to a question by minimizing the query in an amusing fashion, many of the gods merely smile outwardly at his brashness, refusing to acknowledge that, not only is the answer untruthful, it is, in fact, demeaning of a serious place of public debate.

"Politicians pick this up. Those that are ahead in the polls (supposedly favoured by the gods) at a given time look up to their communications benefactors, nod in greeting, and remain intent on schmoozing with the journalists at some event later in the day to maintain their favour. Those that are behind in public favour cast quick and insecure glances at the upper tier, wondering if the journalists will only make their lot worse the next day.

"Maybe, if we were all to be truthful, we should just acknowledge that the media has become Canada’s natural governing party – it remains when other parties stumble and fall.

Journalists and commentators facing horrendous deadlines find their work made easier when some politician steps out of line and in a rare moment of candour tells the truth. It’s far easier to mull over the effect of the statement than to truly take the time to consider its potential for damage or good. I read in a national daily today a well-known columnist whom I respect wonder if it might not be a wise time for Harper to cause another election if he wants to survive some upcoming challenges like Afghanistan.

"What’s with that? Ignatieff just took a national pummelling for threatening to force an election and now we have a pundit thinking it might not be a bad idea for Harper.

"I admit that, as a fairly new MP, I am confused by all of this. When I told an NDP MP friend of mine that I was going to write this post, she immediately replied, “Glen, don’t do it; they’ll dump on you.” But when everything we do in the House is meant to satisfy the media, little is left for true honesty and the need for serious public policy. Can Andrew Coyne guarantee a fair hearing from media colleagues for honest revelations from political leaders? Unlikely. I remain at a loss. Meanwhile the gods above observe … and enjoy their bemusement.

He makes a good point. We see it with polling. Headlines might read anywhere from 'Harper now in majority territory' to 'Michael Ignatieff polling worse than Dion'. A few honest journalists will admit that nothing is for sure and that the West is bringing the Ref-Cons numbers up disproportionately.

But it doesn't matter. The headline is embedded in our minds and when a pollster calls we 'go with the majority'. If the rest of the country thinks that Harper should have it then what the hell, right? Few in the media have the nerve to tell us what a Harper majority would like, nor do they care. They're just waiting for the next big headline, no matter how contrived.

And we are letting it happen. I can't tell you how many times the media has brought up the sponsorship scandal, despite the fact that it was investigated; involved no elected officials and the guilty paid. But every time a Reform-Conservative scandal comes up, the media have to add those two famous words: 'sponsorship scandal' and then everything Harper and his gang does just disappears Poof!

Can you imagine an accused murderer doing something like that? "Yes, I killed seventeen people so did someone else". "Oh well, alrighty then, you're free to go."

In many ways the media is complicit in the "In and Out", the 'Cadman Affair', mafia ties, patronage, nepotism, abuse of tax dollars ... because they dismiss them with two words that have more power than anything else in this country. 'Sponsorship scandal" ... they forget the other two little words "Just visiting'.

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