Three Days ’til Canadian Election; Three Traditional Media Things to Ponder
Dateline: April, 28th, 2011. Ottawa.
I’m not usually crazy about jumping in and making judgements about media content, but three things in the context of the role of the press in the Canadian election today screamed out for some kind of observation and comment:
(1) the Globe & Mail’s terrible editorial endorsement of Harper for the next acceptable PM;
(2) Conservative poster-boy, Andrew Coyne’s conversion to Liberalism in Maclean’s magazine.
(3) Sun TV/Quebecor media baron, Karl Pierre Peledeau’s, defense of bad journalism at his new SunTV — or the so-called Fox News North — as somehow being proof that the Quebecor Media Group that he presides over is not the mouthpiece of the Harper Government, despite the fact that
(a) Harper’s recent spin-doctor, Kory Teneycke is directing the operations of the newly relaunched Sun TV (aka Fox News North) and
(b) former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sits on its board of directors.
In a ‘drive-by smear campaign’ on Michael Ignatieff gone bad, Peladeau’s Sun Media empire got caught with its fingers in the Harper Admin’s pockets this week. It’s crime? Publishing photos supplied by someone close to Harper’s Conservatives purporting to show Ignatieff at briefing sessions with military minions of the Bush Administration during events leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
Heads have rolled; Peledeau has tried to use this as an excuse to distract attention from the fact that the Quebecor Media Empire is a populist tool of the Harper Conservatives. The problem, however, is that while the photos were false, the story behind is basically true.
Michael Ignatieff was close to the Bush and Blair administrations. However, so caught up in contortions with its obvious political entanglements with the ruling political party, neither Peledau nor anyone else at QMG seems to know that, in its essential features, the story about Michael Ignatieff that the faked photo purports to tell was actually right.
As one of the main architects of the R2P (Right to Protect) Doctrine after the ravages of Rwanda and Bosnia, Ignatieff was an intellectual star at the early days of the 21st century with his new and improved version of ‘just war’: R2P, or humanitarian intervention. He was listened to in high places.
In a famous essay that he wrote in the New York Times Magazine, in January 2003 — before the U.S. invaded Iraq — Ignatieff endorsed the war not only according to the standards of the ancient ‘just war’ doctrine, but by a new and improved ‘call of duty’: humanitarian intervention.
The essay thrust him into the spotlight in ‘international circles’. He was a former BBC presenter now kicked into the limelight with big ideas that he could very ably defend from his perch at Harvard.
Ignatieff argued strenuously why the Bush II Admin was right to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. He called it Humanitarian Intervention, and so did the Bush and Blair administrations.
Turn-coat leftists like Christopher Hitchens espoused the ideas as well. Rwanda and the former Yugoslovia made the ideas seem commendable too. For conservative hard-liners, the velvety words provided excellent cover for an iron fist and dubious motives.
In 1899, Mark Twain, yes the author of Huckleberry Finn fame, told us to be wary of the likes of Ignatieff and the allures of forays into distant lands on the grounds that somehow you’d help poor ‘brown’ people out, and then leave them shortly thereafter much better off than they had, or would have been.
As Twain said, these are the noble robes of empire and militarism, and the initiatives they justify typically end in tears. They rot the institutions and moral fabric of republican democracy.
From Twain to twits, all of this is public record, and so it should be part of the Canadian national election agenda. In that sense, Sun Media, despite itself, gave us a wee glimpse of something important, then backed away, frightened of what it saw.
So yesterday, Peladeau did all that he could to back his QMI group away from the truth, caught between a Harper Government that has put military muscle behind R2P, on the one hand, and a strategy to besmirch Ignatieff, on the other. Without a moral compass, what’s a poor media mogul to do?
There is good reason to be skeptical of Michael Ignatieff, but not for the banal stuff that the vast Quebecor Media Group typically peddles.
Surveying the scene, the editors announced:
“We are nearing the end of an unremarkable and disappointing election campaign, marked by petty scandals, policy convergences and a dearth of serious debate. Canadians deserved better”.
Unremarkable? By what standards? Petty scandals? Only when you list them in the banal way the editors did.
A lack of serious debate? Isn’t that what the press, and especially national agenda setting media like the Globe & Mail and the QMG are suppose to do? Is this really an indictment of the sad state of Canadian politics, or an admission of failure on the Globe’s and the rest of the media’s part?
The campaign is remarkable for both the reasons it was called — “a disrespect for Parliament, the abuse of prorogation, the repeated attempts . . .to stanch debate and free expression, as the Globe editors list but fail to elaborate on — and for just how f*%cking exciting it’s actually been for anybody who cares to have a look. A Layton-led coalition anyone? I’m not advocating, just saying . . .
Advance polls are up 35 percent; neighbourhood by neighbourhood combat for voters, so some commentators say, is taking place, although the jury is still out on whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing; young people who are taking their first ‘official’ political steps are organizing vote mobs on campuses across the country and partying like it is 1999; local debates like the one my eighteen year old daughter attended tonight that have an airy sense of political community about them; Jack Layton storming Quebec, and perhaps on to taking Manhatten, I mean Moncton?
This is not boring stuff. The editors of the Globe & Mail are off by a mile. Perhaps we can be thankful that editorial opinion is typically so out of touch with ‘popular’, or public opinion.
While it is a ‘power without responsibility’, as James Curran states, it is the prerogative of newspaper editors to use the bully pulpit of the “free press” to espouse their views. It is fundamentally, and at a gut level, why people care about ‘who owns the media’, and whether those voices are concentrated and influential or dispersed and based on the ‘just powers’ of persuasion and ‘right thinking’.
In a network media system, there are still ‘primary’ definers of ‘reality’ and ‘public discussion’, even when distilled and filtered through the blogosphere, twitters and watercooler conversation. Watch and listen each day as the key stories cascade from the Globe and Mail, CTV, CBC, Global and TVA throughout the ‘media sphere’ and the ‘body politic’, with interjections coming spasmodically from elsewhere as well to do their part.
The ‘sluices of public life’, as one of the great thinkers on these topics, Jurgen Habermas stated not so long ago, are coursing with the criss-crossing circuits of public conversation, from ‘big media’ to small conversations. While no longer citadels amidst the great sea of the unwashed, the ‘mainstream media’ are still at the centre of public conversation, especially when it comes to major events, from elections to tsunamis and earthquakes.
And caught up in these sluices and events people sometimes changes their mind. And for the best change of heart of the day award, I select Andrew Coyne, who announced in an essay published in Macleans (think, Rogers Media) and on his own blog today that he will be voting for Ignatieff.
For those in the know, Coyne is and has been one of the poster-boys of hardline conservativism for the past 25 years. Now he tells us that he is voting for Ignatieff because he cannot, in good conscience, vote for Harper. To do so, he asserts, would be a travesty for democracy.
He argues that Ignatieff might screw up the economy marginally more than Harper would by pandering to the little slices of the political universe that he wants to buy off. However, on the more important and fundamental question of democracy, he observes that Harper and Gang have already destroyed a lot. He worries that Canadian Parliamentary-style democracy might not survive another Harper term. The danger is not worth the gambit, Coyne frets.
I’m not sure if I smell a rat, you know, something along the lines of an attempt to split the Liberal/NDP vote by inflating Ignatieff and letting Layton wilt, while Harper runs up the middle. Maybe that’s too clever by half?
I do think, however, that Coyne is right to worried about the ‘machinery of democracy’. If he’s seeing the wreckage from where he’s at, just imagine how bad it must really be.
I’m also interested in the ‘culture’, or sensibility of democracy. If we wreck not just the machinery, as Coyne worries, but also the ‘sensibility’ of democracy, we’re in deep shit.
Decision time is nigh; the right choice is ready-to-hand. Go, good fellow citizen, and vote it.