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American Newspapers, Canadian Company Towns: Conversations and Despatches from the Archives with Media Historian, Michael Stamm (Part II)

Another dispatch from the scenic reading room on the third floor of the Library and Archives Canada building in downtown Ottawa.

Dateline: July 7, 1011. Post filed at 4:42pm, live to blog at 7:18.

In our first conversation last week, I introduced a new friend of mine, Michael Stamm, a media historian at Michigan State University and author of an excellent new book, Sound Business: Newspaper, Radio, and the Politics of New Media,

I’m glad to say that we’ve shared a few more beers and some fantastic conversations since. Michael’s here for the summer, and after a hard day of slogging at Library and Archives Canada, well, he seems up to a good bs session, and some valuable insights into, well, a lotta stuff.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Michael to think about doing a post to my blog every once in a while, something along the lines “cool thing I found in the archives this week”, kinda thing. I think it’s great; it also adds a nice conversational element to my blog, too.

Without any further adieu, here’s this week’s despatche from itinerant scholar and MSU media historian, Michael Stamm.

MS:  In last week’s post, I mentioned that the Chicago Tribune’s activities in Canada helped to build of a different kind of community than the kind we normally think about when we think about newspapers. We usually think about newspapers creating a kind of ‘reading public’, or cultural community, not the ‘real thing’, as the Robert McCormick did with Baie Comeau starting in the late-1930s.

The Tribune literally created a community when it built the city of Baie Comeau around its Quebec newsprint mill beginning in 1936-37. The city still exists to this day, and is probably on the mental landscape of most Canadians, if for no other reason, because it is the hometown of former PM, Brian Mulroney.

In researching the development of this newspaper-owned company town during the past week, I came across a letter written by Tribune publisher Robert McCormick. The letter outlines a number of happenings in the town that brought images to my mind of the fictional media mogul Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and George Pullman (who I mentioned last time). All of these men display different varieties of paternalism as they go about building company towns, and in two of these cases – McCormick and Welles’ fictional Citizen Kane — the newspaper industry is at the centre of these enterprises.

George Pullman is an infamous figure in American history.  Pullman, a builder of railroad cars, decided in 1880 to build a town just south of Chicago to house his workers.  Pullman wanted the town that bore his name to be pretty and orderly and in building it exhibited a domineering paternalism.

Workers rented their homes from the company, had little say in local government, and felt the company’s influence everywhere, to the point of being informed on a daily basis that their town curfew was in effect by the chime of a loud bell.  Over time, a built environment meant to inspire sobriety and create stability among the workers succeeded only in creating alienation and resentment.

Worker frustration peaked with a riot beginning in May 1894, and the unrest lasted into early August, when federal troops were eventually dispatched to the town.  Pullman’s urban planning effort proved to be a spectacular failure, and future builders of company towns like Robert McCormick learned to eschew Pullman’s aggressively paternalistic version.

In less directly coercive ways than Pullman, newspaper publishers exhibited a ‘softer’ degree of paternalism toward their communities.  They believed that they had the serious duty to serve the daily news and information needs of their communities. And they prided themselves on fulfilling that duty.

As Pullman paternalistically built a town that he thought would benefit his workers, many publishers contributed to a public discourse with their own preferred visions of how things were and should be. Publishers cared, too, for these communities, but this concern with the public interest could form a relationship that was in practice less reciprocal than the public itself might like.

We must remember that, to be paternalist, is to not to necessarily always be overbearing, but only occasionally so, and to provide a genuine kind of care – one does not have the option of simply choosing to neglect. McCormick stepped into this mould easily.

We can also get a sense of Robert McCormick – the early 20th century Chicago newsbaron and family heir to the Tribune papers – if we take a look at things through the lens of the fictional Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ 1941 film
Citizen Kane.  In the film, Kane is clearly meant to be a reference to media mogul William Randolph Hearst.

Perhaps I’m just too big of a fan of Welles’ film, but as I plucked my way through the material at Library and Archives Canada during this last week, I’ve been struck by the ways Welles’ Citizen Kane character looks a helluva lot like Robert McCormick, both as a publisher and as a town builder.

In the film, when Kane first starts publishing his newspaper, he pens an impromptu declaration of principles.  Pointing to a gas lamp in his office, Kane tells his friend Jed Leland, “I’ve got to make the New York Enquirer as important to New York as the gas in that light.” And in his declaration, he promises to serve readers “the truth…quickly and simply and, entertainingly.”

He also promises to be visible as the owner and the point where the buck stops. Power with Responsibility is the slogan, not domination and neglect.

“People are going to know who’s responsible,” Kane states.  In Charles Foster Kane’s mind, he cares about the people and knows what is best for them.  As a publisher, he promises to work in their interests.

Later in the film, Kane and Leland have a heated exchange in which an intoxicated Leland accuses Kane of having proven himself to be far less noble than he claimed.  Kane, Leland told him, was aloof and acted paternalistically toward the people of New York.

“You talk about the people as though you owned them, as though they belonged to you,” Leland rails.

“You’ve talked about giving the people their rights as if you could make a present of liberty, as a reward for services rendered.  Remember the working man?  You used to write an awful lot about the working man.  He’s turning into something called organized labor.  You’re not going to like that one little bit when you find out it means that your working man expects something is his right and not your gift.”

To really serve the public interest, Leland argues, involves actually listening to the public.  It involves some dialogue with citizens.  It requires being attentive to peoples’ views and desires rather than simply assuming one knows them or can create them.  It demands understanding oneself as a part of a community, not as a paternal figure looming above it.

Kane, Leland concludes, cares little about doing any of this.  “You just want to persuade people that you love them so much that they ought to love you back,” Leland concludes.  “Only you want love on your own terms.  Something to be played your way according to your rules.”

Robert McCormick’s career brings these two strands of paternalism – George Pullman and Charles Foster Kane – together.  As the publisher of an American newspaper and the developer of a Canadian company town, McCormick trafficked in both varieties of paternalism.

As of February 1955, not even twenty years after McCormick broke soil, Baie Comeau was thriving. The population has swelled to almost 4,000. The area began to need new schools to serve the local children.

As company officials worked with local people and provincial politicians, and sought ways to finance the construction, they found that their plans did not always mesh with what the people who actually lived in Baie Comeau wanted.  At one point, during a particularly contentious part of the process, Robert McCormick became frustrated about having to listen to concerns about what the company was planning to do.  Why could the Tribune not just do what they wanted?  Why did it have to negotiate with anyone?

In a memo to one of his executives in Canada, McCormick writes, “When we were not there it was just a little forest.  We built them a big civilization.” The locals, including politicians, he exclaimed, were being “bitterly ungrateful” about all that had been done for them.

Just as Charles Foster Kane was disappointed when his idealized “working man” turned into “organized labor,” Robert McCormick was clearly and similarly frustrated when the good people of Baie Comeau failed to give him the thanks he felt he was due.

Compromising can be difficult.  So is listening to other people. McCormick evidently had trouble doing both.

Ulitimately, in founding and essentially running, or at least have a strong influence on what went on in Baie Comeau, the Chicago publisher soon discovered, to paraphrase Jed Leland from Ciizen Kane, that doing things on one’s own terms is much less difficult than harnessing his sails to someone else’s expectations.

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Politics, the Press and Bad News for Democracy: Newspaper Endorsements Update on Last Day Before Election

For the last three days we’ve been playing the politics and the press game, counting up the editorial endorsements for Prime Minister made by the major daily newspapers across the country.

I’ve been focusing on 61 daily newspapers that belong to one of the nine main newspaper ownership groups in Canada that account for roughly 95 percent of the newspaper industry revenues. Today I added another newspaper to the list, the Winnipeg Free Press.

This means that we now can speak of the 10 largest newspaper groups in Canada. Our “sample” in other words now accounts for roughly 97 percent of the newspaper business in Canada.

The basic idea behind the free press is that it is suppose to reflect a plurality of a society’s voices and political forces. If that is true, shouldn’t the range of editorial opinion in the press come at least somewhat close to matching up with public opinion?

The news that I’ve delivered so far has not been good. On day one, I showed that out of the four editorial endorsements made by that time — one by the Globe and Mail and three others by members of the Post Media Group (National PostTimes Colonist and the The Province) — all picked Harper as their man. By yesterday, the number of endorsements had grown to 13, with 12 plunking down foursquare behind Harper.

In other words, despite only having support of roughly a third of Canadian citizens, 92% of editorial opinion in the press in Canada were stumping for Harper. Something was definitely out of whack, but perhaps there was hope because conceivably the remaining papers could come along to save the day, singing the praises of Ignatieff, Layton, Duceppe, or May in some way that roughly corresponded with the distribution of votes and voices in Canada.

Sorry, that hasn’t happened. For those hoping that somehow the editorial pages might finally line up with popular sensibilities and the disparate political forces that make up the fabric and culture of democracy in Canada, the bad news is now really bad news.

By today, Sunday before the election, the number of endorsements has leapt to 31. If the ‘editorial voices’ of Canada’s main daily newspapers roughly corresponded to people’s views based on a mixture of current opinion polls and the last election, then we would expect something like, give or take a few, 10 to 12 endorsements for the CPC and Harper, just under a quarter to line up behind either Layton and the NDP or Ignatieff and the Liberals, and the remainder to be split across the Greens and Bloc.

So, where do things now stand? The table below shows the results

Parent Group & Titles Mrkt. Share ($ 2009) Dailies / Group CPC Lib. NDP Just Vote/ Multiple Parties
Post Media 27% 12 10 1
Sun Media 25.9 18 6 3
Toronto Star 13.9 1 1
Globe & Mail 7.2 1 1
Power Corp/ Gesca 9.8 7 3
Winnipeg Free Press 1 3.5 1
Transcontl. Media 3.2 11 1 2
Glacial 2.9 6 1
Halifax Herald 2.2 1 1
Brunswick News 2.1 4 1
10 Groups Total Tally  62 Titles 97.5% Market Share 21  0 1 10

Layton luckily picked up an endorsement from the Toronto Star. He and the NDP also got some mixed blessings among the papers of the La Presse group — which stands out as the most representative among the papers across the country, with papers in its group such as La Presse, Le Soleil and Le Droit backing a mix of candidates from all of the parties.

Counting just the endorsements of specific candidates for PM (Harper, Layton, Ignatieff, Duceppe, May), we find a stunning 21 out of 22 backing Harper. In other words, 95 percent of editorial opinion has solidified behind Harper. This is almost three times his standing in the public mind, and the last election.

The newspapers aligned with the Sun Media Group (Quebecor Media Inc, or QMI) and the re-incarnated Post Media Group have engaged in ‘bloc endorsements’. That they have done so is an indictment of editors who have sold their souls, shilling for owners one by one right across the country rather than exercising any editorial autonomy and freedom of their own minds. Instead, they take their marching orders from Montreal and Toronto. Readers deserve better.

This is also an indictment of the heavily concentrated nature of the newspaper and media business in Canada, with just two entities — QMI and Post Media — accounting for over half of the newspaper industry.

To be sure, their grip is not iron clad, and within both groups a few smaller papers like QMI’s Barrie Examiner, The Brockville Recorder and Times and The St. Catharines Standard as well as the Post Media’s Regina Leader-Post, appear to have been not quite so willing to swallow their master’s line. Instead, each of these small town papers has chosen to write ‘get out and vote for somebody’, civic-duty editorials. More than half of the small city newspapers in places like Nainamo, Sault St. Marie, Kenora, Dawson Creek, and so on offered no editorial endorsements at all.

The editorials of the small city papers listed above and others like them are so important because at least they express an independent local editorial voice, and are more varied than unison of voices that have been strung through most of the big city papers.

But make no mistake that these are minor papers in the QMI and Post Media stables. In Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal (but not Halifax and much of the Maritimes) and other major cities right across the country where these groups have dailies, editors are stumping for Harper. Even single major newspapers such at the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press have weighed in strongly on the CPC side of the scale in Canada’s biggest cities and nation-wide.

This is not a free press. This is bad for democracy. The fact that a shackled press now stands to an extraordinary degree singing their praises for Dear Leader S. Harper from the same hymn sheet should give us pause for thought and reflection.

Even though I think that this is a problem of the highest order, let me close with three caveats that I think might lead us to a somewhat happier place:

First, opinions pronounced from the bully pulpit of the editorial page on behalf of media owners comes across as much more of phalanx of congealed opinion than the rest of the pages of the press. In other words, the solidity of editorial opinion is not matched to the same degree by journalistic opinion which, while still constrained, is of a broader range.

Second, journalists, and maybe even editors, are people too. The Globe and Mail, to its credit, seems to be doing some soul searching around these issues. Yesterday it published an exceptionally strong condemnation of its own editorial endorsement by Concordia University journalism professor Matthew Hays.

Today, it has also opened up the pages as well to deeper reflections from readers, while acknowledging the dominantly negative response to its choice. Despite looking like the press of a banana republic from some angles, the editorial pages at the overwhelming majority of Canada’s newspapers that are now serving as the mouthpiece of the CPC — Conservative Party of Canada — are not the same as the Xinhua News Agency and the Communist Party of China.

Third, the fact that editorial opinion is so out-of-step with popular opinion reveals the tenacity and autonomy of the public mind. Our minds are not blank slates upon which editors stamp their views.  That, however, does not excuse the gap one wit, but rather should make us wonder what a real free press would look like, one that actually did simultaneously draw from the public well while also contributing to it.

Tomorrow’s a big day. Let’s change things around so that we can address some of the bigger issues at hand, including some of those relayed here in the past three days.

Oh yes, for the super-duper, updated paper-by-paper breakdown of each newspaper’s editorial stance (with links to the editorial), please see Editorial endorsements Updated (May 1).

Playing the Politics and Press Game: Cdn Election Newspaper Endorsements Update

Okay, I’ve scoured the webpages of all of the major daily newspapers in Canada again this morning to see who has endorsed who.

Remember, the key elements in this little exercise that I embarked on in a post last night are five political parties, nine press groups with 61 daily newspapers under their belts and about 95 percent of the market as their own. The basic question: how well does ‘editorial opinion’ match up with ‘popular opinion’.

As of yesterday, recall, there were just four endorsements in.  One from the Globe & Mail and three from different papers belonging to Post Media — the reincarnated group that now owns the newspapers that used to belong to the defunct and bankrupt Canwest previously owned by the Asper family.  All four of those editorials backed their man Harper for PM.

And today?  The number of endorsements has risen considerably to twelve when counting the editorial endorsements for PM; 15 if we count three that urge citizens to “Just Vote”, but which I think are probably just place-holders until these papers editors’ show their hand.

Here’s an updated simplified table showing the nine major newspaper ownership groups and where they’ve cast their favour.

Parent Group & Titles Mrkt. Share

($ 2009)

Dailies / Group CPC Lib. NDP Bloc Just Vote
Post Media 27% 12 8
Sun Media 25.9 18 2 2
Toronto Star 13.9 1 1
Globe & Mail 7.2 1 1
Power Corp/ Gesca 9.8 7
Transcontl. Media 3.2 11
Glacial 2.9 6
Halifax Herald 2.2 1
1
Brunswick News 2.1 4
9 Groups Total Tally  61 Titles 94.2% Market Share 11 1 3

A couple of things stand out. First, the stable of Post Media papers from the Calgary Herald to the The Montreal Gazette appear to be taking their orders from “on high”. All are lining up solidly behind the Conservatives/Harper.

Just like the Aspers before them, the bully-pulpit of the editorial page for the new owners is dedicated to backing Conservatives. If (when?) the Windsor Star in my home town falls into line, you’ll get a feel for how impervious ‘editorial opinion’ is to the opinions of the people on the street.

Second, if we just count the 12 endorsements in so far from four different newspaper ownership groups, 11 are for the Conservatives.  That is, 92 percent of editorial opinion favours one man for PM: Harper. If Canada were a ‘banana republic’, this would look suspiciously like acclamation for the despot holding office, you know, in one of those faux elections.

Remember, here was the breakdown for the federal elections in 2008: CPC 37.6%; Liberals 26.2%; NDP 18.2%; Bloc 10%; Green 6.8%.  As of yesterday, pollster Ekos had public opinion is lining up this way : CPC 34.5; NDP 29.7; Liberals 20%; Green 6.9%; Bloc 6.3%.

Do you see the problem?

The Peladeau Sun Media Empire has yet to run things through its slate of eighteen papers, but in one where it did endorse a candidate today, The London Free Press, it backed, ahem: Stephen Harper. We can wait to see the rest fall into line over the next day or two, but I won’t be holding my breath for much different results.

Besides, why rush to plunk down your editorial chips when you can just smear surging candidates?  I won’t shil for QMI in any way shape or form, so you can go look for yourself what that means.

If you’re looking for the detailed breakdown, paper-by-paper of where things now stand, you can look at my super-duper updated Editorial endorsements list.

Politics and the Press: Counting Endorsements by Cdn. Press Group, 2011 Election

Well, you know what would be a lot of fun?  Counting up the number of endorsements each newspaper in Canada gives to each of the Prime Ministerial candidates.

There are roughly 100 daily newspapers in Canada. So far, four newspapers have registered their endorsements for Prime Minister: the Globe and Mail,  National PostTimes Colonist and the The Province. All have endorsed Harper.

On the one hand, one could say that there’s 96 papers to go. That would be a mistake.

The Globe and Mail and National Post are national papers and agenda setters. Besides, the last three on the above list all belong to one group of newspapers: PostMedia, the reincarnated Canwest.

Post Media still has ten papers to go across the country.  Will they all lean the same way, one city after another?

And how about Quebecor’s Sun Media, with its eighteen newspapers scattered in major and minor cities across Canadas, to say nothing of its much vaster holdings across the media?  Will they step on the scales in the same way, further proof that rather than a watchdog, Peladeau’s Quebecor Media (QMI) is the populist mouthpiece of Harper and Gang?

I think building such a list of all the newspapers in the country might be a lot of fun.  We can even work this stuff out together.

Here’s a handy list of all the major newspaper ownership groups and all sixty-one of the daily titles held under their respective umbrellas, most with links direct to each title. Pick your newspaper from the list, watch for the endorsement, then send it to me: presto, a national snapshot of whether ‘editorial opinion’ in the press corresponds at all to ‘public opinion’ on the streets. No prizes, no gimmicks, just a ‘crowd-sourced’ creation.

For the time being, I’ve created a simplified list below. It brings us up to date as of the end of April 29th and identifies the 9 major newspaper ownership groups in Canada that account for 61 daily newspaper titles just mentioned and roughly 95 percent of newspaper industry revenues.

As individual papers within these groups announce their endorsements over the next 24 hours or so, I will tally up the results. Again, it’ll really help if some people look at the ‘handy list’ above and send in a link to your local daily newspaper when it takes a stand. In the meantime, here’s how things stand:

Parent Group & Titles Mrkt. Share($ 2009) Dailies / Group CPC Lib. NDP Bloc Green
Post Media (former Canwest) 27% 12 3
Sun Media (QMI) 25.9 18
Toronto Star 13.9 1
Globe & Mail 7.2 1 1
Power Corp/ Gesca 9.8 7
TranscontinentalMedia 3.2 11
Halifax Herald 2.2 1
Brunswick News 2.1 4
9 Groups Total Tally  61 Titles 94.2% Market Share 4

Harper’s standing at a perfect four for four.

My point is not to fetishize numbers and charts but rather to set up a question, and it is this:

If, in a representative democracy, a free press is suppose to reflect a plurality of a society’s voices and political forces, shouldn’t we hope that the range of editorial opinion in the press comes at least somewhat close to matching up with public opinion?

If so, the fact that Harper is currently standing four for four suggests that we’re off to a bad start.

Voting’s a pretty good proxy for popular opinion, so let’s set out some standards using that measure to help us assess the relationship between ‘editorial opinion’ and ‘popular opinion’. When Canadians went to the polls for federal elections in 2008, they voted as follows: CPC 37.6%; Liberals 26.2%; NDP 18.2%; Bloc 10%; Green 6.8%.  National turn out was 58.6%

Now, three days before the 2011 election, the pollster Ekos says that public opinion is lining up this way : CPC 34.5; NDP 29.7; Liberals 20%; Green 6.9%; Bloc 6.3%. Quite significantly different, actually, on close inspection. Advance polls were up by a third over the last election. People are in, even if somewhat begrudgingly.

Harper’s Conservatives have stayed remarkably steady since the last election and Ekos polling of the last few days. One third of the voters dig Harper. Four seasoned editorialists of four who have spoken, however, are ready to hand him the reigns of power despite their own acknowledged lengthy and, truth be told, tawdry list of abuses.

Anyway, the point is not to make the case against Harper but rather to suggest that there’s room for dispute and it would be nice to see such divisions reflected in the range of editorial sentiment available. So far, it has not.

Moreover, the endorsements that are in are not just any endorsement, but from two of the major national agenda-setting papers — The Globe & Mail and the National Post (Post Media).

Only the Toronto Star, so far, has staked out an “anything but Harper” editorial on the 28th. It will announce its ultimate verdict tomorrow.  Liberal, Layton or Coalition?

Now, to be sure, editorial opinion is not the opinion of the press as a whole. Nonetheless, it is one critically important indicator.

It is also an important questions about the free press and journalism in this country to know whether or not editors have to tow their respective owners’ line. Will each pen something ‘unique’ for the city they serve or broadly endorse the same candidate for PM right across the chain of a dozen (PostMedia) to a dozen-and-a-half newspapers (QMI) in one city after another across the country?

Of course, there is more diversity across the rank and file journos that fill out the rest of the pages of the press, but it would be nice to know that there’s some diversity in the editorial ranks, and a least a slice of clear blue sky between editors and the 9 entities that own the newspapers that they have been appointed to run.

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.

Perhaps, then, and when cast in this light, the Globe and Mail‘s editorial endorsement of Harper as PM today was the right choice? Actually, it is a travesty of observation and reasoning.

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.

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