Sniper trumps Enron: Here’s my nomination for key player in this week’s U.S. midterm election win by the Bush side. Not the delightfully sinister (with name to match) Karl Rove, who attached himself to W’s trajectory much as Eddie Goldenberg did to Jean Chrétien’s. Such “senior advisers” are geniuses when their guy wins, worthless when he doesn’t. What counts far more is where the fickle finger of fate chooses to point, at the crucial moment. In this case, it pointed to — the Washington sniper.

The U.S. President’s Democratic foes had decided to support him on Iraq and other “anti-terror” measures to “neutralize” his strong card as sheriff, then draw attention to the woeful economy. Not a bad strategy.

The Bush, i.e. Rove, countermove was to keep terror on the public mind, off the economy and off the ugly corporations so close to the President. Also not a stupid approach.

Then, for three weeks leading to the vote, the entire nation, by media osmosis, gets mesmerized and terrified by the D.C. sniper. It doesn’t matter that he had nothing to do with al-Qaeda (the link was often mentioned, in order to be denied). It reverberated with September eleventh and the anthrax scare (also unrelated). Somehow, taking on Saddam seemed related to going out for gas in D.C. Plus the guy who was arrested had changed his name to Muhammad. Are you going to tell me, in a vote so tight, that this gruesome sideshow was not central? Sniper trumps Enron.

Elections are very blunt democratic instruments and, in a developed democracy, would be only one component of the political process. People tend to vote unpredictably, for reasons obscure even to themselves. They tell you they don’t know why or when they made up their mind. “Maybe it was on the subway, or when I heard that news item about . . .”

The battle with bitterness: Since they seem so arbitrary, elections can lead to great exhilaration or despair, especially among those fiercely committed to one side. It can be worse than rooting for a losing team, and I’ve done both. So those on the right in Canada get discouraged and enraged by Liberal victories. It’s part, I’d say, of why Conrad Black abandoned the National Post, and why those he left behind, such as columnist Andrew Coyne, blurt out things like, “An avalanche of polls released this week reveal Canadians are still the same fearful hypocrites they always were.”

People on the left despair at Klein or Harris victories and sometimes say out loud it’s because “the people” are stupid. In the U.S. this week, many anti-Bushites will complain about the power of money or media. None of that is false, but it can lead to blaming ordinary people for voting “wrong” or not voting. I don’t think the people are always right. Nobody is always right. But they always have their reasons.

Busy Izzy: I have often puzzled at how different people see exactly the opposite bias in the same media reports. As in: All the media are pro-Israel. Or: They are completely pro-Palestinian.

I got an insight into this recently when I wrote on “symmetries of hate” in the Mideast, about anti-Semitism on one side and anti-Arab hate on the other. A reader accused me of being “one-sided.” Aha, so that’s how it works! If you believe there is only one side—yours—then anyone who presents two sides is one-sided. If you present that side alone, you show balance.

This may illuminate CanWest boss Izzy Asper’s recent outburst, “We must end media bias against Israel,” in which he said the current conflict is “the latest chapter in a war against the Jewish people” whose aim is to “kill or expel or subjugate all the Jews.” You can’t get much more one-sided than that.

He says it began “when in 1917, Britain and the League of Nations declared, with world approval, that a Jewish state would be established in Palestine.” But the League of Nations did not exist in 1917. And Britain’s Balfour Declaration that year, which I assume he means, deliberately did not commit to a Jewish state. I carp on this because Izzy Asper himself says too many “journalists are lazy, or sloppy, or stupid. They are ignorant of the history of the subject on which they are writing.”

He blames “many journalists” for having “enlisted in the propaganda army of the Palestinians.” His sole example is a BBC reporter who spoke at a Palestinian rally and was defended by the BBC as having been there in a “private capacity.” But Izzy Asper himself begins, “I want to make it clear that I am not here speaking for our own media company . . . but only as a concerned Canadian and a long-time journalist.” And he concludes, “The solution starts on the campus . . . then it goes to the boardrooms of the media owners.”

If you were a CanWest employee, that might sound a lot like a call to enlist in “the propaganda army of the Israelis.”


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.