Think about this. A troublesome junior minister gets kicked out of cabinet. Her mischief-prone husband, an ex-MP, has been bragging about his government connections to business associates, although no deals have apparently come of it. In other words, a run-of-the-mill scandal with minor implications, of the type suffered occasionally by every government.
Yet the Parliament of Canada has been paralyzed for weeks over it, and the newscasts and political panels revved to the max chasing every trifling rumour. Why would this be?
Checking the dispatches and the pundits, I find references to a “disenchanted electorate,” parliamentary committees not having enough resources to investigate, a tendency to political furor, and not much else.
Not a word about the true malady: a collapse of news judgment and the ever-increasing tendency in the media to a riotous pursuit of sensation and superficiality, which ties the politicians in knots and keeps them monkeying for the cameras.
By “media” I mean primarily television, running into the even more superficial and often scurrilous web-based stuff, with the others following some distance behind.
And in this case, I mean even more specifically the Ottawa/media complex which is basically talking to itself and the community of news junkies, with the baffled and distracted public wondering what it’s really all about.
It’s been so pointlessly relentless, seemingly taking vindictive pleasure in the pursuit of the petulant Helena Guergis, the sacked minister, and her hustling telegenic husband, Rahim Jaffer, that I’m actually feeling sympathy for the both of them.
Almost even for Stephen Harper. His judgment is in question, it is said. He should have sacked her earlier. But, in truth, what could he have done that would have prevented the frenzy when the scent of blood was on the water?
I said “almost” sympathetic. In reality, Harper is the winner. As some have pointed out, by having everything bogged down by shallow stuff that will quickly evaporate (unless, of course, something real emerges, which I doubt), the rest of his agenda goes unexamined.
For the media, the letdown here is not just chasing rumours and sensations but, in so doing, failing to cover the real news.
And Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is the loser in my view, being seen as attaching himself too eagerly to non-serious stuff.
The “media” writ large is a bit like the Catholic Church, a self-proclaimed ultimate repository of Truth that is not very good at reflecting on itself — and just as touchy if its role is questioned. This, as we know, is trouble.
The core of the matter is the CNN-ization of TV news. Not just reporting and analyzing the news, but promoting it as ongoing spectacle and dragging it out by puffing its tittilating details to the exclusion of much else until some other sensation supplants it. We’re getting there in Canada too.
And the kicker is that, often, it’s not even news. The recent granddaddy of the genre was the Michael Jackson death last summer — three weeks of unrelenting Michael Jackson, relieved only for two days by the sentencing of fraud king Bernie Madoff. Thank you, Bernie, I said, your $50-billion ripoff was not entirely in vain — you injected reality at a crucial time, however brief.
And, of course, it wasn’t just CNN — all of the Canadian news networks, including the French-language RDI, were in lockstep, without a hint that this was happening in another country.
And I hate to be the one to deliver the breaking news, but CBC TV is the worst in Canada for this. This follows the transformation of Newsworld into what seems to be the “News Now” network – which is the logo it uses. Breaking news, news “now” — putting everything in the same category as a plane crash or an earthquake, removing all history, all background in favour of the breathless heat of the moment.
As a veteran of 45 years in journalism, I’m disgusted.
And it’s been dragging its political panels out to comment on every trifling twist of the Guergis affair. I wince at this. Veteran journalists twisting themselves out of shape to try to unspin the media-created tittle-tattle, but just adding to it, knowing that it’s not worthy of serious comment — this does the profession no good.
Meanwhile, it looks as if someone is belatedly getting it. I spotted this headline on the Globe and Mail website: “NDP grows tired of Guergis affair, asks Parliament to move on.” Me too.