To MacLeans, Sept 28 2003
RE: Losing Faith in the Media by Kirk LaPointe, last week's MacLeans.
"There's so much choice (in Canadian media) - why do readers feel starved for accuracy?" Mr. LaPointe ponders. Let me try point you and he in the right (haha - little pun) direction.
Perhaps we could start with bit of word substitution to get our minds moving in the desired direction - that is, what if we were to say something like "Why do many people in Africa feel starved for food?" - obviously, the answer being, when people are "starved" for something, it is normally because they aren't getting enough of it. Likewise with accuracy in the Canadian media - as food is lacking to starving Africans (or many Canadians, for that matter), accuracy is lacking in the Canadian media, thus people feel starved for it. There, that wasn't really so difficult, was it? As Socrates knew so well, the well-formulated question can lead the unenlightened to the desired answer - we must congratulate Mr. LaPointe for such perspicacity.
However, a clever bon mot, a tasty aperitif, does not a main course make, so one might delve into the matter a little further, as Mr. Lapointe evidently desires - Why? do readers of Canadian (or American, which Canadians "consume" a lot of) media feel starved for accuracy? Let's dispense with the "so much choice" red herring right off the bat - choice has nothing to do with quality, or accuracy - the best of a bad lot is still a bad whatever (voters are well aware of this fact) - if you have 50 colors of Edsel to choose from, the car dealer is going to say you have great choice!! - but it's still an Edsel under that pretty paint. Likewise, the "variety" of things the mainstream media are reporting, and the great variety of formats, are increasingly being understood by your "media consumers" as being, in content, regardless of that great "choice", somewhat less than fully accurate, in terms of being increasingly incongruent with the things they see in their society, the things they see and experience happening around them and, more importantly, the things they are reading in the huge and growing daily alternative non-mainstream media available on the internet.
This incongruity occurs in a variety of ways.
1. In that huge amount of "choice" in the mainstream media, there is a considerable amount of simply not reporting or seriously underreporting things of importance to the people, things they feel they ought to have been told about by the mainstream media when they find out about it through other sources, or that may have received passing coverage in the mainstream but is then forgotten about - but the people are not satisfied just to forget it. Last week, for instance, there was a leader's debate concerning the Ontario election which received a lot of attention - there was also a missing person in that debate, from the Green Party, which is running candidates in over 100 ridings in the election - a very relevant story which received next to no attention at all, although it is a story with wide-ranging implications not only in the current election but for Canadian "democracy" in general. Just as a comparison, try to imagine what the media would have been saying if the debate had been run by some leftist consortium, and Ernie Eves was intentionally not invited?!?!? It is obviously speculation, but the outcry from the media, I strongly suspect, would have begun with outrage, demanding Eves be invited, condemning the debate as having no validity, condemning the organisers, etc - for certain, it would have been an ongoing, front page matter for a number of days or longer. Just a bit of a double standard showing through. That someone may have noted the exclusion of the Green Party leader in passing, and the application of the Greens to the CRTC for some help (not given), is not sufficient - when things concern people (and two separate surveys showed that upwards of 70% of Ontarians felt that the Greens should have had a seat at the debate), it is the job of the media to complain loudly on behalf of the citizens until remedy is achieved - and do not protest you do not do such things or it is not your job - when your corporate owners desire something - lower taxes, for instance, or "free trade", or privatisation of health care or electricity or anything else - the media outcry is loud and ceaseless until your goals are achieved, and even long after - even though our governments are starved for money for healthcare and infrastructure and education, for instance, after years of tax reductions for the corporations and wealthy, most of the media is still demanding even lower taxes. But a serious blow to our democracy such as denying the leader of a party running candidates in virtually every riding in the province attracts hardly a murmur from you all, and no protest at this blow to democracy. People see this. People wonder what you are about that you don't seem to care. People feel that if you are ignoring this kind of story, you are not covering things that are important to them. You are, indeed, wanting in accuracy. (And this, of course, is but one example - we see similar things virtually daily).
(Oh grump grump! I hear you complain already - now we see! - another leftist rant - where's the delete button?! - but it is precisely that attitude that has your readers feeling starved for accuracy - there IS a valid perspective of life and society that is not based on neocon "values" like lower taxes or "free trade" but cares more about things like democracy in fact rather than theory, and, being as that perspective is shared by a lot more people than the neocon perspective featured and promoted so prominently in current Canadian media, can you perhaps see a connection between your exclusion or at least marginalisation of this perspective and 70% of the "consumers of Canadian media" not trusting you, and feeling a bit "starved" for accuracy in your portrayal of society? You were asking for a wakeup call, however indirectly you phrased the question - this is it, if you really want it.)
2. People are catching on to your spin-as-misdirection as well, covering some stories but "interpreting" them in a way that conceals things, as revealed in your very headline for this piece of commentary - the mere fact of a lot of "choice" has little to do with accuracy, and people who do something with their spare time besides watching tv well understand that - but the thesis I offer here is that you do not wish to acknowledge the real reasons people are turning away from mainstream media, so are trying to induce a more favourable conclusion through suggesting something different. For instance, your coverage of business demands for lower taxes lower taxes etc are unfailingly accompanied by "analysis" that talks about conpetitiveness (sic) and other press releases from the BCNI-CCCE telling what a great and prosperous country Canada would be if only it had lower taxes - not once, that I recall, has any major paper in Canada run a story on how lower taxes lead to reduced government income (not rocket science!) and this quite inevitably leads to the necessity for spending cuts, leading then onward equally inevitably to such things as hospitals being closed, cutbacks in school funding, etc and etc - the spin is ALWAYS, in the mainstream media, that such cuts to public infrastructure are being made to "reduce waste" or other such transparent nonsense, and are NEVER tied to the tax cuts demanded and received by the corporate sector. People are not stupid, however, and can understand the relationship between lowering taxes and closing hospitals - the primary effect of the noted spin is to insult the intelligence of your readers, and make them figure - surprise! - their media is not being very accurate about these things, at best. (Your ratings probably fell off the edge of the credibility cliff and started their long downward tumble a number of years ago when you all reported with a straight face the "trickle down theory" of the Chicago Neocon Charlatan Milton Freidman - only morons would believe such nonsense, but you tried to sell it to Canadian people - most of whom are not that far removed from farming backgrounds and well know the smell of grade-A manure, and were somewhat insulted that you thought they were so simpleminded they would believe such crap - and believe me, your approval ratings are not going to improve until you stop trying to spread this kind of BS as factual economics or news or anything else.)
3. The third major, and probably most telling, reason Canadians have lost faith in their media results from outright lies being reported with a straight face by the media when emanating from some supposedly respectable personage. There is no doubt whatsoever, for instance, that George Bush knew he was lying egregiously, even hilariously if the whole situation was not so serious (picture the elephant trembling on one leg on a chair screaming about what a threat the little crippled mouse is, its only weapon a crutch that it is not even using to gesture threateningly), when he was trying to convince the American and world public that Saddam Hussein was a terrible threat to America who had to be taken out immediately, and it is highly likely that most of you knew as well that what he was saying was at best highly questionable - but even now, with great amounts of undeniable evidence accumulating proving the lies, you are not speaking of it, or giving anywhere near the attention to the evidence revealing the lies as you did to the lies themselves. The people see this, and wonder what you are thinking or doing when the lies are ok to report, but not their exposure as lies. Or what about when politicians promise something during an election campaign (Chretien promising to cancel NAFTA, for instance, comes readily to mind), and get elected largely on the basis of that specific promise - and then refuse to honour the promise? I assure you, Canadians are not amused at this kind of behaviour (everyone has noticed the rapidly declining turnouts at the polls, not to mention that politicians have reputations overall just barely greater than sewer rats) - but where is the media in condemning such behaviour, and encouraging and sponsoring a debate about dealing with such lies and brazenly broken promises, including your own role in propagating them, intentionally or otherwise? How else are we supposed to have a national debate, if not through the national media? A huge dereliction of duty on your part - one can but surmise that this lying behaviour does not offend you as it does the rest of us, which again you might add to your little box of thoughts when wondering why Canadians are trusting you less and less.
"Wait wait!" I hear you cry in mock protest - "..are you foolishly suggesting we do not cover Mr. Bush's speeches at all?!?!" - No, of course not - the activities and words of the President of history's greatest power are obviously of interest to all - the problem arises when you treat those speeches of Bush or others as some kind of revealed truth, and then don't for some reason carry any of the ample coverage available of people who point out the many, many apparent inconsistencies and variances with fact (to be polite) in their words - or if you do carry such stories at some later date, give them but a small fraction of the space devoted to the original stories, and no commentary at all on why we should carry on living a lie, or accepting the consequences of earlier lies. People want something like the Truth in their news, they require a full spectrum of facts to decide on the best course of action for our country to take in any given situation - but when they see you deal with (fail to deal with, that is) obvious lies as you have with Bush's justifications for invading Iraq, or broken promises of politicians like Chretien, apparently acting more as some kind of propagandist-spin doctor for these people than an honest purveyor of factual information for the people of the country, well, that naturally makes everything you say suspect - and people suspicious of your accuracy in general, which you profess to be concerned about.
Let us take a quick look at one example which covers most of the things I have talked about, from a story that is happening right now. There has been for some years now a lot of attention given by all Canadian media to the so-called "unite the right" movement. From point 2, you are misleading, giving spin, by the very name you have applied - most people understand that the current Liberal Party occupies the "right" of the Canadian political spectrum, and the old PC party, which was decimated by Mulroney's shift to the far right, and the so-called Alliance, another very rightist party, in reality occupy the far-right of the Canadian political spectrum, a place where very few Canadians want to go - they might, indeed, be more appropriately named the "Republican North Party" or some such thing. Most Canadians, of course, find the kind of American dog-eat-dog policies these parties promote abhorrent and would never willingly support such a movement, united or otherwise (between them they got something like 3 million votes the last election, about 10% of Canadians), thus the misleading name - and yet, as noted, they get news coverage every day of their tiniest activities. Meanwhile, as in Point 1, another political movement that, if it were properly covered with even HALF of the attention given this Wannabe Republican Party North, would be of interest to many more Canadians, is ignored as much as possible - the movement of the so-called "left" which in reality is very central to the values and desires of most Canadians. If you are honest, you must acknowledge that, for instance, "socialised medicine" is a "leftist" value, one most Canadians are very supportive of, while very few want a privatised system as is being promoted by the parties of the right - but there is virtually no coverage given to parties supporting such things, and endless pages of drivel given to this "unite the right" crap - it is rather glaringly obvious where most Canadian media are located politically by the endless coverage of the "far right" fringe and the virtual blackout of coverage of the much more populous and popular center - yet another gauge of your "news coverage" that might contribute quite a lot of insight to an answer to your question about why Canadians are placing less and less trust in you all, and wondering about your accuracy ...
And the same "story" provides a good example of Point 3, your treatment of lies - with these ongoing "unite the right" talks, there has been NOTHING about how only a few short months ago the current leader of the PC party PROMISED that there would be NO such talks, a formal promise as part of a deal to win the support of David Orchard and his votes that allowed him to win that leadership - now he is obviously and blatantly breaking that promise - and it is not newsworthy? No one sees fit to question McKay on this?!?!? Wow, is about all one can say, with a disbelieving, cynical chuckle and shake of the head. This is your idea of good news coverage? Most people who "consume" media do not agree, believe me - although we have learned in the Corporate Era that promises and truth are seen as but advertising words of no other use than to manipulate people with by the average corporation, most Canadians place a much, much higher value on such qualities, and are NOT impressed by people who break promises so casually, so brazenly - and you might well give this a LOT of thought when you publicly wonder about why people don't seem to trust the media much anymore. As I have said, especially now the last few years with the advent of the Internet, people are starting to see just how much of the "news" you do not see fit to cover, and how much spin you put on what you do, and how you can even pass off outright lies as news at times with no later retraction or apology or explanation - and people really do not like it when their media tries to manipulate them in this way. You are not only paying the price for your current biased coverage, but people are also less than happy with the idea that you have been doing this for - well - noone really knows how many years, but certainly a long time.
In general, for the last 20+ years at least, there has been a pattern of media coverage, a pattern to the ignored news, the spun news, the coverage of lies and non-coverage of their exposure, a pattern becoming ever more clear - the things the media is covering, and the spin given to it, are things the wealthy elite class of Canada and America desire - greater freedom for capital, smaller and weaker governments for the people, providing less security - overall, promoting a life better for the rich (and their mandarin class, of course) through lower taxes and weaker government and international "corporate bills of rights" treaties, and a poorer society for most everyone else through reduced government services and protection from the vagaries of life, and the general transference of wealth from the bottom many to the top few. Why are you people not on to this, if you are concerned about accuracy in the news, and about having the people approve of you? (for some reason the "Walrus and the Carpenter" comes to mind, with the Walrus shedding copious bitter tears as he gobbles up his little oyster friends....). With the internet making alternative points of view and news widely available, Canadians are starting to understand that in the great renewed class war of the late 20th century that has slowly been revealing itself, the Canadian media are NOT on their side, but on the side of the elite, the monied class - the people, just incidentally, who own the media (and are, of course, pretending no such war is underway - underreporting, spin, lies - take your pick!). And they are understanding that although the media still provide more or less reliable information as far as they go, it is nonetheless, in many things that matter, very incomplete information, and a lot of what is missing is pretty important - and once that shiny veneer of trust has been sullied, it is all but impossible to make it sparkle again. Ask Chicken Little. Ask anyone who has just discovered a cheating spouse. Ask Brian Mulroney. Ask Ernie, for that matter.
We do still have a better life in Canada, and our media is better - but both are fading fast, and that is what has so many of us upset and fighting to save our country. If you care to be honest, you simply cannot deny that although the Canadian media is not as far right as a group as the American, you have all nonetheless been leaning ever more to the elite, corporate, neocon agenda for the last couple of decades, promoting "free trade" for the corporations and their capital rather than supporting the rights of workers and citizens and communities, promoting lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy even though the inevitable outcome has been great reductions in public service (and incidentally refusing to make this obvious connection), leading thus to your generally promoting privatisation of necessary services rather than protecting our once world-class social safety system, promoting the formation of a new rightist political party of the corporations rather than a centrist party of the people, attempting thereby to formalise Canadian politics for the near future as a choice between two rightist parties, which would benefit the corporate state, rather than what the people desire, a strong party of the center for Democracy, etc and etc. People see this. People do not approve. Caught in the daily grind many of them may not know exactly what is happening, but they see things going downhill when they should be improving, having to work more hours for less pay and security while the banks and CEOs and "investor class" roll in the money, and the media not enlightening them with things they can believe but promoting more of the same like the bloodletting leeches of old, and their assessment of your accuracy and provider of a reliable "product" tumbles, and they trust you less. You are not stupid people - understand this cause and effect - people's lives are going downhill, and when you promote more of the same policies, you are seen as part of the problem not the solution. Like the (relatively) new Canadian neocon governments, the new neocon media are riding on the coattails of an older, honourable reputation, but people are starting to understand that there is a new game in town, that the old system has been transformed into something new, something colder and uglier for most of us. Most people in Canada are NOT wealthy capitalists, nor do they aspire to be, and the true nature of the neocon vision of the future is becoming more clear every day, and people are not happy with it - or those who promote it. So when you represent those wealthy capitalists who are behind this new, unwanted society, you must forget about approval from the people as they understand more of what has been done to them, and by who - it is to those whose program you promote you must look to for approval.
Let us be frank, Mr. LaPointe, Mr. Editor of MacLeans - even though I am sure they do not want it put into words (we both knew long ago that the odds of this particular missive seeing publication in the "national" media were HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA get serious!!), those capitalists have declared war on ordinary Canadians - for no other reason than to increase their already huge profits, they want to globalize world trade so they can have Canadian workers competing against 3rd world workers for who can be coerced to accept the lowest wages; for no other reason than to increase their already huge profits they want to privatise our healthcare system, our schools, our electricity supply; things our parents and grandparents fought for for generations, they want to take from us and our children, making access to these necessary services dependant on how much money someone has - truthfully, they do not want a caring, sharing, civilised world for all, but a dog-eat-dog sort of place where the many labour endlessly and the few live lives of great luxury by appropriating the wealth of all thereby produced. These things are becoming clearer and undeniable, Mr. LaPointe, and you can hardly expect the victims of this scenario to look with approval on the messengers and propagandists of the instigators. Frankly, given the sycophantic role of the Canadian media the last 20 years in establishing this neocon society, I am surprised you still enjoy a 30% approval rating for trust or accuracy. It is a figure that will go down more before it goes up, unless you change your ways considerably - check out, if you wish, the reputation of Pravda among the citizens of Soviet Russia for your fate, should you continue down the current path.
If you truly want the approval of the Canadian people, you must begin to speak FOR us, and not against us. When the Canadian elite tells everyone "Free Trade is wonderful!" - you must be truthful, and say "NONSENSE! Wonderful for the elite!! NOT wonderful for the workers, the environment, the local communities!". When Tom D'Aquino says "There is no alternative to Corporate Globalisation!" - you must reply, speaking for MOST Canadians "NONSENSE!!! There are many, many fair and prosperous alternatives, which will improve the lives of us all, not merely the few!" When the elite demand lower and lower taxes, you must reply, in the voice of all Canadians, "NONSENSE!!! You corporate people achieve great benefit from being allowed to conduct business in this great country, and in return it is only right that you show your support for the people who have made this country great and continue to keep it great by supporting their democratic government and the social system they have implemented over decades that provides you with well educated and healthy workers by willingly paying the modest taxes requested of you!! To paraphrase a great Democratic leader, Ask not what your country can give you in subsidies and tax breaks, but rather ask how you can contribute through fair taxes to the wellbeing of all!!!!" HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA - oh, I fear I grow delirious!
If you truly aspire to regain the trust of Canadian people, Mr. LaPointe et al., then you are going to have to start being a little more honest with your reporting and in your gatekeeping activities concerning what you see fit to cover or print - we are becoming more grown up now that we have wider access to information, we talk to other people in the world freely through the internet, we see what is happening that is not covered in your papers, we hear many other voices explaining many things that you have not explained and offering many points of view about how it all fits together that you have not seen fit to share with us, and as we make our own sense of what is happening here and in the wider world, you can no longer paternalistically pretend that Good Father Corporate Government looks after all his children fairly and wants only the best for all (GFCG is assuredly not female in nature - females tend to be nurturing and honest and sharing and kind, GFCG is grasping and greedy and mendacious and wantonly, carelessly, casually cruel) and we must trust his decisions without question, you cannot pretend that less is more, you cannot tell Canadians that "Free Trade" and privatisation will improve their lives when they can see with their own eyes that such promises are nonsense at best, less politely simply lies - and those who make such claims in the belief that the people are still simple minded enough to accept them without question are not looked upon favourably.
Surely it is the job of the media to report things as they are, and give a variety of opinions on issues of the day, and let the people make up their minds about what is true or credible or believable? How then do you justify your assumed role as "gatekeepers" of information, and publish, for instance, George Bush's speeches about the "grave threat" of Hussein (or now Iran or North Korea or Syria) - but when his claims are revealed to be untrue, you publish nothing? How is it that you publish stories about problems in the Canadian health care system, and lower taxes for the wealthy - but never manage to make a connection between them? If you wish to be a credible, trusted media in Canada, why is it that people must turn to the internet more and more for alternative viewpoints or stories of considerable relevance that you are not carrying (McKay's broken promise, the Green Party being denied a place at the election debate, the outrageous lies from the US government being only 3 current examples - I could fill pages with such stories going back over the last few years)?
The Canadian people see the Canadian media that used to speak for all, now endlessly and aggressively promoting the neocon agenda, and ignoring or downplaying or even disparaging things that most Canadians want - and you can sit there and honestly wonder why you aren't trusted, why you are perceived as providing less than accurate news? Until you address these questions, Mr. Editor and Mr. LaPointe, honestly and forthrightly, and begin to change your ways, you will continue to lose readers and the trust of the Canadian people, as they turn to more reliable and accurate sources for their news.
And all of that will not be found in the mainstream media, but it is accurate - and thus is your question answered.