Media becoming the message
Those in the so-called mainstream media have always lived in a bubble of their own making. Traditionally, this bubble, it has been argued, enabled journalists to report events in an impartial, dispassionate manner and implied a certain level of confidence in the balance and truthfulness of what was being reported to the public. We depended on the media to give us the goods and the background we needed to form opinions.
Watergate was a seminal moment in North American media history. While Watergate made Woodward and Bernstein, and raised the prestige of the Washington Post, it also led to a style of investigative journalism that may eventually kill the mainstream media entities. Major networks and publishing entities spent the last 40 years looking for the “next Watergate” and have been unsuccessful in the search. Since Watergate was the brainchild of a conservative president, most of the minor league scandals of the ‘70s and ‘80s were ascribed to the “right”. Journalists, journalism schools and j-school graduates set out to catch the next conservative in the act of something evil. This caused conservatives to be suspicious of the press, and thus drove many in the press into the arms of liberal politicians, only too happy to feed the press any manner of rumour or innuendo that would show conservatives in a bad light.
This history brings us the “Robocall” scandal making the rounds in our national media over the past few weeks. One can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with the robocalls story because it is a story that is entirely media driven, and one for which there is no evidence and very little fact. The key for our Parliamentary Press Gallery in this case is that it is a Conservative party in power that enjoys widespread support nationally. Harper’s Conservatives represent the antithesis of the values held by most members in our media. The media campaigned actively against Harper in May, promoting Micheal Ignatieff despite his clear inability to lead and actually cheerleading for Jack Layton’s NDP. The CBC was the worst offender, coining the notion of an “Orange Crush” and shielding Layton from any questions about his repeated visits to massage parlours. Much of the national media has still not got over the fact that Canadians ignored their message and voted for a Conservative majority. Robocalls is the media’s idea of a vast Conservative conspiracy to use “American-style” tactics to “steal” the election.
Comparing conservatives to “the Americans” is a pejorative used endlessly by the national media. The media and opposition parties display their contempt for Canadians who are so daft as to elect a Conservative majority. Clearly the ignorant voters must have been tricked by cunning Conservatives with robocalls.
Elections Canada (not the most Conservative-friendly body) investigated all complaints and irregularities immediately following the election in May, and while there were many, they found none directly perpetrated by the Conservatives, and none that affected the outcome of any local election. The Liberals and NDP in Parliament and the national media have yet to come up with any suspects or evidence linking the Conservatives to anything. The Liberals, however, have been found to have made robocalls that did not meet Elections Canada rules. It has been nearly three weeks, and nothing has been uncovered by the opposition or their enablers in the media. There is no scandal, no evidence and no wrongdoing — yet the national media persists in pushing the story. Polls indicate Canadians are not buying the media line as support for the Conservatives remains unchanged at about 40 per cent.
Canadians are also not buying national newspapers or watching network news shows much anymore either. This drop in subscription and audience is blamed by media executives on the Internet. There may well be some truth to that notion — but not for the reasons media types believe. Just as in the past election when Canadians ignored the national media and elected the party best suited to run the country, Canadians, and folks in the U.S., are rejecting traditional news outlets and turning to more accountable and more transparent sources online to get the news. We used to rely on a neutral, balanced news media to provide perspective. The national media largely advocates a particular political view, and Canadians’ confidence in the media has disappeared. Robocalls is the latest example of the media unwittingly becoming the message. The media bubble has burst — the media has yet to get the news.
Mark Walker is the publisher of the Penticton Western News.