Appeared in Business in Vancouver – January 14, 2014
Hello, business persons (I’ll ask other citizens some other time): Do you sometimes get mad at the media? Me too.
But in my case the annoyance is as complex as love and as fat with conflict of interest as a Montreal mayor or two.
At this stage of veteranhood I may be a utility infielder, but I’m on that media team. I’ve not drawn a single breath whose oxygen wasn’t pumped out by print or by the noises and pictures of radio and television. And it’s a thin day when all three don’t ruffle me.
To continue the baseball metaphor, here’s the pitch I’m swinging at today: photo on the front business page of the January 7 Vancouver Sun.
The scene was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s discussion with members of the Vancouver Board of Trade.
Harper’s impassive face gets the southwest corner of the shot. But who’s the black-clad dude who occupies front and centre?
He is not identified. But why the editors chose this photo – taken by Jonathan Hayward of the Canadian Press news agency – is as clear as riot clips. The fashionably short-bearded dude is holding up a sheet of paper bearing three capitalized words: “CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW.”
Wanna bet that far, far more people looked at and remembered the picture than read the abutting story’s 26 earnest inches of type? No takers.
So this uninvited attendee, one of a couple of so-called activists, hit the influence/demagogic jackpot by bursting into the setting with a crude message of fascinating, almost voluptuous ignorance: demand that an undesignated somebody create with magic-wand speed an implied good that neither the world’s wisest nor stupidest nor the masses in between could define if they took all eternity.
It is a slogan that, in essence, is linguistic fascism or leftist totalitarianism – no difference; as the Frenchman said, les extrêmes se touchent, the extremes touch one another – of nearly Orwellian purity, the kind of sloganeering George described in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
More to the point, what’s the media to do when a rent-a-crowd of a dozen demonstrates near convenient cameras? Or bully-boys and bully-girls break up a peaceful gathering? Or an unclothed chap runs across a football field in his yearning for brief, naked fame? Serious or silly, all aim at manipulating the news/public attitudes/whatever.
They usually succeed. Journalists are almost human. They quickly grasp what human beings want to read, hear, watch.
Of course some of it is trash or alarmist or not sensible models to follow. (Hey, that’s a newsroom “good news” day.) Yet the phrase “responsible journalism” sticks fast in my, and many, throats. That way, albeit over a few hills, lie state-controlled media. The Communists in China and North Korea know how to deal with those who would upstage a prime minister.
The solution? There is no solution. The untidy situation will stumble on, like democracy itself – under editors as subjective as anyone else.
A journalist friend mischievously gave me A Good Life, the memoirs of Ben Bradlee, who famously let loose his Washington Post reporters to destroy the arguably eminently destroyable Richard Nixon. The Post publishers, the Grahams, were big, powerful Democrats.
Neither the Post reporters nor any others, nor White House crony historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ever touched John F. Kennedy, whose bed-hopping, much of it on office hours and with office staff, they well knew, just as they knew the story would have crushed Kennedy.
The “scoop” waited nearly half a century. Objective journalism be damned.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014