Angle on Canada: We’re on TV! But, why do we want to be?

There’s nothing quite so exciting as to find out you might be on television.

I remember in my first week on Parliament Hill, covering a committee meeting and texting my dad that I might be on television, and he should turn on CPAC*. For the next week or so I’d wonder, as I wandered around the foyer of the House of Commons, whether one of the cameras was going to feature me, prancing by in the background.

Thankfully, I wasn’t a noodle brain for long. Within a week or two I’d figured out being on TV like that was, well dumb. I avoided spaces where cameras were pointed like a sailor might avoid a brothel well known for its crabs.

I get it. Being on TV seems awesome. Until you end up on it, a slack-jawed narf, idly putzing about the background. Which is why I can’t quite square why here in Canada we’re so happy to find ourselves on American television as a bizarre sideshow.

Take the MLB all-star game on Tuesday. (I’m sorry for this, really.) An obvious half-wit with an affinity new-age aphorisms decided a verse from O Canada** was a good spot to go on record that he thought All Lives Matter. And so Remigio Pereira made the transformation from a guy in a suit with a decent set of pipes to the “Rogue Tenor.”

You could practically hear the country’s web infrastructure straining under the volume of content—news stories, hot takes, slow takes, radio segments, panel discussions, fart compliations—as finally, the summer news machine had something thrown into its maw that didn’t involve some sort of senseless slaughter.

And every time this sort of thing happens and we freak right out, I can’t help but wonder why? Why did this nitwit warrant days of coverage? A feverish swamp of takes and counter takes that was only quelled when a military coup—a fucking coup—was launched and then failed in Turkey.

Remember, this happened at the opening anthems for a game played for the benefit of children. It’s a terrible game, and probably only garners the attention it does because it is played in a notoriously barren stretch of the sports schedule. It’s bad baseball played for dumb stakes.

At best, Canada is a weird footnote to the story, but more often we’re the wry punchline. The butt of the joke. Because [snicker] Canada. See how cute they are in the background, jumping around, getting all that attention on the margins?

Someday, we’ll tire of being the jackass in the back. Until then, we’ll have to settle for being rogue tenors.

Elsewhere in Canadiananana:

• Canada’s electro-spies were “very excited” about being part of a plot on The Good Wife. Or at least, one of them was. Hooooooray.

• Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth May was at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, according to a Canadian Press report. Things went famously poorly. She still remembers the smell of tear gas. And so, an interesting tale of a troubled time in America is seen through the eyes of a teenaged Canadian, and much was learned. 

• What’s keeping a sniper from killing police in Canada’s most world-class city? The Toronto Star is glad you asked(C/o @stephen_taylor)

• Meanwhile, the Western Producer wonders what the attempted coup in Turkey might mean for lentil prices. (C/o @NBSAlbert)

Angle on Canada is a semi-irregular feature of news stories made more about Canada than they should be. Particularly strained news examples can be sent via email or twitter.

*Sorry, pops. Advising someone to watch CPAC, for any reason, is cruel. Especially when you don’t actually end up on TV.

**(Lucky for him he didn’t change the words to the Star-Spangled Banner. The poor bastard wouldn’t have made it halfway through a political statement—any political statement—before being run though with a bayonet by the Marine honour guard.)

Angle on Canada: Brexit, Brexit everywhere and not a drop to drink

Ah, but where to begin?

Britons had the chance last week to vote to leave or remain in the European Union. You may have come across something on this subject. But that’s the United Kingdom, what does that have to do with Canada? I’m glad you’ve asked, rhetorical device, because hoooit has plenty to do with us.

So let us try, as with all things referenda, to start things off in Québec. The day of the UK vote was the day before La Fête Nationale. Québec’s totally-not-Canada-Day happens the week before Canada Day, where the streets are filled with blue-clad families and partiers and everyone waves the blue Fleurdelisé and celebrates the nation-within-a-united-Canada that is Québec. Which is much different than Canada Day, where everyone is in red.

In any case, the British vote to separate from a larger political body so close—on the eve of!—anything so fundamentally Québec is, well, too damned perfect to pass up. The connection is right there, so connect it we shall. The parallels are so obvious, can’t you see? (That Fête Nationale is the hyper-secularized evolution of the Catholic Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day is of no interest here, because it does not neatly fit into this narrative. MOVING ON.)

But maybe there is something interesting to be learned from the post-referendum political collapse in London. As Chantal Hébert writes, there’s a pretty good chance that in 1995 things would have gone similarly to shit if the Yes side had won. Perhaps most interestingly, Hébert posits the federal Clarity Act, with its stipulation for pre-set winning thresholds and clear questions, might not inoculate the country from a disastrous post-vote omnishambles. “But in the Brexit referendum, the question was direct and all sides signed off on the simple majority rule. What we are witnessing in the U.K. is as orderly an adjustment to a game-changing referendum result as Canada and Quebec could ever hope for,” she writes. 

Ah well.

When pressed on this very point, Trudeau was less keen on acknowledging the similarities, when he was asked about it Tuesday

But this isn’t just about Québec. No matter what the outcome, there were bound to be grave lessons in the wake of Britain’s referendum on its European Union membership. Lessons for Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of this adorable little backwater we call Canada.

There are lessons about climate changelessons about electoral reformlessons about regular peoplelessons about the threat of big governmentlessons about the temperature of the housing marketlessons about jobslessons about Shakespeare metaphorslessons about lists. And those are just the lessons found in the Toronto Sun.

Maybe a Brexit means a free trade deal with Europe will be finalized, if the trade minister is to be believed, maybe it means a quick bilateral deal between the UK and Canada. Then again, maybe it doesn’t

Maybe Brexit is the counterpoint to Justin Trudeau’s vision for the world.

Maybe, Brexit means that Canada is the world’s last sane place. And maybe that means it’s about to get more crowded here. (Maybe, though, Google Trends is not to be trusted.)

Maybe this is all about Thomas Mulcair.

Then again, maybe there won’t be a Brexit, and all of this will be for naught.

Maybe there isn’t a lesson.

And now for a shorter-than-usual smattering of the Canadian angle:

• A woman born in Ashton, near Ottawa, is now the First Lady of Iceland. Which, I guess means Canada has a First Lady after all.

• Ontario Priemer Kathleen Wynne declares that Donald Trump is a danger to the world. Surely this will be what finally derails him.

Editor’s note: Angle on Canada is a semi-irregular feature of news stories made more about Canada than they should be. Particularly strained news examples can be sent via email or twitter.

Angle on Canada: [long sigh]

Some people on the internet seem to have very strong opinions on whether or not the prime minister’s wife should have staff for her public activities.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau mentioned in an interview with the French-language Le Soleil that she has trouble keeping up with all the public things she’s invited to and would like a staffer to help. Some people think that’s a waste of resources, other people do not.

Canada doesn’t have a first lady, and semantics are really important in cases like this, some say, as I briefly nod off. She already has two nannies, why does she need more help, some say, making me wonder whether those two things are actually related. Public money shouldn’t be used for unofficial whatevers, the party should pay, some say, forcing me to shrug my shoulders. You’re cutting down her down because she’s a special flower, a tall poppy, some say, while I casually slip under the bathwater. 

I could go on, but I’d rather not.

Suffice to say, the country’s twitter fart got caught not just of several rounds of national coverage—people said a thing on the thing they say things!—but has exited our little provincial backwater and made it’s way to such august content farms as The Washington Post and The Guardian. A columnist for the Independent went so far as to opine, at length, on how mean conservatives are for being upset about the whole thing.

And a solid five drafts into whatever this is, I still don’t care. One way or another. Pay for the person, don’t pay for the person. Do whatever. 

We did it! The world noticed us. We won. Now let’s move on.

Anyhow, the rest:

• CBS Sports ran an online poll asking readers who they thought would win the NBA title this year: The Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers, and "Other." In this case, the only "other" team remaining in the playoffs are the Toronto Raptors. Proving it is totally cool and world-class, Toronto mayor John Tory drafted a letter on behalf of the city chiding CBS for forgetting about them. (C/o @moebuis_strip)

• Vox dot com helpfully explained that Canada is a desolate, unliveable hellscape, with the help of a long-dead historian and a photo from reddit. It seems half of our population settled south of a line that includes Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Halifax. According to this voxsplanation, half of us live there because the land was good for growing. Not mentioned: whether these cities’ suspicious proximity to major waterways might also have something to do with it. (C/o @tylerdawson)

• This happened: 

@JJ_McCullough/Twitter

@JJ_McCullough/Twitter

@JJ_McCullough/Twitter

@JJ_McCullough/Twitter

• The government’s joke-by-committee twitter account might be trolling me(C/o @keithjs)

• NDP MP Don Davies does not appreciate the Canadian angle either.

• Horrific reverberations are still being felt from the G20 protests in Toronto all those years ago. This time, it’s a burning Toronto police cruiser being used in a Saturday Night Live skit. The horror. (C/o someone, but I can’t remember who, I didn’t save the link. Let me know if it’s you.)

• It’s been a while since we last met, but in the interim, U.S. President Barack Obama made a Justin Trudeau joke at the White House Correspondents Dinner. It was an okay joke. It also highlighted one of my favourite journalism tropes: explaining how jokes work. To wit, via The Canadian Press (emphasis mine): 

“Somebody recently said to me, ‘Mr. President, you are so yesterday. Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you. He’s so handsome, he’s so charming. He’s the future,’” Obama said. Obama then delivered the presidential punch-line, waving dismissively: “I said, ‘Justin, just give it a rest.“’ The annual correspondents’ dinner features a brief monologue where presidents get to try their hand at stand-up comedy. 

If that wasn’t explanatory enough, there is plenty of analysis to be found(C/o @moebuis_strip and @mikelondoncan)

Angle on Canada is a semi-irregular feature of news stories made more about Canada than they should be. Particularly strained news examples can be sent via email or twitter.

Angle on Canada: Vermont Edition

I spent the week in Stowe, Vt., which you may know as the place where Canadian actor Christopher Plummer’s family opens a skiing lodge after singing their way out of the clutches of the Nazis in the film The Sound of Music. (Or something like that, I haven’t actually seen the film.) It’s also only about 90 minutes south of the Canadian border. As a Canadian, these are the only facts I needed to know about the place.

Anyhow, it’s a lovely area and I can’t recommend visiting in the spring off-season enough. You get to miss both the ski crowds and the wedding hordes. If you’re lucky, you might even get an entire hotel to yourself. (I don’t recommend bringing a copy of The Shining along with you, however.)

While there I learned our rather twee national self-identity as polite do-gooders may be nothing more than wishful myth. It turns out, according to more than a couple locals we ended up chatting with, Canadian tourists are smug jerks.

Our bartender at one point said it wasn’t uncommon for Canadians to spend time telling him, at length, how much better Canada is. Our friend was from New York, so he had some handle on rudeness, and I was inclined to take him at his word. To add insult to injury, he said he actually found tourists from Boston—Boston, for fuck sakes—were more pleasant to be around.

I also found the Canadian angle was inescapable, even dozens of miles outside the country. Ruffles is selling their all dressed chips to Americans as a limited time offer. They’re billing it as the “#1 flavor in Canada.” No word on what the #1 flavour might be, though.

Anyhow, onto your submissions:

• In what is an obvious troll job by CBC reporter Andrew Kurjata, we’re told one of the richest dudes in hip-hop has a “secret Canadian connection.” To ruin the secret: Birdman lived in Prince George, B.C. for a couple years when he was a kid. (C/o @moebius_stripamong others)

• Two world-class Toronto celebrities made cameo appearances in Beyoncé’s Lemonade “concept film,” the CBC helpfully analyzes for us. Here’s a lengthy quote, to really whet your appetite (emphasis mine): “And that’s where we find the beauty behind the madness. Not just in appearances by Toronto’s The Weeknd and Canadian model Winnie Harlow, but by a rare display of desperately raw emotion from a woman who everyone thinks is so far beyond reach.” “Not just.” Fuck me dead. (C/o @randi_beers)

• It’s fashionable in this stage of a U.S. Presidential contest for certain Americans to start making noise that they'll leave the country for Canada if the election doesn't go their way. Most recently, it's Lena Dunham to announce she's a big baby. There’s a long tradition of flinty celebrities declaring they could never live in their country if the Republican flavour-of-the-cycle wins the election. But we’ve got enough smarmy windbags of our own, thank you very much. You don’t have to go home, but you sure as hell can’t stay here. (C/o @1236

• Hillary Clinton says if she wins the presidential election, her cabinet will have a 50-50 gender split. Which is so last year(Also c /o @1236)

• Canada Post is issuing a bunch of Star Trek stamps to mark the 50th anniversary of the show’s first series. The latest is of Dr. Leonard McCoy. If that doesn't interest you, fear not. The next one will have some double-secret “little known” Canadian connection, according to the CBC. Thank goodness, not sure how else you’d drum up support for something Star Trek. (C/o @Lazin_Ryder)

• Prince died, you've probably heard. Did you also know he lived in Toronto for a while? And that some of his last shows were in Toronto? Not sure how you missed that. (C/o many of you, but @keithjs was first by about two minutes)

Angle on Canada is a semi-irregular feature of news stories made more about Canada than they should be. Particularly strained news examples can be sent via email or twitter.

Angle on Canada: SPECIAL BRAZIL BULLETIN

If you’re one to believe the Jesus-types, God put us on this Earth to be tested. And friends, today might be His great test.

You see, a columnist in another country wrote some things about our prime minister that were, shall we say, less than kind. This is worthy of mention of because this is Canada and we are a small and silly people. Thankfully, the venerable Globe and Mail—the Canadian New York Times—is on it.

Prominent Brazilian magazine publishes scathing critique of Justin Trudeau,” the headline reads. If that doesn’t get your blood up enough—how dare they!—it gets worse. The Brazilian column is written by Vilma Gryzinski, the foreign columnist for the apparently right-wing Veja, and she should maybe have other priorities.

“[Gryzinski] has found time to look beyond Brazil’s borders and pen a takedown of Mr. Trudeau even though Brazil is in the throes of a massive political crisis,” the Globe report says. Yes, where might a foreign affairs columnist find the time to write about things in another country?

Anyhow, in her column, Gryzinski says Trudeau will “support any insanity, including terrorism, when committed in the name of the Muslim religion. He frequently visits mosques, dressing in typical outfits from countries such as Pakistan, and praying in the Islamic fashion,” according to the Globe report.

Now, conflating attending mosques to supporting terrorism is undeniably shitty. Not to mention wrong. (Incidentally, my fiancée literally sent Trudeau to some mosques.) But it’s not like it’s a novel line of rhetoric for someone on the right to make.

But let’s back up for a second here. Who gives a fuck what a columnist in another country may or may not think about our prime minister? It would certainly not be news if a columnist in this country said something negative about Trudeau. Columnists all over the place have opinions about all sorts of things, all the time. What does it matter that a right-wing journalist in another country is seemingly anti-muslim and anti-Trudeau?

It is not news.

And, you know, I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to bother with this one. But our good friends at the CBC decided today was the day to do their own story on this, forcing me to hemorrhage my amygdala right out my ear. Not to be left out, the National Post had to jump in on this a little later, because golly, there sure is a lot of buzz on this one today. 

That’s just what we need, a bandwagon of reporting and aggregation on a foreign column. And in typical Canadian-media fashion, as first pointed out by Scott Gilmore, they didn’t even bother to mention where this was first reported. As Gilmore says, are we really to believe these folks just happened to read Veja today, some time after the Globe reported on it. Mhmmm, sure.

Then, to top things all of, there’s the implication these stories are some left-wing media cover from conservative attacks on our Dear Leader. I’m not sure how it happened, but here we all are, heads seven bends into the small intestine, subsisting only on farts.

Imagine for a second living a country where it was deemed newsworthy for multiple Serious National News Organizations to write about a column from some other place that’s negative toward the prime minster. Then imagine some asshole with a blog venting his spleen over the whole thing.

Sounds a lot like that “Hell” place I’ve heard so much about.

Angle on Canada is a semi-irregular feature of news stories made more about Canada than they should be. Particularly strained news examples can be sent via email or twitter.

Angle on Canada: The super classy Donald Trump edition

Donald Trump attracts attention everywhere he goes, and everywhere he isn’t. The billionaire blowhard is trundling toward his party’s presidential nomination and everybody’s pet hamster has an opinion about this.

Take, for example, the embattled NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. Canada’s answer to the question of whether you can be cool wearing only brown ties—no, it turns out—Mulcair has found himself in a bit of a pickle. He and his party decided to fight the last federal election by Stephen Harper’s rules, while some guy named Trudeau decided people were less concerned about deficits than maybe we’d all pretended to be.

Whoops. Anyhow, Captain Tom and the Dippers found themselves cut down to a third-place rump. (Which is still the party’s second-best-ever showing, but no matter.) Now some of the more traditional Dippers are out for blood. Mulcair faces a leadership review vote this week and if enough NDP party partisans want his generalship reviewed, he’s basically toast. What percentage “enough” might constitute of the party is an open question, but you’ll know it when you see it.

So, naturally, now is the perfect time to gin up support among those progressive types by calling out the Trumpster Fire for being a big bad meanie. Which is why it’s not a huge surprise NDP staffers were passing a video around of Mulcair giving a speech and taking questions from party faithful to various news outlets. In the party-edited video, Mulcair calls the America’s foremost windbag a proper fascist.

“Donald Trump is a fascist. Let’s not beat around the bush,” Mulcair says in the video, filmed at some kind of campaign-style town hall. He’s playing a sort of bizarro version to the right-wing, “call ISIS islamic extremism” fetish game. Mulcair then takes a chippy shot at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not having the same intestinal fortitude to call Trumpenstein’s monster* a fascist. But, Americans are for some reason cranky about Her Majesty’s representatives sticking their nose in U.S. affairs, so maybe it’s best if Trudeau continues to dance around that one.

(See also why Finance Minister Bill Morneau wouldn’t even think of playing footsie with a straight answer on the British referendum to stay in the European Union. Do not touch the red button, minister.)

It’s not just our politicians taking on the Trump question. Everyone has to take their shot:

• A Canadian businessman was an owner of a team in the now-defunct United States Football League alongside Trump in the 1980s. One time he wrote him a really, really mean letter! Even promised to punch him in the mouth! But, he was polite about it—how Canadian!—by signing off “kindest personal regards,” according to a Toronto Star report.

• In Vancouver, a man climbed to the top of that city’s soon-to-open Trump Tower to fly a Mexican flag. That’ll show Trump what a bad idea his border wall with Mexico is.

• Speaking of Trump Tower, the owners of the world-class Toronto edition want to see the man’s name dropped from building. Hopefully, they don’t mean that too literally

• A Cape Breton professor is a very distant cousin to Trump. So much for the island’s embrace of its status as a island oasis for ex-pat anti-Trumpers.

• One Canadian tech firm—and therefore “Canada”—is buying Twitter ads trying to woo Trump-hating Canadians back from Silicon Valley. Sure. Yeah.

Donald Trump, Making Canada Wank Around Again!

And now, some submissions:

• In 1962 the dastardly Soviets tried to put nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba—which you may have heard is only 90 miles from Florida—and the civilization came very, very close to evaporating in a fit of radioactive annihilation. Thankfully, John Diefenbaker was our prime minister and he could suggest a line change to John F. Kennedy’s famous presidential address. (C/o @romeoinottawa)

• In the New York Timessquee!—an analysis that Rob Ford’s mayoralty was a sign Toronto was built on a stable political foundation. It’s an interesting look at how cities like Toronto avoided the white flight and subsequent urban decay found in, say, Detroit by keeping the suburbs in the municipal fold. Which, I mean, maybe? Hog Town avoided absolute destruction, sure, but the piece does tend to ignore what an unwieldy mess Toronto actually is.

• A “world famous” man bun model says Canada owns the hairstyle. So noted.

Angle on Canada is a semi-irregular feature of news stories made more about Canada than they should be. Particularly strained news examples can be sent via email or twitter.

* Editor’s note: Or is it just Trumpenstein?

Angle on Canada: Mr. Haircut goes to Washington

Well, we did it everyone. The people of the United States might actually know we exist. At least, the members of their media would seem to. This, all thanks to our prime minister giving a loving embrace of our southern neighbours. 

Not only did His Unassailableness, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, make a splash with a chummy tête-à-tête with the U.S. President last week, but he’s also managed to get the stamp of approval from billionaire technocrat Michael Bloomberg during a trip to New York this week. Hell, some people even want him to run for president. Canada is back, motherfuckers. No longer are we the forgotten hinterland. (Excluding of course Toronto, which is world class.)

God, it feels great, doesn’t it? I mean, to think we wallowed along for so long as just, well, nothing. No one knew we existed until Trudeau admonished Americans on network television for not paying enough attention to us. Why can’t these bastard Yanks learn a bit about our country? We know everything about theirs, after all. It’s only fair. No matter, the 60 Minutes interview got the Canadian news-about-news treatment and the news-about-social-media-reaction treatment and the nearly-maybe-funny-and-yet… 22 Minutes treatment

That was all before the prime minister even set foot in Washington. 

From there the coverage of our dearest leader went from plentiful to orgastic. We could revisit the whole bit here, but I’m sure you remember it. If you did manage to avoid it, I’m curious what sort of lead-lined box you’ve been living in. How are the amenities? Can you get a decent shower, maybe catch the odd episode of Jeopardy in there?

Anyhow, this brings us back to our old friend the Canadian Angle. And, as the saying goes, there’s no better time to flog a horse than when it’s dead. 

So, with that, some of your submissions.

• Remember the Super Bowl from a couple years ago? You know, the one with all the roman numerals? Yeah, that’s the one. Well, did you know Canada played a central role? Literally! During the half-time show with Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers thousands of people in the crowd and on the field a bunch of wore hats, little-bitty hats, with lights on them. Lights! Well, those lights were Canadian. Made by a company from Montreal! I mean, would you believe it? Canadian stuff at the Super Bowl? Hooooleeee!

• Meanwhile, seems that some Canadians are super influential on this internet thing, according to Time Magazine. Naturally, since an article in an American publication mentioned some Canadians, that was enough to merit being more news. This is just another news-about-news, my favourite subgenre of the Canadian Angle. Moving on. (C/o resident jerk @scott_rennie)

• This just in from the Canadian Press: Canadian actor of Canadian films and Canadian television programs says Donald Trump, who has buildings named after him in Canadian cities, will not be the president of the country bordering Canada. (C/o @iD4RO)

• Did you see the Oscar-winning journalism film Spotlight? If you’re from Toronto you might have got really excited when you recognized some places from the movie. (If you’re a Hamiltonian of somewhat ill repute you may be rather familiar with one of the scenes in particular.) (C/o @themiw)

Editor’s note: Angle on Canada is a semi-irregular feature of news stories made more about Canada than they should be. Particularly strained news examples can be sent via email or twitter.

Wood bears and other terrible metaphors

If a tree falls on a grizzly bear shitting in the woods, known exclusively to CBC, but later it turns out it was a black bear shitting in a tree that never did fall, does anyone bother to correct the record?

This may seem like* a tortured metaphor in search of a problem, but here we are after several arduous revolutions of the galactic temporal gears and there is still a CBC report online stating:

“The federal government's much-anticipated Syrian refugee plan will limit those accepted into Canada to women, children and families only, CBC News has learned. Sources tell CBC News that to deal with some ongoing concerns around security, unaccompanied men seeking asylum will not be part of the program.”

Which seems all well and good. A few days before the government is set to announce the details of their plan, CBC’s star political journalist and host of the political chat show Power & Politics, Rosemary Barton, has a scoop! Sound the klaxxons! Warm up the graphxinator! “CBC News has learned”** something!

Well, nuts to that. Turns out this story is, shall we say, no longer with merit. And it was revealed as bullshit just days a few days after the CBC report came out—poof!—actual details about the plan. And, bingo-bango, wouldn’t you know it, unaccompanied men will be accepted! If they fear persecution because of their sexual identity, or if they are sponsored privately, or if they are with their parents, the government will accept them into Canada, assuming of course they meet all the other required criteria of being a refugee.

So, what’s all the fuss then? Well, this was all first picked up on by BuzzFeed Canada, and they asked the reporter, Rosemary Barton, about it. She told BuzzFeed, “I just don’t happen to think what I reported was wrong.” Which is interesting, because the facts have since gone counter to what she reported.

There are a number of other details in the initial CBC report, including the overall cost, that don’t match up with how things played out.

And BuzzFeed reported this more than a week ago. After writing the story, political editor Paul McLeod then went on Canadaland to talk about it there.

Yet still, the CBC story sits online, two weeks later. Uncorrected and without any link or notation to otherwise suggest that, following the actual announcement of the actual plan, the facts are different than what was first reported.

This is part of a trend in media, particularly old-stock media, to hem and haw and avoid at almost-all-costs issuing a correction.

Now, I don’t think all that many people—if anyone—are finding this particular file as their only source of information. It’s not on the CBC homepage, you have to search to find it. But it’s still live and it’s still incorrect.

Besides, this is about something more fundamental. CBC, an erstwhile purveyor of facts, which is to say news, has not acknowledged that the information they were given by unknown, un-named “officials” is wrong. Nominally their reputation is intact, as they did not have to issue a correction, therefore, the newsroom logic goes, they were not incorrect. They reported what they were told. That the facts changed from what they were told to what actually happened is the cost of doing business, and enough of a cover for most news organizations to duck around issuing a correction.

But, there’s more to it than CBC issuing a correction or not. The really pernicious thing about this story is that it sets the narrative.

You see, CBC was the only one that had these details out of the gate, so other outlets have to follow up with something, so in their stories for refugees on this or that day, so in sneaks a paragraph talking about the government planning to exclude “unaccompanied males.” Then, the day*** the government said it will be taking certain lone men, you can read in the National Post this line as part of a story detailing the difficulties of confirming the sexual orientation of refugees:

“Under Canada’s just-released plan to accept 25,000 refugees as ‘quickly as possible,’ single adult men are disqualified unless they are accompanying their parents or can prove ‘membership in an LGBTI community.’ ”

It’s worth saying this explicitly: Single men are not excluded from coming to Canada as refugees. They are not going to be a priority, and won’t be getting government sponsorship unless they are particularly vulnerable, but that a fair leap from saying they are “disqualified” from being accepted.

In this Post report, we’re no longer talking about “unaccompanied males” instead, we’re talking about “single adult men” and whether they are “accompanying” their parents. But, we’re still talking about the issue on the same terms from the initial CBC story. A report the journalist stands by, that has little relation to what is actually going to happen. A post that is still online that set a narrative we’re still somewhat hewing to.

This wouldn’t be a problem if modern news organizations were less reluctant to issue corrections. It’s by now been long obvious the news can often wrong. This is especially true of breaking news, but, as we’ve seen here can just as easily apply to scoops. For all kinds of reasons, news is susceptible to, for lack of a better term, wrongness.

Being right all the time is no longer possible, not when we’ve decided—not explicitly, but by convention—to focus so heavily on being first, to signal we have unique content.

It’s time we we found a way to accept that, and to err more frequently on the side of correcting ourselves. If we’re more open about when we were wrong, and how we were wrong, maybe the public would trust us all just a little bit more.

Editor’s notes: *Is.

**Phrases like [NEWS ORGANIZATION] has learned are so prevalent because they’re a signal, primarily I think to other journalists, to say, “See! We got the scoop! We’re number one! The rest of you layabouts can pound sand!”

***Correction: Well, this is awkward. I previously said the National Post story was from a “few days” after the government’s announcement. That was wrong, the story is from the day of the announcement. I regret the error, and the ephemeral irony it adds to this post.


Unrelated Post Script: Many thanks to those of you who message me on occasion wondering when I’ll be writing again or what I’ll be writing about next. I have a long-running internal battle over whether this is a useful exercise for me or for the mythical reader, and it’s nice to hear now and then that it is. I very much appreciate your pokes and prods. (Though, I prefer prods to pokes, if you catch my drift.) Anyhow, if you feel like sending a note of your own, feel free to tweet at me or send me an email.

The trouble with endorsements

Updated all over the place!

Well, we’ve all learned so much, haven’t we? After making bad, wishy-washy calls in recent elections, newspapers in this country still thought it would be a good idea to throw their weight behind particular parties. When I say “parties,” I don’t really mean parties, plural. Because the endorsements that dropped just days before the election all name the Conservatives as their favourite.

Which isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. There are plenty of good reasons to vote for the Tories. But, rather, it’s the delivery and manufacture of the endorsements where the problem lies.

So, today, Oct. 17, and yesterday Oct. 16, in the Year of our Godfrey two-thousand and fifteen, Postmedia papers all across the land put out a series of editorials that rang together in a lovely chorus. Which is to say, all of the papers happily endorsed the incumbent Conservatives. Which is weird, right? I mean, the editorial boards of each paper all came to the same conclusion. Hunh. 

One might think the corporate head office in Toronto was dictating to the papers who to endorse. One would be right.

The Montreal GazetteOttawa CitizenWindsor StarLeader-PostCalgary HeraldEdmonton Journal, Saskatoon StarPhoenixVancouver Sun, and Vancouver Province have all said your vote should go to a Conservative. And that’s just from Postmedia’s pre-Sun merger dailies.

UPDATE: It would seem the dailies I listed yesterday that had not endorsed a party were just waiting for Saturday to do it. Which is fun. But, I suggested you extrapolate the reasons why they might not post endorsements, hopefully I didn't give you any sinister thoughts. 

The reasons in the various papers for why you should vote for the Tories can be boiled down to their “economic goodness.” Some of them are sincere in their endorsements, some of them might be considered reliably inclined to endorse the Tories, some of them less so. Fine, sure. Anyhow, back to the endorsements. There’s a line or two in there about Justin Trudeau not having the experience, and maybe a mention of Tom Mulcair being too bearded or something. But it’s mostly just the Tories have been good on the economy and so they should get another-nother shot at governing.

But there are plenty of internal contradictions to these arguments. I’ll quote the Citizen here at length, because they do it so nicely:

“Which brings us to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. There is a lot to be unhappy about, after nine years of Harper rule. He has picked political fights with major pillars of our democratic system — Elections Canada, the judiciary, officers of parliament — for no obvious reason apart from the fact that they appear to stand in his way. Under his watch there were unreasonably high levels of moral and even criminal corruption among some of those closest to him. He has indulged his MPs in their quest to make a mockery of Question Period.
Nevertheless, […]”

Tee hee.

It’s almost as if the entire exercise of endorsements is pointless.

Anyhow, Postmedia obviously learned nothing of why this looks terrible, even if it does jibe with the history of newspaper ownership. We’ve been here before. You may remember back in the hazy days of summer—or was it spring?—when the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald both endorsed the Progressive Conservatives, even though it was clear the electorate was in no way looking to hand Jim Prentice and the Long Times another mandate.

So, the endorsement fell flat, and then CANADALAND posted a story that it wasn’t the paper’s idea anyhow, those crumb bums—I’m paraphrasing—in Toronto had dictated who the paper would endorse. Well, shit. Now the poor folks in Edmonton are having their opinions dictated to them by Toronto.

The history goes back even further, to the pre-Postmedia CanWest days. Back then, the Winnipeg-based newspaper company wanted its individual papers to run national editorials, dictated from the centre. It did not go well. Journalists at the Gazette revolted, going so far as to withhold their bylines for several days from stories printed in the paper and publish an open letter denouncing the plan.

They said at the time:

"More important, each editorial will set the policy for that topic in such a way as to constrain the editorial boards of each newspaper to follow this policy. Essentially, CanWest will be imposing editorial policy on its papers on all issues of national significance. Without question, this decision will undermine the independence and diversity of each newspaper's editorial board and thereby give Canadians a greatly reduced variety of opinion, debate and editorial discussion."

My, how times have changed. Anyhow, CanWest eventually backed down.

But, you might say, there’s plenty of precedent for newspaper endorsements to be at the whims of the owner and publisher. Things have changed since the days of ink and paper and barons with waistcoats and pocket watches. And that baron guy probably lived on the hill overlooking town in the spooky-but-impressive house.

Now, Postmedia is a Toronto-based corporation with dozens of dailies and even more dozens of weekly newspapers all over the country. It owns two major dailies in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa, and owns three dailies in Vancouver and Toronto. It owns papers in communities big and small, and many of them are shamelessly spouting a similar editorial line.

In doing so, Postmedia is openly saying to the communities in which the company owns papers, they don’t give a shit for the people living there. No matter how many times Postmedia says what they are doing is in the best interest of the local paper, how with each cut to staff or service they are improving the product by streamlining it and putting more focus on making local news, they can’t hide the fact it’s all bullshit.

By telling you who to vote for, they’ve also told you what they think of you.

*Editor’s note: Holy shit, this doesn’t even include talk of the Globe and Mail’s clustersmash of an endorsement for Negative Zone Conservatives. I probably don’t need to go over such well-trod social media ground again, but if you’re really interested in my thoughts, go check out this storify of my twittering. Also there’s some Andrew Coyne stuff over at CANADALAND if you really haven’t had your fill of endorsement talk.

The world we live in

This is what dying looks like. This is what dying sounds like.

Face down in the sand, a little boy lies alone. Washed up on shore, he drowned with much of his family, sailing to find a better life.

On a Virginia morning show, the cheery banality of local tourism turns to horror in an instant, as a reporting crew is gunned down on the air.

Aylan Kurdi only lived to be three years old. After escaping the vicious bloodbath of the Syrian civil war, he and his family fled to Turkey. From there, they hoped to eventually make their way to Canada. Somewhere in the Mediterranean, the small boat they were using to try and make it to Greece capsized. Aylan’s brother Galip and mother Rehan drowned along with him. His father Abdullah made it back to shore, left to face his grief alone.

The image of Aylan laying in the sand is indelible. It’s on front pages all over the world. It filters through Facebook and Twitter seemingly every few minutes. The sight of a little boy in his red shirt and his little velcro shoes, lying dead on a beach is an indelible image. The kind of thing that you cannot unsee. There, in the sand, is what we’ve been ignoring all this time.

The sights and sounds on August morning on Virginia television are just as searing. Alison Parker was shot dead. Adam Ward, her cameraman, was shot dead too. The two were filming a segment for the local CBS affiliate WDBJ in Virginia when the gunman, Vester Flanagan, approached Ward from behind before opening fire.

It happens so fast and it comes entirely without warning. At one moment, they’re talking about tourism at the Bridgewater Plaza, then come the shots, and then the screaming. After the first two, maybe three shots, the screaming starts. It’s hard to say, I can’t go back and watch. It’s too hard, too sad, to watch again. Once was enough. But the shots aren’t important. One, two, three, it doesn’t make much difference, once you hear the scream. She’d been shot, live on television. A murder for all of us to see.

This is the world we live in.

Refugees dying at sea is not new. It happens every week, nearly every day. So too are people shot and killed daily. Murder is not new, nor is the horrible despair of refugees.

What is uncommon is the visceral nature of these images. Most days, when these kinds of stories are covered, photos will be of a distraught family, or maybe a body under a sheet, the photo taken at a distance. We are shielded from the worst of the violence, of the death, of the destruction of human lives.

We often avoid publishing these photos out of respect for their families, or out of common decency. But the world is not a respectful or decent place. It is full of people dying in horrible and unnecessary ways each and every day. These images are but a small sliver of the human suffering that goes on around us all the time, unseen and unheard.

So look at the photos. Look at Alison’s face the moment she’s been shot. Look at poor Aylan, no longer drawing breath. Look at the world for what it really is.

In Mulcair’s debate performance, an echo of Ignatieff

When you’ve got a reputation as a brawler, there’s an advantage in softening your image. This is especially true in politics.

Stephen Harper has never really been anyone’s idea of a teddy bear. So it’s easy to forgive the Conservative brain trust for putting him in a sweater vest lo those many years ago for a series of television spots introducing his softer side to the country.

It’s in this vein that NDP Leader Tom Mulcair seems to be have taping for his debate performance this week. Labelled, perhaps unfairly, “Angry Tom” from his days in the Quebec legislature, Mulcair has a bit of a reputation for using his rhetoric as a bludgeon.

So, there he was Thursday night, behind the podium. Asked a question by the moderator, he’d start answering while still looking away from the camera now zooming in on his face. Then, his head would swivel toward the camera, angling slightly as he turned. His eyes opened wider. His mouth opened to Standard Reassuring Grin 34-B, before finishing his answer. 

There was something in the eyes that just wasn’t right.

Screenshot via YouTube

Screenshot via YouTube

Mulcair seemed to have been given the advice to give his best “smize.” That is, his smile was to start with the mouth, but it wasn’t to stop there. It would have to stretch all the way to the eyes, those vaunted smiling eyes, where it would really sell his inner bon vivant.

I say advice, because he didn’t quite pull it off. It didn’t look like a facial expression that came without a great deal of coaching and practice. Sure, his eyes were smiling. But it wasn’t the Irish-eyed twinkle you’d get from a guy like Brian Mulroney. It seemed more appropriate for the Cabbage Patch Doll Horrorshow Factory & Assembly Line™. 

But, the NDP leader isn’t the first to fall prey to such weirdness.

Four years ago Michael Ignatieff and several of his Liberal MPs set a similar tone.

It was a cold March day and Stephen Harper has just announced, from a podium set up outside the governor general’s residence, that David Johnston had agreed to dissolve Parliament. It was election time.

Ignatieff and his team decided to launch the Liberal campaign in front of Parliament, in front of the Peace Tower. Outside a handful of scribes and a few TV cameras waited for the leader to make his speech and then shout a few questions at him.

I was sent there, green as hell, to hold a video camera, and generally just soak it all in. I’d just started an internship as a parliamentary reporter a week or two before, my editor wanted me to get my feet wet, but I wasn’t yet to be trusted gathering actual news.

When Ignatieff arrived at the lectern, draped in an too-big overcoat, with a bright red scarf framing a blue shirt, open at the collar, he launched into a statement explaining how the election was the start of something big, the start of Canadians’ chance to show the Tories how upset they were that “this place,” Parliament, was disrespected by the government.

The really big focus of his statement was that if he became prime minister, it would be at the head of a “Liberal government.” He repeated the phrase several times, putting extra emphasis on the Liberal. Coalition talk was a big thing at that point and Ignatieff made it very clear—he said “clear” again and again to hammer home how clear he was being—that he had no interest leading a coalition government.

Not that it was going to do him any good. The first reporter’s question was about whether he would form a coalition. He gave a pretty good answer to that, but then he couldn’t help himself and he kept talking and talking. Five sentences too late, he finished his answer and waited for the next question.

The next reporter asks the Liberal leader if all the coalition talk has taken root, and if all this very clear talk “is it too little, too late?” Ignatieff tried a different tack this time, he decide to laugh. Not a gentle chuckle, but a real, deep belly laugh, one which would come from nowhere.

It became entirely surreal when all the Liberals around him joined him in full-gale laughter in the next instant. Somehow stifling his new-found giggles, Ignatieff says, “That’s a genuinely funny question.”

The answer to the question never really registered. Even now, watching the video again, I can’t focus on what he’s trying to say. I’m still too caught up in the weirdness of this group of people all gamely playing along with the farce that the question was genuinely funny and they were all genuinely laughing. 

(You can watch the whole thing for yourself, the fun starts at about the 8:00 mark.)

It wasn’t clear that would be the case then, but the Liberal leader never really did manage to connect with voters the 2011 campaign. His faults as a politician didn’t start or end on the steps of Centre Block that day. But that moment was telling. 

Mulcair is a reasonably gifted politician, but when the softie act fell flat Thursday, it took a fair bit of momentum from him. Nobody won the debate, but Mulcair came away diminished, in part because he didn’t come off as terribly sincere.

It’s a small thing, something at the margins of the broader issues, but this election has so far played out around the margins. If he’s going to win this thing, Mulcair can’t be ceding that ground.

Enough about Ashley Madison, please?

Okay, have we all got that out of our system now? Have we had enough fun with the poor, boring people of Ottawa?

Look, I get it. Ashley Madison, the fucking-around website for married people, was hacked last week. The hackers are threatening to put the site’s subscriber data out into the wild. But where’s the Canadian angle? Sure, the site is based in Toronto, but there must be something more.

Ah, here it is! Back in February, a story appeared in the National Post that quoted internal Ashley Madison data showing some 190,000 people with Ottawa addresses used the service.

Now, we’re on to something. In steps the Canadian news machine to take this Post report, strip it for parts, and toss this five-month-old story back on the lot with a fresh coat of wax.

Except for one thing, the numbers are obviously bullshit. Parliament Hill, where a large number of users claimed they lived, is not a residence.* Beyond that, if the numbers were real, it would mean something like half of the capital’s married population had joined a website for some dickery-pokery.

Might there be some other, more plausible explanation for the absurdly high number of Ottawa subscribers? Say, people were using Parliament’s postal code—K1A 0A6—because it’s an easy fake to look up?

Anyhow, the Post’s initial story alludes to how obviously fake that data is, without saying it outright. The story also mentions how the company wouldn’t confirm how many of those accounts were active.

But that was then. Now, Ashley Madison is up to its neck in trouble. Now is the time for everyone else to jump on this thing. Canadian news was awash these past few days with stories about the “alleged cheating capital” of Canada. The “number” of cheaters in the capital seemed to have overshadowed the actual news of the data breach. It spread so far, so fast, and with so little nuance—or god forbid, fun—the obviously hinkey nature of the company’s data seems to have been totally ignored.

If the more recent news reports were to be believed, practically everyone in Ottawa was stepping out on their spouse, probably with your spouse. You got the impression you couldn’t walk through an Ottawa park at night without stumbling across an internet-arranged swingers orgy.

The story was picked up by so many places, the Post’s reporter, Ashley Csanadyre-wrote her initial story so they could have something fresh.

Jesus Christ, even British clapter-factory John Oliver got in on the game, making jokes about Ottawa and the fact it’s a city in Canada. So now, of course, half the news outlets in this country are jumping on that because an American TV host acknowledged we exist.

It’s a predictable cycle in our news culture that puts so much emphasis on matching stories. It’s more important to have the stories everyone else has than to actually do interesting work. Like a herd of demented lemmings, we’re endlessly chasing our butts, too lost to find a cliff to throw ourselves from.

News outlets no longer have the staff, the time, or the money to cover everything that happens in a city, or province, or country. Eventually, we’re going to have to accept that sometimes other places are going to have stories we don’t. 

*The Speaker of the House does actually have an apartment in Centre Block, but let's assume he's not the dim sort to have actually used this website with an actual address.

The media mandate

In the long-ago days of 2011, Canadians were asked to cast their ballots in a federal election. At stake was the topic top-of-mind to voters, whether the media strategy of Stephen Harper’s government was acceptable.

Never mind “Jets, jails, and corporate tax cuts” or, if you prefer, “a sea of (economic) troubles lapping at our shores.” Never mind the contempt the executive had for Parliament. Never mind what sort of attendance in Parliament is appropriate for a federal party leader.

The question put to voters was whether ignoring the media was acceptable. According to one Ottawa reporter, the answer, from nearly six million Canadians, was the media strategy was eh-okay.

This was an interesting assertion coming from the Sun’s Ottawa bureau chief, David Akin. He dropped this idea in the middle of a conversation about a skull-cracking good piece by VICE’s Justin Ling on the absurd lengths the Prime Minister’s Office will go to not answer questions. 

Ling details how media are corralled and generally not allowed to participate at any event involving the prime minister. No questions are to be asked, and no answers should ever be expected. It’s bullshit, Ling says, and he’s right. It is bullshit.

Anyhow, in steps Akin with the idea voters were asked, basically, whether it was okay for the prime minister to go on ignoring reporters. “Don’t forget…5.8 (million) Canadians voted in 2011 for (Harper’s) way of doing things,” he said. “All (the prime minister) got asked in week one was why we couldn’t ask more questions. So, yeah, you could argue he won the mandate!”

He went on: “I just think if media wants change, we have to demonstrate to voters why.”

(Click through any of those links to see the full back-and-forth between various parties.)

It’s quite fairly said in pundit circles the public generally doesn’t care about spats between reporters and government PR weenies. But, to suggest voters actually cast a ballot with this in mind is b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

His further assertion journalists need to make the case to the public that we should be able to ask questions is just—I’m not even sure how to be nice about this. It’s simply dumb

The job of the press isn’t to shill for votes, or to make the case for the most basic access to politicians. The job of the press is to report on those in power, not make the case for a slice of their strawberry-power pie.

The media shouldn’t be convincing the public that their government needs to be reported on. The media’s job is to hold politicians accountable. If politicians aren’t willing to play along with that principle out of divine benevolence, they need to be shown that not being accountable has a price. 

How do you do that? You make the people denying you access look vindictive and small. A government department avoids answering your questions, and instead feeds you a meaningless word salad? Write a line like: “The department wouldn’t answer simple, direct questions.” Then leave out the talking points.

And there’s the idea of a photo-op boycott. It’s been tried before, but it didn’t hold. The press has been beaten back repeatedly by this government and has never been able to regain any ground. The reasons are numerous, but it mostly comes down to the culture of news outlets. 

A sustained boycott could turn the tables on the PMO, but that will never be possible because many outlets would never agree to a boycott for fear of getting scooped by someone who wasn’t playing along. (This idea was well covered in a discussion between Paul McLeod, of BuzzFeed, and Jesse Brown on an episode of CANADALAND.)

The ability of the press to push back against the pols has been destroyed by the short-sightedness of that night’s news or the next morning’s paper. The problem isn’t that the citizenry support the government’s media blockade, the problem is the media are too cowed to demand better. 

This mystical thinking by Akin, that the media needs a mandate from the people, is part of the problem. 

The press has the power, we just choose not to use it.

Dildos, terrorism, and the revisiting of a mysterious tunnel

We were somewhere on Route 202 outside of Dunham when I started cackling in the backseat. “Oh my god, they really did it this time.” I could barely contain myself. “Look at this!” I said, shoving my phone in front of my soon-to-be-wife, sitting in front of me. “LOOOOOK.”

CNN had just run a segment where they grimly noted the presence of an ISIS flag held aloft in London’s Pride parade, called in a national security expert, and pondered for ages on what the appearance of such an “unnerving sight” all might mean. The homophobic death cult had finally come to the West, and was openly declaring it’s presence—and would you believe that CNN were the only ones there?

“If it was a political statement, it was very subtle,” the reporter says at one point.

Well, not so much. The flag, described by the on-scene reporter as having writing that looked more “gobbledygook” than Arabic was actually just a flag covered in dildos and butt-plugs.

Dildos and butt-plugs.

Anyhow, this absurd pearl clutching by the Most Trusted Name in Whatever the Fuck They Do Now sent a flood of chemically stuff right to my glee-centre. Nothing quite delights me as much as Serious People mistaking something vulgar and obviously not real as a sign of doom in our time. Especially when the self-serious dimwits are caught in the act. 

But it reminded me of something a little closer to home.

This winter, CBC Toronto’s intrepid investigative reporter John Lancaster got a hot tip from some police sources that the Toronto cops had stumbled on something he should know about. Something mysteriously terrifying. Mere (hundreds of) metres from the tennis centre for this summer’s Pan Am games they found a mysteriously sophisticated tunnel. The tunnel was so sophisticated, and mysterious, it had a separate, soundproof chamber for a gas generator.

Time to call in an expert. A national security expert. In this case, Ray Bosivert a former deputy so-and-so from CSIS is brought on to pontificate on the meaning of things. (This is all starting to seem familiar, yeah?) What could a tunnel, long enough for, say, a whole sleeper cell to stand upright in, be there for?

“They would want some assurance this is not targeting the games, or not targeting any other facility around there,” including critical infrastructure, Bosivert says, by way of aimless pontification.

It’s at this point that Lancaster tries to take a step back and get some perspective on this whole thing. I’ll quote him here at length:

“I think we have to clarify this, though, at this point no one is suggesting this is some sort of national security exercise. But they have, in fact, notified various agencies regarding this. Because they’re not taking any chances given what happened yesterday with al-Shabaab claiming to target malls and given the climate we’ve seen in Ottawa the past several months as well.”

Translation ‘No one is at all suggesting this is terrorism. Any of those things I just clearly laid out in a context that would make you think we are most-fucking-definitely suggesting this is terrorism, are not that at all.’

It’s always terrorism, isn’t it?

Except, once again, it wasn’t. It was just some guy building a grown-up fort with a friend. (A fort that was sadly filled in by the state, because it might be terrorism. Maclean’s has the actual, and really wonderful, story here.)

Things spread from there. A sensational news report, from Toronto, based on anonymous sources is perfect fodder for the “matching”—or “scalping”—culture of the modern newsroom. Just tack a “: report” on to the end of your headline and sprinkle a few “according to a CBC report”s through your copy, and presto! News!

(Side note: I’ve written dozens and dozens of these things when I worked for the now-defunct Postmedia wire service. I’m as guilty of this shit as anyone else.)

What never happened in any of the initial news reports was someone asking whether this was something less nefarious. Those matching the story couldn’t, remember, they didn’t have any of the sources, they just had Lancaster’s work.

Unfortunately, because the story wasn’t nearly as hilarious and off-base as a bunch of mocking dildos on a terroristic flag, CBC never really had to back away from their report. Their reporter heard what he heard from his sources and that was that. There wasn’t anything false about it—the police really were mystified and the thing really was near a tennis stadium—so there was no correction to be made.

Their error wasn’t in fact, but in woeful and incurious presentation; not incorrect, but still wrong.

Next time, before we break out the national security ding-dongs, let’s break out a bit of common sense.

Don't worry journalists, the ad men are here to save us

There's an old saw in journalism that to write a good story you should show, not tell.

Essentially, if a story you're telling is particularly sad or funny that will come through if you just let your subjects talk. When someone says something amusing, that will come through. On the other side of that coin, when you try too hard to spell out what emotions the reader should be feeling, you're going to fail.

(An easy example of the latter is to write, after a quote, “he said with a laugh.” You make your subject sounds like some kind of weirdo forcing laughter after every sentence, rather than a real person chuckling in a conversation.)

Anyhow, this brings us to a new initiative promoting the importance of journalism to the public, sponsored by a group that includes the Globe and Mail, Postmedia, the Toronto Star, Ryerson University and Unifor.

To really sell the “important role journalism plays in democratic societies,” according to the Globe and Mail, they’re going to run a bunch of ads in print and on television. The campaign is called JournalismIS, and as a really awful mess mess of letters, I guess this is our way of bringing our industry into the present.

Having evidently decided doing good, interesting journalism just isn’t going to sell the public on why we should be kept around; it’s time we hand that over to the advertisers. According to the National Post, the ads will feature ten different buzzwords and buzzphrases, in the hopes the public is as stoked about gibberish as they are current events. These buzztrocities include, “relentless,” “telling the whole story”, and—this is the word salad that really lights my fire—“watchdog over the powerful.”

Sweet Jimminy Christmas, did it not occur to anyone at these news organizations that maybe instead of paying a bunch of money for some weenies to sit around shouting at a whiteboard maybe they should just stop being so fucking dull?

Here’s the first offering:

I’m curious what kind of person they expect to watch an ad like that, and then say to themselves, “You know, they’re right! I’ve been spending all this time reading interesting and accessible things in a way I want, but instead, I should pick up a newspaper. Mabel, get circulation on the line!”

I get that we have to counter the assertion, often from politicians (even oftener from conservative politicians), that the media is constantly looking to subvert the will of the people all the while saying we’re doing it in the public interest.

Maybe this is me being old fashioned, but I don’t know advertising is really the best way to convince people we’re important. It seems like if we did our jobs without an unbearable air of self-importance, people might be more inclined to read it.

It’s easy to tell when a journalist is convinced of the unimpeachable importance of what they’re writing about. You can tell because it’s boring. It’s too long. And built into every sentence is the assumption that you must give a shit, so it doesn’t bother to try and convince you.

You can see this in the comments by Mary Agnes Welch, who was as the launch of JournalismIS. “News is the lifeblood of our democracy,” she said. “As the volume of information and the range of opinion available to media consumers increase, the contribution of professional journalism has become more important than ever.”

The lifeblood of democracy. Never mind that we have a constitution and a Parliament and a whole democratic process, the news is the lifeblood of our democracy. You have to be pretty far up your own keester to say that out loud and really mean it.

Look, I don’t mean to say that journalism isn’t important. Politicians would get away with all sorts of horrible garbage, if it wasn’t for journalists poking around and bringing to light their various misdeeds. Without journalists everything we’d know about the world would just be spin.

But journalism doesn’t need to be so awful and boring. It can also be entertaining, and funny, and pointless, and, god forbid, enjoyable.

Beating our audience over the head with how important we all are really isn’t the way to get people to read the news.

Evan Solomon is paying for the sins of some of his colleagues, and that’s just fine

So long then, Evan Solomon.

The host of Power and Politics the country's most-watched political program—a horrible genre—seems to have been getting a cut of private art sales. The sales were to billionaire Jim Balsillie and Bank of England governor Mark Carney, men he had a journalistic relationship with, according to a Toronto Star report. The CBC swiftly tossed him out on his ear.

The entire Star report is worth your time, but to get at the nut of the thing, Solomon had an arrangement with an art dealer to get a cut of sales made to people Solomon sent his way. The buyers were apparently unaware Solomon was getting a piece.

According to the Star, Solomon got 10 per cent of each sale, totalling, as far as they can figure, at least $300,000. 

Solomon was by all accounts a decent gent, but that’s too damned bad. It's hard to shed a tear for someone who would do something so obviously stupid and unethical.

He must have known he was up to no good, because he kept this to himself. I don’t just mean kept from the viewer, but kept from the people he was setting up with the art dealer. According to the Star, Solomon went so far as to use code names for the prospective buyers in emails to the art dealer.

And so, he was doomed from the beginning. The host stood little chance of keeping his job, once the Star’s story went live. Bad as it is, the degree of his offence didn’t make much difference. With the CBC so mired in the ethical garbage of other high-profile “personalities” like Amanda Lang and Rex Murphy, the broadcaster had little choice but to cut ties with the Power and Politics host.

It could be easily argued that what Lang did was worse. As a business reporter and host of the CBC’s flagship business program, she was the embodiment of the broadcaster’s credibility on Bay Street reporting.

She blew that all to hell by accepting speaking fees from events sponsored by major banks, including RBC. Lang followed up critical coverage of the bank by her network with a cottony-soft interview with the bank’s CEO, lopping the shins out of her credibility. You can draw a direct line from where she was getting money on the side to who she was reporting on. (It doesn’t even require a line. It’s more of a dot, labeled Royal Bank of Canada.)

Rex didn’t do himself much better, taking cash for speaking to the oil crowd. (Oil exploitation being one of those, ahem, settled issues in this country.)

Faced with evidence two of its higher-profile talent were CBC decided to close ranks around these folks, and it hurt the broadcaster. There wasn’t much in the way of contrition on the part of Lang or Murphy, and that hurt the broadcaster further.

This time, it looks like they didn’t have enough good will left over to slough off another one of these ethical scandals. So Solomon was shown the door, in many ways to pay for the sins of his colleagues.

It used to seem like a stretch to say CBC had a rotten star culture that let its top-billed talent get away with whatever they felt like, because they were personalities, damn it. That seemed like the usual bullshit from the typical blowhards.

It’s hard to deny that there’s a problem now.

Never mind that these people are journalists for the public broadcaster—an institution of enormous importance, they’ll have you know—these are journalists in an environment where the media world is falling apart all around them. We could really use the public to see us as a trustworthy and, frankly, useful profession. Instead, they’re out there trying to make some extra cash on the side.

The public already thinks we’re political shills on the take, we don’t need some areshole with their face on a banner making it seem true.

I’m sick of these dickweasels dragging the rest of us into their sordid shit-mess. It was about time one of them was shown the door.