If there is a truism about those of us who care about politics, it is probably that we all think the media is in opposition to the leaders, parties, or issues we support. The particular thing or person being supported is irrelevant: Conservatives find the media too left-leaning and Liberal-friendly; Liberals find the media in the hip pocket of the Conservatives bent over to the right; NDPers find the deck stacked against them regardless, as do the Greens — perhaps only the Bloc can find a moment or two of satisfaction, but I suspect even for them the media is “constantly in opposition”.
What got me thinking about this was the blog postings of Jason Cherniak over the past two days, where he felt hard done by with coverage of his party, took issue with a paper and story line basically favourable to his party, and then concluded this morning with praise for a television reporter he was pleased with. Jason is, of course, a resounding partisan for the Liberals, but much of his concern seemed overwrought.
How one sees the story depends in large measure on which leading paragraphs and headlines received a response prior to it. The Green Shift, for instance, was promoted by the Liberals as an environmental measure (as its name would indicate) first and foremost, with a heavy dose of tax adjustment and social spending trailing along in its wake. To complain, as Jason does, that the media is not referring to it as “Stéphane Dion’s Tax Reform Package”, is to be disingenuous. From its announcement, the story was set by the Liberal Party. Even a regularly-friendly outlet like The Toronto Star is running with the Liberals’ own definition of the story, one day building on another.
Yes, we’d all, I suspect, like the world much better if it were reported to us “just the way we’d like it”. That’s not the real world, though.
My reaction to Jason’s posts was twofold. At first I was emotionally upset to the point of outrage (which surprised me, since I know how partisan Jason is in his writing). It seemed Jason had crossed a line, one where he felt able to command the media to make it “just the way he wanted it”. From my viewpoint on issues, parties and leaders, I seldom find comfort in the media, particularly in The Globe and Mail, my daily read, and I long ago abandoned CTV and The Toronto Star as being in the pockets of his favourite party. This led me to my second reaction: puzzlement. Why was I reacting so strongly to Jason’s posts? Calming down, I took time to think.
Although I am a Tory and have often written favourably from a Conservative point of view, I have never joined a blogroll on either the “left” or the “right”. The reason I had not had become clear to me with Jason’s posts: I’d rather be myself than part of a group. I expect the media to use headlines, lead paragraphs, and “biased” reporters freely to maximize their advertising revenues, by attracting viewers/listeners/readers for the space they sell. This means I may well not find “news” in an objective form: much analysis may be intermixed, whole story lines can be slanted, emotional indices can be used to trigger reactions. Why I would want to be identified with others — even though I may read them regularly and in many cases with appreciation — is beyond me; it would be like working for a media outlet. (In almost all cases, I suspect there is no need to say “this is our line”: what gets good page positions or solid airtime makes the basic underlying line clear to all.)
I’d always gotten equally upset with the Conservative bloggers’ claims that the media were against them. (In many cases I share NDP and Green concerns that not enough coverage comes their way: for the media, this country often has just a two horse race in progress at any point in time, witness their uncritical reprinting and promotion of Dion’s empty assertions that he would decide when we voted [he would need both the Bloc and NDP in his corner to have made a non-confidence motion stick, but the media essentially dignified his hubris by ignoring the other parties].) Why were Jason’s claims bothering me so much?
I’ve drawn the conclusion that it is because, no matter how partisan, most people hold back from giving explicit orders to the media. Jason didn’t. In other words, hubris had grabbed him, too. It was the hubris that was stirring me, not the claim.
Freedom of the press, as I understand it, means that if you can afford a press you can print freely (subject to constraints such as the libel laws). The great virtue of the blog is that an affordable press is within reach of almost everyone who wants one. We need not, in other words, “demand” anything of the media. If they fail to attract us, their much more expensive presses and signals go dark for lack of revenue.
Demanding, in other words, is not worthy of us — and that is my answer to Jason Cherniak and others, of whatever stripe, who insist the media is “against them”.