Political strategist Robin Sears has a terrific analysis of the news media today in the Hill Times. He covers all the bases, from Watergate to the VRWC (vast right wing conspiracy), and even touches on the current situation in Ottawa.
Stephen Harper plays a long game and surely believes that revenge is a dish best served well chilled. No, his media campaign fits his game plan precisely.
First, he knows that the only people less loved than politicians and aluminum siding salesmen are the media. And he knows that among his target audience this contempt runs to violent hatred. His target voters see Maclean's magazine–now, under editor Ken Whyte, under its most conservative and Conservative management in its history–as part of the "vast left-wing media conspiracy" because it publishes unflattering cover photos of the PM.
Second, he knows that to a greater extent than any prime minister before him, he does not need the gallery. Every Ottawa pundit who says, "He'll fold when he is in trouble," misunderstands how the media and political world has changed. Stephen Harper's target voters read few newspapers, not because they are stupid but because they are young. The youngest among them hardly watch television news; their lens on politics is blogs, news sites and Maxim magazine.
Finally, he knows that it is not the PMO that will bend. The gallery will. Media owners are already deeply unhappy at this unseemly spat. Discussions about a compromise through intermediaries are under way.
Which is why, I believe, Stephen Harper has done us all a great favour. We have come to the end of the post-Watergate era in political journalism.
The centre – made up of a handful of nightly newscasts, rich big-city dailies and their star political journalists – cannot hold. It is doubly harassed: by declining audience and revenues and therefore relevance, on the one hand; and by the explosion of ankle-biting, semi-professional digital competitors on the other.
Where has the growth centre in print media been? In trash celebrity journalism and soft porn.
In television it is completely unreal reality TV. Radio risks becoming a satellite-borne digital jukebox. As in most of the developments at the nexus of politics and journalism in recent decades, it was the American hard right that saw this first.
It is time for both sides to look at the real world and make some changes.
Neither politics nor political journalism sits as close to the centre of people's lives as it did a century or even a generation ago. To win attention and respect from a more sophisticated and skeptical public means going upmarket, not down. The wrong-headedness of most media moguls in understanding why so many have defected from politics and the media is painfully clear.
What can one say about The Toronto Star's launch of a trash celebrity magazine as its major editorial investment this year?
This should be required reading for every programmer and news director in the country.