Three days since word surfaced of an extended troop commitment in Afghanistan and Canada's Prime Minister has yet to pronounce on what he's thinking. Perhaps he will today, when he departs (along with an entourage of reporters) for the NATO summit in Lisbon. Let's be blunt here -- the way this decision has unrolled has made it abundantly clear that the Prime Minister wished to announce this in a way where he's evaded questions, either in Parliament or in the media. I have not seen one Conservative spokesperson offer a credible alternative to this conclusion on the various TV appearances they've been making in the PM's absence. (I think my favourite was that the PMO was forced to comment publicly, because word was "leaking out" in the media -- through off-the-record leaks from the PMO.)
Coincidentally, as it became clear yesterday that the PM wasn't going to speak on this issue (despite making a public appearance on Parliament Hill), I was going over a tape of an interview last week on CBC's The Current. Host Anna-Maria Tremonti was interviewing Chris Hedges, the former New York Times reporter, about his new book, called Death of the Liberal Class. It helps explain in part why the PM feels he doesn't need to face any hard questions from the media in Ottawa and why no one appeared to ask Dimitri Soudas yesterday: "Why are YOU telling us this, not Stephen Harper?" As long as these political TV shows are dependent on the good graces of the PMO -- for getting cabinet ministers, statements, blackberry messages, etc as part of their broadcasts -- they're not going to risk antagonizing the party in power. There's also been a tacit acceptance of the Conservative spin that if you make the PM's life in any way uncomfortable, you must be a Liberal/enemy of the troops/satan etc. etc. etc. (This should only bother journalists if they need the PMO to do their jobs. Personally, I've worked here for more than 20 years and never particularly needed any special help from any PMO -- Mulroney's, Chretien's, Martin's etc., to file stories day to day. As one colleague I much admire says: they should be the last call of the day -- for comment -- rather than the first. Note too that the CBC At Issue panel, most respected for its brave independence of views, contains no panelist based in Ottawa. This is probably a separate post. I digress.)
Read Hedges' comments on The Current. He talks about the decline of journalism in the United States, specifically excepting Canada from his analysis. (I'm not sure I would.) Tremonti offers a bonus insight on why citizen journalism has rushed in to fill a vacuum. The whole interview, by the way, is available here and really is worth a listen.
AMT: What is the relationship between the media and the liberal class in the United States? The lamestream media, as Sarah Palin calls it.
CH: Well the media, you know, has failed us, unlike Canada. The commercial media in the United States has been utterly destroyed in terms of journalism. It’s all trivia, celebrity gossip, the latest saga about John Edwards’ love child or whatever. They’re just mini soap operas. The print media is dying. Many major metropolitan dailies, the Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle and others, are in bankruptcy or just coming out of bankruptcy or taken over by hedge funds and being harvested. And that has created a kind of crisis within the traditional press, because they lose circulation and as they lose advertising they become even more craven in their service to the power elite, because they’re terrified of offending those who have the resources to continue to fund their operations. So at a very moment when we need a vigorous press, we have a press that is incredibly timid.
AMT: We saw that in the Iraq war.
CH: We saw that in the Iraq war and of course I was there at the time, working on the investigative unit, with Judy Miller. But we also saw it with the collapse of the global economy. The New York Times has a very large and robust business section and yet they completely missed the story. Because instead of going out to low-income neighbourhoods, where people were being given sub-prime mortgages that those who were lending them, were giving them these mortgages knew they could never repay, they (the reporters) were running off and having lunch with Robert Rubin at Citibank. And too much of American journalism, especially elite journalism, is defined by access. Okay, you may have access to Lewis Scooter Libby, and you may have access to Robert Rubin, but you in fact, you don’t know anything.
AMT: That’s interesting, because the experiences of regular people in journalism has been almost displaced by journalists telling their own stories. Right? It becomes every journalist’s big adventure, as opposed to talking to citizens. Which is why I argue that citizen journalism is so hot, because you can’t get your own story on so many media outlets – you have to tell your own.