Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Slumming it East of Canada

Bond Papers makes an important point this morning about a curious trend with Mainland reporting: http://bondpapers.blogspot.com/2009/03/god-save-us.html

Leger is, of course, far from alone. Roy MacGregor's fawning profile of DW in the Globe set a standard that has been unmatched in a national newspaper:

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity or professionalism of either Leger or MacGregor. I think they are writing it as they see it, without deliberately trying to offer a political slant.

And yet, despite the evident sincerity, their articles not only get NL politics wrong; they end up presenting a superhero caricature that is just as false as the evil menace caricature presented by Margaret Wente or the Globe's editorial horde. Though we should need no reminder of this fallacy, two wrongs do not make a right: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/twowrong.html

There are a few reasons, I think, why some well-meaning reporters and commentators get so far off the mark.

First, they tend to have a romantic view of NL. Like the happy-peasant advertisements that feature only blond- and red-haired Newfoundlanders prancing authentically around the landwash, they view NL as some sort of innocent Celtic frontier where the passionate yet unsophisticated peasants need the strong hand of a paternal leader to guide them in their noble quest to finally shake Ottawa's yoke.

Second, they tend to see NL politics only through the prism of national politics. They consider NL premiers only insofar as they play on the national stage. They make a quick visit, sink a pint at the Ship Inn, attend a Des Walsh poetry reading, listen to some music at O'Reilly's, and declare their research done. They interview the same old hacks, the self-appointed keepers of the culture and leaders of the tribe. They get some sound bites from Crosbie, Mary Walsh and a Dobbin, and then they're good to go. Nothin' to it.

They don't bother to talk to local people in local places doing local things (most of which don't take place anywhere near the landwash these days). They don't read the local newspapers or blogs. They pay little or no attention to the most important local issues, such as health care, and they overlook scandals in education or the treatment of nurses' unions. They simply have neither the time nor inclination for that sort of quotidian drudgery. And besides, that stuff doesn't sell very well.

They end up projecting their anxieties and ambitions onto their subject, so, in the case of DW, he becomes the hero for standing up to someone that no one (not even his fellow Tories) likes. Since Joey's day, the storyline has been David versus Goliath. If the provincial David can win against the federal Goliath, then all will be magically fixed, the sun will shine, and have not will be no more. Funny how all the many complexities of governing an entire province can get collapsed into such a one-dimensional story.

But just as two wrongs don't make a right, it's indeed possible to have two politicians who are both a few fries short of a happy meal. Just because Harper is malevolent does not, for a minute, make DW infallable. Just because Harper is a control freak who drinks way too much Pepsi does not mean that DW is a paragon of democratic governance. Just because Margaret Wente got it so wrong does not mean that Roy MacGregor got it right. Getting it right is hard. It's rare because it's not only hard but time-consuming and complicated. But that doesn't make it any less important.

I suspect that one of the reasons why DW so often gets a free pass from Mainland writers is because they don't have to live under Dangovt. They don't have to worry about the state of health care in NL, a nurses strike, a scandal at MUN, or anything else that affects the daily life of democracy. They can blare the trumpet of democratic authoritarianism in the comfort of knowing that they won't have to listen to it in their own province (though it's okay for other people).

If you think such hackneyed reporting is restricted to the national media, think again:

If you think that only Wente can be patronizing, think again. If you pay attention, you'll realize that these hackneyed redemption stories perpetuate stereotypes that are just as negative and harmful in the long run. Read the very last line of Drohan's story. And think about what it says about you.

Heard the one about lousy journalism?

Cross-Country Checkup Needed Update:

Breathless Non-News News Story:
Stop the presses, unplug the blogs -- this just in: DW is still soaring far above us, up in the stratosphere, up where the oxygen is depleted:

This poll-story story (whatever happened to investigative stories?) concedes that "not much has changed." But what's that when placed next to a really super headline?

Blog Reality Check Update:
I.P. Freely...there when we need it most:

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