Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is the Media a Bully?

There's a bible verse that asks, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

That's a good question for all those media types wringing their hands over those Conservative Party ads and flyers which target Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

We keep hearing from columnists, reporters and editorial writers about how the campaign is an awful outrage.

A recent news story, for instance, wondered out loud if the Conservative campaign was actually designed to subconsciously plant doubts in the minds of voters about Trudeau’s manliness.

Some have even gone so far as to suggest the Tory attack is “bullying.”

Now I am not going to defend or try to explain the Tory strategy; instead I’d like to point out how the media isn't exactly as pure as the driven snow when it comes to attacking a politician’s masculinity or looks.

In fact, if anything, the media is often obsessed with a politician’s image.

Just consider how media types totally embraced Trudeau after he thrashed Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in a boxing match.

It was Trudeau’s toughness, his martial appearance, his talent with his fists that made him a media star, not his policy ideas.

Indeed, for the media that boxing match has achieved an almost mythic status.

The Huffington Post’s Althia Raj even made that fight the defining narrative of her Trudeau biography.

And just in case anyone missed the point, the cover of her ebook features a cartoon drawing of a heroic looking Trudeau wearing boxing gloves.

One might wonder if the media is trying to subconsciously plant the idea in the minds of voters that Trudeau is an alpha-male?

Certainly that would help the Liberal leader politically, since martial prowess appeals to that primitive part of our brain which still thinks its living in a prehistoric world, a world that needs physically strong leaders to protect us from marauding raiders and hungry saber tooth tigers.

But more to my point is that just as the media will paint politicians they like as warriors, they will also paint  politicians they don’t like as wimps.

Think of how, during the 1972 federal election, the media published an unflattering photo of Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield dropping a football.

Many consider it one of the top “gaffes” in Canadian political history.

But was it also a case of the media subconsciously planting doubts in the minds of voters as to Stanfield’s masculinity?

If he can’t catch a football he must be a nerd, nerds are weak, weak people are bad leaders.

Or how about the time the CBC’s Rick Mercer launched a petition during the 2000 federal election to get Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day to change his first name to “Doris?

Was that funny or was it bullying? Was the subtext of Mercer's "joke" that Day was something less than a man?

Certainly it got voters laughing at Day.

Nor is Prime Minister Stephen Harper immune. Remember the mockery over his cowboy outfit? And the Huffington Post and journalists on Twitter once got a real “chuckle” over how Harper wore a hat.

Isn't that like school yard bullies picking on a kid because of  his or her clothing? I might even suggest the subtext of such attacks is that people who wear funny clothes are oddballs and thus are unfit to be our leaders.

And more recently, the media has taken to openly mocking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford because of his weight.

The Toronto Star, for instance, once posted a video on its site of a woman laughing at Ford as he ordered a meal at a KFC restaurant.

Is that cyber-bullying? Is it right to mock a man because he doesn't have Trudeau’s physical appearance? Does obesity make you less of a leader?

So it seems the media is more than willing to mock and degrade a person if it suits their purpose.

Now none of this is to suggest we should feel sorry for Ford or Day or Stanfield or Harper. Like it or not, mockery and attacks have always been a part of democratic politics; that’s why it’s not a business for people with thin skins.

Yet if those who work in the media are going to throw stones at negativity in politics, they should at least realize they live in a glass house.


Anonymous said...

Great comments.... as a non-supporter of the liberal party...we knew this about the media party just seems to be the Main Stream Media's job to try and jump to the liberal defence every time any opposition party comes up with questions about their beloved liberal party....It appears to be their job to defend them any way possible... they are becoming a sick bunch! Don't bother telling the truth... just bash anyone who says anything negative about their beloved trudeau

Anonymous said...

Best commentary so far about the media bias about politicians.

Anonymous said...

This is one of your best if not your best blog posts.
I am sick of the media trying to be self righteous.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Lighten up. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Jeez.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Mr. Nicholls. What you said needs to be said more often.

Not only are most media types (with some exceptions) willing and able to destroy a public figure's image and/or reputation but they are highly sensitive whenever one of their own gets back some of his/her own medicine. All the while they protect their own image & privacy.
-- Gabby in QC

Anonymous said...

Oh you poor Conservatives, The media is against you, The Liberals, the NDP. Oh well you still control the Senate.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the infatuation with "Just-an-airhead" Trudeau... I don't see him as an alpha-male type, he's too girly to be one, doesn't matter if he won a boxing match (which I didn't watch, because both the "boxers" are airheads).

When it comes to leadership, I prefer substance over style, and in this case Harper is the real boxer. What I like about him is his unshakable mental strength; no matter how often he gets attacked, he stays unfazed. But he also doesn't shy away from dishing out when he sees an opportunity, and he has a surprising knack for catching his opponents off-guard and pushing them back in their corners. I always get a chuckle out of it. :)

However, what I don't understand is why everyone seems to have forgotten about Mulcair... I'm wondering why Harper doesn't leave the attacking of Trudeau up to Mulcair; why not let the opposition parties tear into each other... Attacking Trudeau while ignoring Mulcair, gives Trudeau too much importance, which indicates that he is a threat. But what do I know, maybe the man-child really is a threat, and the anti-Harper voters hate Harper so much that they would risk handing over the leadership of the country to this man-child, whether he is leadership material or not.

Anyway, here's hoping Harper will shut Trudeau up at the next election (along with Mulcair), because I for one would love to have him around for a while yet as our Prime Minister.