The Resentment Metastasized Blues
I recently sat down in Toronto with a couple of ex-colleagues in the journalism biz. One, a veteran of decades on assignment desks and producing, was recalling a visit to one of Toronto’s many “other” places in the run-up to the 2010 mayoral election. He had decided to do a few streeters in the ethnically mixed, economically challenged neighborhood.
To his amazement, nearly everyone he spoke to said they were going to vote for the bumptious Etobicoke councilor Rob Ford. In a few eloquent sentences they said that they had no voice at city hall, then being run by the progressive David Miller. Tired of grand schemes that went bust and politicians rent-seeking on their dime, they were willing to give Ford a shot.
This fellow then reported his research to the newsroom. He told them in no uncertain terms that Ford was going to win. The tut-tutting and visible exasperation of his colleagues said that he had taken leave of his senses. Rob Ford? The rube with his complaints about budget malfeasance, representing a progressive burgh like TORONTO? Was he kidding?
Well, as we know, Ford did indeed win, much to the amazement of the gob-smacked newsroom savants who’d been consulting friends at Pusateri’s and the Vintages nook at the LCBO. Their amazement soon turned to a fury. How could they hold their heads up in Long Boat Key or Davos with such a base creature as their mayor? It was decided in Toronto’s tall towers of elitism that Rob Ford must go.
The plan worked. Granted, Ford gave them plenty of material with his addictions, sketchy pals, cancer and domestic dramas. But the sheer venom of the coverage — reporters stalking his car, scrums standing at the end of his driveway, bleats from reporters he’d dissed — was unprecedented in Toronto reporting history.
What made the hit squads doubly telling was the lack of balance. The same wags who laughed indulgently at Barack Obama’s exploits in the Choom Gang during high school were suddenly apoplectic that Ford and his brother dealt weed in their teens. Ford was clearly an addict, but the toney folks laughed heartily as Jimmy Kimmel turned Ford into a Chris Farley skit brought to life.
While the arrest, trial and conviction of Ontario’s top education bureaucrat, Benjamin Levin, on pedophilia charges was treated with restraint, Toronto’s newsrooms made savaging Ford’s drug allegations into bear baiting. Of course, Levin was a close colleague of Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne. And Ford was… not.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it is unfolding again in the U.S. election. Befuddled media Swat teams shake their heads in exasperation at Donald Trump’s brash unconventionality. Having no eyes or ears outside their echo chambers they look to each other for reinforcement in the face of Trump’s healthy polls that tell them they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.
Have you seen Anderson Cooper’s eyes lately? The CNN anchor is almost pleading for Trump and his poll numbers to disappear so he and his bespoke pals can go back to playing the game the way it was supposed to be played before the New York developer burst on the scene.
As the climate hype-bubble demonstrates, the people who dictate news agendas and attitudes have more in common with the political class they cover than the vast spawn outside the studio. The Rob Ford/Stephen Harper supporters, whose name the bien pensants can barely speak, declare that security, the economy and immigration are far more important to them than monkeying with the world’s barometer.
Good luck seeing that reflected in the Media Party. Its idea of a cracking good story is the world’s cultural and media elites jetting to Paris to spend up to a trillion of other people’s dollars a year on science that borders on the embarrassing. In an attempt at justifying the blanket coverage they paraphrase the famous Elvis album cover: How could 140 world leaders and 40,000 clever delegates be wrong?
The same self hypnosis is again on display in the shootings in Sacramento and Colorado Springs. From the U.S. president on down to the lowly TV news anchor, everyone laments the lack of gun control each time a gunman or an ISIS terrorist empties a clip into undefended citizens. As if the guns walked themselves into a school or church and opened fire.
If the Dan Rather regiment slid their Cole Haans outside the comfy bubble they’d know the real story — the one they’re missing — is that their pat assumptions about the governed are crumbling. Resentment has metastasized. Some days it’s electing Rob Ford or Donald Trump. Some days it’s murdering colleagues at a holiday party. Others it’s “student” agitators channeling radical chic at a hapless university prof.
Still, the legacy media listen to each other rather than the person on the street telling you Rob Ford or Donald Trump is about to stage an electoral pummelling of their prejudices. Hey, it’s easier that way.
Bruce Dowbiggin @Rdowb @NPBroadcaster