Canadian media is stricken with garrison mentality. The twentieth-century literary critic Northrop Frye first coined the term to elucidate on a theme he noticed recurring in Canadian literature. Garrison mentality refers to the archetype of a small community preserving itself by demanding all inhabitants conform to the settlement’s rigid sense of propriety (applicable to the Senate, too). The term explained why CanLit was so dull and unoriginal, but it also shed light on Canadian identity. Literature mimics reality and reality mimics literature.
The Canadian mainstream media is a tight-knit group who control the official narrative of the stories they deem newsworthy enough to grace their pages and airwaves. The most recent recrudescence of the media’s garrison mentality is the grossly excessive coverage of the Duffy trial. What an absurd contradiction it is that our compromised Canadian media pats itself on the back for not stooping to (dying) British and American gutter journalism but then unleashes all of its long-repressed, pent-up viciousness upon one–possibly dying–pariah. Easy to kick a man while he’s down, I guess–especially with the threat of libel chill from those still standing–but Canada is bountiful with Chaucerian charlatans desperately deserving their fair share of malevolence.
“See that woman over there? The one that looks like she just licked a homeless guy’s ass?” Mike asks Riggan in last year’s Oscar’s best picture, Birdman. Edward Norton’s character is referring to a fictional Broadway critic of the New York Times, Tabitha Dickinson, who holds all the clout in making or breaking productions in The Big Apple. Tabitha Dickinson’s uncanny doppelganger is National Post columnist Christie Blatchford, who looks as if she’s just smelled “explosive” flatulence from disgraced senator Mike Duffy’s derriere.
Blatchford also has a predilection for writing about assholes. “[H]e could sew an arse in a cat,” wrote Blatchford, quoting a Newfoundlander colloquialism in describing Duffy’s lawyer’s adept abilities in one of her pieces from last week. Though I have to admit that Blatchford is the most able at keeping the Duffy ad nauseum at an obnoxious minimum, her latest installments have become a tired exercise and a waste of a talent that could be applied to pressing issues.
Down from Blatchford, the Duffy trial coverage descends into the dark irony of the theater of the absurd.
Rex Murphy, the man that pontificates on integrity from above high on the CBC pundit’s pulpit, has a penchant for quoting the bard from Avon-Upon-Stratford. Well allow me to try my hand at it. “Out damn’d spot! Out, I say!” Rex cries from within the hallowed halls of the besieged CBC fortress as he tries to wash the black from his hands. Heavy lies Rex’s crown. Canadaland reported early last year that The National‘s sole pundit was paid by oil companies “an estimated 25 times in the last five years, at a rate as high as $30,000 a pop.”
Rex artfully dodged and dismissed the concerns of a conflict of interest as just “a few vicious blogs” in a National Post column in which he failed to disclose just how cozy he is with Canadian oil companies. (“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.”) According to Rex, big bucks can’t influence his “bon mots.” But my how the thin-skinned Rex can be “vicious” to his straw man and whipping boy Neil Young when he is lampooning the environmental movement. Of course it wouldn’t have the same bite if he had to preface his diatribe with, “I’ve been paid tens-of-thousands by Canadian oil companies.” This concession would’ve certainly dulled his barbs when he joined the lynch mob in guillotining Duffy for dodging questions of his dubious Senate dealings in 2013. But the 2015 Rex is a little more cautious with his caustic words, perhaps because there is a little more scrutiny placed upon his sanctimonious sermons.
Johnathan Kay, former Comments Editor for The National Post and current Editor-in-Chief of The Walrus (the magazine read by all true-patriot-love Canadians, didn’t you know?), displayed typical symptoms of the mainstream media’s garrison mentality in his defense of Rex. Kay’s bizarre pretzel logic twists from the claim that CBC viewers and Post readers must demand Rex disclose before he should have to do so (even though disclosure is supposed to inform an oblivious audience in the first place) and then turns to the pathetic excuse that it would be highly impractical and almost impossible to disclose such an exhaustive list of engagements (his editorial skill of abridgement be damned). In Kay’s defense of Rex’s journalistic integrity he also said that most journalists take part in the paid speaking circuit and that it’s a morass. For some reason Kay isn’t too eager for more light to be shone on the foggy dealings of today’s journalism. (Maybe it has something to do with him assisting in writing Justin Trudeau’s “autobiography”?) It’s a murky mystery indeed.
See, that’s the beauty of questionable ties in the media, news manufacturers make the news, thus they can stay mum on the rot in their own lot. That’s why Peter Mansbridge keeps a straight and stern face when he reports about Duffy’s travel expenses while he himself gets paid an undisclosed amount from taxpayers, made exorbitant amounts from speaking engagements that jeopardize his journalistic ethical integrity (CBC finally changed their rules on paid speaking gigs–excepting freelancers like Rex), and has his own shady travel expenses.
But I digress. The CBC’s Rosie Barton and Kady O’Malley–similar to the blabbering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern–twitter incessantly about the creeping petty pace from day to day of the Duffy court proceedings. Their structure-less narrative is oh so postmodern. Too bad it leads to unreadable ramblings signifying nothing. The CBC live blog gives up-to-the-minute updates of the Duffy trial. Every little minutiae is parsed in their palavering. When the two get bored with the monotony of listening to unfamiliar legal jargon they tweet about their mundane lives or make irrelevant observations about the courtroom.
Yet one shouldn’t be surprised by this incredible waste of the CBC’s resources and the public’s time and dime. This is the same CBC that steadfastly defended Amanda Lang’s clear conflict of interest with RBC. This is the same CBC that spends lavishly on parties for its man-child George and sent former cultural host and egomaniac Gian to Sochi, yet continues to cut jobs and claims it needs more of our money.
But again, I digress. To be fair, Rosie-crantz and O’Malley-stern aren’t the only ones guilty of horrendous Duffy coverage. Maclean’s, the prophet, published an article entitled “Mike Duffy in the Trial of the Century.” If the magazine’s divination is true, how anticlimactic courtroom dramas will be for the next 85 years.
Other more intriguing headlines were the public money Duffy used to hire journalists. Of course this story wasn’t covered all too much, it’s uncomfortable covering your own after all. It would also start shining light on just how cozy journalists and politicians are in Ottawa.
Nevertheless, much of that chumminess might come to an end quite soon as journalists could be prodded from their reticence. The soon-to-be-released Auditor General’s report on Senate expenses should give the public more of a glimpse into just how close journalists are with their subjects. If the 2009 United Kingdom parliamentary expense scandal is any predictor, the General’s report will herald in the true trial of the year, the one of public opinion, and the verdict will undoubtedly be that both senators and members of parliament are guilty of going hog-wild at the taxpayer trough. Furthermore, many more journalists may yet be implicated in the sordid affair.
Misery loves company–and Duffy will be waiting to greet them at the door.