Monday, June 22, 2009

Calling bullshit

From my experience, it only takes a couple of phone calls from rich and/or powerful people to spook a Canadian newspaper editor, no matter how big the paper. Canadian editors are so shit-scared they'll be fired (and, because of the market and the small size of Canada's incestuous media, permanently unemployed) that they'll always take the easy, less controversial route. So, like most other Canadian writers, I don't even bother trying to get anything controversial into a Canadian newspaper. They're run by stenographers and flunkies. Journalism is, in its traditional meaning, dead in this country.
There are still reporters reporting and publications publishing, but if you look carefully, you'll see that there's very little "speaking truth to power" anymore. John Ralston Saul, of all people, got it right when he called Canada's journalists "courtiers" at a lecture a few years back.
You will see journalists doing the kind of attacks that 60 Minutes devised years ago: stings and "gotchas" of people who are on the fringes of power or who have already been brought down by regulators.
A few months ago, I killed whatever was left of my newspaper career by appearing on TV Ontarion with the then-editor of the Globe and the editor of the Toronto Star. Everyone was shocked that I had told these guys they were hurting the business by publishing news on the Internet. Their answers were lame, and they pointed to old investigations, like the Star's almost pre-Internet police racism expose, to justify themselves.
In fact, political writers in this country rarely break big stories. Instead, they curry favor for handouts of uninteresting, self-serving government and opposition pap.
(Though there's still a flicker of light. Lysiane Gagnon does a great job of calling bullshit on Michael Ignatieff in today's Globe. More than ever, the best punditry is done by people like Gagnon who rarely interact with the people they write about).
I wouldn't care all that much, except it's killing democracy. It's helped cause the decay of Parliament (although it is not the only reason for the erosion of the House of Commons. Public expectations and cynicism have a lot to do with it, too.)
And it's a problem that has seeped over from the States, where you have to turn to Comedy Central for the best punditry in America.