Do you get a bit antsy when people use the phrase "With all due respect . . ."? Me too. But sometimes it's necessary. Respectful disagreement is a Canadian thing. "With all due respect . . ." is useful and not without meaning for us. We are scornful of wasteful anger and rage. It makes us uncomfortable.
Last March, Canadians saw a terrible sight on TV and in newspapers. We saw five dead bodies outside a barn in Alberta. Four were Mounties and the other was the man who had shot them. Something had gone appallingly wrong. It was the sort of situation that many of us can't compute. It's not us, this blood rage.
The fifth estate (CBC, 9 p.m.) is an in-depth investigation of what happened on that morning when a lone gunman named Jimmy Roszko ambushed and killed four Mounties. It's wrenching in its depiction of the grief felt by the families of the young officers.
We get a chilling picture of Jimmy Roszko. As Linden MacIntyre reports, here was a man who had been causing trouble for years. His long history of clashes with the police now seems, in retrospect, to have led inevitably to a bloody confrontation. Roszko's brother paints a picture of a man who was known by everyone to be extremely dangerous.
After we see again those awful pictures of the dead bodies, MacIntyre asks, "Given all that the justice system knew about Jimmy Roszko, how could this have happened?"
What emerges is less about police incompetence than it is about naiveté. Those young officers didn't know how dangerous their prey was when they went to his property and waited for him. It's unlikely they could have imagined that somebody in the community was that great a threat.
Of course, they should have known. They should have been told. And there are very troubling inconsistencies in the official reports about Roszko and the crimes for which he might have been responsible. As for the official story of what happened when the ambush occurred, the fifth estate challenges many details. One Mountie who knew Roszko says, "For God's sake, how did we do everything right if we got four policemen dead?"
While the program asks multiple questions that need to be answered, the overwhelming feeling raised by the program is one of mystification -- how could this happen here?
The fifth estate story is well told by a reporter and producers with long and distinguished experience telling Canadian stories that matter to us. This leads me to another point -- how we feel about Canadian media figures and how they are covered.
As those of you with staggeringly long memories for this day and age will know, yesterday's epistle was devoted to election coverage -- television, the Internet, the blogging craze -- and it contained sheer ornery remarks about certain politicians and their striving minions. If you joined with me, together we talked the hell out of the media. Sport was had.
It was the Canadian media we were talking about. The Canadian media world of TV news anchors and reporters is familiar to us. There's an election going on. How Canadian stories are told, and by whom, are topics that people talk about.
No sooner was the column completed than big news broke. ABC named Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff co-anchors of an "expanded" version of World News Tonight, which was anchored by the late Peter Jennings. Vargas and Woodruff will start as co-anchors in January.
Simultaneously, rumours circulated that CBS will sign NBC's Katie Couric to replace Dan Rather on the CBS suppertime news. Even the CBC had an on-screen text scroll about this. Who's Katie Couric? A perky flibbertigibbet on the NBC morning show.
The truth is -- and I point this out with all due respect -- most Canadians would not know Vargas, Woodruff or Couric if they started serving coffee at the local Tim's.
The suppertime news programs aired by ABC, NBC and CBS are barely watched in Canada. Canadians knew Jennings because he was Canadian and know about Rather because, like Jennings, he predated CNN and the emergence of all-news cable channels.
The vast majority of Canadians don't watch the American network morning shows because, if they watch TV in the morning, it is to find out the locals news, sports, weather and traffic. Couric doesn't provide that. As for the suppertime news programs, the same applies.
If all those Canadian newspapers, magazines and on-line services paid attention to what's happening on our TV news programs, we'd all be better off. And I say that with all due respect. For instance, last week, CBC's The National did an extraordinarily dumb thing -- it used the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty to explain the fall of the minority Liberal government. Like, you know, we are all three years old and would find it cute. It was, with all due respect, astonishingly patronizing.
Also airing tonight: Conviction (BBC Canada, 10 p.m.) is a new and especially grim British police procedural. We are presented with a group of police officers that are beyond cynicism about their work, the criminals and the law. They blithely take the law into their own hands when they're under pressure. In the British society they police, everyone is corrupt, uncaring and angry. This is not your traditional British cop show. It can make your hair stand on end.
Check local listings.