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John Doyle

Oh Ezra Levant, pride of the west, where did it all go wrong? Add to ...

What twist on the road led you from feisty Reform Party contrarian, magazine publisher, political candidate, author and cognoscenti darling to this? This being the constant squealing, near Smurf-like, in high righteous indignation on Sun News, about Communists and a cabal of journalists who allegedly undermine Canada from their base in – get this – “an Ottawa steakhouse.”

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Television is the twist in the road. Television is to blame.

The medium enthralls and seduces, sometimes even squeezing the common sense out of the cognoscenti. Gore Vidal, himself a man of occasional sense, a pundit, critic and political candidate, once offered this famous advice: “Never miss a chance to have sex or be on television.” Oh, indeed. The attraction in the adage is obvious. But its attraction is a curse, a blight upon the unsuspecting. Your mother can tell you that taking the advice literally can lead to horrible diseases, and not only of the body.

As the wise among you – mothers and others – know full well, there is only a wee distance between iconoclasm and idiocy, and TV is the temptress that takes you there, from interesting irritant to utter irrelevancy.

While I was away at the soccer in Poland and Ukraine (thanks for following me to the Sports section, by the way), Levant got a rare rebuke from the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for using an unspeakably vulgar expression, in Spanish, in a rant about Chiquita Brands International. Levant has a beef with the banana people, apparently. Because the banana people have a beef with the Alberta oil sands. In turn, the Alberta oil sands is something Levant supports with rigour because it’s all about oil from an ethical place, as opposed to oil from those places where ethics in the matter of human rights and such, are demonstrably dubious. He wrote a good and award-winning book on this very topic.

Mostly the broadcast ethics regulator lets Levant and Sun News get away with things that people complain about. As it should. But, taking a stance that only a television-enhanced mind could comprehend, Levant railed against the rebuke. It seems ethics count when you’re defending Canada and the Alberta oil sands but not when you’re told to quit using vile obscenity – a Chiquita executive was named and directed to have coitus with his mom – on TV at suppertime on a sorta-news program. Go figure. I can’t. It’s either industrial-strength hypocrisy or extreme weirdness.

Around the same time, that cabal who gather at an Ottawa steakhouse arose as an issue. Daily, over steak dinners, some 100 journalists manipulate the news agenda, Levant alleged. Oh my dear, dear man, there isn’t an Ottawa journalist who can afford daily steaks at Hy’s – the place named on air – and surely it is hillbilly humbug to suggest such people exist.

“Yup, Martha, them’s eatin’ steak while we is suppin’ on cornpone, and sucking on stones.”In an online addendum to the Ottawa steakhouse story, Levant noted that the steak-eating cabal can be observed connecting daily on Twitter.

What’s really interesting is that Levant found it necessary to explain what Twitter is.

He wrote, “You can watch them harmonizing over the course of a day, if you follow them on Twitter, the real-time mini-blogging website.”

Now, it’s always possible that Levant’s followers need to have Twitter explained to them. Possibly, Levant thinks they are indeed hillbillies whose knowledge of modern communications platforms is severely limited.

Whatever the reason, it’s an extremely odd way to communicate. It’s rather like using the word “banana” and following it with the explanation, “a yellow, elongated fruit.”

This could happen in the Levant world, what with his beef with Chiquita Brands International and all.

There followed, just last week, dire warnings about the Communist threat. Cuba and Norman Bethune came up. A man from this newspaper was castigated for joining his spouse who has been appointed to work in Cuba for a Canadian government-supported international humanitarian organization.

Levant delivered a thundering denunciation. He was almost as livid as the time he took a chainsaw to a potted plant to make a thundering denunciation of Earth Day.

Tony Clement, Treasury Board President and Victorian sideburns aficionado, inserted himself into the hullabaloo, first attacking our man for going to Cuba and then being attacked by Levant who mused on Norman Bethune in the manner of Aquinas puzzling out the question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

This was madness. And at its core was Levant braying on TV, hissing and finger-pointing about the Communist menace like a man who had mislaid his tinfoil hat, the one that stops the aliens from whispering to him.

Levant does TV punditry and analysis by comic-book rules. He is a laughingstock. Out of touch, and out of reach in his obsessions. The virus that is the delusional self-importance induced by multiple TV appearances has entered him and spread in a catastrophic manner.

Once he was a welcome young iconoclast, kicking against smug conformity.

A feisty debater, the scourge of accepted wisdom on everything from separatism to government deficits, he could be devil’s advocate on Quebec one week, genuine advocate for uniting Canadian conservatives the next and a humorous bane of conservative assumptions the week after that.

Now he is none of those things. Oh Ezra Levant, pride of Alberta, it all went wrong on TV, didn’t it?

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