Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of CBC The National’s “At Issue” panel and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising.
This is the first of his weekly digital columns for The Globe and Mail.
When I was about 10, living in Valleyfield, Que., I delivered the Montreal Gazette and the Montreal Star, riding a bike in the summer and pulling a toboggan in the winter.
My dad, although he never finished high school, loved reading about world affairs and brought us up to share his keen interest in news and politics. Every day, when I finished my routes, I’d read about hockey and baseball and then turn to columnists Charles Lynch and Douglas Fisher.
I dreamt that once my first career as an astronaut was concluded, I would try my hand at what Lynch and Fisher did: describe our national politics in words that drew readers in and left them feeling better for having invested the time.
So while neither of those career paths panned out, when The Globe recently asked me to provide a weekly column through the next election, I couldn’t say no.
Before getting into this week’s topic, I want to repeat a disclosure I’ve noted before. In the past, I’ve worked for Conservative and Liberal politicians but have not done partisan work for years, and won’t. Close family members have been active in senior roles in Conservative and Reform campaigns, and one of my daughters currently works in Justin Trudeau’s office.
Earlier this week, I was thinking about why I loved the journalism of Lynch and Fisher when I found myself clicking on a news story and watching Ezra Levant’s recent Sun TV commentary about Justin Trudeau.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a link. It should be required viewing in journalism schools.
The piece was a mess of invective and poor taste, including assertions that Mr. Trudeau’s father was slutty and his mother promiscuous.
This prompted Justin Trudeau to take an unusual step. He advised Quebecor, the owner of Sun Media, that he wouldn’t deal with Sun journalists until the company took appropriate action.
In turn, this has sparked a debate about whether Mr. Trudeau was right or wrong to take the action he did, whether it was clever or inept strategy, whether he was trying to bully or muzzle professional journalists, or just playing into the hands of his tormentors at Sun News.
There are plenty of people capable and willing to make the case for journalistic access, and there are worthy arguments to make.
Without in any way dismissing those arguments, I’m drawn to thinking what this might feel like from the politician’s point of view.
First off, if a competing politician uttered the things that Mr. Levant said about Justin Trudeau, we would expect an apology or a resignation, or both. If we wouldn’t tolerate such shameful behavior among political competitors, what would it say about how low we are willing to see media standards fall, if there were no consequences.
Second, maybe someone can explain why any of us should have to answer to anyone for the sexual habits of our parents. I’ve never heard a voter in a focus group say “I’d vote for candidate x, if his or her parents had been more sexually conservative.”
Even if you could get past the scummy irrelevancy of the assault on Mr. Trudeau and his parents, there are huge issues of accuracy in his piece. Watch Mr. Levant’s description of events, and then read the account of how the groom’s father saw the same moments. I suppose it’s possible that the father of the groom was lying, but I think another explanation seems more likely.
It’s unsettling how much time has been spent talking about the wisdom of Mr. Trudeau’s response than the integrity of Mr. Levant’s attack. What Mr. Levant did is an embarrassment to journalists, and to those in conservative politics that he is normally aligned with.
From my standpoint, Mr. Trudeau took a reasonable position, holding the publisher to account and using what leverage he can muster. His goal seems not to end or disrupt or manipulate media relations in a permanent or pervasive way, but to say this isn’t normal and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
When people in politics get attacked like this, one choice is to shrug it off and say, hey, get a thicker skin, roll with the punches, accept that these are the rules of the road.
Then years later, we can feel dismay at the sorry tone of our civic life, or wonder why few good people are willing to run for office.
Alternatively, we can recognize that if we see something that simply isn’t right and let it pass, we’re partly to blame for a drift to the bottom.
I fielded one call from a conservative who said that Mr. Trudeau was taking the coward’s way out by refusing to engage with Sun. I tried hard to understand that logic.
But in the end I couldn’t help but think that cowardice in that situation is doing nothing to defend your honour, and that of your parents.
I certainly get the need to protect professional journalism. But this week anyway, it needs more protection against what Ezra Levant would do to it, than what Justin Trudeau would.Report Typo/Error
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