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Books Linden MacIntyre: Sun News Network died for a simple reason, and it wasn't the original concept (or Ezra)

Linden MacIntyre

John Hryniuk/The Globe and Mail

People often approach me because I'm recognizable to television watchers of a certain age, inevitably to praise: "Love your work … love your show." And since late last year when I decided to end my 38 year run as a reporter with the CBC, "We're gonna miss you."

These are feel-good moments - but always tempered by the near certainty that somewhere in that subway car, or restaurant or bar or book event there is someone seething silently, someone who would love to approach and tell me how much she or he hates my stories, attitude, appearance, accent, perceived political agenda, the scandal-ridden bloviated tax-sucking CBC. Etc. Or maybe even a reasonable, polite complaint about the left-wing envy-bias-negativity of the media in general and the public broadcaster in particular.

I look around me for facial evidence of the repressed complaint and ask myself - what's wrong with the right? Is it that they're too polite? Is it part of the essential quality of being a "Canadian" that we keep our criticism to ourselves? Are we afraid to test opinions that are, perhaps, more emotional than logical?

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Surely it can't be because the conservative ethos is being sufficiently articulated by Conrad Black or Amanda Lang or Rex Murphy.

Or is it all because of Ezra Levant?

Here's a news flash: I grew up in a conservative environment. Traditional Catholicism. Names like Diefenbaker, Stanfield, Mulroney, Clark - revered. Political debate was respectable. At wakes and weddings and schoolhouse card games, even in the classroom - a political affiliation was as much a part of one's personal identity as religion or a hockey sweater. People were proud of their politics, left, right and centre. When I was a university student I made posters for the Tories in the 1963 election. I was a Tory in a model parliament. I didn't like the Liberal position on nuclear weapons. End of story.

I covered parliament in the sixties and had what I think was a "Canadian" reaction to the bombast of the Diefenbaker opposition. I felt squeamish about the personal attacks on politicians who seemed decent and, maybe, out of their depth. I'm sure hardly anyone can remember Guy Favreau. Lucien Cardin. Even Lester Pearson, the prime minister, always seemed to be somewhat off-balance when the heat was on.

Then came the Rat Pack - in the eighties, a Liberal solution to diminished numbers in the House of Commons. Crank up the volume. Play for thrills and laughs. Damn the logic. Reason and fair play are for after hours, over drinks. And then it was Frank Magazine, printing the unprintable. The Canadian reaction: to smile and look the other way; fold it into your Economist; don't admit that you subscribe.

I did a television story about Frank once in which I described it not so much as a magazine as a spirit lurking but repressed in most of us - a quiet malice that inhabits offices and the hearts of ordinary people. But, love it or hate it, Frank had news. Frank took aim at narcissism and pomposity. Frank picked too many soft and undeserving targets. But when it hit the right one, man did we feel good. They said what we were thinking.

Then someone got the bright idea that Canadians were ready for a real up-front conservative alternative in the mainstream media. And whoever "they" were, they might well have been onto a viable idea. But they forgot something important. Canadians tend to regard bombast and abuse as, at best, amusing when the targets are appropriate, and pomposity and posturing to be even more offensive coming from people who, when all is said and done, have nothing, really, to complain about. Taxes? Socialist conspiracies about climate change? Feminism? The menace of diversity? Are we really going to begin and end each day with a "Hell, yeah!" response to another rant about head scarves?

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Sun News Network died for a very simple reason and it had nothing to do with the original concept, or with Ezra's costumes, not even his commentaries and his ridiculous hyperbole.

The media, like politics, has always been about performance. But performance isn't just about volume and projection, wigs and histrionics. The objective of performance isn't only to be noticed. It's to communicate. The problem viewers had with Ezra and most of Sun TV wasn't the performance but the content. There was nothing there but style. And it was a style that was embarrassing to people who might have had some thoughtful things to say.

And maybe now that Sun is toast - they will.

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