If CBC TV executives ever worry that the broadcaster is becoming irrelevant, all they have to do is think about Rosemary Barton. Now, it’s true that it’s not in the nature of CBC execs to worry about relevance, but it’s also true that Barton generates the kind of intense attention and scrutiny that’s rare in broadcast TV these days. During the election campaign, this column received more mail about Barton than any person or show on TV.
On Monday, Barton anchored CBC’s long election-night coverage with aplomb. That is, with good cheer, a command of the issues and command over a lively, sometimes grumpy panel of pundits. It’s not an easy job. During an election campaign that sometimes resembled an absurdist competition for best village idiot, and lacked both wit and signals of leadership, Barton was someone who appeared smart and in charge.
The mail that comes in about her is mostly hate mail. Heaven only knows what Barton herself receives. She is to be commended for staying on social media even while so much loathing is aimed at her. There are many in the public eye, even some minor newspaper columnists, who are fleeing Twitter and Instagram because the vitriol becomes soul destroying.
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If I understand the mail about Barton – some of it is typed in a confusing, deranged fury – she made the grave mistake of interrupting powerful men in order to get a straight answer from them. The nerve. Clearly, the woman doesn’t know her place. And, further, she gives this skeptical look at powerful men and that, obviously, is a sacking offense.
Misogyny is at the heart of the hate. The amount of scrutiny aimed at Barton’s words during a long night of live coverage, when everybody is bound to say something unclear or unpolished, is absurd. And the attention to her personal appearance would make God herself weep.
Much of the hate comes from supporters of the Conservative Party. Such is the venom that I’m surprised there wasn’t a statement about getting rid of Barton in Erin O’Toole’s Canada’s Recovery Plan, that document he kept waving around like a codger trying to swat a fly. The document promised to review CBC’s mandate and reduce funding to CBC’s English TV operations, an idea that isn’t actually that popular. O’Toole might have got more traction from his supporters on that campaign promise if he’d specifically mentioned Barton.
What upset some readers specifically was Barton’s pesky questioning of O’Toole during her Face to Face interviews with the party leaders. O’Toole’s persistence in sticking to talking points without answering questions is what led to her interruptions, as any fool could see. Those interviews were actually a godsend during media coverage of the campaign, especially since the English-language leaders’ debate was a farce and a disgrace to Canadian TV.
Personally, I wonder if the Conservatives have forgiven Barton for her epic admonishment of Chris Alexander, at the time the immigration minister, for his obfuscation on the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. On live TV Barton called him out and Alexander tried to deflect the issue to CBC coverage. The encounter was livid with indignation, as Barton did what any human being would do and all Alexander could offer was asinine anti-CBC blather. Since then, the Conservative Party seems to be in a war of attrition with CBC.
Listen, I’ve been writing about television long enough to recognize what TV stardom does to some people. Pomposity and monomania descend easily, and TV news anchors are especially susceptible. There are people who anchor the suppertime news in Canada who believe that moving from the makeup chair to a desk where they read a teleprompter is a herculean task, and thus they bestride the media world as a colossus. Staying human, funny, inquisitive and skeptical of power is the hard part, actually, and Barton embodies that.
It’s a fact that CBC TV news remains a mess and that The National is more likely to make you roll your eyes than feel informed. But Barton is the best of it as it exists now. She made CBC TV’s election coverage bearable, and on election night she was buoyant, funny and fully engaged. Enough with the sexist, partisan attacks already.
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