If federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer declares journalists the “enemy of the people,” we will know he will have unburdened himself of any final reservations about adopting U.S. President Donald Trump’s war with the press as a means of winning and maintaining power.
To this point, Mr. Scheer and his Conservative colleagues have mostly taken tentative steps in this direction – although they’ve been noticeable and concerning. Some of his MPs have gone after journalists on social media, accusing one of being a “Liberal reporter.” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel has called The Canadian Press news agency a “spin tool” of the Prime Minister’s Office. Her YouTube channel offers the “real news” from Parliament Hill, opposed to, presumably, “fake news.”
With an election a little less than a year away, the Conservatives are revving up the anti-media rhetoric. In an open letter published in the Toronto Sun recently, Mr. Scheer said taxpayers needed someone as federal leader who would stand up to “the media and privileged elite.” At a later rally, he charged that the media and punditry were on the side of the Liberal establishment.
This, of course, is a naked attempt to fire up the Tory base ahead of what is expected to be a nasty 2019 campaign. If it inspires supporters to send in a donation, all the better.
There is also a chance that the media will go to greater lengths to ensure their political stories are fair and balanced, that they are not pawns of the government. In other words, Mr. Scheer’s criticism will be taken seriously. Many believe this precise strategy worked for Mr. Trump in the race for the U.S. presidency.
Of course, this will only extend to reporters. The commentariat is another matter. And if Mr. Scheer doesn’t like the fact that Justin Trudeau’s carbon plan has received wide praise, while his so-far tepid response to global warming has been panned, well, that’s too bad. He could do something about it by putting his own, credible blueprint for reducing greenhouse gas emissions out there to be scrutinized. We wait.
Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with Mr. Scheer criticizing the media, except for the context in which it is happening. The type of hate and anger Mr. Trump is fomenting toward the press is dangerous. At one rally, he praised a politician who had body-slammed and hurt a reporter who had asked him a simple question. He routinely calls the media the “enemy of the people.” In the wake of recent events – the synagogue shooting, the arrest of a Republican supporter sending pipe bombs to the President’s critics – Mr. Trump blamed the media for sowing division in the country. Ergo, it’s the media, not him, responsible for the rash of violence.
There is a growing unease that we are approaching a day, as one U.S. commentator put it, when blood on a newsroom floor will be blood on a President’s hands.
God forbid that day arrives. But this is the danger of Mr. Scheer adopting a strategy that is obviously aligned with what Mr. Trump is doing in the United States. Sure, it might work in terms of taking the media down a notch or two in the eyes of the public. By eroding the credibility of the press, politicians help undermine the credibility of stories that are critical of them. By treating the media with contempt, it gives people the right to treat the media with contempt, too.
This is the milieu in which we are now dealing south of the border. Does Mr. Scheer want to be associated with this approach to politics? I can see Ontario Premier Doug Ford not being shy of adopting this tactic, but I expect better of Mr. Scheer and his colleagues.
The fact is, Mr. Scheer and his party receive plenty of positive coverage. Whinging about all the positive coverage Mr. Trudeau allegedly gets ignores reality. No prime minister in recent history endured the kind of criticism and derision the Liberal Party Leader did during his unfortunate trip to India in February. There are lots of other examples of Mr. Trudeau coming under heavy media censure for his actions. There is also the fact that since 2006, the vast majority of newspapers in Canada have endorsed the Conservatives at election time.
Accusing the media of being pawns of the Liberals might make for good politics, but adopting an approach that allies oneself with Mr. Trump is Scheer stupidity.