In a recent fundraising letter, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives turned their guns on the news media. The governing party has bled a quarter of its support since the 2011 election. Why not blame the press?
The letter from Conservative operative Fred DeLorey groused about the glowing coverage Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is supposedly getting. It alleged that a cartel of five big media corporations prevent the Conservatives from getting unfiltered facts to the public. It singled out the CBC, asking supporters whether the network should be privatized.
Is this just more Nixonian paranoia from Mr. Harper's crew? Not really. Check the history. Read Allan Levine's Scrum Wars. Leaders habitually blame the media for their grief, and sometimes with good reason.
There's some strange stuff in this missive, though. A whirlwind of change besets the media world, and the letter provides some clues about Mr. Harper's thinking.
The point about concentrated media power will raise eyebrows. Is Mr. Harper looking to break them up?
And the notion that media conglomerates are doing the bidding of the liberal left? That would be news to the likes of Postmedia, Sun Media, Shaw Communications, Rogers and Bell: Their headquarters aren't exactly overrun by Noam Chomsky disciples. And more than 90 per cent of Canadian newspapers endorsed the Conservatives in the last election.
But like a growing number of our system's institutional checks and balances, the fourth estate is on Mr. Harper's hit list. The CBC has been there a long time; it would be gone if the PM had his druthers. If he wins the next election, it very well might be, as the fundraising letter's line of questioning suggests.
The PM's favourite media outlet is Sun Media. If you want to take the measure of the man and his conception of Canada, his views of Sun Media versus the CBC are worth pondering.
Knowlton Nash's death on the weekend brought back memories of more prestigious days for the CBC, of its role in shaping Canadian culture. For core conservatives, this cultural power has been a source of bitterness – a citadel of central Canadian liberalism, elitism and big-government values.
Parliamentary committee members are currently pursuing Peter Mansbridge and other CBC executives for salary details. If market value means anything, they might consider that the big U.S. news honchos make $10-million to $20-million. Mr. Mansbridge, who probably makes 10 per cent of that, is just as good or better.
And haven't our politicians got better things to worry about? As noticed in the Quebec election, Sun Media proprietor Pierre Karl Péladeau is a fist-raising separatist. While the public broadcaster is being hounded, isn't that worth a comment or two?
Many of the CBC's problems are of its own making. There's no need for sympathy or bailouts. But there's also no need for defunding or a push for privatization, purely on account of a prime minister's grudge.
When it comes to coverage, Mr. Harper has, in fact, been getting a rough media going over in recent months. He might wish to consider that perhaps the Senate scandal, the elections bill blundering and the Supreme Court debacle have something to with it.
The Prime Minister isn't trending well with journalists. Years ago, there were a few scribes who took exception to his excessive controls and billy-club style of democracy. Now the majority of pundits are of that view – left, right and centre.
We've seen how Mr. Harper reacts when challenged. Going forward, we can probably expect more than just fundraising letters.