The PM, the Press, Polarization & Propaganda
Stage management, media availability and the "photo opp." It all blends into a easily digestible congee of outrage, cynicism, and . . . votes.
Here’s a bowl of congee for you. How it’s made should be instructive to Real Story subscribers who follow this newsletter for its focus on the way reality is distorted in the funhouse mirror the news media has become.
CTV News: Trudeau cuts appearance in Belleville, Ont., short as protesters swarm motorcade. CBC News: Trudeau cuts short an appearance in Belleville, Ont., after protesters swarm motorcade. National Post: Trudeau motorcade swarmed by protesters in Belleville, Ont., causing PM to cut appearance short. Toronto Star: Justin Trudeau cuts appearance in Belleville short as protesters swarm motorcade. Hamilton Spectator: Justin Trudeau cuts appearance in Belleville short as protesters swarm motorcade.
Weird, eh? You’d think it was all written by the same person. That’s because it was.
The thing about congee is that it’s such a simple, lovely and versatile little meal for breakfast or dinner, with few necessary ingredients. Rice, chicken stock, a bit of ginger and garlic. There are slight variations according to tradition and taste. Maybe add egg, a dash of coriander, chicken thighs, spring onions.
For our strained metaphor here, imagine these ingredients to be relevant facts.
But if you want to know something about what happened at a farmers’ market in Belleville on Thursday you will inevitably turn to the “facts” as they appeared on Instagram or Twitter or Youtube or Facebook. Imagine that same bowl of congree dropped from the ceiling into a giant cauldron of boiling sesame oil in the middle of a crowded restaurant causing an explosion of flames and agonizing screams, a donnybrook, and wildly contradictory accounts about what the hell actually happened and what it all means.
All those news reports - CBC, the National Post, the Star, the Spectator, Global, CTV - derive from a single report of a few paragraphs by a single “pool reporter” in Prime Minister Trudeau’s traveling press entourage. Her name is Mickey Djuric. She’s a perfectly creditable and responsible journalist who works as the parliamentary reporter for the Canadian Press news service.
Mickey filed her report in the usual way, and also posted a video of the Belleville Incident on Twitter. And the result immediately and irrevocably embedded in the public consciousness a version of what happened Thursday in that “friendly” Ontario town, which bills itself as The Friendly City. And in that version, there are facts.
But the “story” is also very much the story Trudeau’s communications team wanted out there. It was, you could say, stage-managed. It’s just how things work nowadays.
Stop blaming “the MSM.” Ot at least stop thinking it’s that simple.
“Pool” reporting is what’s done when it’s simply impractical to have a posse of reporters following the prime minister around at every step of his forays into public and sort-of public spaces. It’s also what happens a lot more nowadays than it used to, simply because there just aren’t many actual journalists to go around anymore.
The rise of social media as the primary means politicians rely upon to get their “message” out is just one pernicious consequence of the collapse of the legacy media’s business model and the shrinking space for conventional journalism. Another is that the “news” media and “social” media have become almost indistinguishable.
My former Maclean’s magazine colleague Paul Wells calls this impoverished state of affairs The Great Disintermediation. He gets into the implications in this series, The End of Media. So, whatever else happened in Belleville on Thursday, what we are left with is exactly the impression Team Trudeau wanted you to be left with, which is the impression they always want to leave you with.
Watch CP’s video again if you need to.
“Security reasons”? What security reasons?
Remember, Justin Trudeau is a prime minister who requires a government jet to fly him not just around the world, but for security reasons, quite routinely for short-hop flights. The National Post’s Bryan Passifume had a look at Trudeau’s high-flying habits back in March and found that over the preceding 30 days, Trudeau had logged 17 carbon-spewing flights, 10 of which were trips under an hour in duration.
“As per long-standing government policy and for security reasons,” the PMO’s Alison Murphy told him, “specific arrangements must be made for the prime minister when he travels, whether on official or personal business.”
And yet on Thursday, Trudeau arranged to have himself escorted right into the middle of a braying mob. With his official photographer on hand, of course. Watch that CP video and you will see that for several minutes, ringed by his security detail, the prime minister is smiling and meeting and taking selfies with people who seem very nice. They’re people of all sizes and colours. It’s all happening right smack in the middle of a crowd of shouting, brutish yobs, at alarmingly close quarters. And Trudeau is loving every minute of it.
The F*ck Trudeau flags, the stupid Trump flag, the shouted obscenities, the lowbrow lumpen chants of “traitor” and “pedophile.” The stuff that former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole called "the very antithesis of what it means to be conservative.” The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre noticed one of the loudmouths shouting “you’re a pathetic Jew” at Trudeau, at least twice.
I was reliably advised by Global News political reporter David Akin that contrary to my initial assumption the event was never intended as “media avail,” shorthand for media availability, which is a neologism for “press conference,” which is where actual journalists used to play at least a minor role in figuring out and reporting what’s what. But it wasn’t even that.
Trudeau’s official public itinerary for Southeastern Ontario was about celebrating the 7th anniversary of his child-tax credit, with this: “2:30 p.m. The Prime Minister will visit a local farmers’ market. Note for media. Pooled photo opportunity.”
The farmers’ market is conveniently located near City Hall where Trudeau met Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis, whose views on the day’s events were pretty much the only other national story about what happened at the farmers’ market. As reported by CTV News Ottawa Digital Multi-Skilled Journalist Ted Raymond on Saturday, Mayor Neil Ellis was “speaking out” about what happened.
After having reportedly taken a couple of days to “reflect” on the event, Ellis said what happened was “hateful” and “discriminatory” and it was an honour to have Trudeau in town and it was the hope of the mayor’s office that everyone could "move forward from this experience." Ellis was the local Liberal MP until his defeat in the 2021 federal election. I guess Beijing’s proxies didn’t work hard enough to monkeywrench the Bay of Quinte riding to his advantage. I’m kidding.
Anyway, the Belleville Farmers’ Market visit was circulated within the parliamentary press crew as “a straight photo opp,” shorthand for photo opportunity, which nowadays is of course a video opportunity for Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. “That's why only a pool camera and pool reporter went to this thing,” Akin said.
And at this thing, the “straight photo opp” involved a true story about loud and unruly yobs who had obviously made at least some effort to mobilize in common to locate and disrupt Trudeau’s Belleville event in ugly ways. Creepy as hell if you ask me.
But Trudeau’s Meet the People things are always choreographed in the way the prime minister’s communications team prefers. What ended up happening in Belleville wasn’t scripted, but it didn’t happen by accident either, and Trudeau’s people got what they came for. Video of a smiling, affable prime minister with ordinary Canadians who like him a lot. Fabulous bonus prize: shouting, menacing yobs who don’t like him at all.
And that is the sum and substance of Trudeau’s most adoring admirers’ organizing principle, right there. He’s the nice man who’s watching out for us. The Conservatives? Haters, shouters, racists, yobs.
And here’s the thing about partisan ideologues of that most fervent kind. No matter the evidence against Dear Leader, they’ll dig themselves ever deeper, because they’re afraid. They’ll lash out wildly rather than consider the terrifying possibility that they’re being taken for fools by the handsome messiah they’ve gone to such lengths to so loudly and publicly defend.
More on the other side of the paywall: Welcome to the Thunderdome.
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