Manufacturing disgust

Corporate media ignore the big scandals in favour of tabloid outrage

Over-the-top coverage of spending by minister and civil servants shows misplaced journalistic priorities
Photo: Mike O'Dowd

I don’t know about you, but I’m not disgusted.

Last week, much of this country’s vast reactionary press — still smarting from the thrashing administered in October 2015 to their recently departed man, Stephen Harper — joined in a loud, fulminating chorus to lecture us about how we should all be so damn angry and disgusted by the outrageous conduct of those smug Liberals now in charge.

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As a quick aside, who else bids adieu to Parliament, and by extension, Canadians, in a pre-recorded statement delivered alone, ashen-faced, in a cavernous boardroom? Harper went out the way he came in: insular, secretive and distrustful of Canada and Canadians.

In any event, back to Canadians being urged by reporters and columnists who populate the neo-con press to be sickened over the behaviour of a new crop of Marie Antoinettes in Liberal red.

Now, what precisely are we all supposed to be disgusted about? Reportedly, a couple of federal Liberal cabinet ministers and a gaggle of equally "entitled" civil servants have spent, all told, less than about $20,000 on visits to airport lounges, vanity pictures and expensive meals in Paris.

While I usually find this chronic tendency among ministers of all political persuasions and their aides to consider the public purse to be their private purse grating, it rarely induces disgust.

Maybe that’s just me and perhaps countless other Canadians who are much more preoccupied and — dare I suggest — disgusted by other, more pressing outrages, like that the world is getting suicidally hot while we dither, that civil wars are leaving orphaned Syrian kids sitting numb in ambulances and that the Republican candidate for president is a raving racist who still enjoys the support of nearly 40 per cent of Americans.

Admittedly, my disgust meter often shoots to 11 when I digest depressing news about climate change somnolence, perpetual war, and Donald Trump. As for the pricey peccadillos of a few ministers and their assistants, generally speaking, it barely moves the dial. My bad, I suppose.

Corporate media outlets do a disservice to their dwindling audiences by giving these rather small-potato stories man-on-the-moon-sized play.

Apparently, this itsy bitsy amount of waste is not only disgusting, but constitutes front-page, top-of-the newscast “news” in the minds of many no doubt serious journalists and editors working at a major newspaper chain and a private television network.

Look, if these journalists want to devote their careers to filing Access to Information requests to ferret out this kind of picayune, shooting-fish-in-a- barrel-in-Ottawa largesse, they can knock themselves out.

But these corporate media outlets do a disservice to their dwindling audiences by giving these rather small-potato stories man-on-the-moon-sized play to try to convince Canadians of their alleged import or that these “revelations” are the product of a Watergate-like commitment to “investigative reporting.”

If that’s the case, then in the movie All The President’s Men, Deepthroat should really have counselled Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to “follow the receipts” in that basement garage instead.

To label this stuff an exposé or scandal is also trite tabloid hyperbole. If the authors and editors of these stories believe they indeed apply, then those words have finally and emphatically lost every ounce of meaning they once legitimately possessed in journalism.

Still, one ubiquitous member of the disgusted media brigade described critics who scoffed at these ephemeral disclosures as “apologists” and “bored sophisticates” for sneering at all the “disgusting little bits of waste.”

In deciding what’s big, banner news, journalists are supposed to apply context and perspective.

The writer’s sermon-like admonition delivered from the pulpit of his column misses the mark. What, I suspect, rankles many journalists and non-journalists alike is the continuing trivialization of the “news” in the frenzied pursuit of a political scalp or fleeting media buzz at the expense of matters that matter.

During the same week, for example, that the scolding columnist and other members of the disgust brigade in print, TV and “talk” radio were devoting acres of space and time to lounges, pictures and dinners, a report was published revealing that Ontario schools require $15 billion in repairs. In Toronto, 200 schools — one-third of the city’s schools — were reported to be in “critical condition.”

To my knowledge, this $15-billion story with real, direct and potentially profound consequences for people outside the distorting bubble of Parliament Hill failed to trigger any disgust, let alone blaring columns or stories in the same newspaper chain or breathless lead items on the same TV network that trumpeted their “exclusives” about a bunch of receipts.

In deciding what’s big, banner news, journalists are supposed to apply context and perspective. Last week, as on too many other occasions, those notions were abandoned by jackal-like journalists more interested in manufacturing disgust.

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