Media bias in election
Commentary by Tony Gosgnach
Two of the great media guru Marshall McLuhan's most notable slogans were "the medium is the message" and "all news is fake." Given the recent Canadian federal election campaign, one can verily say that truer words were never spoken.
"Mainstream" media outlets and their reporters exhibited a shocking degree of selective, slanted and outright biased coverage throughout the campaign, but never more so than when it came to the so-called hot-button issues such as abortion and homosexuality. In fact, if one took the coverage at face value, it would be difficult to discern that these were even contentious and controversial issues at all. Instead, one might easily have thought that the whole country was pro-abortion and pro-homosexual, and that anyone thinking outside that little box was an extremist wingnut of the first order.
The ball started rolling when media pundits jumped on Conservative Rob Merrifield's rather tame remark early in the campaign that women may benefit from receiving third-party counselling prior to undergoing abortions. That was the red blanket that the pro-abortion bulls, and their allies in the media, needed to swing into action.
"The Conservative party's health critic is advocating a dramatic shift in abortion regulations," claimed the Globe and Mail's Jill Mahoney in a June 1 article. Mahoney went on to quote extensively from outraged remarks by the usual suspects, including Henry Morgentaler, the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League.
Opposing these three pro-abortion voices was just one pro-life voice - Campaign Life Coalition's Jim Hughes - but the reporter did not contact any of post-abortive women suggested as sources to her who could have added a uniqueand often ignored perspective on the issue. Nor did the media report on the press releases issued by groups such as CLC and the Canadian Physicians for Life. The Canadian Press claimed Conservative leader Stephen Harper was "on the defensive" over the issue.
In a follow-up Globe article the next day, Mahoney and Brian Laghi characterized Merrifield - who ultimately was re-elected - as "beleaguered." Even National Post commentator John Ivison characterized Merrifield's remarks as "a gaffe." The Toronto Star, that bastion of liberalism and leftist thinking, came up with an editorial suggesting "Harper's position on abortion (is) unclear" - even though he unequivocally stated his prospective government would not be introducing abortion-related legislation in the next Parliament.
Globe columnist Margaret Wente opined that Merrifield's observations immediately lost the urban Ontario female vote. The Hamilton Spectator, in a June 4 front-page piece, printed an all-capital headline that only lacked an exclamation point at the end: "HARPER WOULD ALLOW FREE VOTE ON ABORTION" - as if that was a hideously undemocratic thing to do.
Anne Dawson of CanWest News Service, in a June 5 article, suggested that "demons of the past … dangerous and uncomfortable moral issues" (read: abortion, same-sex marriage and capital punishment) had come back to "haunt" the Conservative party.
Mainstream reporters then obsequiously filed into a pro-abortion press conference June 4 to hear and report on outrageous comments by Morgentaler (again), June Callwood, Doris Anderson (curiously, chair of the Ontario Press Council), Shirley Douglas and Norma Scarborough. Toronto Star reporter Caroline Mallon, in a generously long article on the non-event, amazingly could find no space for rebutting comments from pro-life representatives.
A little bit of sanity was provided by National Post columnist Andrew Coyne - a journalist that is not even pro-life - who, quite appropriately, asked the question, "On abortion, who's the extremist?" Coyne accused reporters of fabricating a "self-generated story … reporting about reporting." He said, "The media manage to make themselves a part of every campaign, but it's rare to see them openly acknowledge this role."
Toronto Sun columnist Linda Williamson, meanwhile, observed that there is a "commandment" in Canadian politics that reads: "You must not raise abortion as an issue - not in your first term, or ever. You must not allow anyone else to put forward a private member's bill on it, either, or allow a free vote on it - even though that's what parliamentary procedure dictates. Better to shut down all debate on this one, regardless of your professed devotion to democracy, MPs' rights or 'fixing the democratic deficit.'"
Around the same time, results of a survey in the U.S. revealed that only seven per cent of national news journalists there considered themselves conservative. Eighty-eight per cent, on the other hand, believed society should accept homosexuality. One suspects the situation is not any better - and is likely worse - in Canada.
When the Liberal party dredged up a video of Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant at this year's March for Life, comparing abortion to the beheading of civilians in Iraq, the mainstream press jumped on that bandwagon. CTV News suggested that Gallant "has already caused her party leader trouble this election campaign."
The ambush didn't hurt Gallant's re-election bid, however, as she won handily in her Renfrew-Nippissing-Pembroke, Ont. riding.
Media also went into a tizzy when Catholic Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary publicly pointed out Prime Minister Paul Martin's "moral incoherence" for claiming to be a devout Catholic while supporting unrestricted abortion rights. One Calgary newspaper ran a poll on whether people approved of Henry's statements, yet it would have been hard to imagine a media outlet doing the same over, say, Henry Morgentaler's wading into the abortion-politics fray.
In a June 7 editorial, the Globe and Mail predictably - but erroneously - echoed Jean Chretien's old line that "social peace on the status quo" on abortion is prevailing. Then, Globe columnist John Ibbitson, in a June 8 piece, suggested discussions on abortion were obscuring "more important issues" - like money. The same day, CTV News, in a blatantly untrue statement, reported that, "Polls have found that a large majority of Canadians are satisfied with the status quo (on abortion)." In fact, polls consisently show Canadians do not want unrestricted abortion-on-demand.
What effect was all this negative media coverage having on the Tories? None at all. In fact, it may have even been aiding their electoral efforts. A June 11 poll revealed that women's support for the Tories was rising, from 26 to 28 per cent.
As the abortion issue faded in intensity during the campaign, the media bias quotient similarly diminished. However, until the end, the Liberal party kept playing up its charges of an alleged Conservative threat to a woman's "right to choose" (whatever that means) and mainstream media outlets continued to paint the Conservatives as out-of-sync with alleged "Canadian values" (whatever those are) on other issues such as the Charter of Rights, use of the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution, Supreme Court appointments, hate-crime revisions and the like.
But as Globe Media Watch columnist Hugh Windsor so well put it in a June 8 piece, mainstream media have been engaging in, and have often prompted, hyperbole. He chastized them for going along with it and openly questioned whether they had unwittingly become partners in Liberal election strategies.
Whatever the answer, one must conclude that the mainstream media were, as a whole (with the possible exceptions of the National Post and the Sun Media chain) hopelessly biased, if not negligent and incompetent, in their coverage of social issues during the recent election campaign.
Given McLuhan's dictum that the medium is the message, Canadians need to - with apologies for stealing the Conservative campaign slogan - "demand better" from their news media. The era when reporters acted as lackeys for abortionists, homosexual activists, feminists, liberals and other assorted narrow interests should be long past. That it still isn't is a troubling situation that needs to be dealt with immediately, before another election campaign comes upon us.
Write letters, send e-mails, support alternative media, yell, scream, jump up and down and do whatever you have to do to demand better and fairer coverage from our well-paid and monopolizing mainstream media. The future of our country - not to mention generations of unborn Canadians and families - depends on it.
Tony Gosgnach is the assistant editor of The Interim.