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Some thoughts for Canadian media in the wake of President Donald Trump

Posted on 9 November 2016

There are any number of post-US-election hot takes for you to digest right now, by people who were following the race far closer than me. The analyses of how Trump won, why, and who’s responsible are coming fast and furious.

One thing that I don’t think is controversial is this: he received a lot of coverage from the press.  From the New York Times in March, here’s the amount of free media coverage he received versus the other contenders for leadership of  the Republican and Democratic parties:


Whether that coverage was fair is debatable.

Some of his supporters might feel it was a relentless attack that mischaracterized the nature of his campaign and his appeal.

Some of his detractors might feel it was a free pass, normalizing bigotry and racism in favour of ratings.

But either way, Trump took up a lot of space, at the expense of other candidates, and a lot of time was focused some of his more… outrageous… talking points at the expense of other issues.

As you may or may not know, there is a Conservative Party leadership race underway right now. At the risk of drawing too many parallels to the Republicans, it is:

By the way, of the twelve people running, here’s the only one who’s received a national magazine cover:


And Kellie Leitch is making her way into Canadian headlines today thanks to a 3 am email reading:

“Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president

It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.

It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada

It’s why I’m the only candidate who will ensure that every visitor, immigrant, and refugee will be screened for Canadian values

I look forward to continuing to deliver this message to the Canadian elites – that historic Canadian values are worth protecting.”

The temptation to go COULD A TRUMP CAMPAIGN SUCCEED IN CANADA? is strong and is already well underway. But I think some real thought needs to go into this, regardless of where you stand on the candidates or the issues.

Some questions for Canadian media going forward… and bearing in mind I’m not suggesting I have the answers:

  1. Is it appropriate to latch on to the most controversial/ear-catching statements a candidate makes? It may be interesting to talk about how, exactly, Leitch plans to screen every visitor to Canada for “values” but is the public being served if we do that at the expense of talking about… well, let’s be honest, have you even really heard much about what any of the other candidates are running on?
  2. A heck of a lot the coverage of the presidential election was about polls – who was appealing to who, how much any particular statement helped or hurt each candidate – and look what happened. I’m not suggesting throwing polls out. But maybe we’ve hit a point where the discussion can be more focused on other things, as well, rather than constant analysis of the reasons for numbers that ultimately might not even represent reality.
  3. How do we appropriately reflect the full spectrum of reality in our country? I am definitely down with trying to paint human portraits of people who we might not necessarily agree with, as so many tried to do with angry Trump voters spouting off racist, misogynistic language. What makes them feel this way? What are they like in their personal relationships? I believe in the value of humanity. But – and this is based on my own gut instinct, not any in-depth media analysis – it felt to me like there was a lot more effort placed on painting human portraits of the angry Trump supporters than there were on the worried Clinton supporters, the people backing Ted Cruz, the ones devoted to Sanders- or even the agnostic middle ground. They, too, are complete human beings with hopes, dreams, and struggles. On the surface it may be more interesting to try and answer the question how can anyone support a person calling for a ban on Muslims? but it may also be interesting to hear the very real human struggle of the people who are Muslim, too. At the very least, if you do one, do the other.
  4. That being said, things can go the other way. I’m listening to Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who was in the U.S. during the election, talk to CBC about here questions after the election, particularly this one:

    “It was just this sense of we’re not being listened to, and we feel like this guy’s going to listen to us… it was more of a message of ‘I’m tired of my voice not being heard’. I think that there’s some congruency to the Brexit results, as well. The Brexit rhetoric sort of boiled down to two very polarized camps: it was either you’re a bleeding-heart leftist socialist for wanting to help these people, or you’re a racist for questioning how we integrate, how we successfully integrate newcomers into the country, and there was no sort of pragmatic middle ground.

    “I think for us in Canada we have to be very careful to not fall into that same trap, for not having a place where we can talk about legitimate issues in a way that is positive for the growth of the country, that we don’t shy away from tough topics… because I feel like that was a big dynamic that happened down in the US, it happened in the UK, and I certainly don’t want to see it happen here.

    So how do we have those conversations, while keeping them grounded in reality? I think there’s a temptation, sometimes, to take some of the most polarizing voices on a controversial issue and pit them against each other, and act like that’s fair. My suspicion is there might be more value in renewing efforts to actually examine these debates in an informative way- one that treats all sides of an issue with respect, but doesn’t allow misinformation to go unchecked.

These aren’t opinions so much as sketches of questions floating through my mind. Interested to hear your thoughts.

Filed under: media

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