As national polls continue to track the growing popularity of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, which now rates well ahead of the Green Party, the search for a cause is underway. Federal Conservatives have tried to pin it to Justin Trudeau and his willingness to speak out against anti-vaccine protesters, while Liberals are more than happy to point out Bernier’s long-standing ties to the Conservative Party of Canada. But as a disastrously tone-deaf column from The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson showed, we shouldn’t overlook the role the mainstream media is playing in the PPC’s troubling rise.

In a piece arguing the PPC “deserves” representation in Ottawa, Ibbitson traded in an argument that sounds like it was drawn straight from the 2016 coverage of the American election. “There are plenty of reasons why so many people have become resentful and untrusting: the loss of manufacturing jobs due to offshoring; the increasing number of non-European immigrants; the stress of the pandemic; the self-empowerment that comes with rejecting authority,” he wrote.

Yes, you read that right — “non-European immigrants” are apparently to blame for the paranoid tirades and xenophobic nationalism that tends to characterize large gatherings of PPC supporters. It was so odious that The Globe and Mail was forced to add an “editor’s note” explaining that this sort of racism is, indeed, a bad thing.

But that wasn’t the only questionable paragraph in Ibbitson’s column. In the first version posted online, he concluded that “if their voice is silenced — if PPC members fail to break through in Parliament, just as Mr. Bernier was unfairly denied representation in the leaders’ debate last week — they will find another way to be heard. And you may not like their methods.”

That last sentence was magically excised from both the print and updated online version, although apparently, it didn’t merit its own editor’s note. But let’s be clear: Bernier’s exclusion from the federal leaders’ debates was a reflection of the rules the debate commission set, not any sort of “unfairness.” His party deserves the representation it wins on Sept. 20 — no less, and certainly no more.

If this sort of sympathetic coverage seems familiar, that’s because it should. It’s precisely the same kind that helped normalize and mainstream Donald Trump’s candidacy and ideas. As Wired’s Miranda Katz wrote in 2018, “The very act of exposure, combined with stories that unwittingly framed extremism as a victimless novelty, legitimized and empowered an otherwise fringe perspective.”

In a May 2018 report called “The Oxygen of Amplification,” digital media scholar Whitney Phillips mapped the various ways in which mainstream media organizations unwittingly did the work of far-right radicals in the United States, and laid out some strategies for how to avoid it in the future.

“The takeaway for establishment journalists is stark,” she wrote, “and starkly distressing: just by showing up for work and doing their jobs as assigned, journalists covering the far-right fringe ... played directly into these groups’ public relations interests. In the process, this coverage added not just oxygen, but rocket fuel to an already-smoldering fire.”

Whether he meant to or not, Ibbitson dumped a bunch of The Globe and Mail’s high-powered fuel onto that populist fire.

It’s not the first time his publication has made this sort of mistake, either. In 2019, it gave column inches to Ezra Levant, the proprietor of Rebel News and enthusiastic supporter of Trump and his movement — a decision that apparently came straight from editor-in-chief David Walmsley. Levant was understandably delighted by the public relations coup he’d pulled off. “I’m grateful to them for giving me the platform,” he wrote, “because while The Rebel has a massive audience of ‘severely normal’ Canadians, The Globe and Mail is the newspaper of record for the Canadian establishment.”

At some point, you’d think an organization as well-resourced as The Globe and Mail would figure this out. It does not lack for smart people who can read the proverbial room and see why publishing this kind of commentary looks an awful lot like what papers like the New York Times did with Trump and the MAGA movement. In bending over backwards to understand or accommodate Trump’s far-right supporters, they ended up mainstreaming their concerns and ideas, which included things like bigotry towards immigrants and threats of violent reprisal. The world saw how that all played out on Jan. 6.

If we want to avoid a repeat here in Canada, we need our mainstream media organizations to do much, much better than this. They must learn from what happened in the United States and Trumpism, and avoid falling into the same traps their counterparts laid for themselves. Telling the truth about the People’s Party of Canada and the frustrations that apparently motivate its voters is important. But they must be told in a way that doesn’t help advance their cause.

Opinion: Telling the truth about the People’s Party of Canada and the frustrations that apparently motivate its voters is important. But they must be told in a way that doesn’t help advance their cause, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #elxn44 #cdnpoli

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Well done Max. I’m sure Ibbotson will read this and hammer you with some Big Boy scolding but I think you stung him. Readers of NObserver probably don’t subscribe to the Globe but if they do now is a good time to unsubscribe. Its the only thing they will understand.

Another excellent opinion from Max on the promotion of his strong commitment to Censorship and Dictatorship principles. You seem to be implying that all PPC members or people who do not agree with you and express an opinion are racists and extremists and should be silenced. There is no doubt there is a small percentage of extremists in ALL aspects of society. That needs to be dealt with accordingly but we are all entitled to our opinions as long as it is respectful and not harmful to others.

Have you not noticed that that ship has sailed?

I'd be interested in hearing what the PPC means to you. Unfortunately operatives of the Party throwing rocks at the prime minister tends to take the focus away from any principles or platform ideas. My impression is the the party is not much more than Tea Party North - a place for the ignorant to revel in their anger - but maybe I'm wrong. Bernier's allegiance to Public Choice Theory tells me that, at the end of the day, he believes democracy should be reduced in favour of increasing power to billionaires. That would explain the Globe's soft soaping. The billionaire princeling that runs the Globe doesn't have to be explicit in his desires for someone like Ibbitson to try and please him.

Frankly, I don't think this stuff is as "unwitting" as all that. When far right, even fascist, movements start to grow, the establishment media are generally happy to report on them--sometimes sympathetically, sometimes with handwringing viewing-with-alarm, but they give them coverage.
On the other hand, when leftist movements start to grow, coverage is generally as scarce as they can make it. They don't even have to be far left--even as the media reported the heck out of Trump back in 2015 or so, they did their best to avoid talking about Bernie Sanders. Sometimes, as with Black Lives Matter, there is an initial spurt of coverage because dramatic things are happening . . . but it quickly subsides, to give the impression that this was just an event, not any kind of political movement.

The media know well how to suffocate political movements they don't like. They could do it to fascists, but they don't.

Well said Ray and Rufus. Another point - the usage of the word 'conspiracy' used by Max and others, tends to lump any and all 'other' theories (main stream media speak) into themes of sci-fi or evil . This word is overused (check your dictionary), confuses readers, and/or leads them down a path where anything other than MSM news is 'conspiracy' . In so doing, curiosity is blunted, the opportunity to see both sides of the coin are stifled, and worse, professional debate is sadly lacking. Debate in any medium serves to educate, and encourages critical thinking, two aspects that have been ignored or censored by those who undermine freedom of expression. I have little trust in MSM news for these reasons. Not sure how much longer I can rely on or continue to enjoy what I assumed was intelligent independent news.

NO. The last sentence is a total contradiction! He sanctions what has been happening with the media in the States and here with the insistence that they "must find a way" to report on these straight-up shit disturbers, these rebels without a pause, these barbarians at the gates. Why in hell should anyone enable these wannabe revolutionaries with zero legs to stand on? Everyone knows that their position is entirely trumped-up, pun intended.
This stupidity on the political left, this stupid, vain "virtue signalling" of "going high when they go low" BS has clearly left us all clinging to the edges of the sinking ship that is democracy, compulsively and in a martyred fashion reporting on our own demise, finding comfort and the illusion of control instead by "objectively" labelling this banality of evil "post-truth" rather than just bloody well calling it what it is, a juvenile bid for attention by a bunch of stupid libertarian idiots emboldened with their new "platform," which clearly needs to be cut right out from under them, period. With Trump, only NPR actually did that, because the Americans are so hamstrung by their overblown delusion of extreme exceptionalism that's embodied by the "President of the United States of America." In Canada, we simply do not have that handicap as an excuse.
So aside from providing constant fodder for the frantic, challenged "legacy media," what has been the point of doing this? We must remind ourself that the flagship Globe and Mail consistently endorses conservatives and the Toronto Star has now succumbed as well, so the fodder argument sounds accurate. That leaves the new online media like this, the Narwhal, and others to keep some hope alive. Not enough is said about how truly dispiriting this last few years have been. Climate change and the pandemic has been a metaphor for this.

Does nobody remember that during his election Trump was mentioned in the News - and not only the US News - every day? He was treated like entertainment.

Ursula Litzcke

Exactly.
Maybe, though, what the supporters of that new party most resemble are QAnon. The Atlantic did a great article on them a bit back that made clear how it was that Trump managed to get the votes of so many.
And I think that what a lot of commentators there and here weren't considering is the huge numbers of people who in the US had worked for companies that shut down and mainly shipped out, with nothing following them. We have that phenomenon here, too. Including the oil patch workers, who don't realize it, but whose jobs were mainly lost to machines and computer algorithms. Including tradespeople who were unable despite excellent skills to get decent work, because union lists were closed.
But they were far from the only ones who voted badly. Some of them are still true believers in the brand.
And Tris is absolutely correct about calling everything one doesn't agree with "conspiracy theories." And I have my pet peeves in that area, too, but suffice it to say that there's an awful lot of historical revisionism and "un-fact" that goes down.
Constitutional experts have explained that the only way Conservatives can form government is if they win a majority and yet, one hears daily about the "race" being close (some of the terminology really needs rethinking) ... and What If Conservatives Form Government.
That's a bit of priming the pump for conservative backlash if the popular vote across the country breaks differently from the seats. Which, of course, it always does. But now we've had the Trumpers down south, and every kind of media has told us how to follow the leader, and do what they do down south.
Good grief: in the last federal election, we had several candidates promising in their election materials to change things far outside federal powers.

Right. Tell it like it is. "This stupidity on the political left, this stupid, vain "virtue signalling" of "going high when they go low" BS has clearly left us all clinging to the edges of the sinking ship that is democracy,"
This turning the other cheek or be polite even if they are rude business is for the birds. Ever seen a fascist recommend that?