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When in doubt, blame the media. That’s long been a strategy deployed by unpopular politicians, and now some extremely online Liberals are using it to explain their party’s increasingly precarious predicament. Notwithstanding my obvious biases here — my faith in the value of good journalism is about as close to religious belief as I can get — I happen to think this is glaringly obvious nonsense.

It’s the same blend of desperation and self-deception that marks the death throes of almost every government in a liberal democracy, and it’s a particularly tough sell in a country where the largest newspaper chain has been calling for Justin Trudeau’s defeat from almost the moment he was first elected. Even the Toronto Star, once reliably (and maybe excessively) sympathetic to progressive governments, has shifted to the right in recent years after a change in ownership.

But while I’m not willing to entertain the notion that the media is driving the Trudeau Liberals down in the polls, I am open to the idea that they’re dumbing down the discourse in a way that favours populist politicians like Pierre Poilievre. Veteran reporter Glen McGregor’s recent story on the amount of so-called “personal” time Trudeau has taken since becoming prime minister is a case in point — and a worrying one.

McGregor’s piece calls out the 680 “personal” days Trudeau has taken over the course of nearly eight years in power, which is, as he notes, equivalent to 22 months or nearly two years. The Conservative Party of Canada weaponized it almost immediately, tweeting, “While his deficit-fuelled inflationary spending and rising carbon taxes make your life more expensive, he's taking more personal time on your dime.”

Those 680 days probably sound like a lot — at least, until you realize it includes weekends, official holidays and other forms of downtime. Put differently, it’s the same amount of time “off” as someone over the same period who had zero days of vacation, worked every single holiday, and worked 15 to 20 weekend days a year.

As McGregor notes further down in his piece, “the bulk of the days — 68 per cent — were taken on weekends, and spent mostly in the National Capital Region.” More importantly, perhaps, his “personal day rate” of 24 per cent is “well below the 34 per cent of days in a year most Canadian workers are off, including statutory holidays and two weeks of paid vacation.” Oh, and those “personal days”? They almost always include taking phone calls from staff and stakeholders, getting briefed by officials, and reading reams of briefing notes and other forms of government business.

The most transparently absurd “revelation” in the piece relates to, of course, Alberta. “Since becoming prime minister, Trudeau has used a total of 88 personal days holidaying in Tofino, Whistler, Revelstoke and other locations in British Columbia,” McGregor writes. “That’s more time than his itineraries list him travelling to Alberta on official business, not including the six personals he booked in Lake Louise at the end of 2017.”

This is, remember, a prime minister whose mother’s family is from British Columbia, who taught high school in Vancouver, and whose youngest brother is still entombed in a glacier lake in the Kootenays. Notwithstanding the province’s obvious appeal as a tourist destination, is it any wonder that he wants to spend more time there than in Alberta, where public expressions of hatred towards him are nearly as commonplace as Calgary Flames paraphernalia?

For what it’s worth, we can’t compare his record here to his predecessors, since Stephen Harper didn’t keep or release any such records. What we do know is Trudeau has always been clear about the importance of maintaining a balance between his professional responsibilities and the time he spends with his family. “I need to be really ruthless to ensure I have time with family, time with Sophie and time to decompress,” he said back in 2015. As the son of a former prime minister, he probably understands that need better than almost anyone else in this country. In light of his recent separation from his wife, maybe he didn’t attend to it ruthlessly enough.

The media isn't responsible for the Trudeau Liberals' recent tumble in the polls. But as a recent story about the prime minister's schedule shows, they're often helping dumb down a political discourse that could stand to get a whole lot smarter.

That’s a question for another day, though. The question for this one is whether this sort of coverage adds any value to the broader political discourse we all share. Given all the other pressing issues out there, from the alarming rise in anti-Semitism to our ongoing failure to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is the prime minister’s schedule really worthy of our collective attention as Canadians?

This is no trivial matter. As we saw in the United States, the media’s inability to properly frame the stakes of the 2016 and 2020 elections came at a considerable cost — and may yet come at an even higher one. As a recent analysis by the Columbia Journalism Review noted, America’s two biggest newspapers are still falling down on the job when it comes to helping their readers understand the substantive differences between their political parties. “We found that the Times and the Post shared significant overlap in their domestic politics coverage, offering little insight into policy,” the report’s authors said about the 2022 midterms. “Both emphasized the horse race and campaign palace intrigue, stories that functioned more to entertain readers than to educate them on essential differences between political parties.”

As the fictional media magnate Logan Roy might say, “You are not serious people.” Right now, given the existential threat to American democracy, it desperately needs more serious people doing serious journalism, the kind that trades clicks and controversy for deep reporting and analysis. As CNN legend Christiane Amanpour said: We have to be “truthful, not neutral.” And we have to remember those who fear the truth will do everything they can to distract or dissuade us from this essential task.

All of this applies to Canada as well. We’re in a much better place than the United States, and Poilievre presents a much different level of threat than Trump. But the underlying trends are strikingly similar: a political discourse that seems increasingly uninterested in context and nuance, and a media landscape that’s struggling to adapt to that reality and the way in which certain politicians are willing to exploit it.

Better journalism doesn’t guarantee any particular partisan outcome, nor should it. But it can ensure the public is better informed about its choices and the consequences that flow from them. Let’s get serious about that before it’s too late.

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I was shocked by a recent article in the Globe and Mail where the columnist essentially stated that it was perfectly ok to harass Justin Trudeau when he was taking some private time to relax over a restaurant meal..... Because he is Prime Minister. The Trump-style hate mongering and personal attacks embraced by Pierre Poilievre and the CPC are largely going unchallenged by our national media. This will only lead to chaos and erosion of our democracy.

Anything owned by Post Media will bash Trudeau needlessly, but side step any news item not favorable to conservatives, federally or provincially. I agree with you 100%, when it comes to Pierre Poilievre and the CPC, rarely will the national media challenge what garbage Pierre spews. In Ontario, only recently have fewer positive articles surfaced around Doug Ford. I guess that love affair has worn off with Post Media.

You start by saying it's not the media, but then go on to explain some of why it is the media's fault. The National Post and sister publications always turn absolutely everything into a negative story. That is not good or fair or ethical journalism. I bet they didn't report that inflation is down, but they did blame Trudeau for it going up. As for your publication, perhaps it's time to focus on stories like the damage Fird is doing and that Poilievre is sure to double down on. The Conservatives gaining power would mean the little progress we've made on the environmental front will be rolled back...just like Ford did in Ontario.

What Mr. Fawcett seems to be claiming is that yes, the media is consistently anti-Trudeau and anti-Liberal, and yes, Mr. Fawcett has faith in the value of journalism, but that simultaneously the media being consistently anti-Trudeau cannot actually have mattered at all because they have been against him for a long time and he is nonetheless still in office. Therefore, Liberals being low in the polls cannot have anything to do with the media.

This is nonsense. Propaganda works gradually. Consider the issue of deficits--Conservatives have by far the worst record for running deficits, NDP provincial governments by far the best, and yet because the media gives the opposite impression, "everybody knows" that Conservatives are the reliable ones for that kind of thing and the NDP would break the bank; it's even called, again by the media, "fiscal conservatism" even though actual Conservatives when actually in power pretty much never do it. Now you couldn't, from a standing start, instantly convince everybody that the party that always runs big deficits is "fiscally conservative" and the party that runs the least deficits spend like drunken sailors. It took a long time for this counterfactual impression to seep in. Similarly, it has taken a long time for the media to create a thoroughly negative image of the Trudeau Liberals.

Importantly, the negative image of the Trudeau Liberals that has been created has relatively little to do with the Trudeau Liberals' actual failings as a government. I do think that the Liberals are quite vulnerable on the merits, for their failures and lies on climate change, for their corruption, for their failure to build much housing . . . but what are they unpopular for? Mostly things like inflation, which they had nothing to do with, or a bunch of other things that are either irrelevant or untrue. About the closest the general media-created zeitgeist gets to relevance is running down the personal attributes of Trudeau . . . but it becomes obvious this is pure propaganda when the beneficiary of this is, of all people, Pierre Poilievre, who clearly couldn't win a fairly refereed personality contest with a stuffed weasel.

LOL! I reckon Poilievre is vulnerable in one area, his lack of experience in anything. Though he loves truckers, has he ever driven a truck? A deliver van? Worked on a farm? Or a warehouse? Has he ever packed groceries in local supermarkets or driven a cab? Not to my knowledge. His dainty, uncallused hands don't seem to have been exercised much except for pushing keyboard and phone buttons and fixing his tie while practicing insults, a grating vocal tone and a rehearsed glare into a bathroom mirror.

Riddle me this, why does the media give Peter Polliver a hall pass? Do you really think Postmedia is going to give fair and balanced coverage of Liberals or the NDP? Many of the so-called news items l read these days should be properly labeled as the journalist's own Opinion pieces

I think when a media empire (almost a monopoly) blatantly supports one political party and relentlessly attacks competing parties with misinformation and hate mongering, that is going to have an impact on public opinion. It's not a huge impact because even babies raised by wolves know exactly when they've been used. (Thanks Gordie baby) But when the popular vote is so evenly split it doesn't take much to tip the scales.

Exactly. It doesn't take much to go from 60/40 to 50/50; witness the U.S.

Gee Max I hate to disagree with you, but when 95% of all “Canadian” media is owned and operated by right wing Americans who ARE pushing the right wing agenda, what you are going to get are ridiculous “personal opinion” stories, constant veiled and not so veiled attacks on the PM, liberalism, socialism and sadly, expertise as a whole, along with populist rhetoric. Even the CBC has taken to publishing, stories that are basically anger farming. A continuous stream of stories about having to work 3 jobs to get by, not being able to pay the rent or the mortgage, immigrants having a hard time integrating into society, people leaving the country after immigrating here, homelessness, etc. while I understand that we as readers need to be kept informed as to those who are having a hard time negotiating this economic downturn, Canada is not suffering in isolation, and not EVERY Canadian is experiencing problems. The last stats I saw said 1 in 10, are having problems, and yet if the only place you got your news was only from the mainstream news outlets and the mainstream TV news outlets, you would believe that while you personally weren’t having problems apparently every other Canadian alive today is! One of my talents is seeing patterns, and the patterns I see emerging from Canada’s news feeds is starting to resemble the exact same type of stories here!
“Be afraid, be VERY afraid! The Sky is falling and ONLY the extremists on the Right can save you”, is the message and it's coming across loud and clear!

Max, I hate to disagree with you, but all the garbage published by Postmedia is right slanted and only gives Pierre Poilievre the snake oil salesman hall passes daily on the none stop garbage he and the CPC spew. The so-called journalist that Postmedia hires all appear to have graduated from Trump University and don't possess real degrees in journalism.

You can't even trust the pollsters either, most are owned by the right leaning types. Speaking of polls, it is pretty easy to slant any poll in any direction you want. Just ignore the polls and vote for a party that will do the least damage.

Max, while I agree with almost the entirety of this article, I do not actually understand how "dumbing down the discourse in a way that favours populist politicians like Pierre Poilievre" is NOT contributing to the present poll numbers. Refusing to fact check Poilievre's constant misinformation and outright lies, his blaming of Trudeau for things he has very little or no control over, and the almost continual parade of stories about Trudeau's ethics (all of which have come to nothing) certainly DO contribute to people's negative impression of the PM. This does not mean that I believe that the Liberals are not quite bad at communications and getting their positive stories out. But it has always been difficult for messages that are nuanced to be heard over the screams of those who see the world in black and white.

On the Saturday before the 2015 federal election all Postmedia papers displayed a bright yellow front page warning Canadians about the dangers of voting Liberal. A few days later the Dark Decade under the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper came to an end, and a fresh young (perhaps too young) face adorned the media displays.

About the same time I read an analysis of Postmedia that explained the demise of quite decent journalism in once proud newspapers, like The Vancouver Sun. Great writers like Stephen Hume disappeared not too long after liberal-minded critics were let go. One of the latter went on to help start up the Tyee, a progressuve online medium that, to my great deligjt regularly publishes analysis by very good researchers and writers like Andrew Nikiforuk, but also to my great annoyance sometimes practices censorship in its comments section, deleting perfectly legit comments as "spam" that happen to supply factual counterpoint to the preferred narrative of editorial and moderator staff.

Neither conservative or progressive media are perfect, but all things considered, the conservative mouthpieces are far more 'imperfect' and misbalanced than their competitors who posses a different and often more holistic outlook.

Postmedia is owned by a US hedge fund that has a problem with major debt and a Trumpian right wing bias that was forced right down to the management of individual papers. Ergo the dramatic thinning of news and editorial pages, the imposition of exceedingly myopic editorial views, and the fattening of advertising. Yet, it survives.

Going online gives readers more choice in their media diet, but also can lead to dulling their sense of balance and clogging their filters when they become too addicted to one point of view. This is why it's important to always supply legitimate, factual and well referenced counterarguments in comments or in separate articles offering intelligent rebuttal when necessary to push back against the goals of biased reporting and imposed limits on facts and truth to push one narrow view over others.

Remember the theory and revelation of "subliminal advertising?" What I recall about that is when I checked my own responses and attitudes I concluded that it WAS working on me without me being aware. In the similar context that is social media it's huge, worldwide success has showcased a massive Achilles heel comparable to the one tapped by religion.
In that contradictory and confusing vein, even though Twitter is clearly the preferred social media for the thinkers and smart people, despite Elon Musk's "coming out" as just another right wing nutbar, because he's the "owner" (and how weird is that really, just think about it) it means that even a cartoonishly evil puppet master doesn't stop people from leaving the "platform." That kind of exemplifies what's going on in society now.
I think that's how this sea change has taken place, and still is, and somehow shutting down social media is the only way we get our lives back. But we all know how addiction works.