Media Self-censorship

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Westcott wonders what's fit to report these days

Craig Westcott (right) is certainly one of the most provocative journalists in the province. While his news coverage, particularly in The Business Post, is always fair and balanced, Westcott is not afraid to rattle cages in his commentaries.

This week, reporters are chattering about his latest opinion piece, which questions whether the media belongs in the bedrooms of our political leaders.

The Business Post circulates more than 7,000 copies every two weeks, mainly to businesses in the St. John's area. This means that a lot of people don't get to see the publication. Since this blog reaches a different segment of readers, I have elected with Westcott's permission to publish his commentary here.

I invite journalists to weigh in with their views on what should and shouldn't qualify as "news."

Would you like some sex with your politics?

Or choosing not to report on strange positions in high places

By Craig Westcott

I may stop following American politics. Rarely dull, even on its slowest days, things get even juicier as the race for the White House picks up. But what's worrisome is that the media coverage is leading me to question how we conduct journalism here in Newfoundland. I'm starting to wonder if we're too timid and tame for our own good.

Take some of the news coming out about Senator John McCain. It seems the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination may have had an affair with a lobbyist seven or eight years ago. This was reported by no less a worthy than The New York Times, the holy grail of journalism south of the border.

Now sex and politics in the U.S. go together like macaroni and cheese. That a sex scandal has emerged in the middle of the primaries is no shocker. Recall what happened several elections ago when Democratic contender Gary Hart was knocked off course by pictures of him on a yacht -- the appropriately named Monkey Business -- with a delicious young thing on his lap, who wasn't his wife.

The United States may be one of the most sexually liberated countries in the world, its music and films may even be obsessed with it, but the media and electorate turn positively Puritan when it comes to their politicians. The American media has no forgiveness for extramarital activity on the part of presidents and those who want to occupy the oval office. So it's probably a good thing that Americans declared their independence from Britain back in 1776. Can you imagine the roasting Prince Charles and the other royals would get if they were still the titular heads of the U.S. government?

Despite its mock prudishness, the American media salivates over salacious news involving politicians. It may condemn their proclivities but that doesn't stop them from reporting on them. The puffy red lips of Monica Lewinsky and the CNN crisis coverage of a suspicious stain on her dress are as much a part of contemporary American popular culture as the Apollo moon landing.

Perhaps we should take a page from their book. Maybe the way to sell newspapers and build market share here in Canada is by sexing things up a bit. A cheesecake photo of Environment Minister Charlene Johnson perhaps? It's certainly one way to draw attention to recycling.

Or a shot of Finance Minister Tom Marshall in nothing but red speedos and a come hither look. The caption? "His debt clock isn't the only thing ticking."

It's not like there's a shortage of sexy stories to report when it comes to our Honourable Members. If the local press got serious about it, we could run things that would make some of the Kennedy's blush. Like the story about the Liberal cabinet minister whose wife caught him popping his cork with his secretary on a desk in Confederation Building one weekend.

Of course Liberals aren't the only politicians with bursting libidos. PCs have their peccadilloes too.

Even a premier's love life might make for interesting reading if the media chose to cover it.

So far, reporters have turned blind eyes to such things. And it's not that the press doesn't know about these matters. The sex lives of our leaders are frequently discussed and well dissected. It's just that nobody reports it. And this is as it should be. To play on Trudeau's notion that the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, I maintain the nation has no business in the bedrooms of the government: That is, as long as cabinet ministers are not rewarding paramours with government plums and appointments or using their positions of high office to coerce people into performing sexual favours. Certainly there has been no suggestion of anything like that with this government.

But the thing that had me second guessing the media's unspoken blanket policy of avoiding sex and politics was something Education Minister Joan Burke did recently. You see, when it comes to the media covering foolishness, the government sometimes has a guiding hand in the matter, which is irresponsible. During a week when Burke should have been discussing the leak of personal information belonging to 28,000 Newfoundland school children, or any one of a handful of other serious education issues, she contrived to vent fake outrage over a silly joke made by the province's federal cabinet representative.

Loyola Hearn's words may have been ill-chosen. Even so, they did not warrant the Education Minister taking her focus off the real issues facing her department. And that's the point: If Burke and her colleagues in government expect the media to report such foolishness with a straight face then perhaps they should gird themselves for coverage of something equally irrelevant, namely their sex lives. The resulting coverage might be just as nonsensical, but at least it would be a lot more revealing about the people we elect to govern this place.

NOTE: If you don't receive The Business Post but would like to change that, you can subscribe for $36 per year, taxes included. Send to: The Business Post, 197 199 Water Street, St. John's, A1C 1B4.

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Recent comments

  • Greg
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    If its NEW, its news. If everyone already knows its not news. Just because its not reported in the press doesn't mean people don't know or it didn't happen.
    Listen to the chatter on the street. THAT'S the news.

    Thats like lawyers and politians saying unethical behavior is ok if its not illegal as if The Law is the only thing that matters.

    As high minded as some get the reality is that a politicians personal life and business effects his or her supposed performance, ...err, sorry ...ability to do what they are paid to do. That being SERVING the interests of the general public. They certainly seem to have no problem using public money for their personal lives so shouldn't their personal lives then become the interest of the public?

    The reporters corner at the bar often says they're surprised there is no tabloid newspaper (in true fleetstreet fashion) in St. John's. The culture loves it. It's the same market as the talk radio market.

    ...just a matter of waiting to see who has the guts to say it out loud first :^)