If you don’t like the message, shoot the messengers

Peter Jackson pjackson@thetelegram.com
Published on June 11, 2014

I’ve got news for you. I hope you’re sitting down, because this might just bowl you over.

Are you ready?

Journalists are human beings just like you.

Yes, I know that may seem incredible, but it’s the God’s honest truth.

Reporters and editors have a job to do. Sometimes they are enthusiastically immersed in that job; sometimes it’s a bit of a grind. But they do it just the same, and if they’re worth their salt, they’ll do it with a reasonable degree of consistency and professionalism.

When journalists go home, however, they take out the trash just like everyone else. They buy their groceries and raise their kids and go on holidays. And they vote.

There’s a myth out there that newsrooms have a uniform mindset when it comes to political preferences. That all the reporters and editors cover and analyze the same stories and come to the same conclusions. That when they go to their respective polling booths, they vote with one mind.

It’s not true. After 25 years in the news field, I can say I’ve been surprised at how some of my colleagues vote — that is, on those occasions when they let their preferences be known. People follow the issues and make up their own minds.

On Monday, social media lit up over a controversial memo from a Unifor local asking journalist members of the mega-union not to vote for Tim Hudak’s Conservatives in the Ontario election.

The 2,600 media members work for such outlets as The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun. (Unifor represents about 300,000 workers in various fields across Canada.)

The memo, of course, was a birdbrained idea — telling people who have to objectively report on the election how they should vote. It was met with instant condemnation from many journalists. It was also pounced upon by those who love to perpetuate the myth that the “mainstream media” is a homogenous entity steeped in liberal-leaning bias.

One of those was federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney, who tweeted, “Journalists’ union picks sides in ON election … but we’re told to believe there’s no such thing as liberal media bias.”

Meanwhile, the anger from journalists was palpable. The Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor tweeted, “Unifor should have recognized how this will be used to impeach the professional reputation of its members.”

The memo’s author, Paul Morse, said union bylaws didn’t require a referendum on the issue and that the decision was made by Unifor’s executive committee and representative council, which is made up of representatives from each workplace.

Sun News contributer Ezra Levant has long trumpeted the notion of a Media Party, a sort of group-think among mainstream media outlets that treats liberal politicians with kid gloves and unfairly attacks conservatives.

He’s right in one sense. Most journalists feel a duty to more closely scrutinize the party in power, and right now that is Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

The CBC’s Terry Milewski, for example, has been tagged by some trolls as biased against Harper. They seem to forget the hot water he got into when covering Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government. The CBC exiled him for a while when he referred to the government as “the forces of darkness” in an email. He also tangled with Michael Ignatieff.

But the media bias buzz continues. A Rasmussen Reports poll last month found American citizens were more concerned about media bias than they were about campaign funding. When given a choice, 48 per cent of voters said media bias is the No. 1 villain, while 44 blamed big campaign contributions.

Anyone who remembers the inaugural days of Canada’s Sun News

Network a few years ago will recall how hosts spent more time talking about how they will get the stories other media ignore than they did actually getting them. It’s a common tactic among right-leaning media to play the underdog bravely chasing the real story, when networks like Fox News are the ones statistically proven to be misinforming viewers on a regular basis.

It’s an annoying charade, one most Canadians see for what it is. Hopefully Unifor’s blunder won’t change that.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com. He also hosts a weekday forum, Naked Lunch, 12:30 at thetelegram.com.