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Loathsome columnist defends repugnant opinions

A reader informed me this week that he would no longer read my columns. His aversion to further Friday indulgence was due, he said, to my recent description of former prime minister Stephen Harper as “repugnant and loathsome.”

“I guess fair is fair, and I think that is a loathsome and repugnant position for a paper editor to take,” he wrote, “and I am happy you sign your name to your columns. I can refuse to read them, and will henceforth.”

That’s one of the dozens of things that make this country great. Citizens are free to assign derogatory adjectives to their political leaders, and other citizens are free to ignore such opining.

Perhaps I erred by not including an explanatory paragraph. For instance, I could have mentioned S.H.’s obvious disdain for the Canadian public, various election laws and open government, or the fact that his administration was the only government in Canadian history to be voted in contempt of Parliament by MPs.

Perhaps I erred in presuming most readers of this esteemed journal know and remember such things.

Then again, shortly after the contempt-of-Parliament finding in 2011, Canadians went to the polls and gave Harper a majority government, so descriptions of him as “repugnant and loathsome” were definitely a minority opinion four years ago, although somewhat less so today.

People’s energy levels seem to be up due to racing to the polls in back-to-back federal and provincial elections last month and this month. With all the accompanying excitement, it’s inevitable that some among the electorate will drag out the predictable practice of manhandling the messenger: the media is left, the media is liberal, the media is Liberal, etc.

Telegram opinionators, myself included, are commonly accused of being Liberal supporters, NDP supporters or, occasionally, Progressive Conservative supporters. I’ve even been accused of being a Republican, the accuser blithely unaware there can be no such beast in empathetic Canada.

It should be noted that calling a columnist biased is akin to calling a politician verbose. It comes with the job.

One of the most memorable criticisms by a dissatisfied reader came years ago from a guy who left an angry and succinct phone message: “Keep your opinions to yourself!”

Tried that. Boss didn’t like it.

But getting back to the main topic at hand … the media generally is not partisan, despite numerous people assuming the opposite. I’ve known reporters who were so devout in their belief in being objective and unbiased that they refused to vote in elections, lest they be accused of supporting one political party over another.

Going that far is bordering on cult behaviour, however. Media workers’ rights as citizens trump their obligations as journalists. Any accusation directed at a journalist along the lines of, “I’ll bet you vote Liberal,” may as well be rephrased as, “I’ll bet you exercise your right to vote.”

People who have a moderate interest in politics will recall it was barely more than a decade ago that The Telegram was regularly accused of being anti-Liberal, anti-Tobin, anti-Grimes.

Back then, newsprint negativity could be counted on to describe the downsides of Liberal policies toward megaprojects such as Voisey’s Bay (royalties? who needs those when there’ll be jobs, jobs, jobs?) or the inanity of proposals such as shipping water out of Gisborne Lake in supertankers.

Astute consumers of news will perceive a pattern. Media coverage — even by obnoxiously opinionated pundits — has nothing to do with hating one party while loving another. Instead, the so-called “media agenda” is driven by issues and controversy. Parties in government, simply by holding power, will get more attention and more criticism.

Some politicians and their supporters might find that approach loathsome and repugnant, but that’s the drawback/benefit of living in a democratic society with freedom of speech.

Brian Jones is a copy editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

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