Sunday, February 05, 2006

US Media Coverage of Canada's Election Results


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As usual, the US media paid relatively little attention to the Canadian election. However, in comparison to previous Canadian elections, the US media gave this one a lot more play. The majority of US coverage of this election presented the outcome as a considerable rightward shift in Canadian politics. An AP report run on CNN's webpage immediately after the election highlighted how many of Harper's viewpoints are more aligned with the Bush's than Paul Martin's. The article fails mention that Harper actually ran his campaign on a centrist platform. In one instance they mention that Harper wanted to lend more moral support to the US during the lead-up to Iraq, without mentioning that during the campaign he rejected getting involved in any future US military action without the wide support of the international community. The article also talks about Kyoto, missile defense and abortion in the same way, neglecting to point out they were not major issues during the election. In light of these points, it's clear that this brief article artificially creates an impression of a major shift to the right in Canadian politics. It should be noted that media outlets aren't the only group in the US talking up the Canadian 'move to the right' as can be seen in this quote from the same article:
"We are glad to see that Canadians have values-voters too," said Bob Morrison of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based group opposed to abortion and gay marriage. "We can be optimistic about the end of the social engineering as driven by the Martin government."

Some coverage was given my US group-blog news websites like Plastic.com. A couple of .articles on the election were posted on Plastic. Tellingly most of the comments to the articles seem to be from Canadians (despite the fact that most of the users of the website are overwhelmingly from the US), but there are some US commentators and it's interesting to see what they have to say.

A general editorial from the Washington Post heralded the election results as A Defeat for Anti-Americanism. Here's some of the more interesting quotes from this article:
ACCORDING TO his opponent, Canadian Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper exposed "an agenda really drawn from the extreme right in the United States.".... He might just become -- heaven forbid -- "the most pro-American leader in the Western world."...Despite all those scary warnings, Mr. Harper and his party won Canada's election on Monday. That put an end to 12 years of increasingly incoherent and corrupt rule by the Liberal Party...
Canada sells 85 percent of its exports to the United States and depends on it for security as well as prosperity -- a fact that Mr. Martin opportunistically overlooked when he refused to join the U.S. missile defense program. His grandstanding merely gave Mr. Bush an excuse to ignore Canada's legitimate complaints about tariffs on softwood lumber and the impact of new border controls due to take effect this year.
Foreign political leaders who stick to a platform of friendship and cooperation with the United States in the teeth of anti-American mudslinging ought to be visibly rewarded. As for Mr. Martin, perhaps he will be tempted again by the example of Mr. Schroeder, who has taken a job as an agent for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Does Hugo Chavez need another lobbyist?

Although I'm tempted, I'm not going to spend too much time arguing against the main points of this small-minded and angry little editorial, rather I want to focus on the authors' underlying perceptions of the election. The editorial clearly expresses satisfaction at the defeat of the Liberals, portraying them aggressively anti-American. Martin is portrayed as so anti-American and left-leaning that the editorialist can half-jokingly suggest he become a lobbyist for Hugo Chavez. To most Canadians such a statement is just too patently ludicrous to even be mildly amusing. Again, the article fails to point out the weak mandate the Conservatives have and the moderate policy platform that they ran on. The authors are just too busy ranting about how Western politicians playing the 'anti-American' card will eventually receive their comeuppance. I was a little taken aback by the strident tone of this article; I wasn't expecting it from the Washington Post, which is usually on the liberal side of the spectrum. I can't help but thinking that the Post's perception of anti-Americanism in Canadian politics is greatly exaggerated. Yes, I do agree there is some plenty free-floating contempt for the US government in Canada, but the majority of 'anti-Americanism' is rooted in specific policy differences between the nations ranging from trade, the environment and foreign affairs. Bashing the US by itself doesn't win votes in Canada, but voicing the opposition Canadians have to specific US policy certainly does. Having said that, I'm pretty sure some of the people reading this post would beg to differ (no need to beg friends- just post some comments :)

Here's another interesting article from the NYTimes called Canada's Shift: To the Right, Gently. The general tone of this brief article is that the Canadian electorate has moved rightward, and it does mention that the results may have been more of a product of the scandals then a genuine shift in the electorate. What's most interesting about this article is the way the author describes Harper:
Arriving in Ottawa in the afternoon, he made the briefest, and vaguest, of statements at the airport. ''I know a lot of you are going to be with us now in the next few months and years ahead,'' he said, ''as we start rebuilding this great country of ours. Mr. Harper's modest words in part reflect a man who is shy to the point of being aloof, someone who has always been careful not to show all of his cards. He is known to have a fiery temper, and he barely disguises his distrust for reporters. His sense of humor on the campaign trail was most revealing in its self-deprecating jokes about his lack of charisma.

It's a little odd to hear such an uninhibited description of Stephen Harper. A Canadian columnist wouldn't think of raising such a point due to fear of appearing biased; or maybe the Canadian media is just a little more reserved than its US counterpart. I think the former explanation is more likely than the later. I was surprised by the author's description of Harper as having a 'fiery temper'. While Harper has controversial views and has expressed them in the past, he has commonly been perceived as being fairly unemotional and cerebral. Yes, he has expressed frustration with various aspects of Canadian politics at times, but this has more to do with the fact that he has usually been very out of step with the Canadian political establishment than a matter of him being a hot-tempered person. I've occasionally seen him being caricaturized as a Vulcan- not exactly a hot-blooded species (not including mating season of course). It's a little disconcerting that the hot-tempered description in the article is being presented in passing as if it's some commonly acknowledged fact. But of course such a comment running the NYTimes isn't likely to be widely challenged since most of the readers of the article know next to nothing about Harper.

It's quite instructive to observe the ways the 'foreign media' covers national events. Sometimes the coverage provided by the 'foreign press' is more balanced and insightful than what is reported at home- distance can provide some objectivity and can give a person a wider view. At the same time that distance tends to blur all sorts of detail, and some of them are very important. The lack of detail provided, combined with a need to entertain as well as inform the reader, often leads to the journalist painting a fairly distorted picture. It gives one pause to think that all our news of the world is similarly filtered through a handful of foreign affairs reporters. Recognizing this can only highlight the potential importance of the blogosphere. Any curious US citizen could have easily located Canadian media sources and more importantly opinion from the Canadian public by doing a google blogsearch on the topic. And while admittedly information in the blogosphere is far from objective, it at least provides the unvarnished opinion of people who are participating in the events those reporters are babbling about. The information on foreign events is definitely out there now...it's just a matter of the reader having the will to seek it out.

3 Comments:

Blogger Oleksa said...

I'm pretty sure some of the people reading this post would beg to differ (no need to beg friends- just post some comments :)

Oh, you are such a mind-reader...:-)
>Bashing the US by itself doesn't win >votes in Canada, but voicing the >opposition Canadians have to specific >US policy certainly does.

Oh, yeah. Labeling every Conservative policy "American-style" whether such a description is warranted or not, has nothing to do with America-bashing. Oh no, it's just policy disagreements...

As to the foreign coverage of the elections, I remember reading some article in Guardian that started something like this:
Canadian elections... Please don't run away screaming 'booooring'.... :-)

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

perhaps its just a sally field moment for the journalist reporting..'he likes us, he really likes us'..nyah nyah.
anyway, nice to find your blog, got the link from mwu;)..seeya there
jihsgo

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

best regards, nice info
» »

1:58 PM  

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