Worth repeating: the jellybean presser revisited

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There are several end-of-year update squibs that I want to write, some cheerful (Ipperwash), some pretty grim (Pakistan).

But 'way back in August, in comments to our discussion about Montebello, Alison of Creekside, who also writes to The Galloping Beaver and who has taught many of us so much about the dreaded SPP, reported on a failure of mainstream Canadian journalism that I think has much wider implications. I meant to write about it then and didn't, so I do it now.

Here is what Alison wrote:

Re media anodyne dismissals. If I may rant on a little bit here, CBC's news coverage of Harper's jelly bean comment is a horrendous case in point.

Their tv coverage of it opened with Harper's comment : “Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jellybeans? Maybe Mr. Dion thinks so."

Then they cut to a folksy street interview with jelly bean manufacturer David Ganong and ask him about his cross border packaging problems.

No mention that David Ganong is one of the ten Canadian business leaders in the North American Competitiveness Council advising Harper on deregulation, no mention that he's a director of the CCCE and has endorsed their vision of "deeper economic integration", no mention that he's a director of the Conference Board of Canada, no mention that he's a director of SunLife Financial and past director of Air Canada, no mention that he is a donor and sponsor of Atlantica, the plan to form an economic unit of New England states and Atlantic provinces, and no mention of his real problem with jelly beans, which is that his Mexican competitors manufacture them for a fraction of his cost.

Nope, CBC left all this out, leaving the impression that he's just a nice old guy unnecessarily hampered by government bureaucracy while trying to eke out a living making jelly beans.


I think that that is easily one of the most significant pieces of well-informed commentary I've met in the last year, and I think that especially because of how I have spent far too much of my time this past year. Scandalous gossip follows on the turn.

Just short of a year ago, some of us who had been following the CIA leak case for years (in my case, ever since pogge started to teach it at babble.ca) were drawn into the daily live-blogging of the Libby trial at Firedoglake, which will stand as a touchstone moment in the history of the blogosphere, I do believe. This isn't the place to try to write that history, which is complex.

But it is urgent, I think, for Canadians to pay attention to one of the major subplots that emerged from that drama, to be shocked by what was going on among the journalists who had become privileged Beltway insiders in the early years of the Bush administration, and to howl out loudly against any such behaviour among our own journalists.

Without question, the curious adventures of Judith Miller of the New York Times made life hardest for those of us who believe profoundly in the first article of every democrat's Bill and Charter and Declaration. Why would we offer members of the fourth estate special constitutional protection if they have decided to make careers out of laundering government propaganda? That wasn't, y'know, the point of enshrining freedom of expression.

Almost every other journalist who took the stand at the Libby trial or was even mentioned came off looking like an absurd, grovelling courtier to a snivelly, smirking, grubby regime whose time, we have to hope, is fast coming to an end. If I were Tim Russert, for instance, and Cathie Martin had just told the world that Dick Cheney's office believed they "controlled" me, I sure wouldn't be on national TV any more -- but he is.

And there is our problem. So Tim Russert and Bob Woodward and their ilk are shameless in Washington. That is an appalling fact of our time, but there you go. They have not done their jobs; they have not lived up to the faith that citizens of a democracy put in the fourth estate; they have, some of them, helped to undermine clear, independent, critical thought about the most basic interests of the citizens of the United States. And then, of course, there are all those dead bodies overseas ... But in Washington, little changes.

This will not happen in Canada, yes? It will not happen. We cannot let it happen.

I don't know how we stop it, except by being as smart as Alison and by getting the word out, about the propaganda and the facts both. This is very hard work for a volunteer army, but it is a privilege to know so many people who have joined up anyway.

Thank you, Alison, for that exemplary rant, and for your inspiring example. Here comes a new year. I know you're ready.

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In the 20 years I've been an activist, it's become increasingly necessary to spoon-feed MSM types. The individuals involved in it seem to have less ability to think critically than those who went before. I suspect that is valued by the corporatists, but I expect better from the CBC.

Excellent piece, skdadl!

Whooee! Big money talks and calls the shots. Big money owns and controls the MSM. Grassroots don't have big money.

Concerned grassroots North Americans no longer take to the streets like we did when we ended the Vietnam War. We've helped marginalize ourselves with a belief that writing our rants and commiserating with our blogosphere bolsheviks is as effective as massive street demonstrations. It ain't. Big money and its bought-and-paid-for governments are steamrolling over us.

Back in 1968, the anti-war movement was given a tweedle-dee vs tweedle-dum choice between Nixon and Humphrey. 40 years later, they've got the warmonger Hillary vs. the warmonger Repugs. Back then, we had the godless communists and the domino theory. Today, it's Al Qaeda.


Will it happen in Canada?

Not entirely sure.

But I am sure the Harpoonistas are already doing their best to make sure it does, and it's not just by peddling prop-a-gammon perpetually.....

In addition, they are also attempting to breed their very own kennel of press poodles.

Thus, I think the key here is to do as FDL did, which is to hold the media's (ie. not the pols') feet to the fire early and often.



"writing our rants and commiserating with our blogosphere bolsheviks" vs "street demonstrations"/direct action.

JB: Wasn't an either/or proposition then; isn't one now.

Skdadl: Of course the real smarts here, cleverly smudged by you, was in realizing the significance of said crappy CBC coverage.

Heh. Has everyone noticed that Terence Corcoran has updated "blogosphere bolsheviks" to "telecom Trotskyites"? Yee hee hee hee hee.

JimBobby, I agree with Alison's point there -- we do need feet on the street, but we also need some very solid research. Noise and numbers and passionate conviction are all very well, but we need to know what we're saying in the first place. It isn't an either/or.

"JB: Wasn't an either/or proposition then; isn't one now."

My point was that many dissenters today express their dissent in blogs and MSM comment threads rather than in massive physical demonstrations.

We _could_ be taking to the streets in addition to posting our rants. We don't, though. If this was 1968 and there was no internet, Canadians would have mobilized and marched on Ottawa over the Afghanistan war. Americans would have been out in the millions to protest Iraq.

We are certainly better informed than the 60's generation. We are also more jaded and less confident of the power of the people to affect change.

You're correct that the choice is not either/or. For most dissenters, though, typing a rant lets off steam and gives us the impression we're being heard. We're not. Most Canadians are opposed to the Afghan mission. If those opposed were marching on Ottawa by the tens of thousands, we'd see a change in Canadian policy. If millions marched on Washington as we did in 1969, we'd see a change in American policy.

"What did you do to stop totalitarianism, Daddy?"

"I blogged."


My point was that many dissenters today express their dissent in blogs and MSM comment threads rather than in massive physical demonstrations.

Obviously I speak only for myself, but...

I'm more involved because of blogging. I know the issues and the players better, I have a better sense of how many agree with me and I'm more likely, not less, to put my money and my body where my mouth is. If you're not seeing massive demonstrations, I wouldn't blame that on blogging. The first thing to note is that those of us who write and read blogs are still very much a minority.

"If you're not seeing massive demonstrations, I wouldn't blame that on blogging."

Good point and well taken. I don't put all the blame on blogging. I chalk a lot of blame up to a general sense of helplessness and hopelessness among dissenters. When 63% of Canadians voted against Harper and he runs the country like he is a tinpot dictator with 100% popular support, we lose faith in our ability as individuals to affect change.

You're right about bloggers being a minority. Politically aware and savvy people have always been the minority. It is that politically aware minority that was able to mobilize the masses in the 60's.

Alison says we need to have all the facts before we put feet on the ground. I think that thanks to the web, we have more facts and info now than we ever had in the Vietnam era. I don't think it's knowledge or damning evidence we're lacking.

I still contend that some people who, in the past, may have been motivated to organize street protests are content to pound out comments and blog posts. Many more have either wrapped themselves in a cozy cocoon of consumerism or have bought into the fear mongering of governments and their MSM minions.

I'm also more informed because of blogging, POGGE. I know the issues and I donate to causes from my relatively safe desk chair. Howard Dean proved that blogs can raise money for a political cause. However, I've seen little use of blogs as a mobilization tool. Some. Not a lot. The Montibello SPP protests were boosted by bloggers. I applaud that. MoveOn.org has done some meatspace organizing but not so much here in Canada as in the US.


"If millions marched on Washington as we did in 1969, we'd see a change in American policy."

Perhaps blogging, when used as an end in itself, is of about the same value as were the large street protests of the sixties. The demonstrations against the Vietnam War didn't bring an immediate end to American involvement in Vietnam. Maybe they indirectly brought about the peace talks -- it's hard to draw a precise causal relationship between protests to the war, public opinion, and the course of the war itself. Likewise, the protests against the nuclear arms race didn't result in a significant reduction in the number of nuclear weapons, although they probably did lead to the test ban and arms-control treaties. And they may have held governments back from using nuclear weapons in war.

The demonstrations were at least a slightly more visible form of venting -- although on balance, they probably received more (and more accurate) mainstream media coverage than protests do today, so I think there's some reason for cynicism about the effectiveness of street protests. Such protests have the potential to communicate a message to more people than blogging, albeit with less control over the content of the message. Unlike bloggers, protest organizers can't assume that their audience is familiar with the topic (a lot of blogs seem to be written in a style that's based on this assumption).

There's no substitute for building a base from which to win elections and set policy. Blogging and demonstrations have to be part of that, but on their own, they can both be kind of transient and futile.

as one who hit the streets in the 60's and still do every saturday noon in our small town, i appreciate bloggers and others who investigate, research and write about the issues - without them (you) we would be entirely dependent on the msm and much worse off - it's good to know there are others who share similar ideals and are working for peace and justice in their own way.

it's also clear that we are losing on all fronts, cause they have the money and we don't.

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This page contains a single entry by skdadl published on December 29, 2007 11:55 AM.

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