Days Of Sue-Ann Supreme

In future days, will this be the face of the Toronto Sun?


One might argue it already is but I’m referring specifically to the paper’s former editorial page editor, Rob Granatstein’s thoughts on the most recent cuts to Sun Media’s newspaper chain.

The cuts have crushed the local newsrooms. When the latest victims of downsizing are gone, Toronto will be down to three general assignment news reporters, according to people in that newsroom, unless staff is reassigned. That’s flat out ridiculous. The Sun will rely even more on its columnists to generate the news going forward. [Bolding ours.]

The Sun. Columnists. Generating news.

Information flowing forth, free of context, full of personal opinion. News from top down not bottom up.

This isn’t just about it being the Toronto Sun. Any newspaper working with a skeleton crew of reporters and teetering precariously with op-ed writers isn’t a newspaper. It’s, well, an organ of opinion, both informed and otherwise.

It would be just like… All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Only with inkier fingers.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do whatever it is I do without piggy backing on the work of Daniel Dale, David Rider, Robyn Doolittle, Kelly Grant, Elizabeth Church, Don Peat and a handful of other reporters who tirelessly dig up the dirt and parse information on Toronto politics on a seeming 24 hour, 7 day schedule. I’d hazard a guess neither could the bigger names a couple paragraphs up. The less reporting that gets done, the more, what would you call it?, PRing happens?

Picture Toronto, with the discourse only consisting of the views from the likes of Sue-Ann Levy, Joe Warmington, Royson James, Christopher Hume, Rosie DiManno, Chris Selley, Matt Gurney, Christie Blatchford, Marcus Gee, Margaret Wente?

“Columnists have found themselves out of jobs because they were too agreeable to those in power,” says Granatstein in this week’s Grid profile of Ms. Levy, “and it makes for weak reading. Wearing the Ford colours has hurt Sue-Ann…That means she struggles to get the other side of the story sometimes. People don’t feel she gives them a fair shake.”

While at the moment this may be a bigger bind for Sue-Ann because she’s in so deep with Team Ford, this can be a ditch all opinion writers must fight not to steer into. I’m sure the Star’s Christopher Hume has problems gaining access to the mayor and his staff. His colleague, Royson James, could hardly be considered an honest broker back in the day with the Miller administration. Remember his one-man, moralistic crusade to de-rail Adam Giambrone’s mayoral bid?

But that’s not really why we read columnists, is it? For impartiality or objectivity? We’re looking for opinions. Hopefully ones based on at least a semblance of reason and reality but we certainly don’t view their words as gospel or final on any given topic. Their purpose really is to either make our blood boil or confirm our biases.

Newspapers stressing op-eds over real reporting are nothing more than modern versions of olde thyme pamphleteering. And, if I do say so myself, that’s kind of our bailiwick, over here on the interwebs. We need newspapers to remain newspapers. Otherwise, we’ll all just be making shit up to push forward our agendas, unchecked and unsupported.

opinionatedly submitted by Cityslikr

Our Media Mayor

It’s becoming more and more apparent that Rob Ford isn’t so much the mayor of Toronto as he is the mayor of media. If the city is considered a creature of the province, then Mayor Ford is a creature of the media. He sharpened this image during 10 years in the political wilderness as a councillor, always giving good copy with an outrageous quote and crazy antics, and never confusing anyone with an interesting or complex idea or thought about governance. Talk radio supplied him with a weekly platform to vent his spleen and paint the world in his black and white terms.

The pattern continued (after heavily test marketing and packaging it) on the campaign trail last year on his way to becoming mayor. Headline grabbing claims and statements. Easily digestible chants that even the dimmest of media types could churn out as sound bites. A tightly wrapped message, so impenetrable no questions, concerns or suspicions could leave any sort of lasting impression on it. The Ford Phenomenon. It could not be explained, so don’t try and understand it.

And it’s now morphed into Ford Nation since his election. Rule by media fiat. The mayor declares. It is so. Council bends to the will of the mayor because the media says resistance is futile. The media doesn’t have to agree with the mayor or support his views at all. It just has to roll over and admit the mayor is all powerful, incapable of defeat or setback.

The media and the Ford administration have become co-dependents. They get breaking news stories via leaked documents and the mayor gets to govern without having to deal with the normal democratic process at council. Take the recent Auditor-General’s report on the goings-on at the Toronto Community Housing Corp. If my time line’s correct on this, the report was leaked to the Toronto Star on February 25th even before the TCHC had an opportunity to see it themselves on the following Monday. By the time they did, the mayor and his team had scooped it up and run with it, demanding exclusively through media channels that heads roll and calling for a complete overhaul of the management organization, all at the mayor’s behest, with minimal input not only from city council but the Audit Committee itself. The entity in place to deal with the report and to make recommendation that would then go to council for debate and ultimate decisions.

Guess what? The Audit Committee wasn’t scheduled to meet until March 24th. City council wouldn’t have dealt with this matter until after that, probably at their April meeting. It’s Mayor Ford who is demanding extraordinary, democratically dubious measures to be enacted here. He is trying to limit debate on this issue, seeking to undermine proper oversight and insisting on being granted carte blanche to fill the TCHC board and management purely to his liking. Don’t ask questions. Just obey. This is a strong mayor system after all, right?

Yet, reading the newspapers this morning and listening to the radio, the noble march of democracy and citizen accountability was stopped in its tracks at yesterday’s council meeting by 16 (mostly all left wing kooks… probably) councillors who denied the mayor his 2/3s majority needed to waive established procedure and start debating and voting on restructuring the TCHC immediately. Because the mayor wanted to! The heaping amount of scornful derision directed at the likes of Councillors Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks, Shelley Carroll, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher and Pam McConnell by our local rags was shocking in the degree to which it barked out the mayor’s party line. In case anyone reading the Globe started to see glimmers of a more nuanced, multi-dimensional angle to the TCHC story from its regular City Hall reporters, it unleashed the unhinged fury of one of their resident hacks, Christie Blatchford to execute a full on, full fledged hatchet job of the mayor’s council opponents. Over at the Star, Royson James was at his execrable worst, completely twisting the events at yesterday’s morning council session to fit snugly into the mayor’s narrative. He might as well have added a little P.S. at the end of it. Can I have more access now please, Mayor Ford?

Even at the so-called liberal CBC, Metro Morning host Matt Galloway suggested that the councillors who voted against Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s motion were simply playing politics and delaying the inevitable. What’s that again, Matt? Exercising your democratic right to see that due process is followed is now ‘playing politics’? And why, ‘inevitable’? Simply because the mayor says so.

Remember when our mainstream press used to push back against power? When former mayor David Miller found surprise surpluses? (Creative accounting.) When Mayor Miller said he’d won significant concessions from city workers at the conclusion of the 2009 strike? (Oh, no he didn’t.) When he demanded that the province start paying its share of public transit and mandated services? (Going cap-in-hand to beg.)

What’s with the sudden turnaround and acquiescence toward the mayor’s office?  With such slavish devotion to the new boss, the press is undermining the democratic process at City Hall and inculcating the mayor with increasingly unchecked power that is answerable to few outside his inner sanctum. This kind of coverage allows Mayor Ford to bypass committees (and with that, citizens) and council itself where he just has to cobble together 22 other votes, a handful of whom simply fall into line because they don’t want to be seen bucking the trend of the inevitable that they read in their newspapers.

In his article, Royson James points out that the left leaning councillors ‘lost the last election’. As if that means all protocol, all normal procedures that have been set in place to get a vote passed at City Hall can be dispensed with. Yesterday, for the first time as mayor, Rob Ford lost a significant vote. It happens. But instead of adhering to the customary path when such a thing occurs, the mayor is seeking to smash up the established process and have his way with council. The press is not only falling down on their job by refusing to call him on it, they are actively helping him achieve it by vilifying everyone on council who is attempting to stand up to him.

This makes Rob Ford, the media’s mayor.

submitted by Cityslikr

We Can Get Angry Too

This is composed as a dare.

After yesterday’s post there was an exchange of heated words tossed around the office here. While my colleague, Cityslikr, was quite content with his evisceration of the Rob Ford/reactionary phenomena now running amok on the campaign trail, I suggested it wasn’t nearly as belligerent or uncompromising as he might think. In fact, I may’ve called it a ‘cop out’ if memory serves. A mere reactive piece cast in the terms of the debate that they’ve established.

“I’m the angry one here,” I was informed, haughtily. “All Fired Up’s John Lennon.” Refusing to bestow the McCartney label upon me, Cityslikr reluctantly granted me George Harrison status, saying it was impossible that I could match him, taunt for taunt, mockery for mockery, in putting together a cogent argument against the rising tide of Fordism. So here I am doing just that.

Since the very beginning of this campaign, an inchoate anger has driven the political discourse. While sometimes veering of onto bike lanes and the nebulous ‘War on Car’, its focus has been largely on numbers. Big, absolute numbers devoid of much context and certainly no explanation. $9.2 billion. $3 billion. Wow! That’s a lot of money. Clearly something’s wrong at City Hall.

With Rob Ford’s cannonball entry into the race, words were put to numbers but with no additional clarity. We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. The gravy train ends now. Nice, easy-to-remember T-shirt slogans, full of emotive power with negligible substance. The campaign became awash in indignant, empty rhetoric.

Of which, much of the mainstream press has lapped up. Witness last Wednesday’s piece from the Globe’s Christie Blatchford who is clearly vying to become Election 2010’s Queen of the Dumb-Down. Nothing more than a litany of councillor salaries and expenses, it reads like a Team Rob Ford press release. Did you know that a Toronto city councillor makes more than 3 times the median income of Joe Average Torontonian, and has a hefty expense account to boot? (Where’s the wage comparison between a councillor and, say, a columnist for the Globe and Mail, we wonder. Know the newspaper industry has taken a hit lately but surely someone like Christie Blatchford still has an expense account.) The insinuation in all this is that those working at City Hall are not worth the money we spend on them.

No, no, no, you’re saying. That’s not the point at all. Comparing the public and private sectors is apples and oranges. What happens in the private sector is none of our business and beyond our control. The public sector spends our money.

Alright, let’s disabuse you of that notion. It is not our money. It’s tax money. The agreed upon amount that each of us contributes to various levels of government in order that our society functions properly. I know this quote’s been bandied about almost to the point of irrelevancy through repetition but I think it worth another go-round so that it might begin to penetrate the thick skulls of the Christie Blatchfords of the world.

“I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.” So said Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Now we can argue about if our tax money is being spent wisely and what to do if it’s not. Or, we can debate about how much tax money is too much or too little. That’s a matter of ideology and can be hashed out over reasoned, rational discussion.

The thing is, there’s none of that happening. When confronted with opposing views that call into question some of their claims, the Anger-stons have taken to turtling, and wrapping themselves in a cloak of Just Ol’ Down Home Plain Folks. (Witness Blatchford’s recent offerings.) Well, I may not be much of what you city types call a ‘Big Thinker’ with all yer university edu-macations and $19 coffees and uncooked fish but I do claim to knows what I knows and I knows we taxpayers are bein’ fleeced.

No. You know what? Fuck you.

Grow up and stop trying to mask your obstinate ignorance as some kind of homespun wisdom. It isn’t. It’s just obstinate ignorance.

We’re tired of having to talk down to your level. Being uninformed cannot be proudly called ‘populist’. It isn’t. It’s just being uninformed.

Does that make me an elitist? Only if it means that I feel a sense of entitlement to a thoughtful, cogent and logical debate about the future of this city and not some boiling brew of unharnessed and misplaced ire that spouts speculative, spurious nonsense with the demand of being taken seriously. Blind rage is not a reputable campaign platform. Thinking it is, is just your own sense of misplaced entitlement.

So all your Rob Ford types out there (and the Smithermans and Rossis trying hard to tap into that bitterness and bile base), you’re not the only ones capable of being angry. There is a growing contingent of us out here who feel that you are misrepresenting the wider swath of Toronto voters and are threatening much that has been accomplished in this city over the last 7 years. The difference is that ours is a positive outrage at your increasingly outlandish claims and childish behaviour. Ours is the anger that builds not destroys things.

And calling that patronizing and condescending doesn’t make it any less true.

— angrily (even lividly) submitted by Urban Sophisticat