Dr. Jekyll And Mr. James

January 26, 2011

Or a tale of two Roysons.

Over the course of 12 days, the Toronto Star columnist wrote two pieces so diametrically dissimilar (with another one of surprisingly readable quality between them) that it’s almost as if there is at least two of him. If that’s the case, would the reasonable Royson James keep writing while the insufferable one… well frankly, I don’t care what he does as long as he stops contributing to the paper.

It was the best of James and the worst of James.

On January 12th, James’s column, TTC choking on its own success came across as, if not sympathetic, let’s call it understanding of the role ‘underused’ bus routes play in ‘city-building’. He was all over Councillor Maria Augimeri’s assertion that “the city is not a business…Rather, transit service is social service.” It’s not always about money when it comes to running a city. Is that what you’re suggesting, Mr. James?

Less than two weeks later, Royson had clearly spent some time in the lab, knocked back a concoction or two, and was singing a different tune. “How many of those 48 bus routes really need to go because ridership levels are woefully low and will always be unsustainable?” Wait, what? Remember when you talked about public transit as a ‘social service’, Mr. James? Now, it’s all ‘woefully low’, eternally ‘unsustainable’ ‘ridership levels’? We’re not asking for brilliance from you, sir, and even mere adequacy may be out of the question but how about just a little consistency?

That wasn’t even the worst of it. In a piece that could’ve come straight from the mayor’s media team, James paints all those who are standing in opposition to the proposed budget as ‘lefties’ merely bleeding ‘over “minor” cuts.’ Minor cuts? Like those 48 unsustainable bus routes with woefully low ridership levels that will merely affect only about 250,000 people (just under 10% of the city’s population) according to the TTC GM, Gary Webster? Where’s the dividing line between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ in terms of cuts, Royson? If not affecting 10% of Torontonians, what’s the number? 15% A quarter?

Worse still, not only does James label all the mayor’s opponents lefties but, to his eyes, they are only motivated by politics. Don’t believe him? “Council Shelley Carroll admits the strategy is to force the new administration to face up to every proposed cut, however small.” Then he goes on to read between the lines of what he’s quoted Councillor Carroll of admitting. “The unspoken message is: “We’ll fight you to the death on what you see as small cuts; so imagine the uproar next year when the real big cuts arrive.”” Neat trick, James employs there, putting in quotes something he imagines Carroll thinking so that it actually looks like the councillor said that out loud.

Even worser than all that (as if it could get much worse but it does), James shrugs off the effects of the proposed service cuts (bus routes excluded) as not ‘calamitous’ since ‘the truth on these services is so elusive.’ I says what?! The vacuity of that claim is as monumental as its callousness. Adding dismissive insult to that injury, James claims “… the city voted for a mayor who promised cuts, so many citizens are hunkering down, expecting a guillotine and thanking their stars that the damage isn’t worse.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Imma stop right there, Royson. You watched as many of the mayoral debates as I did, probably more. You must’ve heard our mayor, upon being pilloried by his opponents for having a hidden agenda of service cuts to meet all the tax cutting, Gravy Train stopping pledges he was making, guarantee there’d be no cuts. Guaranteed, Mr. James.

So no, ‘the city’ did not vote ‘for a mayor who promised cuts’. In fact, he promised just the opposite which makes him a lying sack of shit and you’re now covering for him, picking up the narrative of No Cuts, Guaranteed now becoming No Major Cuts, and anyone who opposes them as ‘lefties merely bleeding over minor cuts’. This just days after writing a moderately thoughtful piece about politicians (not just the lefties) playing, well, politics with the different service needs in different parts of the city. (h/t to @goldsbie for drawing attention to all three articles)

Is it just simply an example of Royson James attempting to be some sort of objective reporter? Never taking one side without responding in kind from the other regardless of an issue’s merit? Or has he just grown tired of the city beat, unable to muster the enthusiasm anymore to mount a sustained argument? He gets up in the morning and flips a coin to see who he’s going to heap derision on in his next column. Nothing more than a whole lot of tit for tat and he said, she said, contributing only unhelpful clutter to the ongoing civic dialogue.

Paraphrasing Stephen Colbert from the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, maybe you should take some time, Royson, finish that novel you’ve always wanted to write. The one about that intrepid newspaper columnist, covering City Hall for the country’s largest newspaper, keeping politicians honest, speaking truth to power and standing up for the little guy.

You know, fiction.

— plagiarizingly submitted by Cityslikr