How the Tories’ ‘war on the media’ fills party coffers

Posted on in Governance Debates

TheGlobeandMail.com – Globe Debate/Federal Election
Aug. 19, 2015.   Jeffrey Simpson

That Conservative Leader Stephen Harper dislikes the media is well known.

Perhaps less well known, except to hard-core Conservative supporters, is how his party beats up on the press to raise money and how successful this appeal has been.

For example, before the Aug. 6 leaders’ debate, the party sent a letter to its supporters urging contributions. “Why?” asked party president John Walsh in the letter. “Because already you’re seeing the professional Harper critics and left-wing press pundits striving to pre-dispose public opinion and shape the post-debate public reaction their way – long before the first word is spoken!”

Phrases such as the “chattering class” and “anti-Conservative media bubble” and “media pundits on the left” adorn the letter. But Mr. Walsh likes variations on the theme of “liberal media,” as in the “liberal media filter” and “liberals in the Canadian media,” people presumably working assiduously and deliberately to “risk Canada’s future to the left, far left or extreme left zealots.”

To help the beleaguered Mr. Harper withstand these media assaults, Mr. Walsh urged recipients of the letter not just to send money to the party but to write letters to the editor, and to post comments on Facebook and Twitter to “balance out the biased opinion columnists who oppose a Conservative Majority Government.” Please send a special $100 (or more) donation, Mr. Walsh said, to help launch a “pro Conservative media blitz immediately after the debate,” because Conservatives cannot allow opponents to “dominate the airwaves.”

Speaking of dominating the airwaves, which party spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars advertising its policies such as those loosely associated with the Economic Action Plan? Which one began before the election campaign a radio and television campaign denigrating Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau? And which party called an early election so that it could spend more money than the others, especially during the final week of the campaign with an unprecedented media buy?

All these efforts were from Mr. Walsh’s party, but to read his letter the untutored might believe the Conservatives are indeed being outspent by their opponents. Worse, they are being done in by “liberal media” whose tentacles have wrapped themselves around the country’s collective brain and warped it against the Conservatives.

All is fair, one might say, in love, war and elections, so this sort of Walshian hyperbole might be expected. As, perhaps, also might be the photographs in the letter of Mr. Harper smiling, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair looking like the devil possessed and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau sporting a moustache and looking like a cross between Zorro and Lothario.

New Democrats and Liberals send messages to their supporters warning about Mr. Harper, even demonizing him, and of course rounding on his government’s policies. They, too, entreat their supporters to send more money because, contrary to Conservative claims of being outspent, they know the Conservatives do indeed have more money.

What differentiates the Conservative appeals is not attacking the other parties and warning of their nefarious policies, but the idea that there are other institutions, elitist ones such as the “liberal media,” that are out to undermine the Conservative Party and conservatism. The fight is therefore not merely partisan politics, but against wider forces.

Of course, political parties have been known to spar with, and even dislike, the media. Liberals under prime minister Pierre Trudeau thought their party got a raw deal, especially after all but two newspapers in English-speaking Canada endorsed the Conservatives in the 1980 election – which the Liberals then won.

New Democrats historically considered the media hostile, owned by capitalists who decried socialism of every hue. Take The Toronto Star, a defiantly Liberal newspaper, out of the picture, and it’s hard to see a print media conspiracy against the Conservatives. But that’s the way they see the world, facts notwithstanding.

As for private television, it’s difficult to discern any pro- or anti-Conservative bias in a systematic way, although as everyone in the media knows, bias is often in the eye of the beholder. AM radio is overwhelmingly conservative, as any consumer of open-line shows knows. As for social media, from which many younger people now get their information, it’s all over the map politically speaking.

But conjuring up the enemy of the “liberal media” has worked for the Harper Conservatives, so to that well they return.

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