The Canadian mainstream media have been enthralled over the last few months with the Idle No More movement. It’s not hard to imagine why: journos who pine for opportunities to change the world are often attracted to David-v.-Goliath-type storylines, and desperation on Indian reserves has long been fodder for eager do-gooder newsreaders. Poverty sells, after all.
So when Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence comes forward with her hunger strike, who could blame the media for going over-the-top nuts on the story?
It had it all: Aboriginals pounding drums. Dilapidated homes. Poverty. A woman in a leadership position. A hunger strike which implies the possibility of imminent death. Roadblocks. Marching in the street. Chants and placards. Heartless Conservative government in power. I’d be shocked if checklists featuring these specific items weren’t handed out at Ryerson J-School.
At first, the media line continued as you would expect: poor, blighted Aboriginals being trod upon by cruel Stephen Harper and his henchmen willfully negligent in their constitutionally defined duty yadda yadda yadda.
Suddenly, and almost overnight, the conversation began to change, both in the media and the public at large. Sure, the blighted Aboriginal angle was still there, but the talk was focusing on the activities of Chief Spence and her alleged mismanagement as leader of the Attawapiskat band council.
I posit that this change hinged on a January 3, 2013 Sun News broadcast featuring Ezra Levant:
This information was elaborated in the next few episodes of The Source with Ezra Levant.
Less than a week later, a recent audit of the federal funding of the Attawapiskat First Nation was leaked to the media, which showed that $104 million of taxpayer dollars was insufficiently accounted for between April 2005 and November 2011. This of course brought a whole new angle on the Attawapiskat story by suggesting that the Harper government may not be solely to blame for the mess on the reserve and, possibly, elsewhere. Public opinion quickly shifted away from supporting the Idle No More movement to one that was more critical of the national Aboriginal strategy as a whole, and Chief Spence was eventually forced to back down from her supposed hunger strike by her own band members.
This turn of events can be attributed in good part to the work of Levant. Without his investigative journalism and ability to communicate his findings in a clear, concise manner, Chief Spence may very well have continued her “hunger strike” to the point where she would have looked like someone who was actually on a hunger strike. Instead, Levant initiated substantial context into the debate than the MSM was willing to allow, and he showed where Chief Spence was vulnerable in her posturing.
That he changed the terms of a national debate should not come as a surprise to anyone following Levant’s public career. In fact, this was the third such time he had done so.
His first instance occurred when he countered charges issued by the Alberta Human Rights Commission over his publishing of the infamous “Muhammed cartoons” in the now-defunct Western Standard magazine. He insisted that he would videotape his encounters with the HRC interviewer and then posted them on YouTube. They illustrate his tenacity when confronting issues he feels are unethical, immoral or unbecoming of a free society:
(h/t Kathy Shaidle)
The complaint against Levant was later withdrawn. (I recommend Levant’s fun recollection on the HRC issue found in Shakedown: How Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights.)
The result of his work and the work of Mark Steyn, who was also called to report to a human rights commission, was that the terms of a national debate were changed: People were no longer merely debating the degree of “anti-Islam” bigotry in the country, but now were considering the insidious nature of the Canadian human rights regime. While these gentlement do not deserve all the credit, free-thinking governments across the Dominion were forced to re-examine their respective HRC systems with respect to their propensity to prohibit communication “that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.”
The debate had been turned.
Similarly, Ezra had a hand in changing the terms of the debate over another contentious issue: the Alberta oilsands. For years, the oilsands became a focal point for activists ostensibly concerned about the impact of the industry on the local environment and with its supposed impact on global climate. In reality, the anti-oilsands activity was part of the larger anti-everything movement which has raged against progress and prosperity and everything good since the dawn of socialism in the 19th century. To be sure, the environment was of concern to these activists, which is perfectly reasonable. What wasn’t reasonable was that oilsands opponents were placing the environment over all other concerns.
Oilsands proponents and supporters had tried to counter this argument with stats on employment, economic development, etc., but this only fell on the deaf ears of those who proclaim a disdain for filthy lucre (even if they themselves don’t mind to put the food on their own table). Regardless, too many people don’t consider economic prosperity to be a moral virtue, and as a result, the oilsands continued to be tarred in the realm of public opinion.
Enter Ezra Levant stage right. He coined the term “ethical oil” to offer an alternative metric to measure the morality of oil production: the ethics of the political environment which benefits from producing oil. The premise is that Canada is a free, liberalized Western democracy, and that the other major oil producing countries — Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, etc. — are corrupt, despotic, or both, and that by buying oil from the bad guys, you’re benefiting the evil political regimes.
This was a brilliant argument. Again, it’s clear and concise, meaning that it’s easy for anyone to pick it up and use in any debate. Moreover, it was true: who can argue against giving money to corrupt Saudi princes who funnel it to fundamental Wahabists in Pakistan, or enriching Russian oligarchs, when you have a choice to buy oil from nice, kind, boring Canadians?
Like the other debates, Levant didn’t win the argument, which rages on, but he reframed the national debate. And he did it three times, which is more than you can say for some of our taxpayer-funded nepotists.
So, like him or hate him, he’s filling in a sorely needed gap in our newsmedia. He’s provocative, nerdy, completely distasteful, and not always right. But he’s interesting, he can be compelling, and he can makes you re-think your point of view on some of the most pressing stories of the day. If that’s not what you want in a news media, then frankly just keep your blinders on because you obviously don’t want a news media.