Erin O’Toole’s first news conference as Conservative leader was a brief encounter, just 15 minutes of questions and answers.
It was too brief, in fact, to gauge what kind of relationship O’Toole will have with the media over the long term, and particularly, whether this new Conservative leader will be as ill-disposed toward the Ottawa press gallery as his two immediate predecessors.
Does it matter? Maybe not to members of the media, who take these things in stride.
But the Conservatives’ mistrust of the Ottawa media has tended to go hand in hand with wider, more generalized resentment of elites, experts and public servants. That’s populism, Canadian-style.
How O’Toole handles the media may well give some clues as to how much he intends to hitch his new leadership to the right-wing populism that has been bubbling up in Canada and in Donald Trump’s America.
The departing Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, used his farewell speech on Sunday night to take several swipes at the “media establishment,” which he cast as only slightly less evil than the 1980s-era Communist “red menace.”
“The mainstream media bias in this country has never been more obvious,” Scheer said in one of roughly half a dozen parting shots at those he clearly believed to be his foes.
“Don’t take the left-wing media narrative as fact,” Scheer said. “Please check out smart, independent, objective organizations like the Post Millennial or True North. There are other places to get news. Let’s stop being the silent majority.”
One assumes that these independent organizations would have had a mixed reaction to this spirited political endorsement, especially True North, which bills itself as a registered Canadian charity, and a “non-governmental, non-partisan” organization. (Funnily enough, just like WE Charity — but that’s another story.)
O’Toole was friendly and forthcoming at his brief news conference on Tuesday, in keeping with his post-victory promise to treat everyone, even non-Conservatives, with respect.
However, his leadership bid was not without his own swipes against the media, most notably his platform promise to partially defund the CBC. If he becomes prime minister, O’Toole promised, he would slash the national broadcaster in two large ways: he would end all financing to CBC’s digital news operation, and he would cut funding for CBC English TV and its cable news network by 50 per cent right away, fully privatizing them by the end of his first mandate. The radio and French divisions of CBC would be spared.
“It’s 2020,” O’Toole said on his website. “Canadians have hundreds of channels to choose from, thousands of online options, and lots of Canadian content. We don’t need CBC television.” This is red meat to the Conservative base.
Writing about the Conservatives’ antipathy to the media is always tricky, because it runs the risk of sounding like whining. For what it’s worth, reporters are accustomed to being resented by politicians of all stripes, and they don’t last long in the business if they’re thin-skinned about it.
But the Conservatives’ criticism of the media is freighted with the conviction that journalists are partisan, and cover their party in a way that’s intended to keep it out of power. Negative coverage of the Conservatives is almost always perceived by the base as dark collusion with Liberals — Canada’s deep state.
This sentiment was laced through Scheer’s farewell speech on Monday night, as it was through the regular anti-media pronouncements from former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Practically speaking, there’s also a handsome monetary payoff to hating the media. Fundraising blasts that target the CBC have proven over the years to be one of the biggest generators of dollars to Conservative party coffers, right up there with email warnings about Liberals coming to get people’s guns.
Politicians of all varieties are fond of saying that in this era of social media, they don’t need the traditional media as much as they once did — that they can “detour” around TV, radio and print and go straight to the online platforms that are often echo chambers for the already-persuaded.
But the Conservatives, interestingly, didn’t do any kind of online program for their leadership announcement on Sunday night, even attempting to time it to end before people tuned into the hockey game on TV. If you were a non-Conservative trying to follow the action on Sunday night — or lack of it, due to technical difficulties — you needed to follow traditional media.
Maybe that’s the sign of a truce with their perceived foes. Or it could be that the Conservatives’ resentment of the media is so well-established now that it’s become an Ottawa tradition in itself — one that any good populist would want to smash down. That would definitely be a new look for the party.
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A Practical Guide to Social Media Crisis Management
Today, 4.57 billion people worldwide use the internet, and almost 4 billion of those internet users are active social media users. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in online activity, with data usage increasing by almost 50% during quarantine.
California County Enlists Social Media to Thwart a Misleading Election Photo – The New York Times
Election officials in Sonoma County, Calif., asked the broader social media community on Friday to help them rebut a false report about mail-in ballots in the county.
After receiving phone calls from constituents claiming they saw online pictures of mail-in ballots in a landfill, the county posted a message on its main Twitter account alerting residents and other Twitter users that a false report was circulating. The picture showed 2018 election materials that had been sent out for recycling, as state law permits, the county said.
Help us stop a false report
Someone posted pictures on the web showing empty Vote-by-Mail envelopes from Sonoma County in recycling bins. The pictures are of old empty envelopes from the November 2018 election that were disposed of as allowed by law. pic.twitter.com/0FrhnD3jHg
— County of Sonoma (@CountyofSonoma) September 25, 2020
County officials said they were not sure of the origin of the false report, but by Friday it had been picked up by some conservative media outlets on Twitter. Conservatives and President Trump have recently seized on news reports of issues with mail-in ballots, such as nine that were found to have been discarded in a northeastern Pennsylvania county.
Sonoma County’s post underscored the difficulties that local election officials face in combating misinformation in the final six weeks before the Nov. 3 election. With the local news media in crisis across the nation, fighting misinformation largely falls on area officials, who are already stretched thin to meet the demands of the most complex election in decades.
For officials on the front lines in Sonoma, correcting the record as quickly as possible was paramount.
“I think we wanted to be proactive and make sure that people got the information from us, because we did hear from some concerned citizens,” said Deva Marie Proto, the county registrar of voters in Sonoma County.
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