Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Media flunking out in Harper 101



Now that the media are finished grading Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first 100 days in office, let's grade the media on their coverage of Harper's first 100 days in office.

In a word, it's been terrible, starting with the fact the media couldn't even agree on which day marked Harper's first 100 days in office.

Indeed, if you seem to recall reading pieces about Harper's first 100 days in office for two weeks now, that's because you have been.

Some media decided Harper's 100th day in office was Tuesday, May 2, the day Harper brought down his first budget, marking 100 days since the Jan. 23 election.

Others decided Harper's 100th day in office is today, the day Federal Auditor-General Sheila Fraser is expected to eviscerate the Liberal gun registry (again) marking 100 days since Harper took power Feb. 6.

For failing to agree on which day marks Harper's first 100 days in office, a rather significant point when you're writing about his first 100 days in office, the media get an "F."

Further, the fact Harper is in office at all means the media get another "F" for political prognostication.

Remember how we in the media killed entire forests writing about how Harper would never become prime minister because he was (a) too scary (b) too emotionless (i.e. wooden) (c) too emotional (i.e. angry) (d) a lousy people person (e) unable to get along with the media (f) unable to get along with Belinda Stronach, and (g) because Canadians feared his "hidden agenda?"

Well, as it turned out, these predictions were wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

In fact, a poll released at the start of the last election campaign showed more Canadians thought Paul Martin and the Liberals had a "hidden agenda" than Harper and the Conservatives. But when have the media ever let what Canadians think get in the way of making bold predictions? Wrong, but bold.

Speaking of Martin, the media get an "F" on predicting his political future, too.

Remember when he finally won control of the Liberal party from Jean Chretien in late 2003?

Remember how the media told you Martin might win more than 200 of Parliament's 308 seats in the next election? Well, Martin certainly captured more than 200 seats. Only thing is, it took him two elections to do it, not one, which is why he's now an opposition backbencher instead of prime minister.

The reason media predictions are usually so wrong is that we generally believe the next election will always be fought like the last one. This is the same logic employed by stupid military generals (and Martin election strategists) who always predict the next war will be fought like the last one.

In the Liberals' case, since Jean Chretien won three majority governments in a row (1993, 1997 and 2000), the media expectation when Martin became PM, especially since the media had anointed him Canada's political messiah, was that he would win an even bigger majority in 2004. Oops.

Then, after Harper held Martin to a minority in 2004, the conventional media wisdom heading into the 2006 vote was that Martin would win either (a) another minority or (b) a narrow majority. Double Oops.

Now, since polls taken following the Jan. 23 election show Harper's Conservatives about 10 points ahead of the Liberals and hovering around 40% of popular support -- the minimum needed for a majority -- the conventional media wisdom is that Harper is poised to win a majority next time.

This from the same folks who told you he was unelectable two years ago.

Maybe an "F" is too generous.


At 7:20 PM, Blogger banya said...

At least Rex is on the ball.....

Yoking wishfulness to vast expenditure

May 16 2006

The gun registry and the Kyoto Protocol are, at least in one respect, twins. They both illustrate the uselessness of piety pretending to be policy, of half thought mixed with full-bore emotion substituting for a rational response to a perceived public problem.

Kyoto is a great empty house of wishful thinking. Some countries that have signed on have done less than those that did not. Canada has done less than the U.S., for example, though the U.S. Congress universally voted it down during the Clinton years, while Canada touted its signature on the accord as being in itself a great Boy Scout badge of international and environmental do-good-ism.

And then there's the gun registry. Whatever the gun registry was supposed to do, beyond raising a cloud of vague righteousness that something was being done, what has it specifically done for places like Toronto, say, with its year of the gun?

Where real gun crime exists, it almost always is handguns, stolen, smuggled, and unregistered, that are causing havoc.

Where's the registry in that picture? And today Sheila Fraser pounded a few dozen more 9-inch nails into the coffin of the gun registry. That other response to a problem which over the five years of its life has been an epic catalogue of unimaginable expense, was going to cost $2 million net and cost $1 billion instead.

She told us of computer systems whose costs ballooned, amounts in the tens of millions not recorded, and even more damning, added that the information these wonderful systems so expensively collected can either be (a) incorrect or (b) incomplete, and at a press conference that the data cannot be relied on. So it can't be relied on; its information is incomplete or incorrect, and it costs more than the tar sands.

Well, not the tar sands.

In the early days of this program, it was all so simple. We had then Justice Minister Allan Rock standing to tell the country, "All that we're asking of firearms owners is to fill out two cards and mail them in."

A few postcards and a postage stamp. And we get a billion dollars?

Who was the mailman? Wile E. Coyote?

The gun registry accomplished negatives, however, by the bucket load. A cost overrun that yet will make "Ripley's Believe It or Not", antagonized whole swatches of harmless citizens, from duck hunters to farmers, who found themselves hectored and harassed to fill in its unreliable forms, pay its useless fees, or wind up listed as criminals if they did not.

Now, Kyoto is not a registry, but it has the same impulse at its centre, vagueness of intention surrounding an amorphous good cause. The science is contentious, regardless of what the propagandists of global warning will tell you. It is advocacy-driven and as much a lobby as General Motors.

As Kyoto is globally, the gun registry is for us nationally, a perfect parable of yoking wishfulness to vast expenditure to appease wistful public sentiment. Whatever that sentiment, it urges politicians to just do something. In both cases, they did. Kyoto eight years on is a hollow piety, and the gun registry is a compound of excess, uselessness, annoyance, and the most highly capitalized piece of policy pointlessness since the Newfoundland government 20 years ago spent $27 million to fund a science fiction dream of growing cucumbers out of the East Coast granite.

Keep the gun registry? Only if they open a museum for monumental illustrations of how to waste public money. And in that museum, the registry will occupy the same place in public policy that the private sector has long ago given the Edsel. For "The National", I'm Rex Murphy.


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