My New Book Project

My New Book Project
by Mark Bourrie
March 29, 2024
My New Book Project

In the latest blow to Canadian media, and Canadian democracy by extension, BCE Inc. (parent company of Bell Media) announced last month that it was cutting 4,800 jobs across Canada, marking one of the biggest round of layoffs in the industry in decades.

The move will result in the cancellation of several long-running new and public affairs shows, including the acclaimed W5 investigative program – which just did this important investigation of “Queen” Romana Didulo -- and the sale of dozens of radio stations nationwide. Most of these stations are in small communities that have already lost their newspapers or seen them drastically cut.

Bell’s latest round of cuts came just seven months after axing 1,300 employees in June 2023, including multiple veteran reporters from the CTV National News. Some of these journalists were among the best investigative reporters in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the new cuts by Bell, calling the move “a garbage decision” and stating that he was “furious”. That doesn’t mean he or the government will actually do anything.

This latest assault on the industry followed cuts at Global and threatened layoffs at the CBC that haven’t happened yet. And these assaults on journalism are happening after years of layoffs that have stripped many Canadian communities of their newspapers. Those that survive, with a very few exceptions, are mere shells, unable to cover even basic news like city halls, courts and police.

By the end of the decade, Canada will have no large media outlets capable of legitimately claiming to be able to hold anyone in power in the public or private sector to account or investigate social and political issues that the public in a democracy need to know about.

What’s left of the media, especially political reporters, rarely do more than cover what the pack decides is news. This has helped the extreme, authoritarian Right gain power in this country, first at the provincial level and, unless there’s a dramatic reversal of fortune for Pierre Poilievre, nationally.

And all this is happening when the 21st century’s version of fascism is gaining ground in places like Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States.

At the beginning of 2015, HarperCollins published my book Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know.

Things have got worse since then. I see the media-political attack on We Charity, in which “populist: politicians worked with a shallow, ill-informed and unskilled media to destroy a charity. It was a performance aimed at hurting the Liberal government, rather than helping Canada. It was cheap, sensational content for a decayed media and a platform for demagogues.

So I am going to use it as a case study of the systemic failure of journalism, and how that’s fed into a political system where truth no longer matters.

The cutbacks across the industry, with more likely to come, will lead us to a much more US-style media landscape in which outlets are essentially loudspeakers for the parties they unofficially represent. And as we are seeing play out in real time south of the border, this will have devastating consequences on our democracy. Electoral politics will become even more of a con job.

We need to talk about this and prevent this dystopian future from happening.

On my website, Fairpress.ca, I’ve closely followed the political attacks on WE Charity and its founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, since the attacks began in June 2020 with the announcement of the  Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), which was quickly cancelled.  I’ve confirmed with senior public servants that the media and opposition effectively shut down the government’s creation of successful, innovative programs that were designed to save Canadian families who’d lost their jobs or shut down their businesses because of the pandemic.

There was nothing to the story. Yet the fully de-bunked affair is still listed as a Trudeau “scandal”. Yes, Trudeau and his finance minister Bill Morneau could have handled things better, but keep in mind that these were people trying to run a government from their homes, working in a landscape where most of the country was barely functioning, markets were in freefall, and there was no end in sight.  

WE Charity was a success story celebrated around the world. Now it’s gone from Canada. Years of hard work, nit just by Craig and Marc Kielburger and their staff, but also by teachers and young people across Canada, was collateral damage in political games involving unscrupulous politicians and a failing media.

Tawfiq S. Rangwala, a Toronto lawyer, began to scratch the surface of the darker forces that drove the “scandal” in his 2022 book, What WE Lost: Inside the Attack on Canada's Largest Children's Charity.

It’s an excellent book. Mr. Rangwala had an inside seat to see this massive failure unfold, and he worked hard to get to the truth at the heart of the hit job on WE. The book sold well, but was scrupulously ignored by almost all of the media. Canadian journalists seem incapable of reflection, self-assessment and professional development.

So I am going to do a deeper dive into the politics at play. My books tend to be big-picture projects. I like to connect dots, pull on threads and put Canadian events into an international context.  I did this with Kill the Messengers, and expanded on propaganda concepts in that book when I wrote The Killing gam, about how the Islamic State used social media for recruitment and to coordinate its actions. My biographies of Pierre Radisson (Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre Radisson) put European-Indigenous contact into political and economic perspective and attacked some of Canada’s foundation myths.

In 2022, Biblioasis published Big Men Fear Me, the biography of Globe and Mail founder George McCullagh, which was a deep dive on media power and populism. (The same year, I wrote a legal guide for journalists, Fundamental law for Journalists, hoping at least some of them would use it to get much-needed help with their understanding of legal concepts and policy.

And, in about two months, my biography of Jesuit martyr Jean de Brebeuf, Crosses in the Sky: Jean de brebeuf and the Destruction of Huronia, is coming out. It’s a description of how the Jesuits tried to take over a First Nation in the early 1600s and turn it into a Jesuit-run state, similar to one they had in Paraguay. It explores ideas of colonialism, European dominance, early residential schools, resistance, and attempts by chiefs to navigate through changes caused by Euro-Indigenous contact, epidemics and war. And I am at the preliminary stage of gathering material for a book that’s a bizarre, deep dive on colonialism at the peak of the Pax Britania.

Now I am researching a book that will, I expect, clearly show how the remains of Canada’s media filled their news pages and broadcasts with over-torqued salacious and often cruel stories spoon-fed to them by unscrupulous politicians like Poilievre and the self-aggrandizing Charlie Angus and accepted the claims of these two ludicrous politicians and a supporting cast of incompetents, known liars and freaks at face value.

Mainstream media scooped up this cheap content, as did a few fringe new media outlets like Jesse Brown’s Canadaland and platformed Poilievre, Angus, and cranks like Kate Bahen, a self-proclaimed “charity analyst”. It wasn’t surprising when Behan testified at Poilievre and Angus’s kangaroo court committee meetings. And, as I wrote about on my site, not a single reporter managed to uncover that she is a long-time Conservative donor and operative, something most were capable of doing if they were serious about understanding what was really happening.

Even the bandwagon media were shocked when Brown showed up to add his theories to the pile of guff that went into the parliamentary record (though not enough to actually reconsider the narrative spun by these morons).

The media also largely let Trudeau off the hook for his role in the CSSG. He forced Bill Morneau to resign, shuffled lead Minister Bardish Chagger out at the earliest opportunity and essentially ran away on vacation leaving WE and the Kielburger brothers to defend the establishment of the much-needed student aid program, even though they hadn’t developed the idea in the first place.

There was a political price for this failure: Trudeau’s popularity had never been higher than during the first months of Covid-19, yet it plummeted after he botched the CSSG and it has never recovered. And now we’re looking at the real possibility of a government led by Pierre Poilievre, a man with no known scruples who will promise anything to get elected, and will make Stephen Harper look like Lester Pearson.

Media coverage of this fake scandal made Poilievre known to a much larger number of Canadians and gave him – despite his obnoxious, condescending, attack dog routine – an advantage in the next leadership race. Ironically, Poilievre, like his Trumpist colleagues in office in most provincial governments,  gleefully shows his disdain for the media. Back then he conned the media by holding news conferences giving  interviews reporters who, like him, were trying to build their careers on WE and the Kielburger brothers.

On the rare occasions Poilievre takes questions from the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa, he immediately challenges any reporter that asks him a hard question, demanding to know “where are you from?” In other words, “what side are you on?” If the answer is anything but Sun Media, The National Post, or Rebel News, he accuses them of being paid off by the Trudeau government. This is Harper’s media tactics on steroids.

And now that the media is gutted and, partly because of its own unwillingness to do the work necessary to evolve into a real profession, lacks so little public support, real democracy in Canada is in deep trouble.

As an example, the CBC’s Fifth Estate program played a huge role in WE’s destruction, and they might be the one media institution that will pay a price for their stilted coverage of the charity. As I’ve written on FairPress, WE took them to court, specifically naming producer Harvey Cashore and reporter Mark Kelley for their torqued, inaccurate and inept reporting on the charity following the CSSG.

As part of the research for this book, I will be in Washington, covering the Fifth Estate trial, which will likely begin later this year.

The book I’m working on will use the WE Charity case study to show how we got here and how bad things are, but I also want to show how reporters can professionalize, push back and regain public respect at a time when so many of them have so little job security.

Fairness and honesty should be the bottom line in journalism. Add professional standards and self-regulation of ethics and conflicts of interest, and there might – just might – be a future for journalism and journalists, if entrepreneurs develop money-making media platforms. That’s an awful lot of “ifs”, but the alternative is a society in which the powerful few have free rein to do what they want to powerless and to the environment. It’s not a world I want to leave to my children and grandchildren.

Look for this book in 2025.

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