The election showed we don’t know how to cover the far right

Hard to handle, this coverage issue:

Unlike episodes of “Seinfeld,” elections are never about nothing. While our 44th general election might have felt like it didn’t accomplish much in light of the final seat count, it is false to suggest that this vote doesn’t hold valuable lessons for regular Canadians and politicos alike in the future.

One of the major underpinnings of this campaign is that it exemplified just how unprepared our media and political chattering classes are when it comes to dealing with the rise of the far right in this country, and acknowledging the role misinformation plays in our current discourse.

While many political journalists and commentators are quick to dismiss Maxime Bernier and his ilk as being wholly disconnected from the larger conservative media and political network, the actual evidence would suggest otherwise. Bernier’s descent from Harper-era cabinet minister to conspiracy-theory-peddling zealot shouldn’t be viewed as some sort of one-off event, but should rather be seen as emblematic of an ecosystem that allows an alarming degree of misinformation in its mainstream discourse.

It’s incredibly easy to write off those who were protesting hospitals and claiming to be fighting against permanent lockdowns as cranks that are completely detached from reality. It’s much more difficult to question what role mainstream publications and commercial AM talk radio have in shaping some of these views. From columns in print media arguing that climate change lockdowns are in our immediate future, to talk radio hosts explicitly calling the prime minister a “globalist” who will destroy our country, Canadians don’t need to go to far-right online outlets like The Post Millennial or The Rebel to be misinformed.

In a lot of ways, Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) are simply the next step in the evolution of the conservative movement in this country, as sitting Conservative MPs regularly peddle all sort of conspiracy theories. One might try to convince themselves that this is relegated to the Conservative back bench, like Cheryl Gallant echoing the climate change lockdown conspiracy or saying that Liberals want to “normalize sexual relations with children.” But in doing so, one would have to actively ignore Conservative front benchers like Pierre Poilievre, who recently tried to fear monger around the notion of a “great reset.”

The PPC was able to more than double their vote share in this election, garnering just over 800,000 votes this time around. Certainly not every single PPC voter is an avowed white supremacist, but it would be a mistake to ignore the clear ties the PPC has to far-right, extremist groups. And yet, this very salient detail often seems to be lacking in the media coverage surrounding the PPC. For example, columns and news coverage alike failed to acknowledge that the PPC riding president who was charged for throwing gravel at the prime minister had well-established, explicit ties to the white nationalist movement.

This past week Bernier published the contact information of journalists who had reached out to the PPC to ask questions, and called on his followers on Twitter to “play dirty” with the journalists Bernier had targeted. What happened next was predictable: journalists were sent racist messages along with death and rape threats by hordes of PPC supporters, Twitter reacted too slowly to take down Bernier’s tweet, and Bernier’s call very quickly ended up on a white supremacist forum.

It is irresponsible, and arguably journalistic malpractice, to cover the PPC as if it were any other mainstream political party in this country. And yet that is exactly how much of our political media is treating them.

Source: The election showed we don’t know how to cover the far right

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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