I’m in a cranky mood, so this will be a cranky post. It is always frustrating for a thinking person to read or listen to the news (I almost never watch it, but I imagine that must be frustrating too). Most of the people with whom I spend time, being for the most part a liberal-minded bunch, will be quick to agree with the claim that the right wing media is willfully obtuse on certain subjects (“on most subjects” I can hear them say) and perhaps not as wedded to truth as they ought to be. I agree. The phenomenon that is Fox “News” certainly bears this out. But I submit to you, dear reader, that the leftish or progressive or vaguely liberal media are every bit as truth-challenged and willfully obtuse. In what follows, I will offer three current (or very recent) news items to illustrate, items that have been annoying me inordinately.
Before proceeding, I should qualify what I mean by “leftish or progressive or vaguely liberal media” here. I do not have in mind the Socialist Worker. Rather, I have in mind such august media outlets as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the increasingly shrill and stupid Toronto Star newspaper. Heck, I would even go so far as to include the Globe and Mail in this category, whose core reader seems to be a white, male, 55-ish lawyer living in mid-town Toronto who supports gay marriage, the legalization of pot, and balanced budgets.
Without further ado, I offer the following news items, with the briefest of observations on why I find the coverage of them frustratingly inadequate, willfully obtuse, or downright intellectually dishonest.
Case 1: Dwarf tossing
A strip club in Windsor, Ontario is offering dwarf-tossing as a form of entertainment to draw patrons. I don’t care for dwarf-tossing, and I frankly didn’t know there was anyone outside of 1980s Australia who does. Is it bad taste? Of course it is. Is it degrading to little people? I imagine so.
Is it something that the law should keep an eye on? Not unless dwarves are being kidnapped off the street and tossed around for amusement, in which case the Criminal Code already covers it. And yet, almost without exception, every person whom I’ve read or heard interviewed about this story seems to think that the activity should be legally banned, and almost always on the ground that it is degrading.
Now here is the frustrating part for me: If the progressive media truly wants to get on its collective high horse about degradation, then maybe it ought to devote a little more attention to the space in which the dwarf-tossing contest is taking place, and the activities that take place there on every other night when dwarves are not being tossed: a “club” in which women take off their clothes and hump a pole for the sexual amusement of men. How is this not degrading to women in precisely the sense in which dwarf-tossing is degrading to little people? And yet, no mention of this pertinent fact in all the media moralizing. Wherefore the blind spot, dear media? Is it possible that our liberal ideas haven’t quite been fully thought through yet? If so, then perhaps we had better do some hard thinking before we start passing laws that treat some people’s dignity as more worthy of protection than others’. Or else we should mind our own damn business.
(Before moving to the next news item, I cannot refrain from voicing my personal opinion that the politically-correct term “little people” sounds much more unflattering than “dwarves” or “midgets”. Inside my head, “little people” brings forth visions of leprechauns and is always pronounced with an Irish lilt.)
Case 2: Gender-selected abortion
Here is another case of liberal ideas not seeming quite worked out. A medical researcher writes an article advocating that prospective parents not be told the gender of their fetuses until the third trimester, when it is too late to abort said fetus. The reason for this is that certain ethnic groups are using the results of these tests to abort female fetuses out of a preference for males.
If I am liberal, I am, generally speaking, in favour of a woman’s right to choose within certain legally defined limits whether she will carry her baby to term, or whether she will abort the pregnancy. Holding that belief, am I entirely consistent at the same time to clamour for restrictions on a woman’s right to choose which fetuses she can abort and which she cannot? Put another way, if I believe that a fetus does not have a moral status high enough to warrant the protection of its life (within existing legal parameters), am I being consistent in insisting that a subgroup of such fetuses are in need of legal protection over and above that already afforded them in law?
Now, I should state outright, that I am without reservation in favour of a woman’s right to choose abortion. This is not to say I like abortion. After all, I believe that a better world would be one in which women never felt they needed to choose the abortion option. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. In that sense, a fetus is to my mind not entirely morally negligible.
Can an argument for protection of female fetuses be sustained within an overall pro-choice framework? I think it can. But the liberal media have not really even tried to offer one. They should, because the conservative media has certainly taken note of what they take to be a glaring inconsistency.
Case 3: Joe Mihevc
Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc doesn’t like that fact that Mayor Rob Ford unilaterally cancelled an existing transit plan in favour of his own one. My concern here is not with the merits or demerits of either plan. Nor is it necessarily with Mihevc’s subsequent action, which was to retain a law firm to give him a legal opinion on whether the mayor’s move to scrap the plan without council’s approval was kosher. He was certainly within his rights to do so. (The opinion Mihevc received claims that the mayor had no right to act unilaterally.)
Rather, my quarrel is with the media’s portrayal of what was in effect a publicity stunt. The media generally covered this story in a way that took advantage of the public’s general ignorance of law and legal procedure by making it sound as if some public court or tribunal — rather than a private law firm — had pronounced on the legality of the mayor’s actions. The core of the story is this: some guy hired a law firm to come up with an opinion supporting his point of view. That is, after all, why lawyers are called “advocates”; they advocate. The mayor could have done precisely the same thing Mihevc did if he were so inclined. Maybe he should have. In this sense, there is no story here. The opinion is in no sense binding. It is not a decision.
The real story here would be what Mihevc planned to do with the opinion he purchased (and we might ask, with whose money?). To date he has launched no properly legal proceedings against the mayor, and I doubt he will. In any case, I doubt that stopping the mayor by legal means was really his aim. Publicity was his aim, and he got precisely what he was looking for, thanks very much to the media’s predictably poor coverage and general incomprehension of legal issues (to be fair, this is a shortcoming of media generally, on the left and the right). Now the average Torontonian has the vague notion that Mayor Ford is some kind of autocratic despot, ruling by decree without council.
I find this ironic, given that many of those same left-leaning councillors who are crying foul over Ford’s unilateral decision-making were the same ones who were bleating for “strong mayor” powers to be given to David Miller, Ford’s leftist predecessor. Apparently strong powers are okay when it’s your guy wielding them.
Before closing, I have one last axe to grind on this story. The Toronto Star article I linked to above contains this howler of a quote from a rookie councillor who it seems is all the rage right now: “‘Nowhere was it written that the mayor has authority to unilaterally create transit policy for the City of Toronto,’ says centrist Josh Matlow.”
Well, Mr. Matlow, I’m sure that there are countless things that are not written down in any book on municipal procedure. The real question is whether it is written anywhere that the mayor cannot create transit policy (or in this case destroy it). It is interesting and somewhat ironic that a left-leaning councillor should appeal to a form of argument found most commonly among literalist US conservative legal scholars. The latter will argue that some policy or social program is unconstitutional because it is not explicitly written in the constitution. If the US Founding Fathers didn’t mention anything about a subway, then it is unconstitutional to build a subway. We rightly ridicule this form of argument when offered by a conservative. Why is it that we give it a free pass when it is offered by a liberal?
Incidentally, Mr. Matlow is no “centrist”, as the article claims. Look at his background and his record and you’ll see that he certainly leans in one clear direction.