Column: The politics behind eclipse of Sun News

by Tim Harper

Sun News Network lasted nearly four years, or, as we in Ottawa mark time, four Stephen Harper communications directors ago.

It was doomed from the day it started. The clock on Jason MacDonald’s departure began the day he became Harper’s latest spokesperson.

The network was starved of resources, a decent spot on the cable dial, a real enemy and a real sense of its so called Canadian values.

MacDonald, like all his predecessors, was the victim of a post that guarantees burnout because everything the federal government does or thinks or tells others to think, must pass through that office. And under Harper, communications director has become an oxymoron.

I watched the first day of Sun News Network out of curiosity.

I didn’t get up in time to watch it fade to permanent black at 5 a.m. Friday.

In the meantime, I watched it only sporadically, often by accident, and I join many others who mourn the loss of something they almost never watched.

But I knew what was happening over at Sun TV and that was one of the problems with the network.

It made news much more often than it broke news or drove news. All media outlets, including this one, make news, and often for the wrong reasons, but none so regularly as Sun TV.

So, we all knew about Krista Erickson’s infamous and obnoxious attempted take down of dancer Margie Gillis, stunts like chasing Justin Trudeau out of their studio yelling questions at him then accusing him of lacking manhood,
Ezra Levant’s bizarre monologue about Trudeau’s lineage and his mother’s alleged lack of underwear, Levant’s profane rebuke to an executive at Chiquita Brands International, his slurs at the Roma, and his fictitious story about Muslims refusing to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in Essex County.

We marvelled at their attempt to stage a fake citizenship swearing-in ceremony, using federal immigration employees to play immigrants in the background.

Even its greatest ratings night backfired. It televised the Saturday night brawl in which its tough, street savvy senator, Patrick Brazeau, was going to pummel the effete pretty boy Trudeau. Instead, Trudeau pummelled the senator.

Levant, of course, is an entertainer, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except too many people thought he was a journalist.

And what he did was overshadow the talented, dedicated journalists who did work for the network.

When I watched the first day, I concluded that it would be difficult for the network to bang its bully pulpit with another Conservative government coming in Ottawa and with a majority in place a month later, they had no one to rail against.

A counterpoint to the mainstream media? The mainstream media, with the exception of this newspaper, all backed Harper in the 2011 campaign.

In 2013, when the CRTC refused to make it more accessible with “mandatory carriage,” I still felt it could never become Fox North in a country in which we believe our politics are polarized, but are really quite tepid compared to the shout fests on U.S. cable television.

Unlike the U.S., we even fold up our political tents during the summer, head to the cottage and give it a break.

They often had no one to yell at. If they were trying to appeal to the hardcore Conservative voter, the pool was small, about 30 per cent of the country. Conservative majorities are cobbled together when another 10 per cent go along for a short-term electoral ride.

Shouting at Trudeau could not compare with the braying for blood south of the border on immigration reform or Obamacare.

As Jonathan Kay in the Walrus aptly said: “The United States has a culture war. Canada has Question Period.”

And the other Conservative voice stilled?

Harper’s communications chiefs are interchangeable, but the job is hellish under this government.

Every spokesperson brings something different to the table. The difference between MacDonald and his predecessor Andrew MacDougall, for example, can be illustrated in the lunch test.

When I asked MacDougall out for the last lunch we shared, he readily agreed. He quit the day before we dined.

When I asked MacDonald out for lunch, he ignored the email and just quit.

MacDougall was more accessible, MacDonald more invisible, but all Harper
spokespersons live in a world, as MacDougall put it, in which every word
uttered could be your last.

Sun TV is over, MacDonald has moved on and like the late, lamented network, I never got to watch MacDonald fade to black.

Copyright 2015 Tor Star Syndication Services

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