Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When journalism takes an embarassing turn

It didn't take long for someone to write a mean and cynical piece about Jack Layton's death and the surprisingly warm and loud response that it's garnered - in fact, it took less than 12 hours.

Most of Christie Blatchford's snark is directed at the outpouring of grief, as if Layton is undeserving or the people saddened by his death are somehow misguided, which is both a cowardly thing to do (if you're suggesting that he's unworthy of the attention, why mock the people who are giving it rather than the object of their attention?) and cruel. To be so casually dismissive of grief, especially on the day the man died and when it's still so new and even raw, is indecent and inhumane if not simply inhuman. And to demean it as "spectacle"? I find it hard to critique even the most showy politicians for being a bit effusive - again, these are knee-jerk, gut-reactions to the news that a colleague and/or friend has died. Docking them points for style is just unwarranted.

But when Blatchford does turn her attention to Layton, the venom is actually worse. Her discussion of Layton's letter opens innocuously enough, as she characterizes it as an example of "what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was", and these things are certainly true. The letter is not an apolitical one - Layton knew, as did we all, that it was his cult of personality that won the NDP second-place in the election, and that he probably wanted to make some grand gesture and take advantage of that one last time. Blatchford gets nastier, though: she describes his prose as "vainglorious" and "sophistry" that's full of "bumper-sticker slogans" and "ruthless partisan politicking" . Whether it was with the sophistry or bumper-sticker comment, one thing is certain - we've crossed solidly into the territory of shamelessness.
Real classy stuff, right there.

She also asks, "Who thinks to leave a 1,000-word missive meant for public consumption and released by his family and the party mid-day"? To which I feel it necessary to reply, who thinks it necessary to use 1,000 words to kick a warm corpse and heap scorn upon the people mourning it?

(I should add that I don't think Jack Layton's parting letter is perfect, by any means. It's sweet, but probably too precious. I suppose we could begrudge him the overt partisanship, but I wouldn't really expect anything less from him. But, really - given that he finalized it from bed, two days before his death? Do we really expect perfection? I'll let Andrew Coyne sum it up for me: "You're allowed to exploit your own death. You get a free, one-time-only pass.")

No comments: