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Think Jesse Brown Makes A Good Point? That's Canada Goosesh*t

10/25/2016 08:46 EDT
Chris Wattie / Reuters
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a meeting with members of the China Entrepreneur Club with at Willson House in Chelsea, Quebec, Canada, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Congratulations, Canada, you just filled Jesse Brown with pride.

In himself.

The Canadaland founder recently penned a column for the Guardian titled, "Think Canada is a progressive paradise? That's mooseshit."

jesse brown canadaland

Jesse Brown. (Photo via CP)

Its aim was to hack away at the idea that Canada is some kind of Edenic alternative to the United States, in the unlikely event of a Trump victory.

Like a lumberjack at a rotten tree, it chopped away at Canada's paradisical reputation, and especially our prime minister, the "heat-seeking empathy missile" Justin Trudeau.

The piece certainly found an audience -- at over 40,000 shares and more than 1,400 comments, there's no doubt it struck a nerve.

And Brown was only too happy to boast of its success.

There is nothing wrong with countering a country's "sunny ways" narrative, or suggesting there's more to our prime minister than his Crest-white smile.

But Brown's column is yet another sign of a mistake-prone media critic who is perilously short on self-reflection. And, as someone who considers himself the conscience of Canadian media, needs to do better if he wants to be taken seriously.

Let's start with Brown's take on the 2015 election. Brown says we "dared to open our eyes (just a peek) to the neglected, remote indigenous communities where suicide rates are shockingly high and access to untainted drinking water is shamefully low."

Much of the above is true -- and, as he says, shameful. But the idea that Canadians meaningfully opened their eyes to these issues is naive at best.

The idea that Indigenous matters received even a modicum of the attention they need, makes me wonder whether we were watching the same election.

justin trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Photo: Hannah Yoon/CP)

But all of this was a simple segue way for an attack on Trudeau, whom he claims has taken Canada "right where Stephen Harper left us."

He initially claimed that Canada is the world's third-largest arms dealer -- a fallacy that was corrected at the bottom of the piece -- and that we're basing our economy on fossil fuel extraction and cutting $36 billion out of health care.

His argument that Canada is relying on fossil fuel extraction is flawed at best -- and at worst, convenient to his narrative.

And it's not completely true, if you look at this graph from March.

But let's return to Brown's broader point, that Trudeau has kept Canada right where Stephen Harper left us.

He would have us forget that Trudeau cut taxes on the middle class; that he instituted a non-taxable, income-based child benefit, replacing Harper's taxable family benefit that doled out the same money to everyone, no matter how much they made; that he restored the long-form Census; that he overhauled the process by which people are appointed to the Senate.

In other words, it was silly to claim that Canada is the same place it was under Harper.

"For someone who demands so much internal reflection out of Canadian media, he is perilously short on his own."

Now I'm not saying Trudeau doesn't deserve scrutiny.

His government was dishonest in its handling of a Saudi arms deal; he lowered the age of eligibility for Old Age Security, a decision with serious financial implications for millennials; and his government has reportedly breached the Indian residential school settlement agreement by allowing lawyers to limit survivors' compensation claims.

But Brown did a half-assed job of criticizing him. And that's status quo for the Canadaland founder, who repeatedly fails to learn from his mistakes.

jian ghomeshi

Jian Ghomeshi. (Photo: Getty Images)

This is someone who, in reporting the Jian Ghomeshi story, sent an email to a "Q" producer requesting comment and promised "complete anonymity" without talking to his investigative partner first, according to Kevin Donovan's book "Secret Life."

He once published a ridiculous story claiming that Ghomeshi's lawyer was in a conflict of interest; he said CBC's decision not to host a leaders' debate in the 2015 election (without the then-prime minister) had "disgraced" it "beyond anything in recent memory," including the Ghomeshi scandal.

And he published another story saying the Ottawa mayor's chief of staff had "leaked" Canadaland a memo when he hadn't.

"Canada needs someone who can tell the world that we're not as perfect as we think we are. But that's no excuse to go about it halfway -- and then brag about it."

But all of these mistakes have been masked by a bigger one: The time that he sloppily (and patronizingly) reported that women were "fleeing" the Globe and Mail.

Many were, it turned out, leaving for better opportunities.

Brown apologized for the story. But he was hardly repentant when he invited author Scaachi Koul on to his show, in an effort to hold himself accountable.

Koul rightly accused him of using "condescending" language in the piece.

But instead of listening, he justified himself throughout, before agreeing to publish a piece noting how many men had left the Globe and Mail in a similar time frame.

"Listen to me, don't argue with me," she pleaded, laughing.

"I need to be a dick to do this job," he later said.

I suppose we can praise Jesse for holding himself to account.

But Canadaland has had many transgressions follow this one. All the mistakes mentioned above, save for his missteps on the Ghomeshi story, happened after his piece on the Globe.

In short, he seems to have learned little from his experience on that story.

Canada needs a media critic; but it already has better ones, in James Bradshaw, an outstanding reporter with the Globe and Mail, and Sean Craig, an excellent Financial Post journalist (and Canadaland alumnus).

What they do isn't quite the same as what you find on Canadaland. But they nevertheless provide a model after which Brown can pattern himself.

Because for someone who demands so much internal reflection out of Canadian media, he is perilously short on his own.

Canada needs someone who can tell the world that we're not as perfect as we think we are. But that's no excuse to go about it halfway -- and then brag about it.

It's a cliche to say you're your own worst critic. But Jesse Brown is.

He can do better. He needs to.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this blog stated that Jesse Brown went behind his investigative partner's back in reporting the Jian Ghomeshi story. The blog has been updated to show that Brown sent an email to a "Q" producer without talking to his reporting partner beforehand, as is written in Kevin Donovan's book "Secret Life." In a message to the author of this blog, Brown said he had free reign to investigate and no protocols regarding anonymity or clearing inquiries with Donovan were set out ahead of time.

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