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Media Bites: Auto-Tweets After a Shooting? Coverage Should Fit the Crime

Posted: 09/06/2012 4:15 am

If nothing else, it was a reminder of the perils of setting up one of those time-delayed auto-tweeters.

As a man lay dead and Canadians sat glued to their social media feeds patiently awaiting updates on the appalling violence that struck Tuesday night's Parti Quebecois victory rally, the trickle of breaking news from the nation's top commentators was frequently interrupted by cryptically off-topic offerings from otherwise credible sources.

George Stroumboulopoulos retweeted compliments about his beard just as details of the killer's identity were beginning to filter in, for instance, while the National Post's Chris Selley offered an equally ill-timed tribute to hockey's greatest Cold War defectors. It's not really anyone's fault, to be fair -- pre-scheduled tweets are a boon to efficiency in this busy world of ours -- but all this does somewhat undermine the notion that social media's the place to turn when heavy stuff's going down.

When it comes to idle speculation it can't be beat, though! Speculation like, "surely anyone making an apparent attempt on the life of a woman on track to become one of Quebec's least popular premiers must have had some political motive." The punditocracy remains deeply skeptical, alas.

We've seen gun-jumping like this before, says the National Post's Jon Kay. Remember how everyone was so sure that the guy who shot Congresswoman Giffords was a Tea Party nut? Or how the Columbine psychos were really just tragic victims of high school bullying? Time and time again, Kay notes, "dramatic acts of violence with seemingly profound political or sociological significance often turn out to be manifestations of mental illness." Supposed agendas? Merely "a cobbled-together pretext."

After all, Quebec's truly militant dissidents have long perfected a far more effective strategy to express displeasure with the place and its politicians -- they leave.

True, Quebec politics can be feisty, says Paul Wells of Macleans', and Quebecer "maniacs often manage to hitch their demons to some political post," but the mere existence of one phenom doesn't presuppose a link to the other. Lazily blaming tragedies on our "favourite political enemy" amid an absence of hard evidence is a tactic as old as politics itself, he writes. I'd say it's one "of the most common traps in human cognition," argues a supportive Dan Gardner.

Mind you, neither Paul, Dan, or Jon provide much hard evidence of their own proving that any humans have actually been linking Tuesday's shootings to some imagined excess of Quebecois political culture. Their soothing words, in short, are basically solutions in search of problems.

Given the current climate, however, that may not be a bad thing.

***

Twitter's not the only way to share awkwardly inopportune commentary with the rest of the world, of course -- lest we forget the proud tradition of pre-written election editorials? You know, the ones thrown together way in advance of polls closing, thereby ensuing they'll remain hilariously ignorant of any last-minute game-changing variables, be it a surprise come-from-behind victory of a certain ginger-headed prairie premier or the worst incident of Canadian political violence in five decades?

I don't know if premature filing was necessarily the origin of the tsunami of Quebecertorials that greeted Canadians Wednesday morning, but it was more than a little suspicious that they all seem to take place in some happy alternate universe where the PQ's victory wasn't horribly overshadowed by a crazed housecoat-clad lunatic.

Even weirder, however, was the fact that this universe also houses an English Canadian populace that apparently worries itself to hysterics over whether Quebec plans to stay or go (which is not exactly the reality suggested by recent polling).

"Cancel the nervous breakdown" instructs Kelly McParland at the Post. I know we were all frightened beyond words at the thought Quebecers might install a separatist majority, but it turns out "they didn't want a Parti Quebecois government much more than we did." Yup, rest easy folks, adds colleague John Moore, it's just a pathetic minority so we all better lie down, "take a breath and get back to whatever it is we were doing on Monday." A PQ win "isn't good news for Canada, but neither is it a calamity," coos the Toronto Star editorial board. So get down off the table, honey.

Having safely curbed the waterworks, every editorialist then proceeds to offer the exact same package of helpful separatist training tips to Prime Minister Harper -- namely that he should be polite yet firm in refusing the crazed nationalistic demands of the new lady premier, while simultaneously keeping his George Bush Sr.-style "Message: I care" index cards close at hand.

Now "that the PQ is in, he must pay attention," lectures Jon Ibbitson at the Globe. "But that doesn't mean he has to play their game." The key is to focus on areas of "common ground" where both separatist and federalist alike can work together, suggests the Ottawa Citizen. Yeah! Like denationalizing "control over employment insurance," agrees the Globe. Just so long as Harps can "keep his cool and not get provoked" chimes in Haroon Siddiqui at the Star.

Or here's an idea: he could do nothing. I mean, if no one actually cares if Quebec leaves, and if they can't leave under a minority government anyway, then why bother to appease? "No fear, no leverage," to quote the snippy summary of Sun TV's Lorne Gunter.

Someone was saying something about solutions in search of problems?

 

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