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J.J. McCullough


Media Bites: Justin Trudeau is Simba to the Media's Rafiki

Posted: 10/01/2012 1:59 pm

"Justin Trudeau is seeking the Liberal leadership," writes Jonathan Kay in the National Post, "which he almost certainly will win."

Nothing "almost certainly" about it, Jon, he "will win the leadership handily" clarifies Postmedia's Michael Den Tandt.

Frankly, "I can see no way that he will not win," concurs the Toronto Star podcaster Bob Hepburn.

Well, glad that's settled, then. The Liberal Party may not be formally electing their next leader till April of 2013, but providing you got wind of Justin's announcement-to-announce last Wednesday, you've already heard the only story that matters. Feel free to take the next seven months off.


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The question of what constitutes an active "media bias" in favour of a this-or-that politician is a complicated one, since it doesn't always manifest in precisely the same way.

In the case of a fashionable lefty icon like Barack Obama, press enthusiasm (particularly Canadian enthusiasm) does more or less conform to the standard Bill O'Reilly conspiracy theory, since the beneficent president's technocratic liberalism is undoubtedly closer to the baseline mindset of your typical journalist than the retro-conformist conservative Mormon fogeyism of Governor Romney. Barry is simply more comfortably familiar than his partisan rival, and the affectionate coverage he receives in return generates a bias that's natural, casual, and often unconscious.

In the case of a guy like Justin Trudeau, however, the bias is more of a medium-is-the-message type deal; he's a savvy and compelling politician who enjoys a friendly press thanks mostly to the superficiality, profit drive, and overall laziness of 21st century news media -- even if the actual humans who run said media aren't particularly friendly themselves.

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Does Justin Trudeau Deserve the Media Attention?


Justin's handsome mug is easy to photograph, for example, and his silly photo-ops are fun to cover. His identity as the eldest son of this country's most significant leader since World War II makes for an easily-structured storyline, and little column space has to be wasted explaining who he is or why he matters.

"Editors want these stories" about JT says Postmedia's Stephen Maher, "because readers want these stories, because Trudeau is interesting to people who are not always interested in politics." And editors also want sharp summaries and clean conclusions from their columnists, I would posit, meaning at some point the law of self-fulfilling prophecies dictates that the inevitability of Justin Trudeau is as inevitable as columns about his inevitability.

The Rafiki-lifting-baby-Simba-over-Pride-Rock narrative is so strong at this point, in fact, that even the Trudeau-bashers seem bored and resigned. They can whine, but it's a whine of irritation, not impact.

This kid Justin "has precisely nothing except his name to justify leading the country," gripes an exasperated Peter Worthington in the Toronto Sun. "He's never had a working job," his political career has been awash in "overtones of poor judgment" and his friggin' father once served as a delegate to the 1952 Moscow Economic Conference! That last part might not be super-relevant, but hey, it's the Toronto Sun.

Or how about the Eurozone crisis, Israeli-Palestinian dispute, or F-35 fighter jet controversy, asks Andrew Coyne. What's boxer-boy's stance on those hot-buttons? The answer, says Andy, is "I don't know" and "neither do you." Nor, he suspects, does pretty little "Justin himself." But no worry, adds fellow NatPoster Kelly McParland, I'm sure being the "handsome young thing with the dynamite hair" is qualification enough to run a G7 economy.

He doesn't even have the "brainpower or the witty persona of his dad," piles on Adam Daifallah in the Ottawa Citizen. To say nothing of the considerable political experience possessed by the two opponents he's likely to face in the election of 2015, adds the Sun's Lorrie Goldstein.

So in conclusion, Justin Trudeau is an unaccomplished child of privilege who doesn't deserve to become prime minister, but probably will anyway. (Remember folks: this is the kind of stunning insight you can only get from award-winning newspapers, as opposed to, say, your dad.)

Not that the Trudeau-praise is that much better.

Twelve years after papa's death, the Trudeau legacy still spins a "web of nostalgia, idealism, reverence and glamour," pines Andrew Cohen in the Citizen. Justin might have little more than a name to his name, but a lot of Canadians happen to like that name 'cause it evokes "an ideal of leadership as well as an idea of country" that we've never stopped craving. And who better to help achieve that airy amorphous dream than an airy, amorphous candidate?

Nor should we be so quick pooh-pooh JT's electability, cautions Chantal Hebert in the Toronto Star, "since his surname still resonates in many of the country's cultural communities," namely French-Canadians and immigrants. (Not that Chantal thinks those cultural communities are too dumb to judge politicians on anything beyond surnames, of course.)

Now much of this analysis, both pro and con, is clearly based on brazenly false premises (i.e., "Canadians have detailed memories of what the Pierre Trudeau administration was like," or "politicians usually hold sophisticated positions on complex issues"), which is often true of mainstream punditry, but more revealing than usual in this case.

Justin's speedy rise is so obviously powered by novelty, aesthetics, marketing, and mythology it's hard to avoid the impression that the "intellectual" side of the press is simply struggling to keep up, desperately cobbling together explanations for a decidedly apolitical political phenomenon that's beyond their powers to really understand or control.

So, uh, see you in seven months, I guess.

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  • They Like Him, They Really, Really Like Him

    Justin Trudeau has captured the imagination of Canada's political media. Here are the 11 most ridiculously flattering things they've said about him so far this year.

  • 11. "He's got great hair"

    <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>

  • 10. "The man is genuinely, immensely likable"

    "Justin Trudeau does not shake your hand; he inhabits it. The wrist cocks out and up, the fingertips down; the elbow shoots off to his right; the shoulder rises slightly. Then a friendly grin dawns as he delivers a firm but not crushing grip, looking you in the eye, with a twinkle in his own. The effect is of someone who is warm, slightly embarrassed by the fuss, almost goofy, and genuinely happy to meet you. It is likely that some of this is practised; he would have spent his early social years deflecting other peoples' preconceived ideas about class and snobbery. Either way, it is effective. The man is genuinely, immensely likable." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>

  • 9. Sisyphus & Icarus?

    "Trudeau is part Sisyphus, driven by his nature and upbringing to push his political rock up the hill. And he is part Icarus, driven to prove himself in spectacular ways, whether by crossing rapids, speaking off the cuff about separatism or exposing himself to defeat and humiliation in the ring." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>

  • 8. Or Hamlet?

    "A leadership race without Justin Trudeau would be both Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and one more yawn before sleep." <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/16/rex-murphy-why-justin-trudeau-has-to-run-for-liberal-leader/" target="_hplink">- Rex Murphy</a>

  • 7. "Tantalizing"

    "Mr. Trudeau is tantalizing, but whether he is galvanizing is another question." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/justin-trudeau-is-the-best-hope-for-liberals-and-conservatives/article4249423/" target="_hplink">- Lawrence Martin</a>

  • 6. "He isn't an old fart"

    "He isn't an old fart. The Liberal party -- like the Conservatives -- has been run by, and for, old farts for too long. The party is in desperate need of a new generation of leadership. Trudeau, like Barack Obama in 2008, has the greatest ability to mobilize young people to work for him, and vote for him."<a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink"> - Warren Kinsella</a>

  • 5. "Expressive mane of hair"

    "You, with the expressive mane of hair and the explosive pronouncements that sometimes rival the idiocy of our other Justin, the Beeb." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>

  • 4. "His mane of black hair was tousled"

    "Under his suit jacket, the sleeve buttons on his dress shirt were undone. His necktie was knotted, but left loose over an open top button. His mane of black hair was tousled. Even in genteel disarray, even dressed more or less like a couple hundred of his parliamentary colleagues, the 40-year-old Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Papineau looked like a million bucks." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>

  • 3. "He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined"

    "He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined. In Ottawa, which is Hollywood for ugly people, that matters. To win, political parties need some sizzle with their steak; Trudeau has sizzle in abundance. On the election hustings, when measured against Trudeau, Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair will look like Angry Old Guys, because, er, they are." <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>

  • 2. "Impossibly handsome"

    "The 41-year-old Liberal MP from the Montreal riding of Papineau, impossibly handsome, charming and much more comfortable in his skin than the bearer of such an iconic yet troublesome political name has any right to be..." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>

  • 1. "Lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters"

    "So the rail-thin, lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters, a giant-killing right hook and a weapons-grade surname will position himself as the loyal helpmate of a post-leadership-fixation Liberal Party? It's so crazy it just might work." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>

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  • Liberal Leadership Race 2013

    Here are the remaining candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

  • Justin Trudeau

    Age: 40 Occupation: MP for Montreal-area riding of Papineau <a href="http://justin.ca/en/">Website</a>

  • Joyce Murray

    Age: 58 Occupation: Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, former B.C. Liberal environment minister <a href="http://joycemurray.liberal.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martha Hall Findlay

    Age: 53 Occupation: Former Liberal MP for Willowdale and 2006 leadership candidate <a href="http://www.marthahallfindlay.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martin Cauchon

    Age: 50 Occupation: Lawyer, former Montreal Liberal MP <a href="http://martincauchon.ca/">Website</a>

  • Deborah Coyne

    Age: 57 Occupation: Lawyer, professor <a href="http://www.deborahcoyne.ca/">Website</a>

  • Karen McCrimmon

    Occupation: A retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian forces and mediator. <a href="http://karenforcanada.ca/" target="_hplink">Website</a>


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