10/01/2012 12:06 EDT | Updated 12/01/2012 05:12 EST

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


"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.

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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