If you were anywhere within a hundred miles of Toronto over the past few days you were inundated by the massive coverage of a police officer killed in the line of duty. Sgt. Ryan Russell was by all accounts an excellent police officer, a kind and thoughtful person and a wonderful family man.
Sgt. Russell was the victim of what appears to be a deranged or depressed man who stole an idling snow plow and went on a rampage. The alleged killer began his snow plow ride by hitting several parked cars before the police arrived on the scene. Eventually Sgt. Russell attempted to stop the destructive ride and was crushed between the plow and a police car.
It was a horrible event, tragic even. All thinking citizens have to feel sorry for a young father uselessly slain in the prime of his life.
BUT…yes it is a big but. Is it possible that the coverage of the events, the family and the funeral were more than a little excessive? The last two times I saw this much coverage of a death were the assassination of President Kennedy and the killing of Princess Diana. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s death did not get this much coverage. Neither did the deaths of Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker. Hundreds of our troops have died in Afghanistan fighting a deadly enemy in order to protect all Canadians. While they have all be recognized, none have been honored the way Sgt. Russell has. I could go on.
In Toronto the newspapers have had two to three pages of coverage every day. Today, the day after the funeral, the first four pages of the front section of The Star has no other stories. There’s more in the local section too. On television, every major news outlet in the city covered a large part of the funeral live.
Once again I ask, is this too much?
My cynical friends have opined that the massive funeral that closed down major thoroughfares with marching police officers and firemen from across the country and the continent was planned to take the heat off a force that has been beleaguered by months of charges of overzealousness at the G-20 Summit. With charges beginning to stick to many Toronto police officers, they say, it was time for the police brass to change the message. Along came the horrible death of fine officer that presented them with the opportunity to change the topic of conversation. All the stops were pulled. Forget a church funeral, only the Toronto Convention Centre which could hold several thousand would do. The march was planned to go through the heart of the city. For the second time in less than a year all the streets around the Convention Centre were closed down. For at least a week and who knows how long into the future, the story of the Toronto Police has changed. It’s no longer about police brutality and excessiveness, forgotten are the cops who removed their name tags and stormed innocent protesters. Now the story is about the brave men and women who put their life on the line for us, the citizens, every day.
There is truth on both sides. The complaint though, is that the media have allowed the police to change the narrative. They have chosen to buy into one story while they mostly underplayed the other. (Here I must give credit to the Toronto Star, they led the charge against the Toronto Police and were largely responsible for keeping the brutality stories alive and eventually bring justice for some of the victims.)
I don’t blame the cops for attempting to change the narrative. Hey we have a prime Minister that prorogues Parliament every time he doesn’t like the way the story is playing out. I do question the media glomming on to the narrative being foisted on them without question. I have not read or seen a single question about the story or the coverage coming from any media outlet. I’m not looking for questions about Sgt. Russell or his terrible death. I’m looking for questions about the excessive funeral plans and the overly excessive media coverage.
For those of you who are interested, the CBC website had close to three hundred comments when I last looked. They were running just over 50% against the coverage and the reasons had nothing to do with a lack of feelings for Sgt. Russell and his family. Here’s one smart comment that sums up why some viewers are unhappy with the wall-to-wall coverage:
Spark_London wrote:Posted 2011/01/18
at 8:14 AM ET
I’m a bit tired of the pornographication of this man’s death and his funeral. Yes, he was a good officer and well respected by his colleagues. Yes he was a father of a young child. Yes he worked hard for the benefit of society. And yet, there are a myriad of others who have the same qualifications who will die this day and every day without any public recognition or celebration.
I resent the media feasting on this man’s death and I am not denigrating him or the extent of the loss of those close to him. I don’t need a live broadcast on radio or TV. It just isn’t necessary.
And for those who chose not to recognize the problems of authority I ask them only to look at the lines of thousands of officers in blue today. It is that same wall that defends the actions of the police when criticized. That thick blue wall is not an illusion – you will see it in all of its reality today. The funeral is not about the officer – the pomp and ceremony are about only one thing – the profession. Sorry.