I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Feasting on Death

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.

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Filed under: Media Commentary, Political Commentary, ,

16 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    Thank you.

    My reaction was the same (except for the suggestion that it planned to deflate lingering G-20 ill-will..)

    When I posted my thoughts on Facebook, the response was predictably knee-jerk and weighted with admonishment.

    Cheers,
    jon

  2. Geoff says:

    Oh, grieving seems to be the thing to do. Everyone seems to want in on tragedy, to own a piece of it for themselves. That was apparent during the aftermath of Diana’s death and it’s only been building since then.

  3. Dave says:

    As opposed to what? Mindless reality shows? Vapid afternoon television?

    The scale of the memorial was newsworthy in and of itself. The narrative was compelling and as Canadian as possible under the the circumstances.

  4. Phyl says:

    THANK YOU so much for this post! This was what I had been thinking too. I know this fine man died in the line of duty, and I know he was a brave and clearly dedicated officer, more concerned with the safety of the populace than of himself.

    BUT. This extravagance of grief was simply way out of proportion.

    I agree that it’s likely the police leaped on this as a way to deflect the justified G20 outrage. I mean, how disloyal and even blasphemous will the rest of us seem now, when we continue trying to pursue justice and to prevent the place from turning into a police state? When all they’re trying to do — as we’ve been told over and over and over again for the past week — is “serve us” and “protect us” at the very cost of their lives. [Insert understated, martyred catch of breath here.]

    But I also think that society in general has been driven to expect more and more sensationalism in the media. It’s no longer “If it bleeds it leads.” It’s more, “If it isn’t gashed and bloody and we can’t wring every last tiny drop of melodrama and breast-beating possible out of it, we’re not interested.”

  5. Kash says:

    Thanks Howard for hitting the nail on the head, once again.
    I know there is much speculation about how the media hammered the cops for weeks on end over Toronto’s gong show, the G-20, and the police brutality involved, and that this over coverage was their “kiss and make up.”
    However, the reason for this coverage that is reminescent of JFK’s funeral may be something as simple as economics. Dramatic coverage of crime and police sells papers and is always good for TV ratings. Even when the crime rate is the lowest in Canada in Lord knows how many years, the federal Tories are making a headway selling their fighting-crime agenda, actually getting the nod from Canadians to spend billions to build more jails.
    Additionally, the cops on their side, seem to have reached a level of PR perfection. Gone are the days of the rinky-dink press room at police headquarters. They did put on a spectacle — a spectacle worthy of newspapsers and TV networks falling over each other to be No.1.

  6. Diane says:

    It was obscene – the way the police owned the city – could demonstrate and march wherever and whenever the heck they felt like it….it really pointed up how the people of Toronto couldn’t demonstrate or march during the G8 or 18 or whatever it was.

  7. Mike Smith says:

    Howard – this is just to say you were a breath of fresh air during The Agenda’s discussion about this subject. It’s getting harder and harder to have any faith in the mainstream press; thanks for staying true to what many of us still hold as the principles of journalism, and treating “asking hard questions” as the calling it is.

  8. james dubro says:

    It was way over the top by the police AND the media. Excellent analysis!

  9. And my thoughts exactly. Thank you for speaking out. I spoke out immediately and instantly got push back, oh you’re so cruel, a man is dead, how dare you.


    .
    .
    .
    .
    So who made the decision to rent the Toronto Convention Centre. And don’t tell me it was the widow. She just lost her husband and is looking after a small child. Trust me, I’m a mother, she did not make this decision.
    .
    .

  10. I think I should have included this link first.

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    …………(0 0)
    .—oOO– (_)—–.
    ╔═════════════════╗
    ║ tiny.cc/CRUSH Truck….║
    ╚═════════════════╝
    ‘———————-oOO
    ……..|__|__|
    ………. || ||
    ……. ooO Ooo

    .
    .
    .

  11. kashicat says:

    I started watching the Agenda discussion partway through and didn’t realize it was you. So I was thinking, “I should email them a link to that blog post,” and then when they named all the participants again at the end, I realized that they had to have seen it already. Once again, great post, and thanks for your analysis!

  12. Ditto – you were a breath of fresh air!! Not to take anything from the grief, respect for someone who lost his life or his family’s suffering. BUT – the infotainment, massive media coverage and opportunistic approach of using flashes of G20 “police” converging was disturbing at best.

    What was as great a disturbance was the “blinders on” view of people who found those that questioned the coverage as some sort of vial act. That’s what’s really scary.

  13. Jeanette says:

    I saw the TVO Special you were on and thinking, you are a brave soul. I do hope you don’t have any backlash as a result of speaking out. M was smiling just a little too much. While everyone else was listening to what Steve was asking or saying, Mike was scrambling looking through his papers allot. To just say “no” it didn’t even cross his mind…wow. Steve had a first look at the corruption during the G20… I saw his online interview, did that ever get aired on TV? Its getting scary out there. I’m glad you are speaking up and I do hope you continue doing so. Best. JB

  14. Trish says:

    I very much enjoyed Monday’s episode of The Agenda and the questions being asked. I was astounded by the media coverage.

    And the issue of the media asking questions. They are offensive and damaging to democracy when they don’t.

    While I didn’t catch the very beginning of the show, I think a point was missed. And that’s the passing of Mark Dailey and CityTv’s broadcast coverage with police chief Bill Blair’s speaking at that funeral. And no doubt plenty of police present given the police beat that Dailey covered in his reporting career.

    I find the Toronto Police PR element of this funeral and the overdone media coverage disrespectful to the individual, Ryan Russell. May he rest in peace.

    The airwaves are a public resource.

  15. Cerita says:

    I watched you on the Agenda regarding this issue, why did you not speak your mind? Were you so afraid of saying what you really felt about this ridiculous funeral? Were you so intimated by panel?

    I was hoping so much that someone on that panel would voice how I feel about this event, someone who would represent my unknown, everyday Jane Doe voice. I thought it would be you, but alas you let me down.

    Is the voice of dissent dead in this country? I suppose I will just have to voice my dissent over this ridiculous charade on my own blog at some point.

  16. mikel says:

    I wonder how the narrative would have changed had the situation been reversed. Last spring had thousands of people in peaceful activism over the death of our civil liberties. Only to see police make comments like “this is not Canada today”. These people were all treated like criminals in a so called democratic country. But in the case of the police, they walk through the streets with impunity.

    I also wonder how ‘good’ the narrative would have looked had they been wearing the black outfits with helmets they were wearing at the G20 protest. Different outfits for different audiences I suppose.

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