The Ides of March and be wary of the Fourth Estate
Es tu Brute? The famous quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar says a lot about what is going on in today’s world. Has the guardian of the people’s freedom, The Fourth Estate, gone too far in its rant to report / make the news. Has it become the greatest threat to democracy? If you watch American cable news, it has descended into an all time new low with anchors attacking each other’s anchors in 24 / 7 entertainment for audiences. What’s important about this as people move away from print journalism to 30-minute news segments that essentially get repeated 48 times in a day; the news is becoming about entertainment than real fact finding journalism. This should worry us because it’s the media more than any group that can affect markets and political policy to anticipate what the angry mob wants. The media has always been visceral but the difference today is the media anchors are elitist celebrities searching for ratings compared to the media of old: the angry, heavy drinking, chain smoking scribe with an axe to grind who wrote three articles a week and opinions were in bird cages the next day.
You may ask yourself, what does the media have to do with economics or investing in the markets? Everything. I learned a tough lesson that one “never gets in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” and any politician or ex-politician understands the importance of that folly. Take politicians like Stanfield, Mulroney, Prentice, Harper and even Cameron what happens when the media turns on you. As former federal PC leader Robert Stanfield once said running against Pierre Trudeau; “if I walked on water, the next day the press would write ‘Stanfield can’t swim’”. This is important when it comes to the quality of people that decide to enter elected public service and why we are seeing a trend that villages are being represented by the village idiot. Of course, the word idiot is not literal, we have the Trump era to thank for that. What I mean by idiot is not qualified or “underordinary” instead of extraordinary people representing their constituents.
The media has had immense power to decide who will lead and what those political leaders make into policy and thus create the environment in which businesses and economies succeed or fail. Two recent elections in Canada were all about the media deciding who would win that election, Notley in Alberta and Justin Trudeau in Canada. All you have to do is review the press on why Prentice lost to Notley. There was no question that the PC’s in Alberta were on borrowed time and Prentice made some poor decisions before and during the campaign but the media propped up the NDP by attacking PC policy and saying nothing negative about Notley. They also did a favour for Notley by dismissing the Wildrose to encourage one alternative to the PCs. The TSN turning point of the campaign was when Prentice told Notley that “math was difficult” during a debate. Rather than admitting that math is difficult for Dippers, the media went on a condescending diatribe that here was a white middle-aged successful businessman demeaning a successful woman and trying to keep her from breaking the glass ceiling. Poof, it was over because the only thing Canadians can’t tolerate more than a racist is a sexist.
Let’s look at Trudeau’s recent victory. First, Harper made a major mistake by not stepping down (attention Christy Clark in BC) and by calling a long campaign he fell victim to the first commandment of picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel and now have 24-hour access to the airwaves. It was a slaughter and the CBC every night with Peter “Pink” Mansbridge and cohorts of socialist deplorables telling us how bad our lives were under Harper but they had to wait for the people to decide who they would support to replace him. Once the public discovered that by having Velcro, one doesn’t need to know how to tie one’s shoes, Trudeau was the favourite and the inquisition was on. The two lessons from these victories were that the media heavily influenced the outcome based on their own bias, and the classic lawyer strategy of “we don’t have to prove we’re right, we just have to prove them wrong”. All they did was point out the flaws of Prentice and Harper, never compliment them on their success, say nothing about Notley and Trudeau shortcomings and voila; the mass of sheep followed their queue.
But something has happened that should concern us all greater than the entitled Fourth Estate; it is when the masses no longer trust institutions designed to keep us from chaos. The media has done such a good job of tearing down the reputations of our institutions that it is actually incredulous to them that the masses are turning on them. Once in a while, the masses don’t follow the all knowing Fourth Estate. For example, Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto. They tried but his populist rant was loved by the masses we call the silent majority. The more the media picked on him, the more popular he became. Remember when I said that Canadians can’t tolerate a racist or sexist? They actually hate the little guy being picked on – the classic David and Goliath scenario! When the media oversteps their blatant prejudice and people actually recognize it, they turn on the media. This explains Trump’s rise to power as much as it does Ford. Both are severely flawed characters but they had two things in common; both had PhDs (Papa had Dough) which means they had the finances to fight and had the ability to relate to the angry disenfranchised voter. The more the media goes after them, the more zealot the support becomes.
That is why Canadian journalists have concerns over Kevin O’Leary and the prospects of him being selected leader of the Conservatives. He has money, fame and doesn’t care if he wins. He often says the wrong thing but for some reason (a lot like Ralph Klein) people don’t care – they find him more endearing especially when the media attacks which they will do. The media doesn’t understand that they are part of the “Institution” and when people turn on the status quo, they turn on them. So, Brutus, when you stab Caesar in the name of the Republic, make sure that you’re not killing democracy.
Our next month’s article, the rise of the millionaire bureaucrat…
Craig S Burrows ICD.D
President & CEO, CCO