Maher & Murphy: A tale of two cities

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Thank God for Stephen Maher of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. Maher, who is the paper’s Ottawa bureau chief always has interesting things to say — and he says them well. Today’s column on the Vancouver hockey riots once again shows his flair for putting things in perspective instead of yielding to the cheap hysteria of  scribblers like Toronto’s Rex Murphy.

Stephen Maher of the Herald

Maher actually cites two books — yes books! — to support his argument that morally superior tongue-clucking is no substitute for actually trying to understand the irrational, violent behaviour of crowds. He refers first to Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power, a massive tome that is far from easy reading and then to Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs — a study of soccer hooliganism. Maher cites Buford’s insightful reaction to one big riot:

“I realized later I was on a druggy high, in a state of adrenaline euphoria,” he wrote. “And for the first time I am able to understand the words they use to describe it. That crowd violence was their drug. What was it like for me? An experience of absolute completeness.”

Rex Murphy’s apoplectic ravings

Maher refers, in passing to CBC commentator, Rex Murphy who “worked himself into a state of unusually high dudgeon on The National calling the rioters scum and vulgarians.”

I can never bear to watch Murphy’s sesquipedalian rants on TV and I’m glad I missed this one. The hysterical opening to his column in yesterday’s National Post is hard enough to bear:

“Those clod poles, ne’er-do-wells, vandals, punks, thugs and assorted clueless dolts who smacked people around, piled on others, fought with and sought to injure police, set fire to cars, broke into stores, trashed and looted at will in Vancouver Wednesday night — all are a pathetic pack of cowardly destructive losers. An older generation, not bent by the winds of political correctness would rightly have called them the scum of the earth.”

I pity Torontonians confronted with such anti-intellectual tripe when they open one of their local papers. Here in Halifax, thank God, we’ve got Stephen Maher.

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
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