Jesus Murphy, Rex, wake up & smell the coffee

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images As our Toyota hurtled through darkness and rain last Sunday evening, my spouse pleaded with me to “turn the damn thing off.” She was referring to Cross Country Checkup, the CBC radio phone-in hosted by the tendentiously garrulous Rex Murphy.

Murphy was wondering whether Canadian police and security agencies need more powers to combat those who might pose a threat in light of the fatal attacks on soldiers near Montreal and at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. In the twin-sided, either/or formula so beloved by mainstream journalists, Murphy presented it as a choice between civil liberties and public safety.

“How much power can we give the security agencies?” he asked. “How do we balance the need to keep Canada safe with the need, the necessity for civil liberties in a democracy?”

“Us” vs. “Them”

Murphy also resorted to the tried and true journalistic formula of a simple, two-sided conflict: Innocent, law-abiding Canadians versus the terrorist evildoers who threaten their safety. The rational versus the irrational; us versus them.

Unfortunately, Murphy’s framing prevailed. Not a single caller mentioned Canada’s foreign policy and nor did the so-called experts Murphy interviewed. Not a single mention of Canadian participation in foreign wars including our long campaign in Afghanistan and our bombing runs in Libya and Iraq. Not a single mention of Canada’s failure to condemn Israeli attacks on Palestinians and in Lebanon. Not a single mention of Canada’s role in overthrowing a popular and democratically elected president in Haiti. And no mention that so many of Canada’s aboriginal peoples live in poverty and squalor.

Hey Rex, here’s a thought from an expert you might have interviewed on Sunday:

Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it. — Noam Chomsky

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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