Often, while watching television, I get the feeling broadcasters think I'm stupid. A guy without any critical faculties, connection to the real world or ability at rational thought. And that's not just when they program a Sunday long "According to Jim" marathon.
Mostly it happens when I'm watching the news.
And maybe broadcasters don't think I'm any of those things. Maybe I'm just overly sensitive or overly suspicious -- or both.
In a lot of ways I can't help that. In my first career as an actor, I was taught that the skills to hone involved observation and interpretation. Watch and listen. Notice the way someone walks or their emphasis in a turn of phrase and work backward to what created that gait or motivated the choice of those particular words.
That process is enhanced in writing as well as producing. A television writer, in particular, needs to know the ways of quickly establishing character, making a point and efficiently moving the story. A producer eliminates the unnecessary and focuses the essential to better serve his budget, schedule and most of all the target audience.
So forgive me for coming to the conclusion that a lot of what I see on TV News these days makes me wonder if anybody is giving me the facts instead of what they want me to believe is true.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Living in the rose colored world of showbiz has kept me incredibly naive. But I can't help that either.
Last Friday on his SUN-TV program "The Source", host Ezra Levant broadcast a segment in which he snuck onto the "Occupy Toronto" site at 4:00 a.m. with infrared cameras, revealing that "99% of the tents were unoccupied". To further make his point, Levant managed to inspect a couple of those tents before being set upon by either Occupy security or thugs depending on your point of view.
Finding the story full of that "All The President's Men" Chutzpah that Hollywood has taught me to imbue in journalists, I shared it with a few friends. One in England got back to me with the news that Ezra's "exposé" was not original and perhaps not even accurate.
He supplied me with a link to a British newspaper, wherein I learned that several UK tabloids had conducted an identical experiment in September with the same results. Only those results were now being dismissed by experts in infrared imaging who stated that insulated tents or sleeping bags would erase the heat signature of an occupant, making you believe the tent was empty when it was not.
Now keep in mind that the newspapers who conducted the experiment tend to advocate for the Right and those who dismissed it lean in the other direction.
Still unaware of who was giving me the unvarnished truth, I decided to go directly to "The Source", asking Levant if he'd been aware of the British study going in and wondering if this was one of those "poke the bear" moments he gets up to every now and then. Levant's response was quick, courteous and -- evasive.
To wit, "Hey Jim. Did the UK newspaper also refute what I saw when I opened up the tents and looked inside?"
Well. Er. No. But the SUN-TV story seems to indicate that Levant only inspected a couple of tents before he was accosted. Enough to determine that 99% were empty?
I'm still not certain if I'm getting the real story or I'm being played. But that's not all Ezra Levant's fault. I was feeling quite uncomfortable with news coverage in this country long before Friday night.
The photograph at the top of this post appeared last week on the CBC News website and later the same day on that of the Toronto Globe and Mail. It depicts a demonstration by farmers unhappy with the Canadian Government decision to eliminate a law requiring all sales of Canadian wheat to go through the Canadian Wheat Board.
Unlike other marketing groups like those that control the sale of poultry or milk, the CWB is not run by the farmers who produce the marketed commodity. It's an arm of the government.
Last summer, an uncle in Saskatchewan in his 80s who still farms told me how he's allowed to sell canola, soybeans, lentils, almost anything he grows to anybody he wants. But if his wheat doesn't go through the wheat board he can be sent to jail. He recalled a tough winter when ranchers across the border in Montana were begging for grain to save their cattle. Any farmers who tried to help had their trucks seized and were fined tens of thousands of dollars. Some even went to prison.
That's what the government is trying to address. But over at the CBC News Network you see endless debates in which we hear that the vast majority of farmers are outraged and the Feds are once again trying to destroy "Canada as we know it!".
Okay. Maybe they are. But here's a photograph of that same demonstration that didn't get distributed by either the CBC or the Globe and Mail.
Does that look like a "vast majority" of any kind to you?
Does it make you wonder why the CBC and their constant defenders at the G&M chose not to let you see the entire picture?
But not supplying the entire picture or the whole story seems to be the realm in which CBC News operates these days.
A couple of weeks ago, I awoke to learn from CBC that this was the day the Harper Government would choose which two of our three major shipyards would be granted huge government shipbuilding contracts. It was a decision the network predicted would set off a "political firestorm" as diverse regions of the country were pitted against one another.
All day long, pundits insisted Harper had better not exclude his political base in the West, must not ignore the economic woes of the East coast and could not slap Quebec down for mostly voting for opposition parties. He was in a no-win situation that could spell the beginning of the end for his government.
In the end, two yards were chosen and there was no firestorm. Not even a brushfire.
But not until after the decision did CBC report that the shipyard left out was-- uh -- er -- in bankruptcy protection and had acknowledged it might not have been able to fulfill the contract if they'd gotten it.
Kind of an important point to ignore, don't cha think?
Unless you're maybe looking for ways to slag the guys who might be about to reduce your budget.
But CBC News has too much class to do something like that, don't they?
I mean, they keep running a commercial where one of their hosts states every politician they've encountered calls them "Tough but Fair". Y'know like Fox News assures you, with complete sincerity, that they are "Fair and Balanced".
Can I be forgiven for thinking that news organizations only want me seeing the part of the story that fits their own world view? And since the Web provides any number of places will give me a different angle on any story, does that mean I am the one being naive -- or is it they?
Thursday the host of CBC News Network's "Connect", Mark Kelley, did his show from New York to cover the "Shut Down Wall Street" demonstration by the Occupy Movement. For weeks, Kelley and others had been wondering if this was North America's version of "The Arab Spring". And since I'd watched him broadcast live from Tahrir Square in Cairo, I figured who better to compare the two.
As we know, the demonstration didn't halt a single financial transaction, unless you were maybe a stranded commuter trying to find an ATM.
But Kelley's show concentrated not on its failure but its icons, like a Marine famous for chastising cops in a viral video and an 84 year old activist who'd been pepper sprayed, as it reiterated how influential the movement had become.
There was, however, no mention of its dark side or what that part of the movement might mean.
No interviews with the dozens of women who'd been sexually assaulted in the encampments.
Nothing about the murders or deaths from drug overdoses among occupiers.
No mention of the participant in LA arrested for masturbating in front of a group of children.
Nary a word on the participants in Oakland who had pelted street vendors in Oakland with urine for not giving them free food.
No discussion at all about the moment of solidarity held in Washington for the Occupy participant arrested attempting to assassinate Barack Obama.
Nope. In the world of CBC News, "Occupy Wall Street" was intelligent people power, where if the downtrodden and broken 99% could be given voice, they would almost certainly agree with blowing away the President of the United States.
Thursday night, "The Daily Show" gave us a glimpse of the Occupy Movement that struck me as being somewhat more honest. (Click for full screen to work around any visible format error in your browser).
Have we really reached a point where we can only find unbiased insight into the news from a comedy show?
Maybe it's time to turn off all of these guys until they promise to give us the whole story.
As for me, I'm sticking to sportscasts for a while, where you know it's all bullshit and stuff that doesn't really matter anyway. But at least it's entertaining.
Enjoy Your Sunday.