11.27.2014 06:00 PM

In Friday’s Sun: TV killed the radio star (and others, too)

It’s quaint, almost, the notion that other media are more important than television. Watching a CTV helicopter hover over King Street East in Toronto at lunchtime on Wednesday should have dispensed with it, once and for all.

The helicopter was there, clattering overhead like a antediluvian bird of prey, for most of the lunch hour.  It was there, budgets be damned, to catch a glimpse of Jian Ghomeshi leaving court.  That’s it. What did it cost CTV, to do that? As those on the ground gawked up at it, did anyone recall O.J. Simpson in that iconic white Ford Bronco SUV, helicopters trailing it down a Los Angeles freeway over twenty years ago?

Probably.  The former CBC star was present to post bail, and listen to the charges against him.  Accordingly, there was a literal army of media on hand to dutifully report on the little that was left to them, after a publication ban had been imposed: shorter haircut, glum expression, jacket no tie.  No statements to the media.

And hovering overhead, throughout, like the unblinking eye of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby, was TV.  Above the print folk, the radio folk, the Internet folk, still more important than all of them put together: TV.

If it didn’t happen on TV, someone once said, it didn’t happen at all.  The reappearance of Jian Ghomeshi – the former radio star, note – shows to be that indisputably true.  TV still rules all.

There are reasons for this, some scientific, some not.  Successive studies have shown citizens regard TV news as more in-depth, and more trustworthy, than newspapers.  As someone who writes for newspapers – and loves newspapers and literally cannot imagine a world without them – this seems like insanity.  But it’s still true.

Some will say, at this point, that the Internet is the new king.  But they’re wrong.  The Internet’s strength is its weakness: it has billions of pages, which is certainly proof that people have embraced it.  But no one can keep track of something with billions of channels – and no one channel can ever dominate for long.  So TV, with its finite number of choices, and its ubiquitousness, still rules.

You know where this is going, of course.

If television is King (and it is), and if nothing happens unless it happens on TV (and it doesn’t), then what are the implications for our politics?

Ask anyone who was is the House of Commons  in 1977, when television cameras were bolted to the stately wooden walls in the Commons: they’ll tell you.   Everything changed.

Does anyone really think that John Diefenbaker would have won as much as he did, if television cameras had been capturing his swinging jowls, his rheumy eyes, every single day? Does anyone believe that a man as decent and as thoughtful as Joe Clark would have had as short a tenure as Prime Minister, had TV cameras not been installed, two years before?  Does anyone think – even for a commercial break – that Pierre Trudeau, Intellectual, was not keenly aware of the power of TV?

More particularly, does anyone actually believe that Trudeau’s eldest son didn’t learn about television’s impact on political fortunes? Does anyone think that his opponent’s relative positions in the polls aren’t tied, in some measureable way, to how they look on TV?  You know, the bearded guy, and the guy with the cold eyes?

Television, the Internet notwithstanding, still rules all.  And whoever has mastery over it – whoever understands it best – is usually the one to beat.

Therefore, Messrs. Harper and Mulcair, look way up: you may think yourself smarter than Justin Trudeau, or more substantial than him.

But do you really think, if the three of you were exiting a building one lunchtime, the helicopter with the TV crew would be following you, and not Trudeau?

Think again.  TV killed the radio star, this week.

And it still has the power to kill the ambitions of the likes of you, too.

26 Comments

  1. davie says:

    A part this argument is that film and tv (vid games, perhaps) give us the image of ;a star,’ and the image of the chorus or character actors…supporting roles. For sure, JT has the looks of ‘the star,’ and the others have the looks of supporting characters. We have to have a few more popular stories featuring women as ‘the star’ before we actually get sued to that possibility…although, in my province, Clark has certainly done well with her television image.

  2. !o! says:

    “Probably. The former CBC was…”

    you may have missed a word here

  3. graham watt says:

    In terms of persona there’s hope in Trudeau’s, hate in Harper’s.

  4. Reality.Bites says:

    Wonder how many actual reporters that copter could pay for.

    Of course the network that provided a platform for Mike Duffy probably isn’t all that interested in having actual reporters.

  5. Derek Pearce says:

    Great column but a quibble: the helicopter wasn’t hovering over King St. East (is the Sun still headquartered there?) but rather over the corner of College & Yonge, as it was at the College Park Court that Ghomeshi had his bail hearing.

  6. Jim says:

    Yes I agree looking good on TV’s is what’s his name’s best chance of getting elected . After all what’s more important than our Prime Minister looking good on TV ?

  7. T. Atwater says:

    In the Beginning Was the Word

    Television is a subset of moving pictures. Note transition from the silver screen, to television, to video, to the now relatively tiny screens of laptops, tablets, and phones. The face is not that important on a four inch screen. Jean Chretien was many things – wildly telegenic was not one of them. Obama is nothing to write home about. Further, CGI and photoshop are ubiquitous. Further, moving pictures are largely a parasitic or derivative medium. That is, movies grow out of screenplays, which often grow out of books, which themselves often grow out of myths, primal narratives, epic poems, stories. Stories. What’s the story?

    Recall those final scenes of All the President’s Men: President Nixon appears like a little idol on a little color television screen in the foreground of the news room. Behind them, Woodward and Bernstein type away, suggesting a contest, a battle between the written word and the flickering image. Final scene: the teletype machine lists Nixon’s operatives falling like dominoes. Then, in stark black and white:

    1974, THE WASHINGTON POST
    AUGUST 9, 1974 – – WASHINGTON
    NIXON RESIGNS

    Likewise, apparently Jesse Brown single handedly brought down Ghomeshi. Likewise, even one tenacious analyst could theoretically bring down another high level “progressive” operative. We now have a live sex scandal of two Liberal MPs. We have the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. We have the PHS scandal. All low hanging fruit. The entire narrative of the Marxist-liberal spectrum is imploding with Olivia Chow as a Harbinger. What else is out there to be discovered. As the economic situation deteriorates, the hungry journalist will be ever hungrier for the mother-load story.

    The terrifying thing of the Ghomeshi scandal is it suggests that the place of native Canadians in the New Canada is as unpaid, beleaguered,and beaten concubines-catamites of elitist and deranged emirs. It speaks to a truly existential and primal fear of rape, enslavement, terror, death. And who feels safe with the NDP? Maybe angry Tom will send out a KGB-style honey trap to turn husbands into drunken libertines and wreck homes? And who feels safe with the Liberals? Keep the pepper spray handy girls! These horndogs bite. And the Sovereigntist movement, now in what three factions with one of them chanting FLQ slogans?

    Television is an incredibly negative medium, that is, it gravitates towards crime, disaster, conflict. OJ Simpson, Ghomeshi were near public executions. Why do you assume the viewing public wouldn’t relish seeing Mulcair and Trudeau publicly flogged as some kind of retaliation against Montreal elites and the mores of Jian Ghomeshi? Avenging the despoliation of hundreds perhaps thousands of young, Canadian women by a truly malevolent monster? Now that’s a story on par with Beowulf! Lights, camera, action!

  8. MississaugaPeter says:

    Didn’t hurt some guy named Chrétien.

    Unfortunately a slip up on TV can also be rebroadcast in commercials repeatedly afterwards, no matter how good the fine person looks.

  9. Lance says:

    The bearded guy and the guy with the cold eyes? What about the guy with the coif and breathless, empty-headed looking dramatic sighs? It works both ways.

    I respectfully disagree – Harper and Mulcair ARE smarter….AND more substantial. As for the limelight, I don’t think Mulcair or Harper really care; they aren’t nearly as enamored with the limelight as Trudeau is, and because despite the hype and hoopla, it matters more who gets their side out to vote, something the Conservatives have been better at doing. But maybe that’ll change; I think it might, but we’ll see.

  10. Lynn says:

    Spot on. Take a trip through Reddit where the demographic is young and the phrase “video or picture or it didn’t happen” are seen over and over when an event is related. It is said somewhat tongue in cheek, but for many people this is the case; they have to see the images to believe it happened. These are the young voters, or non-voters; they are very visual and seeing images on a screen and that is what speaks to them.

    And this “see it to believe it” idea is not new with this generation, and does not mean all young people are of that mind, but many years ago in an eastern Canadian university library a young man demanded to see the actual photos of the dinosaurs, the sketches would not do– yup, he wanted photos. Librarians and teachers wept.

  11. JH says:

    Two things WK – for most folks I think local TV News and trusted commentators have much more impact than many of the talking heads on the national pundit shows (no insult intended). Some like yourself do well, but many of the panelists whatever, show up as the empty heads they are, riding the one trick pony all the time.
    Secondly, before I’m ready to trust the observations regarding TV and the 3 leaders, I’ll reserve judgement until the debates. I think for many of the uncommitted like myself, that is when we will make up our minds.

    • Gayle says:

      Really? I think basing your electoral decision on debates is kind of a weird standard. A good Prime Minister does not need to be a good debater. Debating is a skill to be sure, but I would prefer to vote for someone who has developed strong policy – the kind of policy that took careful thought and deliberation.

      Mulcair will shine in the debates, as he has done in QP, because he is quick on his feet and able to deliver strong one liners and heavy hitting questions. I know a lot of lawyers who can do that, but that does not mean I think they would be able to run the county.

      I agree that debates are highly influential in elections, but I disagree that they should be.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Warren,

      It’s my view that most people watch the debates with their minds practically made up. Each side proclaims their side won…we haven’t seen a TKO since Mulroney floored Turner.

  12. Paul Brennan says:

    I think the copter was checking for a bald spot on top of Ghomeshi’s head…no other news organzation has that angle and we really need to know

  13. Alex says:

    A very interesting column. But if TV is currently King (and I think you might be right) then I am curious what your thoughts are about the prediction that Broadcast TV will be dead by 2030 (see: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/11/28/broadcast-tv-dead-netflix-reed-hastings_n_6237752.html). Do you think that Netflix et. al will do to TV news what the Internet did to newspapers, i.e. undermine their power?

  14. sezme says:

    Do the people who think TV news is more in-depth than other sources actually vote? And sorry, the TV stations merely covered Ghomeshi’s court date. It was print reporters (and Ghomseshi himself) who brought him down.

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