Rudy Giuliani’s second term was not going well. It was a disaster, in fact.
He’d been diagnosed with cancer. His signature tough-on-crime policy was rounding up more hot dog vendors than bad guys. He was confrontational and combative. He informed his wife he was dumping her at a press conference. His numbers stunk. Even without term limits, he wouldn’t have been elected NYC dogcatcher.
And then, 9/11 happened.
The attacks on New York City, and New Yorkers, dramatically changed the political fortunes of Rudy Giuliani. Standing at Ground Zero, reassuring New Yorkers and the world, Giuliani was stoic, strong, serene. In three short weeks, his personal popularity shot up more than 40 points, to an extraordinary 80 per cent.
New Yorkers wanted the term limits law lifted, so he could run again. Oprah Winfrey called him “America’s mayor.” The Queen gave him an honourary knighthood. Time Magazine named him person of the year.
But before 9/11, as one writer put it, Giuliani had been a bum. On that day, he became a man. And on the days that followed, he became a hero.
Such is the transformational nature of disaster – war, terrorism, public health crises. It happens a lot, when you think about it.
Before 1939, Winston Churchill was isolated and marginalized, a period he himself called “the wilderness years.” And then World War Two broke out, and Churchill would go on to literally led the world in a collective struggle against fascism and Nazism.
Closer to home, Trudeaumania faded when Pierre Trudeau started acting on his pledge to build a “just society” – legislating (appropriately) multiculturalism and bilingualism. But when the October 1970 crisis struck, Trudeau’s resolute refusal to negotiate with FLQ terrorists – and his willingness to impose the War Measures Act – dramatically boosted his popularity. Gallup found that 90 per cent of Canadians approved of his leadership during the crisis.
In Ontario in 2003, when SARS struck, the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves was intensely disliked. There had been the Walkerton disaster, soaring energy prices, and a ministerial expense account scandal. But when SARS hit – ultimately claiming 44 lives – Eves’ calm, reassuring approach put the PCs back in contention.
At the time, I was (full disclosure) the chairman of the Ontario Liberal war room effort, and was witness to an extraordinary event: a huge, overnight rise in the PCs polling numbers. Simply because Health Minister had held a press conference, and showed people how they should wash their hands, to avoid SARS’ spread.
Other examples are legion. A politician is reviled and headed to certain defeat, and then something happens – a war, a terrorist attack, a public health crisis – and everything changes. What once seemed impossible becomes possible.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands at the precipice of such a moment, with twin challenges facing him and his government. On the one hand, there is his (appropriate) decision to lend modest military support to the international coalition against the serial murderers who make up ISIS. On the other, his government’s (as-yet unseen) response to the metastasizing Ebola crisis.
As is always the case, a leader’s political opponents become mostly marginalized in such moments. Both NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader have said they oppose any military action against ISIS, and both may well come to rue the day they did so. There is no other criticism they can make, now, without sounding indifferent to the fate of Canadian men and women deployed to a battleground.
Meanwhile, neither man can say much about the burgeoning Ebola scare without sounding like they are fear mongering, or worse. So they will say little, if anything.
People come together in times of disaster, in times of war and terror. They set aside their differences.
And – as Messrs. Mulcair and Trudeau likely know too well – sometimes they set aside certain politicians, too.
Paul Adams tweeted this – Story? Column? Op-ed? What is it? – earlier this morning. My friend Darrell Bricker was appalled by the fact that the national broadcaster would be reduced to running stuff that could have been generated by any “grad student with a calculator.”
Me, I was appalled by the writing. I mean, is it so much to ask that the CBC – which has more editorial staff, per capita, than any other Canadian news organization – endeavour to, you know, edit stuff before they put it out? I found the prose, here, dense and confusing to the point of being incoherent.
Anyway, it’s the new reality. Media polls (and averages of media polls) are worth what you pay for them.
The media are upset.
This isn’t a unique thing. It happens a lot. But what makes the latest controversy noteworthy is the subject-matter: an obscure change to Canadian copyright law, buried in a Conservative government omnibus bill. The proposed change would permit political parties to use material published and broadcast by news organizations for free in their ads.
CTV discovered the change, and many in the media are in high dudgeon about it. The Opposition parties, always hoping to curry favour with the media, say the change is “disrespectful” (the NDP’s Nathan Cullen) and “devious” (the Liberals’ Ralph Goodale).
Having crafted many, many an ad for the Liberal Party making use of broadcast clips or published reports, I laughed out loud at the professed indignation of Messrs. Cullen and Goodale. Both guys know that party operatives, of all stripes, have made use of media material in political advertising, for years.
There is a legal reason to justify the proposed change: there is no copyright in news. The presentation of it on the page or on the screen, maybe. But the actual newsworthy events? Forget it.
The media don’t possess a copyright over whatever issues from Stephen Harper’s mouth, nor any other politician. Those statements belong to the person who says them, and the public who receive them.
There is a political reason why all political parties are privately cheering on the Conservatives’ dastardly move, however. Madison Avenue’s Rosser Reeves, if he was here, could tell us all about it.
Reeves was the guy who conjured up modern political advertising.
Until Reeves came along, political salesmanship was a primitive process. Candidates for national office were obliged to submit themselves to grueling, months-long campaigns — travelling great distances by train, hollering themselves hoarse from makeshift platforms, grasping innumerable hands at innumerable rallies, and occasionally making use of radio to broadcast lengthy speeches listened to by only a few.
Reeves changed all that. He was a genius. “Certs breath mints — with a magic drop of retsyn.” And “How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S.” And “Wonder bread helps build strong bodies in eight ways.” And, perhaps most memorably of all, “M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands.” Remember those? All Reeves.
He met with Republican bigwigs in 1952, because they were anxious about how to get General Eisenhower elected. Reeves gave them a way. He wrote a three-page memo, double spaced.
“Is there a new way of campaigning that can guarantee a victory for Eisenhower in November? The answer is: ‘Yes!’ what is this ‘new way of campaigning?’ This new way of campaigning, in essence is a new use of what advertising men know as ‘spots.’ A spot is an announcement on radio — or an announcement on television. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING. Let us repeat that. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING.”
What Reeves wrote in breathless prose, 62 years ago, still holds up. The best way to communicate with voters, then and now, is using a TV or radio spot that contains a damning bit of audio or video of your opponent. Or a stirring clip of your own leader, rallying the country. Or both.
Voters want to see and hear, on their own, what a politician says. That’s how they make important choices in elections. They don’t want the media’s analysis and bias – they want the video or audio proof.
That may upset media bean-counters, but too bad. The public statements of politicians belong to the public, not private media organizations.
And that’s why this change, while upsetting the media bosses, is good for democracy.
…two months after the fact. Better late than never, I suppose.
I never called him a racist, you know. I simply asked if his policies treated different people differently. If they distinguished between people based on race.
I await his apology to me, because I sure as shit withdraw mine to him.
(Oh, and here is video of his actual words. If they get the coverage they deserve, he’s done.)