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Not From Toronto
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September 9, 2002

Change The Channel, It's Coming To Canada

If there's one thing I love pointing out to anybody who will listen, it's how American news is so much different - and by different I mean worse - than Canadian news. Growing up on the Canada-US border I was exposed to more than my share of American 6 o'clock news, but still managed to get a peek at some Canadian evening news as well. Even as a young buck back in high school it struck me that American broadcast news is either watered down with human interest stories or simply sensationalist, designed to grab your attention by angering you or tweaking your hot button, but not really providing you with much real news.

The difference continues into print news. The most popular daily newspaper in the US is USA Today. To call USA Today a newspaper may be a misnomer, as it's not so much filled with news as it's filled with factoids and full colour charts, graphs, and images. It's an eye-candy newspaper for people who want little chunks of digestible facts and would rather read a graph and its one-line explanation than the article it's attached to. Conversely, Canada's The Globe And Mail seems almost stuffy and stately in the manner that it approaches news and reporting. Hardly any colour relatively, and what few images its has are likely photos of actual current events or newsworthy people, not full-colour charts that explain the entire gist of the article at a glance.

In case it isn't obvious, I prefer the Canadian method of providing news to Canadians over the American method. While appealing to the lowest common denominator seems to work for USA Today (and the Sun, for that matter) it insults my intelligence and turns me off.

You can well imagine my total dismay this week when I sat down to watch the evening news and suddenly realized that what I was watching was not so much news as sensationalism. I will not name the guilty network, but suffice to say until this past week I had considered it on par with other Canadian network news stations, in that it would provide real news in an intelligent and understandable manner.

The leading story was about the recent armed robbery of a West-end Toronto gun and sport shop by six assailants that shot one employee in the head with a shotgun and managed to escape with no less than 75 high-powered handguns. Having happened only hours previously that morning, this was real news, and obviously deserved the lead story spot. While watching the varying reports of different facets of the ongoing manhunt, search, and saga, I suddenly became aware that each reporter covering this story was repeating the same statistic with incredible frequency. Each and every reporter hammered home the fact that "75 high-powered handguns" were stolen.

Admittedly, this is a valid portion of the news and worth mentioning, but with each mention it rang ominously from the reporter's lips, "75 High-Powered Handguns", foretelling doom and gloom and the unspoken danger these "75 High-Powered Handguns" presented to the public. Sadly, the employee who was shot during the hold-up was mentioned only sporadically. Perhaps this was due to a paucity of information about the victim, other than the fact that he was shot in the head and in critical condition. I can't be sure. (Sadly, I have since heard that this man fell victim to his injuries and died. My condolences to his family and friends.) In any case, the news was "gun store robbery, one employee shot, assailants at large". This news was not quite, but almost buried under the sensationalism of the "75 High-Powered Handguns" factoid.

That was not the only indication that I was not watching "news" anymore. Another story early on in the newscast dealt with a Canadian family that was a victim of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers. The story was that the father of this family had been killed in the most public, destructive, and reprehensible terrorist attacks in North America. Despite this, Revenue Canada sent a nasty reminder to this family telling them that this man's taxes had not yet been paid, and were not only overdue but that assets would be seized if payment was not made quickly. Furthermore, the story showed an entire cabinet full of gifts and letters from grieving American officials expressing their condolences to this particular Canadian family for their loss. However, not only did the Canadian government only say "give us our money" but were not giving any consideration to a memorial for the 24 Canadian victims that died in the destruction of the former Twin Towers.

At first, I was pretty miffed with the government for harassing these poor people during their time of loss, and even more irked at Jean Chretién's seemingly uncaring attitude about a memorial for the Canadian victims of 9/11. Then it occurred to me again - was this news, or is this simply being sensationalist? Sure enough, with thought I discovered it was sensationalism. The news was simply that the taxman was indiscriminate towards a victim of 9/11. This was completely buried under the sensationalism of an uncaring government that not only won't be honouring the dead, but are coming a-knocking to collect their hard-stolen tax dollars.

This last story had me thinking for a long time after I realized how much sensationalism was heaped onto it. I now realize that there is really no news at all to the story, except maybe "family too shaken to complete taxes". The "news" story would have you thinking that the government does not care about the 24 Canadian victims of 9/11. What is not expressed is that it's really only 24 Canadians who happened to die in the most public terrorist attack in North America in many people's lifetimes.

What's the most dangerous activity you did today? You drove your vehicle. I don't have any numbers, but I know that there are many more Canadians that die in highway accidents each year (or even each month) than died in the Twin Towers collapse. Will there ever be a memorial for these people? No, simply because they died a relatively uneventful, private death. The 24 victims of 9/11, however - well, that's a tragedy of global proportions, and they should all be honoured, right?

As for the taxman, nobody's going to stop him. I will concede that the families of the victims were very likely shocked, saddened, and stunned for many months after the sudden loss of their loved ones. I have to wonder, however, if it's really any more tragic or devastating than losing someone to a drunk driver, or a fire, or drowning, or even just an undiagnosed cardiac condition that kills them with one massive heart attack. It may seem that way, but only because of the way they died. Taken apart from the spectacle of the destruction that happened last year in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, these victims were lost just as quickly and completely as hundreds and thousands of others were. An in each other case, the families had to get it together, have a funeral, pay the taxman, sort through the deceased's belongings, and get on with life. Should the publicity of your method of death have any bearing on how your family is treated afterwards? No. Any sudden death requires a support network of family and friends, but it's hard to separate the individual losses from the monstrous tragedy that 9/11 was and always will be.

Like countless millions of others, I am not looking forward to this week, especially September 11th. Some will be mourning the 1st anniversary of the death of a loved one. Others may relive the horror they were exposed to that day. A few will simply be ticked that regular programming will be pre-empted for more talk and repeated footage of 9/11 instead of their favourite daytime TV shows, or that they will have to listen to more empty rhetoric about terrorist evil or how everybody has to stay strong and keep going on with life, lest we let the "terrorists win".

Personally, I am not looking forward to having to watch an already sensationalized event remembered sensationally through the lens of the camera. If we can't just have the news given to us straight, if we need to have our attention grabbed firmly by something that quickens our pulse and boils our blood, well, the terrorists have already won.


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