The Yes Men can’t corrupt the news, the mainstream media has done it for us

1 Posted by - May 30, 2010 - Editorial, Features

The Yes MenToday The Globe and Mail declared a return to the public tenets of journalism in which it would cease to “regurgitate corporate copy” or “pander to the elite.” Instead, the press release stated, the newspaper would “reflect the diversity of the public it serves” and would make real, concerted efforts to “report on environmental issues, local stories, and focus on social justice rather than stories dealing with celebrity fluff, corporate greenwashing and uncritical, unrestrained economic progress.” Readers across Canada have reacted by actually buying the paper instead of searching for news with real diverse perspectives online and elsewhere.

Of course, we all know the above statement is absolute hogwash. Just like we knew it had to be the Yes Men when Harper supposedly announced Canada’s about-face during December’s climate change talks in Copenhagen. Or that an avaricious and malicious corporation like Dow was reversing its position on its own mistakes, and was—GASP!—admitting its role in ruining the lives of thousands of Indians and compensating its victims for the Bhopal disaster. But the right-wing editorial team at The Globe and Mail aren’t in on the joke.

In a recent editorial that is so outrageous the commentary itself could be a ruse, The Globe likens the Yes Men’s public relations shenanigans to the devaluing of currency by fake money. Apparently, fakery can ruin an otherwise prestigious and respectable system of truth-telling.

There are two problems with this ridiculous assessment of the world’s most notorious progressive political pranksters. Let us leave aside for the moment the sad conclusion that the Globe’s editorial is merely the pathetic gasps of a groaning, creaking dinosaur whose dead-tree elitism appeals to a diminishing minority. More astonishing is that The Globe really seems to think that it is part of a tradition of journalism immune from “bogus” information.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Globe and Mail, like most mainstream news outlets, answers to advertisers and is (and must be) responsive to the powerful corporations who pay the bills. Pick up an issue of The Globe and look for reportage on corporate crime, on the true environmental costs of consumerism, on the ecological disaster that threatens our future while the perpetrators enjoy full-page ads extolling their “green solutions.” It’s not there, and its absence is not an accident.

Aside from issues of greenwashing and content that favours commercial sustainers, the paper is a champion of sleight of hand by omission. Look for voices that advocate progressive perspectives on immigration. On racism. On social justice activism and the global movement against the economic and corporate elite. On alternative, sustainable living. On First Nations struggles and stories of determination. On political art. On women’s equality. On Canadian-American imperialism. The list goes on.

The Yes Men — DowSure one can pick through the thicket of fluff pieces on commercial culture, celebrity “news,” violent crime, sports, and stock market pornography and find some stories that touch on the above issues, but you may want to pack a lunch because it will be a long day of searching the archives.

The truth of the matter is that The Globe has always represented the views of a slim minority of wealthy, pro-business elite, and has evened out coverage for that group with watery uncritical coverage that appeals to some imaginary mass, undoubtedly constructed by marketing firms working directly with the paper’s advertisers. Talk about fakery.

The second problem with The Globe’s outlandish position on the Yes Men is that they really don’t get what the rest of us do: the Yes Men are social provocateurs. They orchestrate media stunts to bring critical perspectives on an issue to the forefront.

In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Google’s main news guru, Krishna Bharat, reflected on poring over daily news feeds from the world’s mainstream press: “Why is it that a thousand people come up with approximately the same reading of matters? Why couldn’t there be five readings? And meanwhile use that energy to observe something else, equally important, that is currently being neglected.”

Bharat was amazed that with so many things going on all over the world, endless important stories, he was finding all the mainstream news agencies reporting on the same thing, whether it was Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, or the evils of Iran or North Korea. All this to say, there was very little diversity. The Globe is part of this monolithic soup, and the Yes Men draw attention to this fact and compel news-providers like the Globe to broaden and diversify coverage.

At a time when corporate news — including the Globe and Mail — was doing straight-up descriptive reporting of the climate change “talks” in December (as in what members of the elite were there, what was on the agenda, what were the goals, etc, etc) the Yes Men ruptured the commercial media’s wall of uncritical coverage.

The story of their hijinx — an elborate stunt that issued fake statements and doctored video about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to end his unbridled support for dirty oil extraction in Alberta’s tar sands and to begin countering climate change — circled the globe and embarrassed the Conservative government. Discerning citizens knew almost immediately that it was a hoax.

And we loved it, because it forced the world to pay attention to one of the most important issues facing public policymakers today, and it compelled commercial media to do their job: serve the public with diverse and critical reportage. And let’s face it, if The Globe isn’t checking its facts, that’s not the Yes Men’s problem. How many other press releases do we suppose The Globe publishes without any follow up?

It’s really too bad The Globe and Mail doesn’t get it. Instead of rising to the challenge of the Yes Men, they have chosen the path of the whining, whimpering dinosaur whose imminent extinction will be hastened by an alienated readership desperate for news that serves the public interest — not those of advertisers, industry and the elite.

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