Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"pouring gas on the fire"

Can a tweet be used as a Rorschach test?

Just saw da premier making a speech. Dat was quite a speech. Dem media better report it right.

Is the above
A) a light-hearted and lightly deliberated jab at Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach's notorious butchery of the King's English and his claims of media bias
B) an insult directed at Ukrainian Canadians
C) an insult directed at Edmontonians courtesy of "Calgary oil execs"
D) both B and C

According to Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal, the correct answer is D.

Now perhaps no one should be surprised at Ms Simons' perspicacity here. After all, there are plenty of people who (at least claim to) see the malign agenda of corporate interests at work in the most banal of headlines. But surely when Simons subsequently fires an accusatory tweet off to (not even the original tweeter but) Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith for "pouring gas on the fire" of intra-provincial tribalism, even we Edmontonians realize that we have received one too many invitations to take umbrage at Premier Stelmach's political competition.

It was Ed's partisan people who invited the media to make an issue out of a remark by someone who had a small handful of Twitter followers and conclude that although the premier himself is the very picture of magnanimity, Ukrainians as a people would be remiss to let this "offensive Twitter post" just slide quietly into the forgettable and forgivable realm of the deleted and apologized for. In a display of their skill in media relations, the premier's office easily advanced simultaneously the contentions that there was an insult, that it mattered, and that is was directed at both the premier personally and at an ethnic group. These political pros, however, knew that they would have overplayed their hand to further suggest the Edmonton-injuring machinations of some Calgary cabal behind this tweet. Having actively campaigned as a politician myself last year, I am more than aware of how unconscious people can be of when their buttons are being pushed by the peddlers of identity politics, but Edmontonians might well be too worldly-wise to not ask themselves if Ms Simons shouldn't be directing her "pouring gas on the fire" finger wagging at the mirror.

For months now the Edmonton Journal's unsigned editorials have been beating the war drum about the impending threat to the tribe presented by "downtown Calgary" types who look down their noses at a premier who hails from the Journal's market. It would not surprise me to see these same unnamed editors in the future lament, with no sense of irony concerning what has been previously featured in their pages, that too few provincial politicians tweet or blog anything but the most guarded and spin-cycled material, never mind their staffers!

NOTE: I do not wish to suggest that the correct answer to the my opening hypothetical is simply "A". I agree with Danielle Smith that the tweet was "stupid." But there were elements of "A" here that seem to have gotten short shrift in the rush to judgmental judgment. If I had detected a belligerent streak in Stephen in my limited dealings with him to date, I would not take exception to the media picture of an uncurbed attack dog that has emerged of him. But I didn't. When someone is reasonably expected to be in the headlines routinely, an accurate picture can generally be expected to emerge as media stories written from a variety of perspectives accumulate. When someone is known for just one event or for a short period of time, however, distortions are more of danger. While I question the judgment of the party leadership re not approaching Stephen's past business associates to ask them if they thought "the accounting is just an absolute mess" before Stephen was a put on staff and, more precisely, before a Globe and Mail reporter asked, there is more to Stephen Carter than 140 characters. He has apologized, resigned, and on top of a week of negative publicity he is facing a financial crisis. Leaving aside his business dealings, which I am not in a position to come to a conclusion on, I hope that he finds honourable success in his future endeavors.

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