MONTREAL - When all is said and done, the decision by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to boycott an entire news organization on account of the latest exploit of its most boorish commentator falls somewhere between a misfire and a bullet in the foot.
In a five-minute segment aired on Sun News on Monday, broadcast host Ezra Levant took aim at former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau. He spoke a about the “conquests” of the two and called the former prime minister “a slut.”
A photo published on Twitter earlier this month that showed the Liberal leader pecking the cheek of an unidentified bride sparked the segment. Levant criticized the kiss and then went on to call Trudeau’s parents “promiscuous.”
“Now, if that’s your moral compass, kissing another man’s bride on her wedding day is pretty cool,” he concluded.
On Tuesday, Trudeau’s office issued a statement to say that he would “not engage’’ with Sun Media journalists until Quebecor — Sun News’ parent company — had addressed the issue to his satisfaction.
The temptation to shut out all Sun Media journalists in protest over Levant’s grotesque commentary was probably irresistible. From a human standpoint, it is certainly understandable. But it also sets the party on a slippery slope familiar to most veteran parliamentary correspondents.
Liberal insiders who argue that it is too much of a leap to think that an opposition party that shuts out an entire news organization over the comments of one commentator would, once in government, expand its black list based on more political criteria are whistling past a cemetery of good intentions.
I write this as someone who was heckled daily for more than a year on the way up to question period by a demonstrator determined to out me as a so-called separatist mole after my then-employer, Le Devoir, adopted a pro-sovereignty editorial stance.
Under Jean Chrétien, the prime minister’s spin doctors were not averse to dismissing all francophone journalists as sovereigntist sympathizers the better to convince our English-speaking colleagues that our coverage deliberately distorted the Quebec reality.
The current Conservative government has gone further. It has rejected the previously accepted notion that the parliamentary press gallery has a role in the democratic process and it treats them as an enemy faction.
It is a rare journalist who has never had cause to disagree with or cringe over either the editorial stance or some of the commentary of his or her media organization.
If there is a debate to be had over the Levant commentary, attributing guilt by employer-association is hardly the way to go.
Questioning whether those who run major news organizations have a social responsibility to ensure that minimal journalistic standards are maintained by their organizations would be a better place to start.
That question is particularly relevant when it comes to Quebecor, the property of a man — Pierre Karl Péladeau — who aspires to take on the leadership of the Parti Québécois.
Would the mantle of party founder René Lévesque, a Quebec journalist of great integrity, sit well on the shoulders of a media tycoon who turns a blind eye to how low the standards of fundamental political decency have fallen within one of his organizations?
Does PKP subscribe to the notion that anything goes in political coverage as long as it is targeted at a foe or a rival? If so, is Sun News’ coverage of Trudeau what one can expect from TVA and the Quebecor French-language tabloids if and when their owner leads the PQ in electoral battle?
Like Trudeau, Péladeau had a father who used to be a public figure in his own right. Does he actually believe that by virtue of his political ambitions his late father’s name should become fair game for rival media groups?
Finally what about Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister who now heads the Quebecor board? In his previous political life he was rightly appalled when Frank magazine ran a contest to deflower his then teenage daughter. Does he now believe that Quebecor should lead the way in setting a new low in what wrongly passes for political coverage?