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Sun News and problems of bias

Few acts of public commentary are more worthless than a political post-mortem of a partisan enemy.

Ask a conservative why something liberal failed, and he’ll answer “because liberalism is awful.” Ask a liberal why something conservative bombed, and she’ll reply “because right-wingers suck.” Ideological bias impedes a great many things, but nothing more than objective analysis of a rival’s defeat.

Such has been the case with the majority of commentary about last week’s abrupt closure of the conservative Sun News Network, an event which has provided Canada’s progressive commentariat no shortage of ideological vindication.

The defining characteristic of elite liberalism in Canada is sheltered narcissism, a belief that the idiosyncratic collection of views held dear by high-ranking progressive politicians, journalists, and academics are also the animating ideology of the entire country.

Because they believe in multiculturalism Canadians believe in multiculturalism. Because they don’t like America Canadians don’t like America. Because they reject conservatism Canadians reject conservatism, and so on.

Since this progressive bias concludes that progressivism is not only wildly successful in Canada but enormously popular, those who reject it —  ie: Sun journalists and viewers — must be forever defined as a tiny, strange, even grotesque fringe on the absolute margin of Canadian society. For good measure, it also helps to portray them as suspiciously American in form and temperament to imply their deviance is not just gross and ignorant but pseudo-treasonous as well.

Thus, we get cocksure articles like Jon Kay’s in the National Post, where he blames Sun’s failure on the fact that unlike America, “Canada just doesn’t have enough ‘regular-white-guy resentment’ to support a mass-viewership news channel catering to pissed-off ordinary Joes,” or Tim Harper sniffing skeptically in the Toronto Star at the notion of “Fox North in a country in which we believe our politics are polarized, but are really quite tepid compared to the shout fests on U.S. cable television.” Ex-CBCer Linden MacIntyre in the Globe and Mail was no less incredulous at the spectacle of angry, right-wing commentary “coming from people who, when all is said and done, have nothing, really, to complain about.”

The shared thesis is that Canadians are just too polite and placated for a television station based around aggressively critical, conservative analysis of Canadian politics and culture, because aggressively critical conservatism implies the existence of opposition to the heroic liberalism of Canadian politics and culture. And who could possibly fathom such a thing?

Sun flopped for a variety of reasons, and doubtless some of these had to do with off-putting tone and content. Speaking as a former Sun employee, I knew few colleagues who weren’t occasionally embarrassed by some of the things the network aired, though it’s worth remembering how much of that was ultimately a product of budgetary limitations— doing television on the cheap means lower salaries, which attract a less professional grade of producers and guests. But bluntly asserting the network’s failure stemmed from “not understanding Canada” is ultimately an ideological criticism, not an objective one, and deserves to be understood as such.

There are countless issues on which Canadian public opinion is dramatically to the right of the progressive establishment — immigration caps, the death penalty, elected judges, voter ID laws — and it can easily be argued in their coverage of these matters and others, Sun’s editorial slant was considerably more in line with typical Canadian opinion than say, the Toronto Star’s.

Whatever problems the network had with ratings, Ezra Levant has repeatedly noted in interviews that some of Sun’s online videos boasted view counts that vastly exceeded their TV viewership — or that of their competitors’ — and that these videos were invariably covering issues No True Canadian is supposed to care about, like First Nations corruption or radical Islam in Canadian mosques. As much as there will now be a great deal of pressure for any post-Sun conservative news outlet to shift sharply to the left, it remains worth asking why few establishment outlets see no virtue in shifting more to the right — at least on certain issues.

More than anything else, Sun was simply the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time —  not in the sense, as many on the left are eager to believe, that it was a contrarian conservative network in debate-free, progressive Canada, but rather a badly under-funded, late entrant into the increasingly irrelevant, cash-hemorrhaging, archaically over-regulated world of television news.

Whatever controversies the station provoked during life, this is the firmest certainty it can offer in death.