We can spare time to talk about newspaper columns today because there's almost nothing in the day's Moncton Times and Tribune worth reading - except for the columns by Bill Belliveau and Gwynne Dyer, and the whole Whatever section, this time packed with the usual good writing by the usual columnists, and with three, iimpressive pages of Frye Festival winners in the school writing division..
Columns are what give meaning to the news. The news will tell you, with every new war, that the west is trying to bring democacy to the world. A good columnist will point out that the west doesn't have the slightest desire to spread democracy anywhere. It wants governments that do what they're told to do - and that means whatever is profitable for western business. You'll see more than a hint of that message in today's column by Gwynne Dyer. Dyer is unbiased, intelligent, well-informed, a good writer and a good columnist.
For Canadian political news, the best could be Jeffrey Simpson of the Toronto Globe and Mail. You will never understand Candian politics by reading the news reports about House of Commons debates. But Jeffrey Simpson cuts through all the fuzz with a first-rate mind, long experience and, like Dyer, no bias.
Alec Bruce is in much the same category as Dyer and Simpson - and is also fine writer with more, much more, than the usual wit. Even among the best columnists, he's an outstanding writer. I can enjoy reading him even when I don't agree with what he's saying. (No. I don't know him.)
The TandT is also strong in some specialty fields. On questions of women's place in the world, Jody Dallaire ranks with the best. You will learn far more of women's issues in one of her columns than you will in dozens of news reports. Generally, the Moncton Times is well served by its once-a-week specialty columns.
It is even well-served, sometimes, by Bill Belliveau. He does his homework. He writes well. But, oh, I wish he would stop carrying that sign in the shape of a big hand pointing at him - with the word Liberal written on it.
But writing a column is a business.- and business has been known to corrupt whatever it touches. Daily newspapers are usually owned by wealthy people who have social, economic and political ideas that they want to spread. Being wealthy, they can afford to pay well for columnists who will say the right sort of things.
The name of Mark Steyn springs to mind. Steyn is a clever and excellent writer. I don't know whether he believes what he writes. But in the years I have read his column, I have yet to see one that any ultra-conservative, closed minded and bigoted millionaire would not read with a gentle smile.
Hint. He has frequently written for The National Post - which the Times and Transcript seems to have some connection with for national news.
Goerge Jonas, also National Post, is another like Steyn, but less gifted with brains and style.
David Frum, same paper, lacks anything that could be called knowledge. But he was raised to believe that, as the child of a wealthy family, he had a right to be wealthy, too, and to be influential. I'm sure he's quite sincere in his arrogance and in his prejudice. He's very welcome among very rich people.
Then there's Barbara Amiel of MacLean's. Shrill, ambitious, self-righteous and heavily biased, she has found her perfect mate in life.
Then there's the staff - written columns in the editorial and op ed pages.
Editorials are, as in most papers, a write-off. Editors know how to put together a newspaper. Usually, that's all they know. You can find evidence of that in just about any TandT editorial.
Norbert Cunningham used to be an editor, probbly a dreadfully fussy and cranky one with his knickers constantly in a twist.
The staff writers on the op ed page are the sort of people who corner you at a party to tell you long and pointless stories. A recent one, on who is the greatest rock star in the world, was a scandalous waste of a third of a page. It was so trivial, it would have been rejected even by the super-market tabs which scream "Pregnant Kate in tears as hubby prince leaves her to become groupie for Lady Gaga".
All of the staff written columns are ill-informed (the editorials), uninformed and cranky (like Norbert's) or unspeakably trivial (and to the trivial, I would add the weekly Washington report.) None of them will add anything to anybody's understanding of the news. And that tells you all you need to know about The Moncton Times and Transcript.
It is not sold to tell us the news or to help us to understand. This is a newspaper designed to keep its readers in ignorance of what is happening in the world, to keep us obedient to our masters. It is designed to destroy the essential elements of democracy - information, public discussion, informed debate. It is designed to create a passive population.
And there's more than a little evidence it has succeeded.
Tomorrow is my sleep-in day. But there's a huge story the TandT has missed. It's centred in Quebec - for now. It's the students's strike. (I know, Norbert. They're all just spoiled brats.) And it's a story that could be the start of somethiing very big, indeed.Might try it tomorrow.