Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Media ADD and Afghanistan

Ok, personal anecdotes are a poor substitute for real data, but recent events testify to the media's attention span.  I keep track of my media appearances, not just for boosting my ego and reinforcing my narcissism, but also for annual reports to my department, funding agencies and the CRC program.  What did I find by looking at the patterns?  That the Canadian media essentially forgot that Canada was in Afghanistan, at least in terms of seeking "expert" opinion on the topic, for quite some time.  The academic debate is often about whether politicians follow the media, the media follow the politicians, or none of the above.

So, my phone has started ringing again because there is once again a debate in Ottawa about the mission in Afghanistan.  The Harper government seems to be reversing months and months of denials of any further military effort in Afghanistan and getting ready to agree to send one thousand soldiers (700 trainers and 300 support folks), and this is causing conniptions in Ottawa.  The Liberals are upset because Harper is stealing their issue, the NDP is upset because they want the troops home.  The Bloc would be upset but their leader is in France trying to parlay Sarkozy's unpopularity into more support for Quebec (since Sarkozy did a Shatner and told the separatists to get a life).  So, the media is re-energized to cover Afghanistan as the domestic debate gets going again.

This is not surprising, but disappointing, as the media is as crisis-driven as the politicians.  While some steady newspaper coverage (Matthew Fisher and Graeme Smith before him are notable exceptions to the rule of episodic coverage) has been quite good, radio and TV have been much less consistent.

The sudden need for "expertise" is challenging in large part because we academic types are now being asked to comment on a decision that has not yet been announced.  We do not know the size, the timing, or any of the other details of the new deployment.  All I do know is that it will force me to add more to my Canadian chapter of the book, re-coding Canada as a case of tight and then loose caveats/restrictions to tight, loose and then tight again.  But as a social scientist, I have got to say that more variation is better than less--more stuff to observe and explain.

Update: for a good take on why the PM should not subject this decision to a vote, see Phillipe Legass√©'s piece.  I don't agree with it, but I am not an expert on Canadian customs/laws/conventions/Westminsterisms.

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