Ottawa Citizen, August 26, 2000
Bashing Clark is the new national sport for Canada's media
by Marjaleena Repo
The media recently heralded an Angus Reid poll and
declared "a long-awaited change in the structure of
Canadian politics." The essence of that change appears
to be the collapse of the PC Party and the "unprecedentedly
high" (51%) disapproval rate of its leader, Joe Clark.
Clark has for months on end been the target of
virulent attacks by the media. From the fury, one would
think that he is the leader of an unpopular governing
party rather than a 5th ranked party.
Reporters, columnists and cartoonists have raced to
heap abuse on Clark. The Globe and Mail's Paul Sullivan
dredged up the old canard of Clark "losing his luggage"
on a foreign tour – probably the only Canadian blamed
for an airline losing his baggage! Also, according to
Sullivan, Clark "grins foolishly" while wearing" a dorky
cowboy hat" — again the only person ridiculed for
wearing de rigeur attire at the Calgary Stampede.
Sullivan refers to Clark's "foolish grin" no less than
five times in his column, indicating at least the need
for a thesaurus.)
Citizen columnist Rosa Harris-Adler could barely
contain herself in name-calling: "loser of baggage,"
"awkward," "class nerd," she spits out. She ends up
demanding -- one can almost hear the stomping of the
feet – that Clark step down, immediately. (Sorry, Madam
Columnist, but political leaders take their marching
orders from party members and voters, not from irate
Lysiane Gagnon of La Presse likewise threw everything
but the kitchen sink at Clark, while pining for previous
leader Jean Charest. After criticizing Clark for his
past political errors, she petulantly attacks him for
not being present at a recent event where "Mr. Mulroney
launched a spirited attack against the Alliance." Had
Clark been present, Gagnon and other journalists would
undoubtedly have mocked him for riding on Mulroney's
The Globe's Margaret Wente also brimmed with contempt
for Clark's looks. He's not enough of an alpha male in
her books, (unlike Stockwell Day, who the journalistic
hordes instantly declared photogenic and bursting with
charisma). Wente even called Clark a Pillsbury Doughboy.
Would a rotund Winston Churchill, or a Ralph Klein, only
three years younger than Clark, with chins and belly to
show for his lack of alpha-male activities, also
qualify? (And if Clark is a "geezer," as declared by
more than one cartoonist -- a contemptible label for
anyone over 50 -- he is in good company with many other
accomplished over-50-year-olds in media and politics.)
Lookism and ageism are carelessly combined into the
ultimate insult, as if looks ("good") and age (youngish)
would automatically translate into competence.
Clark's fatal flaw in the eyes of the media is that
he didn't succumb to the unite-the right- movement and
wouldn't run for a seat in a by-election at the drop of
(many) a hat.
Those heaping scorn on Clark for not joining the
Alliance, would be well advised to listen to another
Conservative, former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed: "I
was asked why I didn’t support the United Alternative,
to unite the right," he said recently. "The easy answer
to that is I’m not on the right. I’ve never been on the
right -- I’ve been in the centre. I’m a Progressive
Conservative. And that’s where I want to be and that’s
where the people are. Don’t get on the right, because
the people aren’t there."
If Lougheed can take this stand, why can't Clark --
particularly when the party's convention last fall
enshrined in its constitution no less the position of
NOT uniting with the Reform?
As for Clark not running for a seat when so prompted
(pushed and shoved) by the media, he may have other
priorities -- and may see unnecessary risks in jumping
into by-elections. (Preston Manning ran for a seat in
1993, four years after the first Reform member was
Of course, the get-a seat-Joe chorus fails to explain
what difference it would have made for Clark to have
been in the house for the last year or so. He would have
only shared the fate of near invisibility with the
fourth party leader, Alexa McDonough, who would have to
run naked in the streets to get any media attention.
But in the end, none of the attacks on Clark are
based on rationality. They are located in the mentality
of pack journalism in search of subjects to scapegoat
and demonize. Too lazy to explore issues in depth, it
settles for cheap shots and ad hominems. When the media
tire of ridiculing Clark, we will wait with bated breath
for the next target to be revealed.
While we wait, can we at least stop hearing about Joe
Clark's lost luggage?
Marjaleena Repo was campaign manager for David
Orchard's 1998 PC leadership campaign. She is the
president of Saskatoon Blackstrap PC Riding Association