The Sun News Network came out swinging as anticipated yesterday, all wrapped up in the Canadian flag and leading with its right.
Adjectives that spring to mind after viewing the launch: Predictable, repetitive, hectoring, thin-skinned, paranoid, politically incorrect (and just plain incorrect), self-indulgent, feisty, shoot-from-the-lip, mordant, alarmist, ill-tempered, sour, combative, supercilious, chapfallen, bull-headed, trenchant, obdurate, resentful, and old.
Its opening graphic features something that looks like a ballistic missile coming across the Atlantic and exploding in our midst. The network says it offers "hard news by day, straight talk by night," but chose to launch itself in the afternoon with straight talk and short skirts, not news.
First up: The world according to Ezra Levant.
Giving this polemicist an hour a day to pile on his favourite targets -- political correctness, the CBC, human rights commissions, Ignatieff and big government -- is going to get really old, really fast. On top of that, the man seems to be a compulsive narcissist. To fill out his first show, he wasted 10 minutes reprising his decision to publish the Muhammad cartoons, an event that happened five years ago. He showed them again on air, as a prop to differentiate himself from the rest of the Canadian news media, which he accused of cowardice. "As God is my witness," he said crusadingly, "I swear our show will never be like that."
The problem is, almost everything he said about his decision in 2006 as publisher of the Western Standard was factually untrue. The magazine was failing, and the publication of the blasphemous Jyllands-Posten cartoons was less a principled demonstration of free expression than a last-gasp stunt to attract publicity. A complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission resulted in him being questioned, not "prosecuted" as he claimed. And he didn't win. The commission dropped the case when the lone complainant, a Calgary Muslim leader, changed his mind and withdrew. Despite the fact Levant says he was forced to spend $100,000 defending himself, he acted as his own lawyer and told the National Post "I put in 100 hours fighting this guy." So he valued his advice to himself at $1,000 an hour? Are we supposed to think of him as some martyr standing up for the right of the little guy to fight censorship?
But that's just one example of how Levant apparently hopes to engage viewers. "I like to be a bit of a bomb thrower and troublemaker," he told colleague Krista Erickson during a self-congratulatory preview of the new network's red, white and blue Canadian-made newsroom. Of his program, ironically called The Source, he boasted "There's nothing like it on the dial in Canada."
Well, he's right about that. You will be engaged because you will have to spend plenty of time tracking down all the facts that he leaves out or gets wrong.
Don't believe me? How's this: As an example of meddlesome government bureaucrats controlling our lives, Levant cited the case of radio station CKLN in Toronto. Poor CKLN, he said, shut down after 28 years by the heavy hand of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission for not filling out some routine paperwork properly and "infighting." What organization doesn't have infighting, he crowed, saying that "many of the people running it were students" at Ryerson University with other things on their minds. In fact, it is a sore point among students at Ryerson that CKLN allows none of them to participate in the programming that their fees pay for; the CRTC shut it down after the station failed to file income tax returns for three years; the station locked out its staff for seven months and had to play pre-recorded material during that time; and the "infighting" resulted in Ryerson calling in the police several times to cope with confrontations.
Another example: He compared California to Canada to make the point that there are way too many people working for government (the takers) and too few creating wealth (the makers). With slightly more than Canada's population, California employs 2.5 million civil servants. Canada, he said, employs 3.5 million. But that's not true. Statistics Canada says there are roughly 400,000 public sector employees working for the federal government. Even if you include all local, provincial and federal government workers in Canada -- a clearly unfair comparison -- the number is only 2.8 million.
Levant was similarly wrong when he compared government debt. California's is $1.8 trillion. Canada's, he said, is almost equal at $1.5 trillion. Fact: The recent federal budget pegged Canada's debt at $519 billion.
Levant is simply full of Levant. At once point, he returned from a commercial break reading a copy of his recent book, Ethical Oil, joking that "Oh, I was just catching up on a little light reading." The self-promotion extended to many of the topics he covered, which were ripoffs of his own newspaper columns written for Sun Media. One was the show's highlight, a clever debunking of the CBC's online Vote Compass quiz. But even that hardly justified his assertion that the network's bias and its funding by the government made the CBC akin to "1970s North Korea."
His material ran so thin he even poached his own column for the next day's Sun newspaper chain (CRTC's a dinosaur).
Levant seems to be fuelled by some kind of persecution complex. When he questioned his only guest, the ancient Peter Worthington, Levant asked "Do you think they're going to come after the show?" Worthington wisely demurred, but Levant seems to believe that the new network's critics constitute a threat to good old Canadian freedom of expression. "Keep watching," he reminded viewers at least four times.
No, Ezra, as a critic I can tell you the biggest threat is not us. Your biggest threat is that you'll run out of things to get angry about. After all, ranting at length about five topics every day is beyond most people who aren't certifiable. Even if you manage to keep it up, intelligent viewers will see right through you and flip the dial in utter frustration.