Thursday, May 10, 2007

On intelligent coverage

I've noted many times before that one of the largest problems with most mainstream coverage of politics is that it generally fails to distinguish between substance and spin (or even outright nonsense). With that in mind, let's give due credit to Aaron Wherry for contrasting Dawn Black's substantive questions on Afghanistan with the embarrassing non-responses provided by Peter MacKay (and other assorted hijinks):
(W)hile the buffoons were basking in their bons mots, the Speaker called upon the honourable member for New Westminster-Coquitlam and up rose the NDP's Dawn Black.

"Mr. Speaker, Afghans are increasingly concerned with the mounting civilian death toll," she explained. "This week the Afghan senate asked foreign forces to put an end to the hunting and the search and destroy approach. Last week President Karzai said the civilian death toll is something his government can no longer accept. Will the government acknowledge the serious concerns of the Afghan government and change course, just as Afghan officials and the Canadian public are demanding?"

Now, as the New Democrat defence critic, Dawn Black isn't likely allowed much room for improvisation. Her agenda is fairly obvious. But that aside, this seemed a fairly intelligent and well-meaning query.

We can perhaps debate who is or is not being beaten with electrical cords, what the Canadian military has to do with that and what can be done in a foreign country where the issue of jurisdiction and responsibility is the stuff of legal briefs. But it is difficult to dispute that in military conflicts, innocent people - that is to say, those who are not actively trying to facilitate the killing of our guys - are often unduly harmed. And even the most coldly practical among us must concede that unwarranted death and destruction do not generally endear an occupying force to its occupied nation, nor fill the homeside with patriotism. This is, then, a reasonable concern.

So up came Peter MacKay. "With respect to international security assistance force, it is a UN-mandated NATO mission," the Foreign Affairs Minister explained. "We are all aware of that. We know that the operations are conducted with the consent of the Afghan authorities under a democratically-elected government in Afghanistan. NATO operations are conducted jointly, alongside Afghan national forces."

This seemed a fine way of saying, "Hey, we aren't the only ones who periodically blow up women, children and well-meaning old people."

Dawn Black pressed on. "Mr. Speaker, 90 civilian deaths in the last two weeks is something to take very seriously. The Conservative government cannot tell us anything about what is happening with Afghan detainees. It cannot give us a straight answer about the duration of the mission. Canadians have clearly lost confidence in the Minister of National Defence and the government's handling of the war. If the Government of Afghanistan does ask Canada and NATO to change their tactics, will the government do so?"

Setting aside the debatability of several assumptions therein, this too seemed a reasonable question.

Here came MacKay's response. "What we know very well is when it comes to the mission in Afghanistan, the members of the NDP are sheep in sheep's clothing."

One assumes the Foreign Affairs Minister was trying to be smart. One might subsequently suggest that the Buffoon from Bourassa may want to save a chair at the next club meeting.
Now, it could be that the focus (along with a relatively similar contrast the previous day) will be the exception rather than the rule. And indeed, it does seem clear that the story about some MPs providing more substance than others is only being told as a matter of contrast when a real policy discussion immediately precedes or follows the very worst of the worst - thus offering at least equal time and notoriety to those who stand out for their lack of substance.

But the more attention there is to the difference between MPs who are using their public platform to deal with real issues and those who see the House of Commons as a place where, truth, decorum and intelligent thought are all optional, the more likely Canadians are to ask why we don't have more of the former. And hopefully that kind of discussion will be both continued in Wherry's coverage, and picked up by others as well.

(Edit: fixed label.)

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