How Canada's corporate media framed the Occupy movement
The Vancouver Sun’s viewpoints on Occupy varied dramatically from the Star’s. One difference was that many Sun articles and columns focused on the civic election that was to be held on November 19. The Sun claimed—erroneously as it turned out—that the Occupy Vancouver camp had become the campaign’s central issue and would hurt incumbent mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson.
Columnist Craig McInnes presented the paper’s dominant frame for its readers. In an column the day before the October 15 march in downtown Vancouver, he claimed that “these folks are gathering to proclaim our brand of democracy and the capitalist system broken beyond repair in a time and place where arguably life for most people has never been better ... On a global scale, we’re all one-percenters here,” McInnes opined (Oct 14). Conclusion? No need for Occupy for most of us.
A week later he went after the “Occupy Wherever crowd” who don’t understand that life has always been tough. McInnes himself had to go to Yellowknife to get started in journalism “with little more than I could fit in a backpack.” McInnes asked if life is “harder now than it was 30 years ago? Maybe, but it's not all about what you are given. What you make of it still counts” (Oct 22). Conclusion? No need for Occupy for most of us.
And in a piece outlining the United Nations Human Development Index, McInnes offered that the numbers “show that we're doing pretty well compared with most countries.” He admitted though that the numbers “also point to the areas where we need work, to the people”—such as Aboriginals—“who are still getting left behind” (Nov 3). Conclusion? No need for Occupy for most of us.
In his final column, McInnes claimed Occupy had defeated itself. “The initial focus on the role of banks, unchecked corporate greed and the downtrodden middle class has been swept aside by a fixation on a battle with local authorities over muddy patches of ground.” How did this happen, he asked. The answer, he replied, is that protesters brought it on themselves, by taking on city hall. But this claim is not credible, since it was city hall that took on Occupy. Nonetheless, in a strange twist of mathematical logic, McInnes concluded that “by taking on city hall, the 99 per cent became the one per cent” (Nov 17).
McInnes’s attacks on Occupy Vancouver were buttressed by a phalanx of Sun columnists and op-ed writers. Barbara Yaffe railed that protesters “may be free to protest, but how does that give them a right to set up a residential enclave that is imposing additional costs on taxpayers? Where are the rights of the other 98 per cent?” she asked (Nov 17).
Capitalism—and the one percent—received a rousing defence from two libertarians. McGill University economist William Watson chastised the protesters for not having taken his Economics 101 course on the marvels of capitalism. The answer to business power, he lectured, is “more capitalism, not less.” Besides, they have no right to protest because if they are university students—which some seem to be—they are already profiting handsomely from government subsidies (Nov 1).
And Sun editorial page editor Fazil Mihlar waxed ecstatic over the many contributions the banks make to the Canadian economy. “For being so prudent, profitable and virtuous,” Mihlar effused without a hint of irony, “Occupy Vancouver protesters should first apologize to our bankers for the disruptions that they caused and then say thank you.”
The Sun editorial board chimed in with an editorial agreeing in principle with Occupy’s complaints, but arguing that the way to deal with them is for young people to vote and join political parties (Oct 19). A second editorial—probably written by Fazil Mihlar because it once again praised the banks—argued that the OV camp had to go, willingly or not (Oct 25). A third editorial, written the day before Vancouver’s civic election, berated protesters for not becoming involved in the election process and mobilizing the “support of a fraction of the 99 per cent of residents they claimed to represent” (Nov 18), as if that would have any impact on income inequality. Bait and switch is more like it.
But Occupy Vancouver had a determined champion in Sun columnist Pete McMartin. Ten days into the protest McMartin berated Occupy’s critics who “fulminate” about the Art Gallery lawn being littered with tents, rather than about Canada’s growing income disparity. McMartin was not concerned the protesters lacked focus:
“Why the demonstrators should be expected to offer up answers to [the world’s problems], when those problems have stymied ... the world’s economists, is asking too much of them” (Oct 25).
McMartin devoted his October 27 column to growing income inequality in Canada and its sources in various government policies such as “‘labour market flexibility’—code for more jobs at lower wages.” Declining union membership, especially among young workers, hides a bleak future for them, he warned.
As the Occupy Vancouver camp entered its end game, McMartin bemoaned the fact that the camp site had become the issue. But he was also encouraged by OV’s success in putting income inequality firmly on the public agenda (Nov 17).
And who could ask for more than that?