Budgets are dull and journalism is hard
I’m a little disappointed by the hissyfit thrown by certain journalists and pundits over the budget announcement that Miller made this morning. I don’t want to tell anybody how to do their job, but it looks like I’m about to try, because I think the way it was done this morning was a pretty telling reflection of the way certain people in the media have chosen to cover politics in general lately.
Right off the top, I guess I should tell you that I like David Miller. I don’t agree with everything he’s done as mayor, but only someone who’s more interested in blindly choosing sides than in dealing intelligently with the facts could ever say they completely agree or disagree with anyone in office. I like the guy, but you might not, and that’s fine as long as we’re not just a couple of partisan hacks who would rather cheer for the people on our side of the aisle than deal with the issues that matter.
In that sense, people are bound to have a wide range of opinions on this morning’s surplus announcement. Some will praise city council’s fiscal responsibility; some will call it evidence that we should all stop whining about the city’s lack of provincial or federal funding; some will voice their concerns that the surplus won’t be spent where it’s needed most; some will accuse the mayor of grandstanding and political manipulation; and some will wonder aloud what right the mayor even had to call a press conference over a bunch of dull numbers that don’t even have anything to do with the sexy, sexy infidelities of Adam Giambrone.
If this morning’s Twitter traffic is any indication, then most of the people in the latter camp are either going to be journalists and media professionals who were annoyed over having to go all the way down to City Hall this morning to listen to the mayor ramble on about the budget, or conservative partisans who are happy to take their cues from them as long as it reinforces their blind, uninformed hatred of the mayor.
Again, I like Miller, and maybe my general support of him is clouding my judgment. Hell, the fact that this is actually one of those rare occasions in which I get to put my communications degree to use can’t be helping either. But if you’ll indulge me, let’s take a look at some of the field’s more vocal critics and see what their reactions tell us.
“WOW! WHAT A LET DOWN!” shouted a commentator named Jerry Agar who apparently only recently joined the Newstalk 1010 staff. Shortly afterwards, he argued that “a lower then expected tax INCREASE is not ‘lower’ taxes.” To his credit, it’s admittedly only lower projected taxes, which is what it’s abundantly clear that Miller was stating. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that poor Jerry Agar felt like “a kid on christmas day” about this morning’s announcement, and Miller wound up letting him down.
Chris Eby didn’t mind suggesting that the only reason Miller called a press conference in the first place was out of concern for his own legacy. Although he may admittedly have a point, I’m inclined to think that based on the current crop of candidates, Miller’s legacy isn’t in jeopardy. And the fact that Eby’s only subsequent tweet about Miller had to do with him sharing “a post from a person who self-identifies as @cokeaddict” – who I’m now following because I have a sense of irony and an appreciation for perspective that Eby apparently lacks – suggests to me that this is a fellow who’s more interested in taking shots at the mayor than addressing the issues at hand.
Smyth kicked things off by wondering aloud if Miller’s announcement should be considered an “abuse of media.” Well, first of all – and this is absolutely a case of the pot calling the kettle black – but if you’re spending that much of your Wednesday morning on Twitter then your time can’t possibly be so precious that Miller’s budget announcement could be counted as an abuse of it. But second and more importantly, Smyth’s subsequent tweets betray an obvious and nonobjective beef against Miller – one that’s apparently so intense that she not only got excited about the notoriously vocal George Mammoliti calling for Miller’s resignation, but that she also got swept away in the rhetoric of Rocco Rossi promising that he’s an outsider who would bring a different kind of leadership to City Hall – even though that’s the most basic, obvious and uninspired promise that anyone running for office who’s not the incumbent can possibly make.
Speaking of which, I suppose it’s no surprise that the current contenders are lining up to score a few points off of Miller’s announcement. George Smitherman, who I admittedly think is one of the better candidates, supposedly wasted no time in tearing Miller a new one. But as my friend Mike Smith subsequently quoted an unnamed Miller staffer as saying, “We won’t be lectured by Mr. e-Health. We found $100 M. He lost $1 B.” You can choose whatever side of that debate you want, but there you go.
By the way, the bulk of these tweets and others can be found in a recent post on a site called Mondoville. You might want to stay tuned to their site, because they tend to do a pretty decent job of engaging with this sort of stuff from a ground level perspective.
At any rate, some people are always going to love Miller, some people are always going to hate him, and that’s the way it is. But the fact of the matter is that taxes and government spending have been the “go to” complaints for Miller’s opponents throughout his career as mayor, and now that he’s announced that the city’s budget is looking up and taxes are projected to be lower than expected next year, I’m a little astonished to discover that the best that we’re hearing from a number of local journalists who wear their disapproval of Miller on their sleeves is that this morning’s announcement was basically a waste of their precious time.
It’s not the mayor’s job to make sure that all of his announcements are sexy and scandalous enough to attract viewers and sell papers. But it’s absolutely the media’s job to cover our elected officials and keep the voters on top of what’s happening at City Hall. And if the best that certain people in the media can do is complain about how boring the mayor made their jobs this morning, then it’s our job as readers, viewers and citizens to demand a little better.
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