I had the opportunity last week to read The Tipping Point
by Malcolm Gladwell, an entertaining little piece of pop sociology with a simple premise: Massive changes happen due to marginal changes. When a certain threshold is reached - not necessarily one that can be predicted beforehand, or even realized in retrospect - further change progresses rapidly and exponentially. Gladwell's analysis is a bit irritating in that it's mostly isolated (though impressive) examples offered in support of generalized 'laws,' without a useful, transferable conclusion, but the theory of the tipping point in itself is an interesting one to explore.
While I think it's long been evident that the Canadian media as a whole tends to skew left, or at least anti-conservative - often expressed in support, with varying grades of subtlety, for Liberal policies and personalities - such an institutional bias remains a guarantee of nothing.
Indeed, for whatever reason, the media as a whole - led by the Globe & Mail
, Toronto Star
and others - seems to be turning against Paul Martin at an ever-increasing rate, and giving uncannily positive or neutral coverage to the Conservative campaign. I'm inclined to think this might be rooted in some degree of cynical marketing groupthink, to be honest; attempting to demonstrate to the rubes, provincial and dull, that there are newspapers besides Quebecor's Sun
chain that aren't entirely in the Liberals' back pocket. The evidence for this isn't much, I'll admit, but it's growing - and a good example is in the daily trickle of photojournalism.
Yahoo! News' photo feed
is a good example, collecting the most iconic of CP and others' work. The interesting thing here is that most shots of Martin are amazingly unflattering, making him seem old, tired, dazed, or choleric, and often including that charmless little grimace he seems to believe is similar to a genuine smile. Even that one shot of the PM looking unnervingly like a cornered, depressive skeleton
that surfaced yesterday, in reporting the income trust probe and concurrent Liberal slippage in the polls, was dug up from AFP's archives of this past May. It's been hard to find a still photo of Paul Martin looking appealing lately, and it's not as though making him look Prime Ministerial is particularly difficult, with the right camera angle.
Conversely, photos of Stephen Harper seem much more likely to be neutral or blandly flattering. I and many other have noted how he's suffered photogenically in the past, looking somewhere between unconvincingly cheerful and just plain creepy, but he's improved considerably of late; either that, or what unappealing photo ops he's had lately have been largely ignored. For instance, the Globe & Mail
's story about the pre-emptive Tory strategy to deflect negative Liberal ads with an inoculatory one of their own
is accompanied by a shot of...Harper climbing into a minivan. One might make the case that this was chosen to imply, with his reflection visible in the foreground window, some sort of two-faced personality, but I think that's a stretch; more than anything, it's just dull
. I'm sure it wouldn't have been hard to find a photo of him in a vaguely sinister pose, if that was what the editor in question wanted.
So do we have a case of selection bias here, in the choice of photos that make it out on the wires, and are subsequently run by a number of media outlets? I have no idea. Maybe it is just the old horse-race mentality, with no further calculation or connivances required. But I hope it's a real sea change, and a harbinger of popular opinion - and if that's true, maybe we can count on exponentially growing movement in the polls as we near E-Day.