Review of the Press

By Ulli Diemer

It’s probably no surprise to most people that Toronto’s three dailies are all anti-union and anti-working-class. But it takes a big strike, like the postal strike or the school strike, to bring out the lengths to which they are willing to go in smearing strikers and in insulting our intelligence.

Surely one of the all-time winners had to be the picture on the front page of last Friday’s Star, showing a group of “bored” high school students allegedly wishing they were back in school. The picture was so obviously, and badly, posed, that it almost came across as self-parody. It was so phony that Richard Nixon would seem sincere by comparison.

The last time the Star rose to such heights was during the strike at Toronto Western Hospital a few years ago, when it specialized in pictures of (gasp!) doctors sweeping the (gasp!) floor.

It must take years to develop that just-right tone of civic-minded outrage, of oh-so-restrained indignation just aching to burst to the surface.

The most fascinating part of the coverage of the teachers’ strike is the stories about all those students upset and suffering because they have no classes to go to. There must be all of 100 students who give a shit, and the papers have managed to interview everyone of them by now. But don’t hold your breath waiting for interviews with the 99 per cent who are smoking dope and having a good time. The papers won’t manage to find any of them.

The media’s view of the strike is really quite extraordinary. If we are to believe their ceaseless editorializing, that every day – nay, every minute – that isn’t spent in school is irretrievably lost. Apparently, every moment in a student’s life not spent in front of a blackboard signifies that an opportunity to acquire some priceless gem of knowledge has been forever denied.

Such a view can’t be argued against on a rational level. It is a bizarre fantasy that only indicates that the people who write editorials know nothing about schools. How much of value is really learned in school? How many of us remember even 10 per cent of what we were taught in high school? How many of us want to?

And what a technocratic view of education! Education is seen as acquiring a certain fixed number of facts over a fixed period of time. It can’t happen unless trained professionals teach us those facts. We can’t learn on our own, at work, in the street, or in the library. Schooling by definition, can only happen in schools. And of course there is an insurmountable division between the teachers and the taught.

Indeed, the real “tragedy” of the strike is not education “lost”, but credentials jeopardized. Education isn’t an end in itself in this society, nor is it usually related to any particular purpose in the real world. Rather, it’s always a preparation for something else. High school qualifies you for university, which provides you with a degree, which qualifies you for a job (sometimes) which doesn’t require any of the training that preceded it ...

The postal strike has also instigated some classic coverage. A example was the big photo of the lady who, we were told, was reduced to reading old letters because she wasn’t getting any mail. (Long distance telephone rates are of course too expensive for pensioners but nobody complains about this because the Bell is profit-making enterprise, and therefore sacrosanct.)

The papers have manufactured a whole propaganda barrage about the “little people” who are suffering from the strike. You’d never guess from reading the papers that 90 per cent of all mail is business mail, a massive proportion of that junk mail. Nor would you guess that postal workers don’t like striking, not only the small minority who are going back to work, but also the overwhelming majority. The tear-jerker stories you’ll see are strikers' families living on income will concern dissidents who want to go back to work. Certainly the papers never present the strikers’ version of the story which is quite simply that management, not the workers, is responsible for causing it.

Published in The Varsity, November 21, 1975

Keywords: Media Analysis/CriticismMedia BiasStrikes