Back in the Elizabethan times, almost as much fun as going to see the newest Shakespeare play in the Rose Theatre, or reading the latest sermon from John Donne, was the “sport” of bear-baiting. In this sport a bear would be chained up in an arena by the neck to a pole while being attacked by three vicious dogs. Spectators were keen to see which would come out on top; the pack hunting techniques of the dogs or the superior strength of the bear.
Fast forward 400 years and thankfully such gruesome entertainments are mostly extinct; however there is a new sport which politicians have begun playing with news outlets— call it media-baiting. People like Donald Trump are masters of the form, and there are even a few novices in this country; Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch, for example.
What media-baiting entails is a politician saying an outrageous thing which gets echoed and reechoed throughout the 24 hours news cycle as media outlets weigh in on how outrageous it is.
We saw this strategy work to perfection for Trump; changing this media outrage against him into a 24 hour advertisement for his candidacy to the detriment of the moderate, well-spoken and middle-of-the-road politicians that went up against him in both the Republican primary and on his eventual road to the presidency.
We in the media fell for it every time, allowing Trump to differentiate himself quite effectively from the rest of the pack to become the man to beat on the Republican ticket.
Trump absolutely dominated the headlines throughout the U.S. presidential campaign using these tactics at an order of magnitude Hillary Clinton couldn’t even touch.
North of the border this same media-baiting strategy seems to be working quite well for Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, so far. Her “Canadian values” test, and her proposal to scrap the CBC have dominated the media headlines north of the border in much the same way Trump’s controversial, dog-whistle comments down in the States did.
Can anybody even think of one other Conservative Party leadership candidate out there off the top of their heads? There are actually eight (Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Michael Chong, Kellie Leitch, Dan Lindsay, Deepak Obhrai and Erin O’Toole), but you wouldn’t know it by how much Kellie Leitch has been dominating the headlines with her media-baiting tactics.
Sadly, media-baiting appears to be here to stay. We in the media can’t help ourselves really. Like sharks, we are drawn to blood in the water, and are constitutionally incapable of ignoring these kinds of tactics. They make for great headline copy and give in-house commentators fantastic fodder for debate, editorializing and one-up-man-ship as to who can show the most outrage. As long as this is so, we will continue to see more politicians of the ilk of Donald Trump and Kellie Leitch coming into power in the future.