How the media misfired on Neil Young

by Stephen Whitworth

Around noon on the day of the Neil Young concert, I went out to grab a coffee. On the way, I bumped into a team from local TV, out on the Scarth St. mall filming streeters for that night’s news.

Their  question for the public? Something along the lines of, “What do you think of celebrities who take up causes?”

Mmm-hmm. Who could they possibly be referring to?

Now, obviously I’m not going to participate in TV news streeters — that’s for civilians, not newspaper guys — but I am fond of all my media colleagues, even when they’re asking citizens dumb, leading questions that undermine constructive public discourse. So I stopped to chat for a bit.

As we talked about the supposed Neil Young “controversy” (sticking up for treaty rights and criticizing an ecological disaster is controversial?), I undid my winter jacket. I was a little warm. I was probably warm because I was over-dressed for the days’ above-zero temperatures.

Which, at that moment on Friday, Jan. 17, were plus-2. Just a tad above the average Jan. 17 high of -11°C.

Kinda global warming-y, one might say.

Yes, I know, I know, I know. We can’t say the climate is changing based on one January afternoon’s unseasonably warm temperatures. Weather is something that happens on a given day while climate is a trend over time. One warm January day does not prove climate change is happening any more than one cold January day proves it isn’t.1

But still, it was pretty damn poetic — and it sure made me think these guys were asking the public the wrong question that day.

On our blog, I wrote that it bordered on journalistic malpractice that so much of the media coverage of Neil Young’s Regina show went out of its way to avoid the issues he was actually raising money for and drawing attention to — namely, Treaty rights and the fight against global warming-causing tarsands development. The Leader-Post in particular had a bad Friday, with a rare completely-missed-the-point column from Murray Mandryk (who chased a weird tangent about Brad Wall being more popular than Neil Young), a brutal John Gormley screed (he should not be allowed to write about scientific or environmental issues any more than I should be allowed to write about, I dunno, RSPs) and a political cartoon originally from the Edmonton Journal that read like blatant pro-oil propaganda. It could’ve been commissioned by a pipeline company.

“It’s a flat-out bullshit page that’ll live in infamy as glaring example of a daily paper totally blowing a story,” I wrote.

I was somewhat cranky.

The thing is, you’d think that some media outlet besides Prairie Dog would have noticed that on the same January afternoon that Young is in town talking about global warming, there were puddles on city streets and sidewalks. And those puddles should have inspired people to think a little harder about Neil Young’s message.

It’s not science, but it is poetry. And there’s always truth in poetry.

In any case, Mandryk redeemed himself somewhat in a subsequent column addressing Treaty Rights while business write Bruce Johnstone saved the paper’s face with a really good column titled, “Neil Young Deserves To Be Heard”.

Of course, the paper still had to run a dumb, condescending editorial that insinuated Neil Young was privileged because he could afford to donate time and money to his cause (do they talk about privilege when Regina millionaires donate cash to their pet right-wing causes? Somehow I think not). But no one takes editorials seriously, so we’ll let the L-P off the hook.

I mean, editorials are ALWAYS stupid.


1. Note: science says human caused global warming is real.