Tour de propaganda

by Rob Wipond, July 27 2010

What we learned from coverage of Ryder Hesjedal

Weeks of infatuation with Ryder Hesjedal are wrapping up this week. Though the locally-grown cyclist's climb in the Tour de France rankings was mirrored by a rise from occasional, brief passing mentions in the latter parts of sports reports to full, prominent, daily news coverage in local media, I still feel like the most important aspect of the story has never once been reported.

A month ago, like most people in British Columbia, I'd never heard of Ryder Hesjedal. And I had little interest in the Tour de France. And to be perfectly honest, deep down, I still don't really care about either. Nevertheless, I've learned so much about Hesjedal that today he's come to seem like a good acquaintance, or even a sort of "friend". I feel a little happy for him that he placed 7th -- after all, he sounds in interviews like a nice fellow, and I've heard about how hard he's worked.

I'm sure I'm just one of many Victoria-area residents who feel this way. And that should worry us all a lot.

The Hesjedal story illustrates the manipulative power of our media, and our own extraordinary susceptibility to propaganda. Quickly, easily, and directly, journalists can make many people care more about something than they did before.

Sure, on one level, that's patently obvious. But collectively, we need to be more aware of the impacts of this in light of more important issues, like how every story we hear about Iran these days involves nuclear weapons or women being stoned, or how Haiti has all but disappeared from the news since the weeks of 24/7 post-earthquake coverage.

If I was a news editor at any of the outlets who've been religiously covering Hesjedal, I would ask that every report, as much as it included discussions of Hesjedal's old high school or local coaches, should include discussions of how artificially constructed such temporary infatuation is. At least such stories would then be inspiring a more balanced, critically-reflective thoughtfulness, instead of simply being pure propaganda. And isn't that what good news stories are supposed to do?

Rob Wipond has been writing journalism in Victoria since 1998.

Copyright © 2010 by Rob Wipond