BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oh, Canada, true North, strong and free. Oh, Canada, such disregard we have for thee – or anyway so it would appear if the deployment of correspondents by U.S. media is any measure.
When The Washington Post vacates its Toronto bureau this summer, not a single American news organization will have a presence in Canada, our largest neighbor and trading partner. Journalism professor Edward Wasserman of Washington and Lee University thinks that's a shame and a lost opportunity to examine ourselves as reflected by a very similar and yet philosophically very different democracy. EDWARD WASSERMAN: I view the shutting down of the bureau as a kind of a symbol of a kind of withdrawal, of a self-blinkering and of a denial of basic information that could enrich all of us and could really expand the range of public debate. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you've said that the pulling out of correspondents from Canada says more about the wafer-thin imagination of our journalists than about the realities of contemporary Canada. What did you mean? EDWARD WASSERMAN: Well, I think that it's important to remember that the case of American attitudes toward Canada is a particular kind of cultural arrogance. It just seemed ironic that here's this country right on our border that is confronting precisely the kinds of issues of public policy that we are – health care reform, aging population, immigration, environmental degradation – and it's coming up with solutions of its own that are worth knowing about. And at the same time we are most in need of novel approaches and most in need of a full range of alternatives, we are shutting ourselves off from what's going on there.
But my concern is the way that our media, by defining what news is too narrowly, are assisting and enabling this kind of isolationism. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, we have covered some countries. As you note, the American media have had something of a love affair with Japan. EDWARD WASSERMAN: Well, Japan was an interesting case. We went through a flirtation [BROOKE LAUGHS]- an infatuation with Japan in the '80s and '90s. We've since kind of separated, but at the time, Japan was sort of emerging as an economic rival and potentially a political rival to the United States abroad. It was extolled as a kind of a role model: The Japan were hardworking, they were obedient and sang praises to their bosses every morning before work. They were – the high savings rate - they didn't squander money on trivialities. They were all the things that your kind of lazy, soft American worker had ceased to be.
It had the effect of being kind of a bracing morality tale that Japan was supposed to represent, and the media really fell for that. BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm curious as to why the American media, if we want to refer to them as a monolith, which is always dangerous, would believe that Japan had something to teach us but not Canada. EDWARD WASSERMAN: Well, I think it has to do with the fact that the Japanese workers are treated badly [BROOKE LAUGHS] and the Canadian workers are treated well. The industrial leadership of America likes solutions that have to do with sacrifice by workers, likes solutions that have to do with increasing payoff to shareholders and to themselves. They don't like solutions in which the workers get more benefits and a higher share of everything that's produced. BROOKE GLADSTONE: What you've all but said is that the American media are biased in favor of corporate interests. EDWARD WASSERMAN: I think the American media have a way of defining news and defining what realities to pay attention to in ways that dovetail very comfortably with the interests of corporate media. That's right, and not just corporate media, but in the interests of the system under which we function. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think that any of this has to do with the need for a news peg? The Canadian public health system has been in place for a very long time. Wouldn't it be easier or more newsworthy for American newspapers if something were actually happening there? EDWARD WASSERMAN: Yeah, I agree. That's a big problem. By insisting on either a notable event or an important person to warrant exploring a longer-term and larger social reality from aboard, by insisting on those kinds of criteria before we're going to deem it worth of being considered news, we end up denying ourselves information that we kind of need to have. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now that we've seen a political shift to something that is perhaps more multilateral, do you think that the coverage will follow? In other words, do you think we may end up putting our correspondents back in Canada? EDWARD WASSERMAN: [LAUGHS] Possibly. I think that the political shift in this country will have a bearing on the kind of information we bring from abroad. The environment is a terrific example of that. Suddenly we are listening to what other countries have done, how they've legislated, how they've managed to force polluting industries to clean up without damaging standards of living of ordinary people. All the same problems that we are facing now, other countries have been facing for a long time.
You know what occurs to me? Our media don't cover California very well [BROOKE LAUGHS] and California, in its own way, is emerging as having a very distinct political culture. And yet I don't think that's penetrated national consciousness, and I don't think people are looking seriously at whether there are things being tried out there that have broader application. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So would you feel better if we took all of those reporters that have been pulled out of Canada and stick them into California? EDWARD WASSERMAN: [LAUGHS] I think they'd feel better. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, Ed. Thank you very much. EDWARD WASSERMAN: Thanks for having me. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Edward Wasserman is Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Virginia's Washington and Lee University. He wrote about Canada neglect in The Miami Herald.