One of my concerns about Col. Russell Williams’ stunning treachery is that it would inevitably create a self-perpetuating media cycle. It is no surprise to anyone who consumes news—whether via newspaper, magazine, television or radio—that sensational crimes beget a lengthy media search and focus for similar events, no matter how tangental the relation.
Thus I have noticed in my “Canadian Forces” news filters a change in focus; instead of largely laudatory items regarding ISAF or humanitarian relief, I see a lot more items focusing on misdeeds and death (training-related or otherwise).
- “Military police officer facing assault charge.” Metronews (Halifax), 1 March 2010.
- “Police investigate 3 sudden deaths at CFB Borden.” CTV News (Toronto), 24 February 2010.
- “Eleven members of Games security unit sent home over disciplinary issues.” Canadian Press, 19 February 2010.
- “Sex charges laid against former top Forces Chaplain.” Toronto Star, 17 February 2010.
These are all, of course, quite newsworthy items on their own. And it would be a huge mistake to infer any wider trend out of these incidents, but because the media focus is inevitably going to be on the CF, member arrests, and deaths on base, we are going to end up getting a steady diet of it until the next sensational item redirects the media’s short attention span.
Where it can create a problem is that even if the pundits and reporters do not draw any inferences themselves, they could end up creating one for the ordinary Joe and Jane just through a steady accumulation of similar articles in a relatively short time span.
It didn’t take very long for a spate of negative attention to divorce the Forces from the Canadian public back in the early 1990s, during the Somalia affair. Subsequent to that there was a long fall-off in defence spending and atrophying of key capabilities.
A perceived fall in public esteem today will likely herald a fall from political grace; which will breed the perception amongst highly competitive ministerial departments that DND is a ripe target with few political defenders. That could mean budget oblivion, something Canadians have seen and regrettably accepted in the recent past.
It will be interesting to see how things play out in the long run, because the CF’s ability to weather this media focus on its bad apples could once again decide the Forces’ future, and the types of roles and missions they are able to execute. One hopes that the brass at NDHQ are cognisant of that possibility.