What’s happened to Michelle Rempel?

Calgary MP’s online rants veer into conspiracy theory

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What in the world has happened to Calgary MP Michelle Rempel this summer?

Rempel, who described herself as a “centrist” as recently as last year, has been on about what she calls “Trudeau’s border crisis,” the influx of asylum-seekers who have fled to Canada from the U.S. in recent years. And lately when Rempel sees something she doesn’t like in the press—most recently, a challenge to her dubiously exaggerated “crisis” narrative—she mimics the worst of American politics and attacks the media’s credibility.

In June she let fly in response to a Toronto Star story critical of the Conservative party (her observations about the changing nature of journalism, admittedly, contained grains of truth). But this week her anti-media rants veered into full-on conspiracy theory. It’s all disturbingly familiar.

Even Rempel’s YouTube channel description throws shade: “The REAL news from Parliament Hill from Canadian Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel.”

This week she slagged The Canadian Press (CP) — a respected organization whose reporting is published by news organizations throughout the country — as a “spin tool” of the Prime Minister’s Office, suggesting the two are in cahoots. Why? Because a CP reporter dared fact-check Rempel’s and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s oft-repeated “border crisis” claim, and found that it was “full of baloney” and “completely inaccurate.”

The “baloney meter” is a semi-regular CP feature. They describe it as “a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of ‘no baloney’ to ‘full of baloney.’” Basically it’s a fun way of packaging meaty journalism. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist the dad pun.)

CP found more baloney this time around than in June, when they fact-checked one of Rempel’s news releases on asylum-seekers and deemed it “a lot of baloney” (but not fully!).

But in its latest work, CP apparently did not contact Rempel, the Conservative immigration critic, for an interview. Indignant at not having this platform, she accused CP of being somehow “deployed” by the Prime Minister’s Office.

What did CP reporter Joan Bryden do that was so offside?

She cited migration data, put the recent migration numbers in context and called three experts for insight: UNHCR rep Jean-Nicolas Beuze; Jennifer Hyndman, director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University; and Harald Bauder, program director of Immigration and Settlement Studies at Ryerson University.

Bryden did her damn job, in other words.

Politicians prefer the dial-a-quote method in which journalists quote one side, quote the other, and then more or less throw up their hands and say to the reader, “I dunno — you figure it out!”

“Absolutely no crisis,” said Beuze.

“I don’t think there is a crisis,” said Hyndman.

“The numbers don’t suggest that this is a crisis,” said Bauder.

As a reporter, you don’t need to phone Michelle Rempel to determine whether or not there is a border crisis in Canada. Politicians often prefer the dial-a-quote method in which journalists quote one side, quote the other, and then more or less throw up their hands and say to the reader, “I dunno—you figure it out! I’m just presenting both sides. I’m impartial, after all!”

This is the journalistic method that Trump has easily manipulated to grotesque effect in the U.S.

Rempel’s rant brings to mind the meme that recently went around about the role of a journalist: “If someone says it’s raining, and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the fucking window and find out which is true.”

That’s exactly what Bryden did by pulling data and interviewing credible experts. She looked out the window.

As politicians like Rempel malign the press, others feel increasingly comfortable doing the same. Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who is apparently denying interview requests after a series of baldly xenophobic tweets, denounced veteran CBC host Rosemary Barton as “biased and unprofessional” this week. Rempel likewise slagged CBC’s show Power and Politics as “biased” earlier this summer because she didn’t get enough air time.

In our unhinged times, these tactics work in undermining public trust in journalism. They’ve certainly worked south of the border—so why not here?

All of this puts journalists in a predicament. In America Trump thrives on attacking the press, his followers love him for it, journalists protest in vain and the entire demented cycle persists.

It doesn’t help that social media is rigged to reward and amplify these antics, no matter the veracity or detriment to society.

Rempel’s followers are likewise thrilled when she attacks the media’s credibility, in turn encouraging her to do it more.

This week some 350 American newspapers published editorials decrying Trump’s assault on a free press. We’re nowhere close to that point yet in Canada, but Rempel should abandon her insidious demonization of the press before we get anywhere close.

In the meantime, reporters should boldly do what Joan Bryden and CP did this week. It’s called journalism. And we need more of it, not less.

Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.

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