With all the publicity surrounding the death of Jack Layton, someone was bound to ruffle feathers.
And just as the news hit the far reaches of our land, there it was – a column that would later be described as terse, cold, insensitive and tasteless. The writer would be called a troll (among other things) and her life would be threatened. She was even compared to Darth Vader.
Numerous web sites came alive with outrage almost as fast as the original news. On Twitter alone, her name was trending quickly, just below the name of her subject. Readers were aghast and shocked.
But come on. Why the surprise? What else do you expect from Christie Blatchford? Telling us what we don’t want to hear is her calling card.
The National Post columnist has made a career out of the ugly side of things. She has covered the grittiest, most unpleasant stories in Canadian history. Paul Bernardo. Robert Pickton. War in Afghanistan. Native occupation in Caledonia. Russell Williams. And she spared no details. Thousands, if not millions of her written words on these stories have made our collective stomach turn. It should be no surprise when Blatchford points out a different angle to the story.
Now the collective dust has settled and the tears are dried, we need to take the emotional away and really read what Blatch wrote in the now infamous Aug. 22 column.
The central theme to the column, as indicated in the headline, “Layton’s death turns into a thoroughly public spectacle,” is her prediction the response to the death of such a man would be as public as he lived.
After Layton’s adult life was spent in the spotlight, she indicates, “how fitting that his death should be turned into such a public spectacle.” And well, in the end, it was. She was right. Hoards of mourners in Ottawa and Toronto. Emotional chalk messages. A countless-man procession. Gripping eulogies. Haunting (and surprising) music. Events in the week following his death would be very reflective of the man Layton was - “a 24/7 politician who was always on.” No where did she say he was undeserving.
Perhaps the biggest offense was the word “spectacle.” That is where she lost her readers from the get go in the headline. There would be little mention of Blatchford’s description of Layton as brave, likeable, agreeable, who “made an enormous contribution to his party and a significant one to Canada.”
Did she call Layton vainglorious? Yeah. But this was the man who once marched Toronto Pride in chaps. His speeches burned with patriotism and pride. Even his party’s colour is rather loud. It was Layton’s vainglorious nature that made him the successful leader he was. The follow up ugly word to “spectacle,” may be an applicable one.
Really the strongest words were left for her peers who, in a profession supposedly marked by lack of bias, at times took things a little more personal in their commentary. And still, a week later, few have responded to that.
Let’s stop and think about this mess. Is it too hasty to assume we got in a tizzy a little too quick? A few messages of support have gone as far as to say we have already forgotten Layton’s parting message that love is better than anger. It’s ok. We were grieving.
But now it is over and Blatchford should be given props for demonstrating a writer’s bravery. She threw out an idea when we were at our weakest and we failed to digest it even when in the end, her points proved to be very true in the events following Layton’s untimely death. Just as she indicates she is, “no stranger to the rigid boundaries of Canadian public conversation,” Christie Blatchford is a warrior woman.