“On this day in history……”
You may have read articles or listened to features on radio or TV that start with this phrase. It’s a commonly employed device to add a bit of historical context to the daily news. However, is history itself served well by stories like this?
Take, for example, the “Today in Canada’s Political History” feature that is regularly on National Newswatch. Checking in with NN is a daily ritual for many journalists. It’s a site that aggregates national news stories and is an excellent source for breaking news on politics and politicians.
That having been said, NN has its blind spots. First, it’s not really national news. It does do an excellent job of showcasing news of an allegedly national nature. Which means it is heavy on news out of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. The other provinces are still theoretically part of the national news landscape, just not regularly featured on this site.
But I digress. On Dec. 1, NN featured a “Today in Canada’s Political History” on the very same day in 2004 when former U.S. president George W. Bush visited Halifax to “thank Canadians for providing shelter and friendship to the thousands of Americans stranded in Canada when American airspace was closed” on 9/11.
Former prime minister Paul Martin, right, and former U.S. president George W. Bush wave to the crowd at the Pier 21 National Historic Site in Halifax in 2004. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press files)
Bush was hosted that day by prime minister Paul Martin and together they paid tribute to the Atlantic Canadians that helped shelter 33,000 passengers, many of them Americans, who were grounded in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
It was a great moment in Canada-U.S. relations, but this commemorative feature does not tell the whole story.
It was more than a little ironic that Martin was present to accept Bush’s thanks given that the president’s failure back in 2001 to acknowledge Canada as its principal ally was one of the straws that, in part, helped break the career of prime minister Jean Chrétien, Martin’s predecessor.
On Sept. 20, 2001, Bush addressed Congress to discuss the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and to outline his commitment to fighting “the war on terrorism.” In that speech, Canada was not mentioned once. The omission triggered a mild national identity crisis and became the subject of debates in the House of Commons, where opposition MPs accused the Chrétien government of failing to maintain a good bilateral relationship with the U.S.
Still, a question hung in the air: with all that Canadians were doing with stranded American passengers, how could Canada have been left out of the speech?
Enter David Frum, the Canadian author and commentator who worked in the Bush White House as a speech writer. Although he didn’t write Bush’s speech to Congress on Sept. 20, he did subsequently write about the omission of Canada from that speech in a book he released after he left the president’s employ.
David Frum, the former Canadian journalist and speechwriter for U.S. president George W. Bush. (Mario Tama / National Post / The Canadian Press files)
In that book, and in commentaries published in several newspapers, Frum claimed the omission was just that: an error of omission. Frum recounted how, after having read a draft of the speech on the day it was to be delivered, he noticed the omission and confronted fellow speech writer Michael Gerson.
In Frum’s account, Gerson said the team of speech writers “just forgot” to mention Canada. However, in his book, Frum also quotes White House staff as concerned that “if we mentioned Canada, we’d have to praise all the other NATO countries by name, too, and many of them had been much quicker than Canada to offer aid and assistance…. The omission stung and shamed Canadians with the power of a savage and unexpected slap.”
Frum concluded: “Had Bush been offended by prime minister Jean Chrétien's boorishness in not attending the Ottawa [9/11] vigil? Was the Pentagon annoyed that Canada had not matched British and Australian offers of military assistance?
"Had Americans at last reacted against the lax refugee laws that had made Canada a haven for Islamic terrorists? The answer was yes, yes and yes — and no. Canada was not omitted to send some elliptical message. Canada was omitted because it is easy to forget friends whose governments give you no cause to remember them."
All of this is an important reminder that efforts to commemorate single events in history often do a disservice to all of the other events that led up to it.
In other political news: what’s in a name?
A recent study that looked at baby names and things like future careers and earnings has developed a list of baby names that give your child the best chance of becoming a politician.
I kid you not.
The study was done by Preply, an online learning and language platform, which recently asked "can your name predict your career?" Preply “scoured through thousands of professions” to find out which names dominate in which industry.
I was mostly interested in politicians, of course.
Here are the top names for both boys and girls if you want your child to end up in politics:
Interestingly, the top boys name (Jake) could also land your son in a military career. And the top female name (Catherine) also showed up quite often in information technology.
Now, if you don’t want your son or daughter to end up in politics, you can at the very least set them on the right path by avoiding Jake and Catherine. If you’ve already named your kids Jake and Catherine but would rather not see them in drawn into the dark recesses of politics, we can only offer our condolences.
The algorithmic gods have spoken.
Do you have a subject you would like to see covered in Not For Attribution? Do you have specific questions about journalistic practices or the business of news? Do you have specific concerns about politics or political leaders? Email me your questions and I will respond. Promise.