So much for the “Media Roundtable” last night. More like the media getting the runaround.
Like him or hate him, it was a slick performance by Dr. Ewart Brown. I was only able to see part of the event (courtesy of Bernews’ inspired decision to trump the rest of the media by streaming it live) but from what I saw, the Premier – egged on by a partisan crowd – had little trouble in swatting away questions from an overly respectful media by getting in plenty of digs of his own and deflecting any potentially awkward questions with a crowd-pleasing quip. “We don’t stay in Motel 6 – if you don’t mind,” was a typical put-down to The Royal Gazette’s Tim Smith that effectively ended further questioning of Government $16,000 ground transportation expenses on a trip to Washington, DC.
If the event was a missed opportunity by the media, one wonders why – with the exception of acolyte LaVerne Furbert – they deigned to take part in this farce at all. Did they really think they would be able to skewer Dr. Brown in a circus of an environment in which the Premier played the consummate ringmaster?
Having said that, this was certainly not without risk for Dr. Brown. A more aggressive media could have made it a very uncomfortable and embarrassing evening for him and undermined the legacy he seems so desperate to burnish before he leaves office. But he gambled – correctly – that the media were on a hiding to nothing and that had they really pressed him, he could simply play the victim, being beset once more by the big bad media with their vindictive plantation questions and lies.
So what was in it for Dr. Brown – a Premier who has, for the most part, side-stepped the media with the aplomb of a contestant on Dancing With The Stars and who has been subjected to more media criticism than any other Bermuda Premier? And why now?
Was it ego or an act of political courage? Maybe he felt this was a chance to put the record straight, one final spin by the master spin Doctor. If so, you’d have to say he succeeded for he came across as a confident, reasonable and rational man, a dynamic underpaid leader working round the clock for no other reward than the good of his people; not the arrogant, egotistical, lying, corrupt and vengeful figure that his “enemies” in the media and the PLP would have you believe.
Reading the comments on internet forums and social media today, many people agreed with this and were falling over themselves to congratulate the Premier as if he’d taken on the feared British TV pitbull, Jeremy Paxman, and the entire 60 Minutes team.
The reality is that any world leader would kill for the coverage that our leaders get from a generally benign media. The media here does not, by and large, intrude into the private lives of public figures and neither does it have the financial or human resources to mount serious CNN or Washington Post-style investigations.
During his tenure, Dr. Brown has successfully practised the principles of “divide and rule”. He has used this “us and them” mentality, whether it’s race, class or the media, to either bolster his own image as a “man of the people” fighting oppression or to trivialise legitimate questions about his conduct and policies.
As a result of his inflammatory language and confrontational style, far too many people in Bermuda now confuse criticism with something tantamount to treason. The media does not “unfairly” criticise Dr. Brown because he is black; they question him because that is the role of a responsible media in a true democracy: to act as a watchdog in the public interest, to ensure that the public knows what is being done in their name and how their money is being spent. Ask any UBP leader if they didn’t face tough questions from the media.
Whether Dr. Brown adopted these tactics out of paranoia, necessity or shrewd political strategy, they will surely undermine his legacy. It says something that many people will remember Dr. Brown for the controversies and the presidential grandiosity that has offended so many Bermudians, including ordinary members of his own party, far more than anything he accomplished.
And there’s no question that for all his faults Dr. Brown did accomplish things. He genuinely worked hard to bring back some “sizzle” to tourism. At his best, he was a dynamic and charismatic personality that could cut through red tape, open doors and “get things done”. Few would doubt that the fast ferries have been a boon to the Island’s infrastructure. The Big Conversation was one that needed to take place and must continue. His Government has helped bring long overdue public recognition of black Bermudian history and accomplishment. Black Bermudians, I believe, are now less inhibited about speaking out because of Dr. Brown’s perceived courage in standing up to “the man”, whether it be the media, the Governor or international business (although perversely many became more fearful of speaking out against Dr. Brown himself).
And yet, and yet … the whiff of corruption lingers; the perception that Dr. Brown is not the selfless, honest broker he claims to be. The cynical greed of his Government’s “pay to play” policies has left a bad taste in many mouths and most damning of all is that these accomplishments have come at a tremendous cost. Regardless of the global recession, his Government has overspent recklessly and it is a legacy that will cost future generations of Bermudians dearly.
We will all be paying the Doctor’s bills for a long time to come.