There is no shortage of drama in the media racket at the moment. In this neck of the woods, the attention-getting drama is the departure of Peter Mansbridge from CBC's The National. He will make his final appearance as a CBC anchor on Saturday, Canada Day, when he concludes CBC's coverage of the 150th birthday celebrations in Ottawa.
CBC has devoted a lot of time and energy to marking the end of Mansbridge's almost 30 years with the broadcaster. Go anywhere on any of CBC's platforms and you'll find a summary of his career – the public address system moment at the airport in Churchill, Man., that led to a CBC radio gig and then the long, storied career with CBC TV News. Those summaries always mention the number of elections and Olympic Games he has covered.
Fair enough. One wouldn't expect CBC to do any different. Mansbridge deserves respect. The National deserves some respect, too. And the respect it deserves becomes clearer the farther we go into this chaotic era of social-media bedlam, anti-truth fervour and the lawless turmoil that has ensnared so many news outlets.
Mansbridge and the National team seem so solidly prosaic but reliable in this new landscape. Appreciation of Mansbridge is in order – though maybe not the reverence CBC's marketing department would like to incite.
Kudos to Mansbridge for never complaining that I referred to him as "Pastor Mansbridge" for years. It can't be easy to be constantly teased. We all extrapolate from the time we spend watching someone in Mansbridge's role on TV and what we extrapolate from Mansbridge and his career comes down to individual response, not necessarily what the news anchor or broadcaster wants.
Away from the anchor's job, he has never been quite as witty or droll as many of his counterparts, their raillery honed by so much time spent covering crisis after crisis in high-octane circumstances. But, on Mansbridge's departure, that's hardly a diminution of his role. Kudos to him for his long and stellar support of CBC News as an important, even vital, part of the fabric of life here. He probably had to be obnoxious on occasion to do that. But we should all be glad he did, rather than extrapolate anything else from his actions.
Mansbridge has long been a broadcast journalist, a job that looks easy to outsiders but isn't. Live breaking news and incidents of national and international crisis separate the excellent anchor from mere readers of text on a Teleprompter.
There is no script in such circumstances and key skills are needed. Mansbridge has those skills and used them with aplomb on many occasions. Kudos to him for that.
In those fraught and sometimes frightening breaking-news occasions, Mansbridge showed not just calm, but an understanding of issues and a skill for quickly processing news information. Most important of all, he has been conscientious about keeping the story in focus. That's also called having an ethical compass and it's rare these days. It's all about clarity, command of the news and ensuring that no harm is done while trying to deliver a torrent of often conflicting information. Kudos to Mansbridge for that.
Television news is showbiz, of course. Until, that is, the news delivered and the manner of its presentation is truly disturbing. In recent times, to his great credit, Mansbridge has been sensitive to the undermining of the dignity of news reporting through a public infatuation with seeking bias and conspiracy.
People and politicians are increasingly intolerant of other views and react with insult and accusation instead of measured argument. At a recent convocation speech he gave at the University of Calgary, Mansbridge spoke eloquently about how people have lost "the will, not the ability, to understand each other," about how we are "relishing divisions" and why "hate is by far the great danger we face." Kudos to him for that response to the idea of "fake news" and ceaseless partisanship.
Last September, when Mansbridge announced his retirement, I wrote a column with the headline It's About Time: We've Put Up With Mansbridge And His Pompous Ilk For Too Long. It acknowledged at the start that it might seem ungracious and harsh.
It argued against the traditional anchor position, which Mansbridge has embodied, and declared that the reverence for the job is outdated and, essentially, redundant.
About half the readers thought it too harsh and about half applauded the content. It caused some hurt feelings. Sometimes a critic does that, expressing the unsentimental view.
Oddly enough, CBC seems to be agreeing with the views expressed about the traditional anchor role and is moving away, post-Mansbridge, to a multihost format rather than anchoring The National in one middle-aged man who delivers the news.
Whatever the new format might be, Peter Mansbridge will be missed by many. Understandably, given his skills and achievements.
Cheers, Pastor, and may the retirement be pleasant and fruitful.