one of the best.
While much has been said about the combination of factors including the consuming of too much alcohol downed by thousands of young people, suburban anomie, lack of police preparedness, etc., one other key element needs to be considered.
The uncritical and over the top media coverage of the NHL in general and the Stanley Cup playoffs in particular were, in my opinion, serious contributing factors to the mayhem that showed up in downtown Vancouver earlier this week.
No one news organization is more at fault than another, but all Canadian media - radio, television and print - share the blame for inciting a culture of violence.
Kovach and Rosensteil in their seminal book, "The Elements of Journalism," say journalists need to keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive. Coverage of the Stanley Cup was anything but.
The media ramped up the emotionality of the story by playing to middle class Canadians' sense of nationalism, even anti-Americanism. The Canucks were frequently referred to as "Canada's Team." The CBC's Don Cherry is a long time proponent of keeping the game physical. Newscasts on all channels led with stories of heightened expectations, pumping up the volume of the story as the seventh and final game approached.
Newspaper headlines concentrated on this story to the exclusion of anything else, even as the Greek economic meltdown, the war in Libya and the e.coli outbreak in Europe all had strong Canadian angles that were never pursued because the stories themselves were largely ignored.
CBC TV, as the broadcaster of the series on their longstanding show "Hockey Night in Canada" went all out. It was undoubtedly a huge domestic story. But it was also a colossal moneymaker.
According to the Toronto Star, CBC garnered some of its largest audiences ever (6.2 million for the sixth game) and was therefore able to charge $140,000 for 30 second spots - an enormous amount by Canadian standards. CBC News played an unquestioning and supporting role by hyping the event and never really committing much journalism. Instead there were the inevitably soft features about enthusiastic Vancouverites and the sale of Canuck jerseys.
While there has been some reporting earlier about the rise in concussions in the NHL, caused in part by a faster game, that kind of reporting disappeared almost entirely as the Stanley Cup playoffs were underway.
It wasn't as though the series was a croquet match.
Jeff Z. Klein and Stu Hackel of the New York Times called it "the most rancorous Cup finals in a couple of decades. It was less about the best hockey of the year and more about biting, taunting, slashing, cheap shots, late shots, high-sticking, slew-footing, diving, embellishing, brawling, trash-talking and name-calling. Pushing and shoving after the whistle became the norm, and by the end, the teams had combined for 342 penalty minutes, the most in Cup finals since 1986."
But hardly any of that appeared on air or in print as newsroom across Canada drank the NHL Kool-Aid by sending out a strong message that this is how hockey should be played and woe to anyone who thinks otherwise.
So when thousands of people decided to behave outside the arena in much the same way the game is played, it sounded hollow for newscasters and editorialists to tut-tut about violence on the streets when the same media had been sanctioning it on the ice for weeks.