Jonathan Pie has more self-awareness than many journalists. He knows much of what he reports is bullshit.
Pie isn’t even a real person. Yes, there’s a guy in a suit and, if you prick him, he will bleed (and swear), but Pie is really a British comic named Tom Walker who used to not give much of a damn about politics. Andrew Doyle writes some of his material. Doyle’s the creator and hand-up-the-butt of Titania McGrath, an uber-woke character who horks up all the very worst takes of the modern poseur. Both of these comics have done very well off their characters.
Pie’s schtick works like this: he’s about to do a stand-up from Westminster or some other newsy place when something goes a little wrong and he has time to kill. He fills in his producer, who’s supposedly on the line, with straight talk of what’s really happening.
He also did some studio work for the New York Times and a few bittersweet segments during Covid that were set in his home.
Pie and I agree on most issues, which means Pie is usually right. I like his sense of humour, think his delivery is great and, if his anger and skepticism is acting, Pie’s a master thespian.
My only beef is that he doesn’t post often enough. He’s been doing talk radio on the BBC but the New York Times hasn’t used his stuff lately. The BBC show is OK, the Times videos were pretty good, but the best Pie is on YouTube.
I have a theory about why Pie works.
We all believe there are insiders, people in politics and media with the real information that’s hoarded by those in power. All-news TV networks rely on that belief to justify filling so much time with “insider” panels. These people are usually lobbyists far removed from the centre of real power. They spend their days talking with each other and being spoon-fed by political communications people before presenting sanitized and self-serving takes on the issues of the day. Often, they used to be in the political comms business and/or worked on campaigns. Their conflicts of interest are rarely disclosed, and never in any detail.
Most of them have about as much insight into the workings of government (and corporations) as anyone else who puts a little time keeping up with current events. Invariably, these lobbyists/strategists filter the facts and speculation through the ideological cheesecloth that fills the space once held by their brains.
The magic in all of this is the belief by enough viewers and TYV producers that these people have inside information that they can share, and even juicier stuff that might slip out. I call this “The Wizard of Oz Effect,” where we can clearly see the man behind the curtain is a nobody but really, really want to convince ourselves otherwise.
If we can con ourselves, we cab believe we get important information from these people that makes us important.
Spin becomes gossip, and gossip becomes insider insight.
I was a journalist on Parliament Hill from 1994 to 2017. Four Prime Ministers held office during that time. I got to talk with all of them, sometimes by standing at the next urinal, other times in elevators, a few times in the cafeterias, and, very rarely, at parties.
None of them told me anything of great value. You don’t get to be Prime Minister of Canada by shooting your mouth off to every ill-dressed stranger who lopes by. I got to know a lot of staffers, but they didn’t really tell me much, either.
I thought it was just me. Then I re-joined the real world, where people, including friends and family, did not see me as an open microphone.
I realized secrets are better kept than I thought, and that facts that are leaked are invariably out into the world to push an agenda. My wife is a public servant, a senior federal lawyer, and I don’t have a clue what she does all day. Some of my friends are in military intelligence, and I simply don’t ask, or want to know, what they do in their day jobs. I don’t want to keep their secrets, and prying would be just rude.
And I have my own secrets. Everything my clients tell me in confidence goes with me to the grave. That’s well-explained in the plot twist for The Firm, and it’s the reality that all lawyers lived with. Before I started writing this, I read a document disclosed by the police in a criminal case. It’s compelling stuff that I would have loved to get my hands on in my newspaper days, but now it’s just a story I can never tell.
I haven’t tried to be a political insider and really don’t have the personality for it. I’ve only known one person who, I believe, had the inside track on political information: Mike Duffy.
Duffy sat next to me for years when we both worked in the House of Commons press room. He was the only media “insider” I’ve met who wasn’t an utter snob. Duffy either was a down-east small-town bud or he played the part very well. He’s gregarious, friendly, funny and loyal. People tell him stuff, and he knows what to share and what not to.
Pie figured all this out. We let ourselves believe we’re being included in conversations we’re not supposed to hear, getting insights that are too honest and frank for whatever bug mainstream media outlet Pie’s supposed to work for.
So Pie seems to tell us the truth. Of course, Pie is not a journalist and the things he says are rants written after Pie reads and sees the same media that’s available to the rest of the world. It’s all a matter of packaging, separating this comedian’s rants from Dennis Miller’s, Marc Maron’s, and Rick Mercer’s.
We might as well believe him. Why not buy into the illusion?