Watching the panda-watchers

Scott Feschuk on what's black and white and goes round and round the news cycle

“Our top story: we are awaiting the arrival of a couple first-class passengers!” the morning anchor on CBC News Network was saying. “We’ll take you to Pearson airport in Toronto when the pandas land!” In the meantime, please enjoy this bonanza of panda footage, edited for maximum adorability: Chewing! Frolicking! Sleepy-eyed falling over!

Upon sighting the FedEx plane carrying Er Shun and Da Mao—the two giant pandas we’re renting from China for the next 10 years—the anchor switched to her two-exclamation-mark voice: “We’ll be counting down to touchdown at Pearson, down to the minute!!”

On the screen, live from the airport: CBC’s on-location reporter. She was wearing panda puppets on her hands—just like they teach in journalism school. It’s a technique that dates back to Edward R. Murrow explaining developments in the Second World War using balloon animals.

After a brief discussion, the anchor and correspondent agreed that pandas are “very cute.” (Watching from his office at Sun TV, a seething Ezra Levant surely noted this latest instance of CBC bias.) Then, excitement! The plane, which was getting ready to land, landed. “We’ve got some tape of the plane actually landing,” the anchor said. She apparently sensed that we doubted her, because she forced us to watch 30 seconds of a plane approaching a runway. So now we all know what that looks like.

Anticipation mounted: “Only a privileged few countries ever get a visit from pandas!” Yes, only a privileged few. The United States, for example. And Germany. And Thailand. Also, Spain, Mexico, Taiwan, Britain, Japan and Australia. Basically, we’re last in line for pandas and by summer all the cool countries will be swapping even more exotic creatures, like albino pumas or sober Lohans.

The conversation began to dry up. We entered the Killing Time phase of the broadcast. “Bears eat berries and nuts,” it was observed. Mercifully, the FedEx plane taxied into view and came to a stop. The door opened. “They’re here, Suhana!” the reporter cried. An on-screen graphic confirmed it: The Pandas Have Arrived. In the studio, a CBC reporter said the fact that Stephen Harper was in attendance clearly demonstrated that the panda bears had “captured his heart.”

Really? Listen, I’m all in favour of efforts to humanize our Prime Minister. Like many Canadians, I was proud of him during the last campaign when, for the first time, he successfully touched a baby without making the “Ewww!” face.

But it’s not just me, is it? Harper’s preoccupation with animals is getting a little disconcerting, right? He mails out glamour photos of his cats. His office recently tweeted a picture of the Prime Minister petting his wife’s chinchilla (not a euphemism). And now he’s rushing to greet some panda bears? I’m telling you: we’re at most a couple months away from Harper showing up to question period with a parrot on his shoulder.

Back on the tarmac, two crates emerged. One had been built with Plexiglas slats along one side, allowing us a brief glimpse of black and white. “Just look at them: they’re just the cutest thing!” the reporter cooed. Hundreds of kilometres away, Woodward and Bernstein offed themselves simply so they could spin in their graves.

The pandas were wheeled away. Our animal-loving PM took to the podium, presumably to name the Ikea monkey to cabinet. But no—panda anecdotes! Harper recalled his trip to China, during which his wife, Laureen, held a cub on her lap. “They do wriggle,” he said wistfully. “They’re shy. They do wriggle.”

I should in fairness note that CBC’s epic panda coverage was interrupted to mention financial chaos in Cyprus—followed by an in-depth report on what it considered the real news of the day: a study recommending the best ways to get catchy songs out of your head. CBC was ALL OVER this one. The anchor read a list of songs that viewers found difficult to get out of their heads. The weather guy named the songs that always get lodged in his head. After several minutes of this, I began to yearn to have something stuck in my head: a bullet.

Back at Pearson, the Chinese ambassador was saying he hopes the two pandas make a baby soon. If that happens, we can count on CBC personalities to break out the three-exclamation-mark voice. Minimum!!!