Maybe something old, but is it news? Media coverage of Peter MacKay’s wedding

The news media went big with photos and stories about Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s marriage a couple of weeks ago. But Anne McNeilly, an assistant professor at Ryerson University wonders why it was news while the wedding of another cabinet minister and the multi-marriages of a recently appointed Supreme Court judge are not.


The news media went big with photos and stories about Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s marriage a couple of weeks ago. But Anne McNeilly, an assistant professor at Ryerson University wonders why it was news while the wedding of another cabinet minister and the multi-marriages of a recently appointed Supreme Court judge are not.


Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s marriage a couple of weeks ago to Nazanin Afshin-Jam was hard to miss. A picture of the nuptials in Mexico was conveniently put on his Facebook page for reprinting in large and small newspapers, and websites across the country.

The question though … is it really news?  It doesn’t fit any definitions of news I’m familiar with.  People get married all the time.  Famous people who get married can sometimes get covered in news pages, such as Kate and Prince William, but aside from royals (and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who, like MacKay married a much younger pretty woman), I’m hard-pressed to think of any. Marriage stories, both celebrity and socialite, generally go in the people or gossip columns, and perhaps a picture on the page devoted to socialites’ parties and fundraisers. But they all run in the entertainment section.

I wouldn’t call MacKay a celebrity. He’s a balding, middle-aged politician who’s been in the news pages (and for good reason) for some poor judgments he’s made during his tenure as Defence Minister, including visits at taxpayers’ expense to luxurious hotels and expensive air flights, also at taxpayers’ expense

His Cabinet colleague James Moore, who is even more portly than MacKay, got married around the same time. Publications that even bothered to mention that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages got married did so in briefs that didn’t include his new partner’s picture, age or occupation. Many of these squibs didn’t even give her the dignity of including her name. I think it’s safe to assume she isn’t a former beauty queen, or a “hottie” as a teenage boy would say. 

Details about a marriage I am interested in, though, and I think are newsworthy and should have been reported but never were, is the story behind newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Michael Moldaver’s five (sequential) wives, which was mentioned in a single sentence in one Toronto newspaper.   

 It may not be true, though, because another equally credible Toronto paper mentioned, just as briefly, that he was married only four times (Wikipedia says three).  These journalists and their editors obviously thought it wasn’t worth much, but I’m not sure why, particularly since good judgment is the key aspect of  the job of a Supreme Court Justice, who has, arguably, far more influence than one politician (even if he is in the Cabinet). If a case involving women or women’s rights is before the highest court in the country, is it ideal to have someone ruling who has been to the altar five times, particularly when the ruling has the potential to affect every person in the country?  Just asking. Two wives sure, even three, but four and five?  Is his fifth wife also 14 years younger than he is? Maybe it isn’t pertinent, or anyone’s business, but there’s no doubt far more critical press attention was given to the life and background of  Mr. Justice Moldaver’s newly appointed colleague, Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis, who happens to be a woman.   

But back to MacKay.  According to Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Access to Information figures, MacKay spent $4,752 on two one-way tickets to the Grey Cup in Edmonton in 2010.  (He bought executive class at the last minute.)  In March 2010, he flew from Ottawa to Boston for $3,167 and, most recently, he hopped aboard a Cormorant helicopter, at a pricey $32,000 per flying hour, against the advice of a senior officer, at a remote fishing lodge in Newfoundland and flew to the Gander airport.

But an even larger error in his judgment was the story he concocted last September to cover it up, saying he was participating in a helicopter search-and-rescue training mission in his capacity as Defence Minister. If he were 16, not 46, he’d be grounded for a telling such a whopper.  The truth came out in December, after the Toronto Star ran a story following an Access to Information request.

This is news. His marriage isn’t. But it is a reminder that sexist attitudes in what’s covered by the press are alive and well. A politician who spends money extravagantly at taxpayers’ expense is caught in an embarrassing lie about it, but he’s cleverly able to distract press attention by marrying a beautiful woman who is 14 years younger.  If MacKay had married an older middle-aged woman, closer to his own age, who toiled unglamorously in the trenches as a real-estate lawyer or a dental hygienist, this marriage, like Moore’s, wouldn’t warrant more than a brief, if that.

If one indication of “newsworthiness” is the value of information to the public, I’d say the marriage of a lame-duck politician doesn’t rank nearly as high as the five-marriage history of a Supreme Court Justice – unless, that is, the politician is marrying someone who is beautiful, much younger and extremely photogenic.  

A Google search brought up 219 news stories published across Canada after MacKay’s wedding.  MacKay’s age wasn’t usually mentioned, although most included the age of Afshin-Jam, which according to the Canadian Press Style Book, is not supposed to be relevant unless it is pertinent to the story.  Maybe some men would argue this is relevant to the story because it shows that even though MacKay tells lies, he’s still a player, nudge, nudge.

Many years ago, women’s rights activist Betty Friedan said that the feminine mystique had succeeded in burying millions of women alive. Obviously it still is. It doesn’t seem as though we’ve come a long way at all when a politician’s marriage is news just because the woman he marries is young and glamourous. Or that a woman’s pretty face is still what matters.
Interestingly, many reader comments under the online news stories of MacKay’s wedding didn’t find the story particularly newsworthy either.  Here’s a small sample of some CBC reader comments:

Who cares?

How much is it going to cost us?

Get this buffoon out of the news, he is embarrassment enough.

Guess she likes liars.

This is not national news, this is soap-opera news.

Did they fly a jet down to Mexico?

I think she could have done better.

This is utter nonsense. When has any politician ever had their (sic) wedding covered in the news?

 Even more interestingly, while female journalists I spoke to didn’t think MacKay’s wedding was a story, journalists who were men defended it.  A colleague commented that MacKay was one of Canada’s most “eligible” bachelors, so the wedding was news. The eligible bachelor moniker, according to Wikipedia, was attached to MacKay by The Hill Times in Ottawa. Most   women I know would guffaw at the notion of MacKay as an eligible bachelor. Who decides these things? Probably more sexist bumpf by male journalists at The Hill Times in a misguided effort to brighten government political news.    


(Updated Jan. 16 9:30 a.m. to include proper byline.)