Canadian and global media fawn over what appear to be candid images of the prime minister, a social media savant one journalist described as ‘the political equivalent of a YouTube puppy video’
Outlets around the world – including the Guardian – seemingly have an endless appetite for Trudeau-related photos. Photograph: Reuters
He’s tackled quantum physics, photobombed a beach wedding, posed shirtless for selfies with a family hiking in the woods and, most recently, jogged past a group of Canadian teenagers heading to prom.
And each time, Justin Trudeau’s actions have earned lavish attention from media outlets in Canada and around the world.
But after it was pointed out that the shot of Trudeau breezing past the prom-bound teens was snapped by his official photographer, some Canadians have been asking why the media continues to fall for what seems to be a constant stream of PR stunts.
In politics, even the most spontaneous run-ins are carefully set up, noted Robyn Urback, a columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “And public photobombs by politicians in their Sunday sweats usually involve some sort of prior coordination,” she said.
In order to capture the moment that Trudeau jogged past the teens, the Maclean’s reporter Aaron Hutchins wrote this week, the staff photographer would have had to run ahead of a planned route, set up his equipment to carefully frame the desired shot and ensure he was ready to snap when Trudeau came by. “And what once appeared like a pleasant coincidence of timing for whomever gets to pose with the prime minister, it’s starting to feel even more like a staged exercise than it was before,” said Hutchins.
Still, the encounter between Trudeau and the students went viral, catapulted into social media by headlines splashed around the world. The media – both in Canada and around the world – was now complicit in boosting what Urback described as the “vanity project” being manufactured by Trudeau and his team.
“If this had been the first time the media got suckered into turning a staged Trudeau photo-op into a story, it would be a little more forgivable,” she said. But outlets around the world – including the Guardian – seemingly have an endless appetite for Trudeau-related photos, whether he is showing off yoga moves, jogging in short shorts alongside Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto or gazing into the camera as a young man, his shirt open.
Coverage hit a fever pitch last year after the Canadian leader offered his take on quantum computing. Days later, a Vancouver-based blogger suggested the moment might have been more staged than the media coverage had let on, with Trudeau telling reporters earlier that he hoped someone would ask him about how quantum computing works. A reporter later jokingly referred to this before launching into a more serious question; Trudeau seized on the opportunity.
Trudeau is a social media savant, the Toronto writer Jesse Brown wrote in the Guardian last year, and he has used this to position himself as a sunny antidote to the turbulent news spilling out from other parts of the world. “Trudeau is the political equivalent of a YouTube puppy video,” he wrote. “Each week, Trudeau feeds the news cycle a new sharable moment, and our Facebook feeds are overwhelmed with shots of the adorable young statesman cuddling pandas and hugging refugees and getting accidentally photographed in the wild with his top off, twice.”
The result is a media frenzy that has at times overshadowed the crucial questions being asking about his government, such as how they can claim to fight climate change while throwing their support behind two pipelines in Canada and Keystone XL or why they signed off on a C$15bn deal to sell weaponised military vehicles to Saudi Arabia despite critics who worry the vehicles will be used by the House of Saud against its own citizens. Others wonder whether Trudeau’s self-described feminism will result in tangible change for the families of the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women or those who left behind in a country where the cost of childcare and the gender pay gap rank among the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
That the Trudeau team would do their best to foster a certain image or impression is not surprising, noted the CBC’s Urback this week. But, she added, “It doesn’t bode well for public trust in the media to be so easily fooled by government attempts at manipulation … It is our responsibility to decipher between PR and news, and a picture from the prime minister’s personal photographer is not a coincidence, and not news. We should know better.”