Michael Bryant’s failure to relate to the public

The morning after Darcy Allan Sheppard died, Michael Bryant emerged from police custody wearing a clean change of clothes and headed straight for the waiting microphones. In the hours since the altercation that resulted in Sheppard’s death Bryant had not only secured a legal team but had also, it’s been reported, retained a PR firm that immediately got to work. From the first moment, Bryant was concerned about his public image.

This apparent attempt to ‘spin’ the tragic events of August 31st, 2009 was met with anger by those who had already judged Bryant guilty. As far as they were concerned Bryant was trying to use his wealth and connections to get away with murder. That perception was reinforced when the prosecution decided not to pursue charges, allowing Bryant to walk away free.

Even while the charges against him did not go to trial, vocal members of the court of public opinion had already convicted him. Their anger boiled over again this week when Bryant, promoting a book, was back in the spotlight. He was clear about his intent: if he is ever to be in public life again, he needs to tell his side of the story and clear his name.

At the heart of the outrage directed at Bryant is the fear that he will get away with undeservedly rehabilitating his reputation. That fear is driven by a distrust in media, police and justice systems that have a history of privileging guys like Bryant (white, affluent powerful men). The fear is that Bryant—damned by the facts—will be saved by his money, connections and media savvy.

After reading the prosecution’s summary report, however, I began to wonder if the reverse were true. The Michael Bryant in that report—in the version of events he did not directly author or control—is a far more sympathetic character than the carefully constructed version of Michael Bryant we’ve seen on the cover of magazines and heard on the radio. In the prosecutor’s account, Sheppard was a violent instigator, and Bryant, fearing for his and his wife’s safety, was just trying to get away. Reading that document makes it far easier to imagine Bryant as a victim of circumstance.

Politicians in general can’t get away from the temptation to construct mythologies around themselves. In his recent media appearances, Bryant comes across as someone who wants very badly to be perceived as a tragic, humbled figure, fallen from great heights to have lost everything, guilty only of common human frailty. But that doesn’t ring true for someone celebrating the release of a book while coiffed and staring directly into the camera.

Instead, the public version of Bryant comes across as someone who fell from being Extremely Privileged to Still Pretty Damn Privileged and is actively asking us to feel sorry for him. Regardless of how responsible you hold him for Sheppard’s death (and again, legally he’s not been found to have done anything wrong), that’s not a very compelling proposition.

I’ve come to suspect that the primary reason many remain skeptical about Bryant’s exoneration is the forced nature of his comeback and the artifice of his public image. In trying to realize his preferred mythology, Bryant failed to understand the difference between humility and Humility Inc. Maybe if he hadn’t hired a professional public relations team, if he hadn’t donned a freshly pressed suit for his first press conference straight out of police custody, if he hadn’t launched a media campaign around a book and put his own face on the cover, if he hadn’t seemed so eager to be redeemed, his public image would be significantly improved.

Maybe it’s easier to feel sorry for someone who doesn’t come across as feeling so sorry for themselves.

5 thoughts on “Michael Bryant’s failure to relate to the public

  1. He’s just a conservative without the human quality of empathy. His ” he’s dead save yourself” mentality is sad and maybe the only thing he knew how to do. I hope this experience has opened his blue eyes a little more but probably not.

  2. Excellent post. I’ve sided with Bryant (in terms of “fault”) since early on but it’s never been easy to do so. I think you’ve hit the nail exactly on the head with why it’s never been easy to do so. If he had at least looked shaken even one time things would likely have gone very differently for him. But that’s never been his “style”, not really.

    I think you’ve cut through a lot of the rhetoric here, because this is a very polarizing issue, and well done in that regard!

  3. Okay, sorry for the delay in getting to this. On the whole, the position is a reasonable one. It’s the one most columnists took at the time and, in light of his book, continue to take. In fact, it’s one that I probably would agree with had I not read 28 Seconds.

    It makes sense, too. We assume because of his megalomaniacal ego during his time in office (a tag he has no qualms about), all efforts taken during and after the Sheppard incident *must* have been directed at protecting his image, reputation, etc. His book — if you take what he writes to be the honest truth, an assumption I’m making — paints a different picture. A couple of points about Bryant’s ego and the incident:

    1. Michael Bryant arose from police custody in a suit, because he’s obviously above the average criminal – he *is* Michael Bryant.

    To quote from his book [recalling a conversation with a police detective prior to leaving the station]: “Okay, I don’t want my [very young] kids seeing my on TV in a t-shirt and jeans. They’ll know something is off. Whenever they see me on TV or in the newspaper, I’m in a suit. So can you ask my lawyer to find me a suit to wear, from my house? They’ll bring it here” (p 142).

    2. The first thing on Bryant’s mind upon arrest was to spin everything in his favour. A good PR group is essential.

    Similarly, at least from the onset Bryant had nothing to do with retaining a PR firm to assist with media relations. It’s clear his then-wife (Susan Abramovitch) and his ex-Chief of Staff (Nikki Holland) handled everything while he was in custody. They retained counsel, they notified his friends/family, and, importantly, they retained Navigator’s services. Again, quoting from the book:

    “When I was given the suit, [I was] also handed a Blackberry. ‘Mike, Susan is asking you to read this’. Andy told me how it had been produced. Susan and Marie Henein [his lawyer] and Jamie Watt, from the consulting firm Navigator, had worked on the statement”. (p 144).

    Obviously he could have, at any point, dismissed Navigator, but it certainly doesn’t look like he went out of his way to see to it that PR damage control was done at any cost.

    I also don’t think that this book is an ego-driven effort at redemption. It’s not a book about Darcy Allen Sheppard, it’s a memoir. It’s as much about his time in office and the political-legal issues he faced, as it is about his desperate alcoholism, as it is about that fatal incident. We all have preconceived notions about this guy, no doubt, but give his book a read – you might be surprised. He’s a much more complicated person than the media has given him credit for.

    All in all, good piece. I suspect I’ll be back to read more from you.



  4. “I’ve come to suspect that the primary reason many remain skeptical about Bryant’s exoneration is the forced nature of his comeback and the artifice of his public image.”

    As one who has been “skeptical” about Bryant’s story – he’s never been exonerated – since day one of this legal/media farce, I can tell you that it has less to do with his cloyingly strident performance related to his book launch, and much more to do with having watched the available security video of the event itself.

    There are many, many others like me. And still more, everyday.

    Anyone who who wants to express an informed opinion on this unique case would do well to take the time to replay – as many times as is necessary to fully grasp the level of violence involved – the clips that show Bryant ramming his car into Sheppard and his bicycle, possibly as many as three (3) times, BEFORE Sheppard is alleged to have advanced towards Bryant, and attached himself unwisely, as it would turn out, to the side of the fleeing weapon (the car) that he had just been physically assaulted with.

    It is heartening that so many people’s skepticism has been revived, ironically, by Bryant himself.

    Let’s now take it a step further. Let’s refocus that newly skeptical mindset and review the actual street-level evidence and not the elite political spin, eh?

    Otherwise Chris, thank you for sharing your thoughtful views.

    I hope you are well, my friend. ( :-)

  5. You branded people as being prejudiced. You are completely wrong. Had Bryant and the Liberal Party of Ontario, the Ontario Bar Association, and the Attorney General’s Office not colluded to avoid a trial, I would have had no trouble with Bryant’s escaping justice.

    You also must have not read the first line in the description of Michael Bryant’s background in Wikipedia:

    “Bryant was raised in the Greater Victoria area of British Columbia, where his father Ray was mayor of Esquimalt from 1966 to 1969.[5] Known for his “pugnacious streak,” he trained as a boxer from childhood.[6]

    Now this person, a trained amateur pugalist appears to claim to have panicked in this situation. By the way. The “Independent Prosecutor from BC.” was not only a fellow alumni but also an amateur boxer who fought out of the very same boxing club. A more complete description is available from the unknown writings of Joe Hendry who has investigated Bryant from day one.

    Bryant lies about this issue. He denies driving over the back wheel of Sheppard’s bike despite all video evidence to the contrary. That evidence is still available permanently enshrined on YouTube.

    But this isn’t an issue of Bryant. Its about justice. Its about political abuse. The police never dropped the charges. The Ontario Attorney General’s Office was the agent of whitewash. Bryant was the previous Attorney General. He picked many of the prosecutors in that office. They selected the “independent counselor”.

    Part of the Attorney General’s Office is the Ontario Coroner Office. Not only did Bryant evade trial which clearly would have found him guilty but his pals in the AGO continued their protection. According to Ontario Law, an Inquest must be held if the incident occurs in a Construction Zone. Clearly Sheppard was killed in a Construction Zone. The AGO without doubt is in clear violation of that Coroner’s Inquest.

    I should also point out that Bryant’s selfish little book paints the blame on his wife, his car, and his former police buddies. But he will never see the inside of a court room because of corrupt privilege. The book he authored is in his words. Not under oath. Not cross examined. The issue is sure he is innocent until proven guilty. A theory that is rarely applied in Ontario, but novel no less.

    The point is that Bryant avoided trial. Bryant is no longer the real issue here. The Mayor gets away with reading while driving. And the law clearly states that this is illegal because it is definitely a distraction. He avoided justice by power and influence. He may have murdered Sheppard. He certainly killed Sheppard. No trial. Do you think that you would escape justice if you pulled the same stunt?

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