Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's blackface scandal makes international headlines

The blackface scandal engulfing Justin Trudeau and his re-election campaign has spilled beyond Canada's borders, with prominent international media devoting considerable space to the Liberal leader's apology and challenging his global reputation as a champion of progressive ideals.

Newspapers, websites and television stations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and beyond gave the burgeoning scandal prominent play on Thursday, hours after an American news outlet first released a 2001 photo that threatens to upend Trudeau's re-election bid.

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Time Magazine first released the image of Trudeau wearing brownface while clad in a turban Wednesday afternoon. Hours later, Trudeau apologized for the image, taken at a British Columbia private school where he used to teach.

Since then, however, at least two other images have surfaced depicting Trudeau in blackface and drawing increasing attention from international press that once showered him with plaudits.

"Mr. Trudeau has long cast himself as a glittering spokesman for the world’s beleaguered liberals, standing up to (U.S.) President (Donald) Trump, supporting gender and Indigenous rights, welcoming immigrants, and fighting climate change and racism," wrote the New York Times. "...that carefully calibrated image suffered a major blow."

The tone was similar in many of the outlets that shied away from commentary or analysis in their coverage. Trudeau's acknowledgment of poor judgment and racist conduct, coupled with his apology for the 2001 photo, was presented alongside his vocal espousement of progressive values and his appointment of a gender-balanced cabinet upon taking power in 2015.

Such accounts could be found in outlets ranging from The Associated Press, The Guardian in the U.K., the BBC, Australia's Sidney Morning Herald and Al Jazeera's English service.

Elsewhere, however, the coverage fell along more partisan lines.

Fox News presented a fairly clinical online account of the scandal, but devoted considerable airtime to the story on the "Fox and Friends" morning show." The outlet also penned an article taking aim at a network rival using the Trudeau controversy as a jumping-off point.

CNN aired a panel where pundits weighed in on the Trudeau affair. While they condemned his previous conduct, all present focused on his subsequent apology and contrasted his behaviour with the brash approach usually favoured by Trump.

"Wow, a leader apologizing," quipped anchor Don Lemon. "It seems odd, doesn't it? Because we have one who doesn't."

Other outlets attempted to pull back from the immediate controversy by focusing on both Trudeau's political past and the way in which the scandal could impact his chances for re-election. Trudeau is currently embroiled in a tight race with Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer, with recent polls suggesting the two were in a dead heat before the photos were released.

An article from The Associated Press presented Trudeau's current woes alongside a chronicling of the SNC-Lavalin affair that dominated Canadian headlines earlier in the year. It also contrasted the images of Trudeau with similar photos of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam that emerged earlier this year, prompting calls for his resignation.

In its story, Politico tried to put Trudeau's conduct into a national context for global readers, concluding that the photos had potential to do real damage.

"A vast swath of Canadians finds these incidents every bit as disgraceful as their American neighbours," the article reads. "They argue that historical differences are no excuse because blackface holds an equally objectionable — if lesser-known — place in Canada's story."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2019.

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