Friday, May 26, 2006

STEPHEN HARPER VERSUS THE PRESS

Well, by now everyone in Canada knows about this silly feud between Stephen Harper's Conservative government and the national media. And of course I feel compelled to weigh in on all this, since this spat is getting so ridiculous.

I mean really, about the only dirt the press corps has been able to dig up about this government has been this lack of media access. That's the big scandal du jour in Ottawa these days. Compare this spat to the olden days, of course, when the government would rob taxpayers of their own money and give it to ad agencies in Quebec. What a joke this is.

Matters came to a head in Ottawa earlier this week when Harper had a big press announcement to make, and the press walked out in protest of new rules where the communications people got to pick and choose who asked the questions. I suppose what the Harper gang were trying to do was cut down on all the unruliness and run these press conferences in a manner similar to what the Americans do. Well, the media is having none of that, they're being petulant and walking out of media events, and they're ranting and raving all the time about how this government is micromanaging its own press conferences.

The press is also complaining about how secretive this government is and how the cabinet ministers are all being muzzled, and not allowed to talk to the press. For instance, there's a ridiculous story out there now about how Harper has ordered all his ministers not to comment to reporters about this big gay wedding of these two RCMP officers- because it might get all of them in trouble. Well, what do you expect him to do--- tell his ministers to talk about it?! That's exactly what I mean.

Now, I don't like the fact that Harper's government feels it has to run from the press all the time and not come in contact with reporters. They ought to be able to be accountable and take the heat from time to time. But let's face it, man, the media in this country is absolutely irresponsible! They think they own the world!

The problem is not so much that they are biased. The problem is that the press corps is arrogant. Everyone in the Conservative Party believes it's the former: that the media is biased in favor of the Liberals, and out to twist the Tories' every word and make them out to be a bunch of abortion-hating, right wing lunatics. But reporters say the Paul Martin Liberals were mad at the press gallery, too, because he supposedly complained about the beating he took from them during the election. Which leads me to believe that the press is more arrogant and full of themselves than biased.

They are arrogant, in the sense they feel they have every right to twist every word the government says, and lie and misrepresent what actually goes on on Parliament Hill. If the Tories cannot deal with all that, then too bad, they say, because it proves how incompetent they are at managing the media. According to this group of reporters, the mark of real leadership is the ability of the politicians to effectively deal with all of them, the press corps. If you can't manage the media, then you aren't worthy of managing and running an entire country. That's the mentality of these people in the press gallery.

The Conservatives have had pretty dismal experiences dealing with this sort of attitude from the press. During the merger process, the media played up stories about discontent among disgruntled Progressive Conservatives like Joe Clark and David Orchard, all supposedly angry at the merger. You would have thought from the coverage that the merger wasn't going to happen, that the right was going to tear itself apart. But the media were hell-bent on trying to drum up knife-the-leader and party disunity stories--- from both the Conservative end and from the Liberals. They even played up those stories of disunity during the policy convention in Montreal in 2005. There were screaming headlines about the merger being in jeopardy, which was absolute rubbish. Conservatives were justifiably angry and upset at how dismally they were being portrayed in the national media at that convention.

During the notorious 2004 federal election campaign, the press were on the loose rummaging around for rogue Tories spouting off on abortion and same sex marriage, while totally ignoring what the Conservative platform was actually offering. The public got a totally distorted image of what the party stood for thanks to the national media, who were often reporting Liberal press handouts and propaganda as news. The media played into the Liberals' hands as they made the Tories look as if they had some hidden agenda, like they were out to gut the Supreme Court. Total irresponsibility on the part of the press.

The media were at it again in the 2006 race. They had a cow, claiming Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay contradicted themselves on the independent prosecutor issue, among other things. They were also rummaging around in the last week of the campaign, twisting what Harper had to say at a press conference bout the judiciary to make it seem as if Harper was anti-judiciary. Luckiliy, the press corps decided to turn on the Liberals' media relations team for the "leaks" and the other messes from that war room. The Liberals' inability to manage the media was a big issue with the press in that election campaign. If it hadn't been for the "Liberal mole", who knows what the press corps would have done. They could just as easily savaged the Conservatives again.

So why should Conservatives ever trust the media to truthfully report what is going on in the government? Especially after seeing how this group of piranhas reacted during these campaigns!? No wonder they won't take questions impromptu from reporters these days. They're justifiably afraid these press people will twist their comments out of joint and create a big scandal out of a simple press statement, and make the government look like a bunch of crooks and hypocrites no different from the Liberals. Already the CBC and the Toronto Star and these other places are trying to make it look as if the Conservatives are going back on all their policies and prior statements. They're digging up quotes from years earlier where they showed Harper making some statement about what ought to be done, trying to show that he's flip flopped.

The truth is that this Harper government has been hard at work in Ottawa, cutting the GST and bringing in all the legislation they promised during the election. Everyone sees that they're keeping their campaign promises, that they aren't being a bunch of hypocrites most of the time! But you'd never know that watching the CBC.

I think the media should get used to the fact that the Tories simply do not trust them to report fairly or even truthfully about what is going on in Ottawa. That's the reason nobody will talk to them. Frankly, I am no fan of limited access, either; it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that a government committed to accountability would do. But what do you expect this government to do after the shabby way it's been treated by these reporters?! This press corps is getting exactly the treatment it deserves after all the misreporting and knife-the-leader stories they have done, and with their macho attitudes toward twisting what all these political parties have to say. That sort of "we'll show the government who's boss" type of attitude.

They asked for it! They should quit whining about their treatment, these journalists, and get back to accurate reporting. Only then will the Tories change their minds in Ottawa and start granting access to them again.

No comments: