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Stephen Harper and the Press Gallery Weenies

May 27th, 2006

I have been enjoying the Stephen Harper Ottawa Press Gallery cat fight in a very visceral way. It has been amusing, especially amusing is how out of joint the press guys noses have gotten about not being catered too. Imagine if you will, the pile on that would occur if a politician complained about losing privilege the way the press gallery has. Don’t even imagine; think back to David Dingwall’s entitlements. That’s exactly what the press sounds like.

But on another level, I think this is good for our country, although probably ultimately bad for Stephen Harper.

For years the Liberal’s have been spoon feeding the media soundbites, little stories that they could print and look like they are doing their job. Journalists are just like garbagemen, who are just like auto workers, who are just like teachers, accountants &tc. They want to get their job done, and get home/to the bar/to wherever they want to go. Feed them a story, they can write it up, get their job done efficiently, and get on with what they want to get done. Stephen Harper has made it harder for them to do that.

The media would tell you that two contradictory things about their job: a) it is, out of necessity, adversarial; b) the people they cover ought not be adversarial with the press. I happen to believe ‘a’ is correct. But when press gallery and politician get too close, what happens? It is harder for the press to take on an adversarial role. Ask any sports reporter who covers a team and they will tell you, they cannot spill the beans about what a jerk Tie Domi is, or they lose access. Reporters are not learning about Barry Bonds steroid use now, the rumours have always been there. Report them, and lose access.

So it goes in politics. Like the Barry Bonds steroid story, which would have been reported ten years ago if an adversarial relationship occurred between the press and the players/teams they cover, so it is with politicians. While the press gallery in Ottawa was getting along nicely with
Jean Cretien in the foyer, the real news was happening in the parliamentary broom closets. Shouldn’t we have known about Adscam years ago, shouldn’t reporters, doing their job, have sniffed this one out.

I have always believed something like Adscam, or HRDC wouldn’t have happened in the US, simply because their press would have been all over these stories. I also happen to believe that once the press gallery gets used to not having access, they will go sniff out the real stories. And that is good for our democracy, but probably bad for Stephen Harper.

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  1. Erik Abbink
    May 27th, 2006 at 21:22 | #1

    “Journalists are just like garbagemen, who are just like auto workers, who are just like teachers, accountants”

    – You just forgot “politicians”

    “I have always believed something like Adscam, or HRDC wouldn’t have happened in the US, simply because their press would have been all over these stories.”

    – Have you ever heard of the Enron Scandal?

  2. Brian
    May 28th, 2006 at 07:42 | #2

    Who are just like politicians, agreed.

    Have you ever heard of the Enron Scandal?

    Lets see now. Enron, isn’t that the one where the people in charge, not just the minions, got convicted? They’ll spend more time in jail than a Toronto murderer? Cretien in handcuffs, now that I’d like to see.

    But Enron is different. It’s a business scandal. There are not a few hundred reporters covering Enron. But Adscam was there to be discovered, the rumours existed, the hints where there. A story would occasionally appear, then go nowhere. And there are reporters covering parliament that number in the hundreds.

  3. Erik Abbink
    May 28th, 2006 at 11:18 | #3

    Enron is as much a business scandal as it is political. Politicians deregulated big business practises continuously (Texas model) with this scandal as a direct result.

    I agree that adscam could have been more of a focus point to the media. But in heinsight, given the fact that we are talking business minglings, I’m not surprised: newspapers are very much in the ad business themselves, which definately could have played a factor.

    Papers are not perfect, nor is the opposition. But both are essential for a well functioning democracy. The parties are able to scrutinize people in power (businesses as well as politicians) the better.

  4. Brian
    May 28th, 2006 at 11:27 | #4

    We agree on that, and my basic thesis is that if the media is forced to look elsewhere for the story, that’s probably good for our democracy.

    I’m not overly up on Enron, other than the obvious, but I don’t recall there was even a sniff of that scandal before it hit. It’s the sniff good reporters pick up on. (Bre-ex, now that story was there and ignored).

    Bottom line, if this causes the Ottawa Bearuea to become better at their job, that’s good (unless your Stephen Harper).

  5. Erik Abbink
    May 28th, 2006 at 19:13 | #5

    I don’t agree; there is no reason for forcing the media out (the so-called conservative bias is unproven).

    And Enron is the right example; if the media would have been able to ask hard-ball questions to the US administration, scandals like the Enron fraude could have been discovered way earlier, or might not even have happened.

    Unfortunately the White House Press Corp (obviously an example for Harper) is so overly controlled (old school conservative) that virtually no hard-ball question gets through.

    You’ve gotta be a real good sniffer to discover a scandle without being able to question anyone.

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