I've noticed a subtle shift in the media attitude towards Dion this past week. The "free ride" that Conservatives have complained about would appear to be over. I never viewed Dion's positive press as unique, every new leader or government is afforded a honeymoon (try to find a negative Harper piece last March). You need time and evidence before you start to frame a new leader.
I watched a political roundtable of reporters, on the CBC, that was quite critical of Dion. One line of attack, Dion has given Ignatieff too high a profile, the side by side, weakens Dion's presence. Keep in mind, these are the same people who applauded Dion for uniting the "fractured" Liberal Party only a few weeks ago. Harper likes to stand alone, and you could argue this solidifies the image of strong leader. Dion chooses a more collective approach, but I suppose there is a danger in being outshined by others, which diminishes Dion's stature.
The above criticism, ties into another one mentioned, and I believe this one has merit. Reading from a text, in a mostly stilted manner, hasn't benefited Dion in question period. Now, you can debate the importance of the exercise, but the fact of the matter, the media pays attention and forms alot of opinions, based on how you perform in the "arena". Objectively, the Conservatives have largely pounded Dion's questioning. The questions are posed in such a way that they provide EASY rebuttal. Dion hasn't looked comfortable and Harper has clearly gotten the better of him to date. This reality may explain the "outshined" argument, because it is important for the leader of the opposition to lead the charge- so far, others have clearly been more effective.
The linked piece, and the roundtable, both mention some nervousness in Liberal circles over Dion's leadership. This view is probably overstated, but it detracts from the view that the party is united. The criticism also validates the Conservative attacks that Dion isn't leadership material. It will be up to Dion to show a forcefulness that silences this line of criticism.
Some people dismiss polls as useful, we waste far too much energy dissecting every result. This might be true in one sense, but the reality is the media takes many of its cues from polling. I see a direct co-relation, and the polls were used as backdrop, for the changing tone towards Dion. Do we hear these criticisms if the Liberals enjoy a 5 point lead? I doubt it very much, the relatively "weak" polling allows the media to attack Dion with validated cover. Polls shape the debate, whether we agree or not.
The honeymoon is officially over, now it is up to Dion to provide forceful rebuttal, before any gel starts to set.