Thursday, May 31, 2007

Harper Vs The Media

Call it arrogance, paranoia, or sheer lack of political instinct, but the Harper government's unilateral war on the press is bound to hurt them, if it hasn't already. Kinsella has a column today titled "Time To Make Nice, Mr. Harper", as it relates to the Harper/media feud:
Richard Brennan, president of the Ottawa Press Gallery. "I just can't explain what's inside the guy's head. I just can't explain it, nor would I attempt to. It's just pathological, either his hatred or his disdain for the media."

"There's not a lot we can do, except push back, and that's what he is going to find," said Brennan. "We are pushing back."

Even the National Post's own Don Martin -- an affable wordsmith who could charm a snake out of its skin, and who brilliantly covered tight-lipped Tories in the one-party state that is Alberta -- signalled that other journalists are getting plenty fed up, too.

But, in the long run, it is the media that will emerge triumphant. To his everlasting credit, the Gallery's Brennan is refreshingly honest: Sometime soon, the Prime Minister is going to find the news media "pushing back" at a time when he is most vulnerable. Namely, during the election campaign.

Already, it is arguable that this push-back campaign is producing dividends: However much Harper moves to the centre, offering up big-spending policies for latte-sipping urbanites and ruthlessly muzzling the red-necked crazies in his backbench--he gets no credit for it. He and his party remain ahead of the Liberals, marginally, but they are also far from their lusted-after majority. So they lick their wounds, and wonder why.

Messrs. Brennan and Martin can tell the Prime Minister why, if he is inclined to listen. They are pushing back. They are paying him back.

Kinsella mentions Don Martin, and anyone who follows his columns will notice a noticeable trend towards a anti-Harper slant. That leaning is particularly relevant, given the paper for whom Martin writes. Martin as a microcosm is interesting, because clearly it represents a prime example of Harper losing his self-imposed war with the media.

The notion of journalism is supposed to include the ideal of impartiality. Practically, we all can site supposed unbiased observers, who are anything but, both on the left and the right. I subscribe to the theory that is impossible to eliminate bias from any discipline that interacts directly with human beings, despite the training and ethical tenets. The goal is a question of limited degree of bias, as opposed to some unrealistic absolute.

There is always a tension between political parties and the media. How one navigates through that forum is critical for prospects. I find it absolutely astounding that Harper and the Tory brain trust have concluded that they can bypass the Ottawa media, and effectively get their message out. Harper begins with this irrational paranoia, that the media is against him, despite the fact there is no evidence to suggest this in the last two elections (I believe McGill did a study, showing disproportionate favorable coverage for Harper vs Martin in 2004, 2006). There are plenty of media outlets that can be framed as Conservative "sympathetic", which is why the Harper posture is particularly bizarre.

The harsh reality, politicians need the media to some degree. People can spew whatever they want, but the journalists decide what is newsworthy and how to present it. Harper seems to think he can have a direct channel that transmits directly to the voter. Harper takes the view that he can use local media to get his message out, which is decidedly patronizing and arrogant. Harper reveals no political instinct in his approach to media.

That this government has purposely antagonized the media, gone out of its way to belittle and herd them, as though they are powerless, is simply staggering. What is the payoff in pissing people off, who have the power to "push back"? I simply don't understand the advantage, in fact it seems like a brain dead tactic, no matter how you spin it. In the end, Harper's irrational approach to the media could be his undoing, and he will have no one to blame but himself. Harper may be engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

16 comments:

Peter Dodson said...

What is the payoff in pissing people off, who have the power to "push back"?

I think for Harper it plays to his base - they hate the so called liberal media and think he is a hero for standing up to them. With blogs and news aggregators of the right wing variety out there, I think Harper et al think they can get their message out that way.

Steve V said...

"With blogs and news aggregators of the right wing variety out there, I think Harper et al think they can get their message out that way."

Harper can play to his narrow base, but this posture does nothing for his perception, with the population as a whole. If Harper really thinks people with go to Bourque to get the real scoop, he is even more delusional than I thought. And besides, all the news outlets are online, so you can't hide in that medium either.

Anonymous said...

Who was the wise one who said "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel" ?

Steve S. said...

Let's see here...rather than reporting the news fairly and accurately, the president of the Ottawa Press Gallery seems to be advocating that the media selectively report, thereby attempting to shape the opinions of the nation, rather than do what they are supposed to do, inform the nation and allow us to form our own opinions.

And you wonder why Harper doesn't trust them?

Steve V said...

"thereby attempting to shape the opinions of the nation, rather than do what they are supposed to do, inform the nation and allow us to form our own opinions."

Why does Harper resist access, ban questions, only do interviews with friendly sources and release one sided propaganda, with no opportunity for scrutiny. Harper plays the media as though they are merely a conduit, without independent power. If the media resists simply being a puppet to disseminate government rhetoric, I say KUDOS!

Gayle said...

"...thereby attempting to shape the opinions of the nation, rather than do what they are supposed to do, inform the nation and allow us to form our own opinions.'

Which is exactly what Harper is trying to do.

Steve - Klein had a huge amount of control over the media in this province. Huge. I remain convinced that is why Day won the leadership race (because he was protected by the media here) and then failed so miserably once subjected to real media scrutiny.

Perhaps Harper thinks he can accomplish the same nationally. I thought I read somewhere Rod Love left Klein's office to work for the national conservative party. If so, then I would be pretty confident he thinks he can control the media.

burlivespipe said...

the media isn't some one-eyed monolithic machine, nor is it at the employ of the PM. Harper and his minions think otherwise (see steve s. for corroboration)... When the media was turning over the rocks and asking question upon question regarding Adscam, was Harpor thinking they were following his lead? But the apparent feeling that it's 'liberal biased' has been largely disproven, especially from the media giants. Canwest has been catering to Harpor for more than 2 years now. And they essentially have been tilting their coverage his way for quite some time. During the last election, the local CON candidate in Richmond was a case in point. The Sun printed a photo of Reid and various other candidates on a stage, supporting the fight for a Chinese head tax redress. But had the paper did the story from the event, they would have told its readers that Reid was booed off the stage because he spoke from a campaign brochure, wouldn't acknowledge questions and refused to sign a petition. However, if you relied on Canwest you didn't see that. And so on.
Some members of the media take their job very seriously. And the industry's axiom, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted certainly should apply here in Canada, too.
Harpor, however, expects the media to take the same tact as its US counterparts did following 9-11: don't ask deep questions; report what the boss said; have faith that all will be okay.
Thank God our media isn't like that.

knb said...

Thank God our media isn't like that.

On the whole I'd agree, but will say that they gave him a free ride at election time.

In the end, I think his tact plays to his base, as much of what he does, does.

The man openly shows disdain for the media, couched in sarcasm, but it's apparent. It's the same with his inability to say the word Senate, without prefacing it with "unelected liberal".

I think it's going to bite him.

knb said...

Off topic, but did you see QP and hear Harper say that Dion's comments about O'Connor would only be relevant if he had worn a uniform?

Slime, this man is slime and I'm coming to the conclusion that he is stupid slime. I'm no longer buying the "he's so intelligent" line. Crafty, devious, yes...not so smart though.

janfromthebruce said...

Hey,knb, does that mean that Harper is irrelevant because he never wore a unform?

Sounds like silly stuff from the US house of representatives where only those who were in the military can talk about the military.

Far and Wide - can you describe the crazy redneck backbenchers. What characteristics and/or values do they possess?

knb said...

Exactly jan...I'm so glad to finally agree with you.

It indeed sounds like silly stuff from the US, except for the fact that George, who never saw combat, accused Kerry of not supporting the troops, (even though he was decorated). Same but different.

Harper, who would never have even dreamed of joining the military, is accusing Dion of having no credibility, because he was never in the military. Big huh?

This juvenile banter is out of control...and to your leader's credit, I will say he articulated that point well today in the house.

Ahhh, nice to agree for once.

Steve V said...

jan

I made the exact same comment about Harper's non-service on another blog :)

I'm not sure I understand you question about the backbenchers.

knb

That's it! Harper's isn't a master strategist, he's just devious.

Miles Lunn said...

The media's job is to put the government under close scrutiny, however a responsible leader would understand this and would work with them. Harper's paranoia of the media is totally over the top. Either he is hiding something from Canadians or he is unfit to be PM since dealing with the media is part of the job. And yes Harper's hostility to the media isn't helping him much since even though he still may get favourable coverage in right wing magazines like the Western Standard, most people who read this probably already vote Tory anyways, so what matters is his coverage in the major newspapers that are read by people of all political persuasions.

Steve V said...

"Either he is hiding something from Canadians or he is unfit to be PM since dealing with the media is part of the job."

Miles, that is a great point. The posture does suggest something to hide, as though honest and full access would reveal too much. Harper is also maniacal when it comes to message control and leaks from his MP's.

ottlib said...

Stephen Harper saw what the media did to Paul Martin and how they turned on him in a heartbeat.

Remember, just a few months before he took over as PM Paul Martin was a media darling.

Then the Sponsorship Scandal hit and they turned on him like rabid dogs.

Stephen Harper knows it is only a matter of time before that happens to him regardless of what he does so he has decided to make a pre-emptive strike against them.

I cannot say I really blame him for distrusting the media. I share that distrust. However, PMs come and go while the media is always there so a PM has to learn how to deal with them in a constructive manner.

North of 49 said...

burlivespipe, I think you got closest with this: Harpor, however, expects the media to take the same tact as its US counterparts did following 9-11: don't ask deep questions; report what the boss said; have faith that all will be okay.

Harper's adversarial and dismissive attitude towards the Ottawa press gallery seems to me like an attempt to cow them into being good little stenographers, as the Cheney administration has done with the Washington press gallery, but Harper's problem is that he doesn't really understand how the Republican Party accomplished that.

In Washington, it's clear that to get access to those famous anonymous government sources, you have to faithfully parrot the government line. Fail to, and your sources dry up (and you don't get invited to the parties!)

But this situation didn't develop overnight, did it? It took decades of effort to weed out the actual journalists and replace them with compliant herd animals, to the point where the threat of a snub is enough to whip the gallery back into line. (OK, I'm hyping this a bit, but not much -- witness the way in which formerly credible papers like the New York Times and Washington Post will bend over backwards to keep the Rightwing Noise Machine from calling them "liberal".)

The point is, Harper is trying to use the Power of the Snub without having done the decades worth of groundwork. In the Washington press gallery, fear of being cut out of the loop is pervasive. In Ottawa, it's not even in the room.

I've said it before (and I love the phrase so much I'll use it again): These kids just don't do their homework. Harper and Company think they're good enough to wing it, and they keep coming a cropper.

So Harper, thinking he can pull a Karl Rove, tries to bully the national press into becoming, as Steve v said "merely a conduit, without independent power", just like his friend George Bush has, not realizing he's dealing with a very different crew.

So when we ask how could he do that? it seems crazy -- well, we're right, it is crazy, unless you live in Harperworld.