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Monday, January 09, 2006

Press Play

It has been said on this site before, but I think it must be said again: The Globe and Mail is really leading the press pack in terms of election coverage. At 10 a.m. EST, on their website, they are offering up their reporters for live interviews with Globe readers. The Washington Post also has live discussions every day with reporters, though the New York Times, despite its transparency issues, has yet to join the fray. The CanWest chain of newspapers is also behind in this regard. I want to point out something Jane Taber, a senior Globe and Mail political writer had to say in this morning's discussion. I have quoted the question and answer below. The emphasis is mine.

Cherolyn Knapp, Ottawa: In a couple of recent CBC Radio One news stories, I have noticed that the coverage of Harper was much more sympathetic than usual. The reporters commented on the fact that while he was reading to school children and serving coffee at Tim Horton's on campaign stops, he appeared much more comfortable and at ease with people. Has there really been a shift in Harper's interpersonal comfort level or is the media just being more kind to him? Does Harper have the personality of a leader? I am not a Conservative supporter, but I was interested in the effect these news stories have on the public perception of Harper as more of a human being (and therefore a potentially stronger leader). Jane Taber: Ms. Knapp: Good observation. I think that Mr. Harper is more comfortable, especially now that the Conservatives have well-formed policies. In the last election, the PC party and Alliance had just merged, and had no policies. This was a huge problem for the new party because Canadians were suspicious to a certain extent and had no idea what this new party stood for. Mr. Harper is a policy wonk, and loves to talk about issues. In this election, he's been able to do all that, and very well, I would argue. The Tories have grabbed the agenda by making daily policy announcements early in the morning when the Liberals, it seems, are still getting out of bed. The media's perception has shifted as well, I would argue. I think that watching Mr. Harper and his troops in action for the past year, as well as covering the Conservatives policy conference last March in Montreal, have given reporters something to write about rather than simply focusing on personality and conflict. And there is now a comfort level, similar to that the Liberals have always enjoyed with the media, with the Conservatives. The Harper Tories were forever accusing the media of bias, now the Liberals are accusing us of that. You can't win! I don't know what effect the news stories have on the campaign. I think, though, that it's important for Canadians to know not only the policies of a leader but the personalities of the leader.
The italicized portion of Taber's remarks is interesting. First, she says "The Tories have grabbed the agenda (I think she means headlines...) by making policy announcements early in the morning." Certainly, making policy announcements early in the day will garner more media attention because the story will play out over a longer press cycle than a story released in the afternoon. Also, if one party releases a policy statement in the morning, and another party issues a policy announcement on the same topic in the afternoon, the second party will be "on their heels," and "responding to" the first party's policy even if it's just a matter of scheduling. It is odd, however, to see a senior writer acknowledge this so openly. Perhaps the press should focus more on analyzing and reporting on issues, rather than their timing, or how other parties "respond" to these announcements. Further, she says the Conservatives are enjoying a "level of comfort" with the media. I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. I don't necessarily think a political party should have a "level of comfort" with the press. Nor do I think the press should be adversarial. Just objective, or as close to that as possible. This brings us back to the question of the "back story" of a campaign the press seems to want to cling to. Perhaps the press should focus on the parties issues, not on how well they play the media.

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