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Harper and the press: matching bubbles

WELLS: How Harper makes a mockery of the money our bosses spend on covering him


 

Every once in a while I actually get one right. This is from my column for the issue of Maclean’s dated Jan. 22, 2007. (For whatever reason I can’t find that column online. I’ll post a link if that changes.) I was writing about how social media multiplies the avenues political parties have for getting their message out. Which means they don’t necessarily need to be in tomorrow’s Globe. Which means a prime minister doesn’t even need a bunch of reporters following him around, right? But then I thought about it for a few more minutes:

During the 2004 election, Harper asked his staff why he needed to haul a planeload of reporters around with him. By now he will have figured out an answer: an airplane is a handy place to pen up malcontents. The real campaign will be elsewhere. Harper will feed the press pack an event in the morning and another after lunch, then vanish for hours at a time to shoot Web ads; give interviews to local, ethnic and online publications; approve direct-mail appeals to carefully identified elements of the Conservative voter base; and otherwise talk right past us to you, or some of you. The changing media landscape opens up both danger and opportunity for politicians. But the biggest danger would lie in ignoring what’s going on.

I thought of that old column this morning while I was spending a couple of hours with my fellow malcontents in Markham, Ont. My plan was to spend a couple of days with the Harper campaign. It became clearer today that that simply isn’t possible, because the reporters “traveling with” the Harper campaign are, for the most part, kept well away from it.

This morning the Conservative leader promised loans to help immigrants get their foreign credentials recognized in Canada. He did it in a well-polished car-parts plant in Markham while the overwhelmingly South Asian workforce at the plant stood around and behind him. Then he took the five questions he deigns to take each day from reporters — and that’s it for us until a rally tonight to support Chris Alexander, the party’s nominee against Liberal incumbent Mark Holland.

The prospect of a big campaign rally in the GTA was enough to get a curtain-raiser for the Ajax event on the front page of the Star this morning. But I’ll tell you this as sure as I breathe: Stephen Harper is not betting on a presser at a car plant and some rah-rah in Ajax to win him the GTA. There’s a photo op today attended by only photographers and a reporter or two. But beyond that, he’s got eight hours without us bugging him. By the weekend it will be a little clearer what else he did, which carefully-selected niche markets he’s visited or otherwise contacted, which strategies he’s hatched or shut down. But his press spokespeople aren’t telling us most of it. I suspect most of them don’t know most of it.

This public schedule — two events a day — is not an innovation and it is not unique to the Conservatives. In fact modern news cycles punish party leaders who try to do more: Stockwell Day in 2000, and Jack Layton in 2004 and 2006, soon discovered that they impressed nobody with seven events a day, and that they merely multiplied the likelihood they’d get tired and get caught doing something dumb by mistake. But Harper has refined the distinction between public campaign and behind-the-curtains campaign beyond anything any other leader has done. He’s constantly late for his few public events. I do not believe it’s because he can’t pick cufflinks. The other day he did a round table with a large number of ethnic media organizations. Last week in Halifax he did a radio interview. Reporters “traveling with” him weren’t told about either.

So that’s Harper’s bubble. I don’t think it’s wicked. Having predicted it, I think it’s rather clever. But it rather makes a mockery of the thousands our bosses are spending for the theoretical benefit of access to a national party leader.

Meanwhile, there is our own bubble. This one is only partly imposed on us by Harper.

In Halifax, Harper spoke about free trade with Europe. Traveling press got five oops, four questions and local press one. Of course none of our questions was about trade with Europe. Instead we (well, my colleagues) got into a shouting match with the Conservative leader about his unwillingness to take more questions. This morning was the third day of questions about those young people who got shut out of Harper rallies, in at least one case because the student’s Facebook page made her look cozy with the Liberals. There was another question about the vetting of disgraced former Harper staffer Bruce Carson. Of course there was no question about foreign credentials recognition.

By the peculiar psychology of campaign journalism, asking a party leader how he has governed the country or how he would proceed if given a mandate to govern it some more is “playing along,” “in the tank,” “throwing lob balls.” Asking him process questions to work through our frustration at how he’s treating us, on the other hand, is “tough” and “uncompromising.”

Look, I find it upsetting that the Conservatives are shutting people out of their events, even people who have previously jumped through the ridiculous hoops it takes to be accepted to Conservative rallies but who are then found unacceptable for whatever Orwellian reason. I’m used to more relaxed rules.

But we are living in deluded fantasy if we think the hardest question an incumbent prime minister can face is about the attendance rules at his campaign events. And I cling to the belief that what’s worst about the Carson affair is that, five years after Harper’s government promised to provide clean water on Indian reserves, it’s still possible to get rich promising clean water for Indian reserves. A sixth question about the vetting process doesn’t really get at that.

Meanwhile, out of four questions in all for traveling press, we blew two on issues that have nothing to do with how Harper used to govern, or would after May 2. (In fairness I should point out that I’m in a glass house here because on most days I don’t even try to influence the choice of questions. My broadcast and wire-service colleagues have more pressing deadlines and are under greater pressure.)

I don’t think questions about governing are softball questions. Harper has been prime minister for five years; why is recognition of foreign credentials still something that needs doing? How would his new program do any better than all that preceded it? When he talked about free trade, I wondered why his trade deal with Europe is now more than a year behind schedule, and why Harper’s news conference on a Halifax dock was the first argument on the issue I’ve heard from him in two years, while opponents of a Canada-EU deal multiply.

We don’t even have to stick to the topic of the day. The Liberal elder care plan is far more generous — and expensive — than the tax benefit in Harper’s pre-election budget. Does he not believe the challenge is worth more spending? Why not? When Harper’s admirers complain about the (sotto voce) Liberal support for a carbon cap-and-trade scheme, I remember that Harper ran on such a scheme in 2008. I’d like to hear whether he still even pretends to have such a plan.

There’d be room for all of these questions if Harper were taking 15 questions a day. But I’m pretty sure that part (only part) of the reason he doesn’t is because it keeps the travelling pack feeling frustrated and, therefore, comically self-obsessed, so we will keep asking variations on “Why are you so mean to us?” and ask even fewer questions about his record and projects. His daily 10-minute torment having thus been neutralized, he can then leave the pack behind and go run his real campaign. Today, the press corps had lunch at Baton Rouge.


 

Harper and the press: matching bubbles

  1. Well….now you know which of the chess pieces you are.

    • Brilliant.

      • None of the back row pieces??

    • According to the standards Harper sets for previous criminal convictions, we can expect to see Conrad Black in Canada's policy future, as one of Harper's trusted rooks. Don't sue me Conrad. I said 'rook' not CROOK.

  2. I, for one, look forward to another couple weeks of furious tweets and thumb-suckers on these complete trivialities. It'll make the eventual outcome more of a shock to the people who'll be most upset by it.

    • I'm glad you find it funny that our Prime Minister is on track to complete an entire election campaign without answering a single tough question.

      You might feel different if it was a Liberal PM playing games like this while avoiding accountability. Me, I'd rather see our politicians face some scrutiny from someone, somewhere, sometime.

      • No Liberal PM has ever faced or will ever face quite the same level of wild-eyed, venom-dripping media scrutiny, so I'm not sure what your point is.

        • Ah, so you're in the bergkamp/scf camp: Stephen Harper is a victim of a hopelessly biased "MSM".

          I know better than to try to argue with someone who subscribes to that…

          • Here's a new concept: the media shouldn't bother asking questions, and not bother reporting anything about the conservatives. Complete blackout on what they announce. Report and comment just on what the other parties announce.

            That should make everyone happy.

        • You know, when you have to make stuff up to prove your "point", it generally means you don't have one.

    • Seeing as you were obviously not in the country during the 2006 election, where were you living out of curiosity?

      • AVR, he didn't come back for you!

    • So you're a Harper thumb-sucker, are you? Do you get to kiss his ring as well as suck his thumb?

  3. Wow. So that means the wretches behind the fence are even more in the tank for Harper by trying so desperately to appear to not be in the tank for him.

    I vaguely recall one of Harper's lackeys reportedly encouraging the grievance-mongers on expense accounts to keep harping about the nonsense about which they were harping. Something like "Keep that up, and you'll get us our majority." You helpfully flesh out how that works.

    • I'd been wondering the same thing, Paul's post has made sense of that staffer's (seemingly) bizarre comment for me.

      • Was it not Marjory Lebreton?

      • And one more here.

  4. You should label these columns "Dear Diary".

  5. good ribs, weak beer selection.

  6. Why don't the press skip the cage and follow Harper as he goes gallavanting throughout the day?

    • My guess as to why not: RCMP tasers.

      • That, at least, would be news.

        • C'mon Paul, make the sacrifice. Often taser hits aren't fatal. :)

          • Yes, and get one of the other reporters to film it. Tasers are exceptionally funny when it's someone else being tased.

  7. So I take it that you are now "off the bus"?

    A good decision. If you can't get anything in person that can't be gotten on CPAC then why spend the money and play the frustrating role set for you by the Conservatives? If you don't want to follow any of the other campaigns then why not set out to talk to the people that Harper is really targetting in his campaign. Surely he can't have sworn them all to secrecy?

  8. Kudos for Mr. Wells for still avoiding writing about policy – which he says he has nothing worthwhile to contribute on – but at least pinpointing the problem with this election campaign thus far. The attempts at gotcha questions coming from the media – especially those surrounding Mr. Harper (or locked up with him – as many apparently feel they are) are nothing to do with what this election is presumably about i.e. which party (or parties) have the best policy platform for Canada – and to a lesser extent – which party generally can be trusted most.
    I would have expected by now that some editor would have asked his band of reporters – why aren't you asking Messrs. Harper / Ignatieff / Layton about their policies and reporting on their answers whether those policies make sense or not – not driving everyone crazy chattering about whether Harper's security turned someone away or not! I'm just listening to Evan Solomon right now supposedly grilling a visible minority CPC MP from Calgary to explain a loan funding proposal for resettling new Canadians which has been announced – the money sounds sweet – but when you probe what is behind it – sounds like it just hasn't been thought out. Makes a good headline – but reporters are supposed to probe beneath these empty gestures.

  9. Time for the Boys to get off the Bus and follow up on issues. Watching leaders in hard hats on TV does nothing to inform voters, and regurgitating the party press releases/comments is just free advertising.

  10. Well. I believe that the political parties have as much say, or more, about how they wish to run their campaign than do reporters and the media at large on deciding what should be the question of the day.

    If the press believes that it is important to ask questions of the day, such as why a particular person was removed from a rally, but don't expect a party leader to let such questions ongoing, set the tone of his party's election campaign.

    I"m not saying that the incident of the removal should not or could not be asked about, but why should such questions come to dominate the election campaign of a particular party?

    If I were the party, any party, I would want the get the message out which the party deems most important.

    Now, if the NDP and Liberals, for instance, find the removal of the person a fundamental issue to discuss at lenght with the voting public, then no one is stopping them. But just because some parties are interested in discussing one particular subject does not mean the Conservative party needs to go along with such choosen paths by other parties.

    Such decision making should surely rest, for the most part, in the party's hands, no one else's. Otherwise we will get campaign in which very little party preference of discussion will come to the fore, but more and more individual topics will come under discussion during election campaigns , and who,exactly, will be served by that? Not too many.

    • Maybe that question dominated because there are so few allowed. All points to that culture of deceit and contempt.

      • Alternatively, maybe so few questions are allowed because they are such inane questions? And have you noticed that, when asked intelligent, multi-part questions, Harper will answer all the parts, and treat it as one question? But when asked about "why only 5 questions" it's treated as one question.

        He goes on interviews at local tv & radio stations, and doesn't limit the hosts to 4 or 5 questions, does he?

        Treat people with respect, and they generally return the favour, in my experience.

  11. I love this comment: 'And I cling to the belief that what's worst about the Carson affair is that, five years after Harper's government promised to provide clean water on Indian reserves, it's still possible to get rich promising clean water for Indian reserves. '
    Unfortunately we are in a time when politicians and Canadians are more into partisan games than in actual policies. It is also unfortunate that because of the 5 question mandate we are not able to get real answers to ALL questions directed at the PM, including policy questions and questions about Carson, kicking people out of rallies, and the question questions.

    • I'm puzzled by Wells' comment on the quality of reserve water. Is he holding off asking the PMO, the minister responsible, or officials with DIAND for their answers? Is he waiting for the PM to invite him to ask the question?

      I find this tactic of "Oh my, no one's asking the question on this very important issue" very, very lame. Ask the freakin' question! Write the damn story! Travel to the community! Talk to people about it!

      You're a national columnist in a national newsmagazine, with an expense and travel budget! What, exactly, are you waiting for?

      • Yup.

  12. Paul says..

    "I wondered why his trade deal with Europe is now more than a year behind schedule, and why Harper's news conference on a Halifax dock was the first argument on the issue I've heard from him in two years, while opponents of a Canada-EU deal multiply."

    The EU Trade deal year delay was the first thing that came to my mind at that presser. I like my Harper pom poms, but it really would be nice to know the answer to that question. also why the government is protecting dairy supply management in that deal.

    Plus a little more info on the India FTA would be cool.

    But I am sure that would be a softball question to some media members. **Shrug**

    • The answers to why Harper is protecting dairy supply management can all be found in Lower Canada and the elusive majority.

  13. But we are living in deluded fantasy if we think the hardest question an incumbent prime minister can face is about the attendance rules at his campaign events.

    The Liberal war room also seems to inhabit this delusional fantasy world, churning out press releases with titles like: "Harper exaggerates his crowd size". I mention this because Wells's tweet in response made me laugh out loud:

    Might want to pin up a sign on a wall in LPC war room: "Are we perhaps in danger of vanishing right up our own asses?"

    I loved how this echoed Kurt Vonnegut's famous admonition that "Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak."

    The campaign narratives established by the LPC seem explicitly literary at times, given the over-reliance on symbolism, metaphor and hyberbole (at the expense of substance). I'm not convinced that a relentless focus on trivial campaign stuff is going to sway many undecided voters.

    • That's certainly what I've noticed about the scribblings and postings of hard-core LPC partisans during this campaign, including from the Liberal War Room. They are obsessed with political tactics, and seem entirely unconcerned with what most normal people (i.e., people who aren't obsessive political junkies) think or care about. They are treating this facebook/ event attendance thing like it's the most important thing to happen in Canada since the Charter.

      • Yeah, way to stay in touch with what Mr. and Ms. Main Street are concerned about.

        • Frankly, that last link doesn't surprise me much, that Wherry would write about it. But what does surprise me is that Wherry would debase himself so much to post a line like: "That's an average of 605 for Mr. Harper and an average of 639 for Mr. Ignatieff." This is beyond ridiculous.

          But seriously, I thought you were joking about the "Harper exaggerates his crowd size" line, it's too comical to be true, but yet, it is true.

          • In fairness to Wherry, I can't fault him for using a quantitative approach to refute Harper's crowd-size boast. If he's going to pick nits and play silly "gotcha" games, at least he's being methodical about it.

            What's beyond ridiculous is that the LPC war room decided to turn it into a press release.

          • Wherry had to be specific about numbers because Conservatives always either get the numbers wrong, or lie about them. $29 billion and rising on F-35 jets that we don't need. No numbers on the cost of building more prisons. Etc.

          • acording to who? I'll tell you who. the knee jerk anti harperists who sieze on anything the PBO says as god's truth. Well he is worng on the deficit so far, who you going to believe? but anything for a barb eh Holly? You say we don't need them, many of us say we do and before you brand me a partisan check your own premises.

          • Hasn't the PBO's record been pretty good on other stuff- i think so. As for who are you going to believe that seems to imply the govt has got an exemplary record in that department…that's debatable.

          • Holly, to equate crowd-size calculations and methodology with PBO budget calculations and methodology is absurd. In any event, shouldn't you be over on Wherry's blog calling Harper a Nazi or something?

          • Yes, well, I agree to an extend about the quantitative approach, but on the other hand
            a) obviously crowd size is a function of many variables (friendly territory, urban/rural, timing) so you can say your crowds are figuratively bigger even if not numerically bigger
            b) all of those figures he used were rough guesses, so to use them in any calculation is a bit of a stretch

            Because of this, Harper remains on fair ground as having said something that could reasonably or potentially be true, even if he were doing more than just cheerleading. For Wherry to believe that he was refuting Harper, in all seriousness, is absurd.

          • I think that LPC press release was directly inspired by an exemplary piece of journalism that appeared earlier in the day on this very website!

            Actually, I believe it was the other way around, Wherry got his inspiration from the Liberal press release.

            Wherry posted at 2 pm EST. The Liberal web site posted at 10 am EST. Both were posted today.

          • Good catch. Are you absolutely sure that the LPC press release came out at 10am EST? Twitter suggests it was posted in the afternoon. I would hate to think that the press release came out before Wherry's post.

          • That would be suspicious, wouldn't it? Here's two questions for Wherry (Paul, perhaps you can pass them on):

            1) Aaron, how long have you been serving as the Maclean's branch of the Liberal War Room?
            2) Did your views on journalism and your own role as being a mere mouthpiece for the Liberal Part of Canada form when you were young, or have you only recently adopted your hyper-partisan bias disregard for anything that might even come close to passing as objectivity?

          • i hope you don't flit over to Ezra's blog for your objectivity fix after you wrote this crap? You wouldn't want to be thought of as a hypocrite now ,would you?

          • Ezra rally has nothing to do with jonatwitan's post. Also, Ezra is a lawyer, who became a publisher, who then became a media person. Started with a slant, and happened into journalism. He, however, stick totally to opinion pieces. never claims to be objective. Not a good comparison.

          • Thx. I'll take your word on Ezra.If he does really claim to be just partisan, he's certainly succeeded. But it should be pointed out that Beyond the Commons is a blog, not a column.

          • Mostly sure. This site indicates the Liberal site posted the release 13 hours ago:

            http://friendfeed.com/canadian-liberal-politics/2

            At this time that means approximately 10 am EST.

            Aaron Wherry's post has 2 pm listed, which I assume is EST (must be).

          • Now who is doing the nit picking? You bots are hilarious.

          • actually, not nit picking. Trying to find out who ran with the 'story' first. Important point when they want to accuse Wherry. I think it is admirable that they find the truth, before the vilify him.

          • Here's something showing the rss feed for the Liberal release was issued at 2:03 pm:

            Posted: Wed, 06 Apr 2011 14:03:24 +0000 http://feeds.liberal.ca/MediaReleases-LiberalPart

            Same time as Wherry's post. I'm assuming that's EST. If that time were GMT, then it would mean 9 am EST. Acgtually, now I think about it, I think the 4 zeros mean it's GMT, which indicates the RSS feed was issued at 9 am.

          • So at this point it really looks like the press release was at 9:03 am. Perhaps Wherry was not inspired by the press release (chances of that are slim I'd say). If he weren't, and it was just coincidence that he repeated their press release 5 hours later, it suggests Wherry is thinking along the same lines as the Liberal party war room, which I don't find surprising, knowing Wherry.

          • How is it a gotcha game to call Harper on his own numbers?

            It's Harper who not only didn't answer the question put to him, but answered it with his obvious lie.

            Size of crowd is absolutely a silly issue which is why it is so puzzling that the Prime Minister of Canada would make such a big deal about it AND lie about it. It's surreal.

            Meanwhile, you mistake the war room for the campaign. Ignatieff is out there stumping on policy. His MPs are out there stumping on policy. A war room is designed for rapid response to the opposing side and attempt to knock them off their game, knock their headline off the front page the next day in favour of one they don't want.

            To that end, the Liberals are doing both really well.

            Meanwhile, it is Harper who keeps harping on crowd size (at least 3 speeches/responses from him and I've seen Soudas at it as well).

          • Yes, Harper and Soudas are repeating a line that is obviously designed to put a "positive" spin on something that has bad optics.

            Now, I think it is a stretch to say that Harper is making a big deal about the crowd size thing, and it's just poor judgment to accuse him of lying. A much better explanation of the comments is from CR above, namely, that it is akin to a sports team claiming to have the best fans in the world. How many sports writers do you see doing quantitive analysis's of players who make that claim? I'll answer: none. It would be ridiculous.

            Point taken about the War Room. That is a good distinction, and there is no doubt that right now the LWR is on the offensive, and the CWR is on the defensive (and the NDPWR is…???). Still a few weeks to go.

          • We all know he lies.

          • Size of crowd is absolutely a silly issue which is why it is so puzzling that the Prime Minister of Canada would make such a big deal about it AND lie about it. It's surreal.

            There's something surreal about all this nonsense, I'll give you that. But it's not what the PM said.

            Meanwhile, you mistake the war room for the campaign.

            I made no such mistake, Ted. I'm fully aware of the difference between the LPC war room and the campaign.

            A war room is designed for rapid response to the opposing side and attempt to knock them off their game, knock their headline off the front page the next day in favour of one they don't want.

            Yes, and the LPC war room has been greatly assisted in this regard by a very cooperative media.

            To that end, the Liberals are doing both really well.

            They're effective in terms of setting the media agenda. However, Wells, Coyne and many others strongly disagree with you that "the Liberals are doing both really well".

            As Wells said earlier today: "I honestly believe they are popping champagne corks over at CPC campaign HQ because the Liberals think Facebook creeping is the big issue."

            Meanwhile, it is Harper who keeps harping on crowd size

            Classic reversal, but ultimately unconvincing. "It's not the LPC who's obsessed with trivial stuff like crowd sizes! It's Harper who's obsessed! He mentioned it twice over two days!"

          • You're right that the real story is that Harper doesn't participate in events open to the public, ie, everyday Canadians. If you're not a died-in-the-wool Conservative, you don't have a very good chance of going to an event where he is present. I don't know why anyone thinks this is a good or reasonable thing. Some have said that the other parties do this, which is demonstrably false. Even previous PMs allowed the general public to come and see them.

            It seems like this campaign style views elections not as exercises in democracy anymore with any legitimate attempt to talk to the other, but giant marketing exercises. It's god-damned depressing.

          • I couldn't get into a Martin rally in Edmonton

        • In fact, that Wherry post is one of the funniest ever. It's unbelievable!

          Brian:
          Aaron, I'm normally a fan, but this crap has got to stop.

          And then avr tries to reason with some of those loyal Wherry followers… LOL

          • Actually the PMs own words refute him…AW quotes them. Although you see fit not to. Something along the lines of we've had more then all the other parties combined. As you point out it is silly for the lbs to get all bent out of shape over this. Nonetheless AW was simply calling him out. He lied…what's new would have been a better response from the libs no doubt.

          • I'm sorry, was Wherry's analysis peer reviewed? Could you link me to that. Until then, I'll stick with the "we have the best fans in the world" analogy, and won't expect Wherry to do his science should Iggy be so sloppy as to suggest his rallies are the most electric or most exciting or most diverse or most accepting or most beautiful.

          • The claim is not credible nor was any supporting evidence provided. Burden of proof is on the conservative side.

          • Wow, talk about absurd. Now you're talking like the Canada Evidence Act or the Rules of Civil Procedure apply here.

          • http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/artic

            What on earth has peer reviewed got to do with it? Did you read his article? He readily admits crowd estimates are not an exact science.The numbers were all rough estimates that /wherry dug up -not invented. Harper's quote is contained inthe link…his own words…what's so hard to understand. Was he joking? How can you tell without actually hearing them spoken?

    • Oh for cryin' out loud Crit look at the bigger picture. Ignatieff did spend a great deal of time and effort to drive the message that the Harper Government can't be trusted with any kind of federal responsibility, but as soon as they have a little bit of fun with a Conservative faux pas, Wells'(who incidently had a very frustrating week on the big blue bus) concludes the Liberal communication is in disarray. You really buy that?

    • You mistake the war room for the campaign.

      The main thrust of the campaign has been almost all about policy and significant contrast between Conservatives and Liberals on family issues (Harper might give you income splitting some day way in the future, Ignatieff will give you some assistance for education, family care, etc. now, etc.).Ignatieff is out there stumping on policy. His MPs are out there stumping on policy. A war room is designed for rapid response to the opposing side and attempt to knock them off their game, knock their headline off the front page the next day in favour of one they don't want.

      To that end, the Liberals are doing both really well.

      As for symbolism, metaphor and hyperbole, you really could not have described the essence and entirety of Harper's campain so far. PHoto ops, fearmongering, fantasyland, his "I' m the greatest patriot" ad, etc.

      And we are seeing the results already in polls. Despite years of using taxpayer dollars in self-promotion, years of funneling taxpayer dollars to weathervane ridings and Tony Clement, years of multi-million dollar personal attack ads about Ignatieff and his family… the Conservatives have already lost their majority and are behind the Liberals in Ontario.

      So it does seem like the Liberals know something about swaying undecided voters.

      • You mistake the war room for the campaign.

        Not at all.. When I said "The campaign narratives established by the LPC seem explicitly literary at times", I was referring to the narratives of the campaign as a whole, which include the broad themes, the policy stumping, the various attack narratives, and the day-to-day war room tactics. I was commenting on the big picture.

    • My goodness. Aren't you clever.

  14. Starting to sound like you guys are playing psycological warfare or a game of "Clue", lol!!!

    JMHO but when something is still in the works, like the EU trade talks, you can't really say too much for fear of upsetting negotiations. My last read on the subject had the Visa requirements with the Czechs still a big problem, Iceland and Norway supporting us re banning seal products plus the elephant in the room – big EU Pharma and how that may cost Canadians.

    As for your frustration – too bad you did not have a "press vs the party" on International Pillow Fight Day, April 2.

    FYI Grand Chief David Harper is asking the pope to help get clean water on reserves. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/manitoba-n

    • Iceland and Norway aren't in the EU, they're in EFTA (with whom both Canada and the EU already have free trade agreements) — membership lists and names/acronyms of European political institutions aren't easy to keep track of.

  15. Wells ought to be in on the debate panels — English and French.

  16. I love Wells pieces like this, cuz they're pretty much the most insightful writings to be found amongst all the noise of punditry and uncritical regurgitation that characterizes too much of political journalism.

    I also hate Wells pieces like this, cuz they depress the heck out of me. It's easier to ignore noise, after all.

    You're an odd savantish duck, Wells. I'm sure glad you do what you do.

    • Wells was also the first and only one reporting a year ago that Harper would frame the election as his party vs a coalition. The rest of the media were in shock a couple of weeks ago when it happened.

      • They couldn't believe Harper would be so out of touch with reality.

    • Due respect to PW, but I don't think he's savantish. The secret of his longstanding insight into Stephen Harper seems to be actually listening to what Harper says (outside the confines of staged settings like QP) about what he is doing. Harper is a master of not answering the questions he is asked – by journalists or anyone else – but can be remarkably forthright when he actually chooses to say something.

      • Agree completely. To those that still think Harper is going to push through some fundamental religious agenda if elected to a majority simply do not understand the man's long term goal of establishing the Con brand as the "natural governing choice" of Canada.

        • He has to placate the base. And the base are going to need a lot of placating if they get a majority after all their sins from the past five years. If the base is happy with the brand of conservatism we've seen to date, then they don't deserve to call themselves conservatives.

  17. I suppose that someone could report that Harper avoided the press for 8 hours, then refused to answer questions about what he was doing during those eight hours.

    It is in keeping with the Harper's governing style: refusing to release documents on detainees, refusing to explain why he dumped Guergis so readily, earning the unprecedented distinction of being in contempt of Parliament for refusing to give Parliament information on financing that it was entitled to.

    • Methinks you missed the point of article. But me-also-thinks you missed the point on purpose. Methinks it's getting late.

  18. I heard a journalist years ago said:

    "Great politicians are like mothers love, they don't pay attention to the small stuff"

    • Depending on the party

  19. It is amazing that most successful party in Western world during 20th century is now making ads about Facebook Creeping and thinking it is good strategy.

    Yeah, this is truly bizarre.

    Another indirect positive for Harper/Cons is that liberal msm leads Liberals astray

    I think you're right. While the MSM is trying to win over voters with their swooning over the Liberals, they're giving the Liberals a false sense of accomplishment.

    People do better when they feel the need to do better.

  20. I've changed my daily routine… First thing I do is check the polls. Then I check the news. Not the other way around. Just go straight to the latest polls. It makes it much easier to sort out the fluff. If the Cons rise 3 points in the polls, meanwhile there's an article reporting that his campaign is floundering, then I know that I should ignore what the article is saying.

    If you check the news first, you wonder what the heck is going on, then you check the polls and it makes you think much of the media is in a fantasy world. Best to start with the reality and then move to the fantasy.

    • Here's my daily routine:

      – ignore the polls – they provide no value
      – read the news – it's fun and interesting but provides almost no value
      – recognize that despite all of us junkies opinions, predictions and assessments, it's very unlikely that anything will change.

  21. Why do you guys put up with this? Why don't you collectively tell Harper that, either he starts taking questions and provides real answers, or you will pack it in and go home? Stop slavering all over him and start covering real news.

    • And that would change what? Somehow you have this impression that those journalists on the bus are capable of anything else. The good ones aren't on the bus.

  22. When you want a good check as to whether the media is engaging in another sky is falling moment, ask yourself this question:

    Does the particular event, particularly as reported, effect every man, woman and child in the country,

    or does it effect the immediate ability to raise a "gotcha" moment in favour of the left.

    A cap on energy, for instance would literally affect prices on everything…everything. It would affect jobs, investments, and the economy in general.

    Whether suspected Liberal supporters get kicked out of a Conservative rally?

    Now consider the hyperventilated going on right now about the latter, and the relative incuriosity regarding the former.

    Remarkable.

    For some real fun query whether anyone this election cycle has been refused entry to a Liberal rally. I'd bet the chances of that are about 100%. But that's not the "correct" party, nor the "correct" scandal de jour.

    • Personally I think the scandal-a-day mentality of the press and the opposition parties has played right into the Tories hands. Nobody's discussing policy or challenging them on the budget or anything else to any great extent. For an average voter who maybe checks the morning newspaper headlines, listens to a talk show on the way to and from work plus catches a bit of the TV news in the evening, he's not hearing much or learning much and probably doesn't care much.
      The Conservatives should send a box of chocolates and a thank you note to each member of the media covering the election. They are a great help on the way to a Tory majority

  23. Hasn't Wells also said something to the effect that Harper's view is the Canadian public doesn't care if journalists in the mainstream media are offended. In fact, media airtime on the tension between the media and Harper is de facto unpaid advertising for Harper–it shores up the base ("…media elite's take out bias on poor Steve") and really pisses off only those who'd never vote for Harper anyway. Or, if Wells hasn't said anything like that, it sounds like something he's said….

    By the way, when are we getting an updated or reprinted version of "Wells' Rules"?

    • Wells' rules have stood the test of time. No update is required. Perhaps a reprint.

        • There is still a lot of campaign to go, of course, but if Harper wins a minority or majority by sticking with his current campaigning style–which, by all accounts is fairly grim and moody–would this not seem to violate Well's Rule #3?

          • He's switching his mood as the campaign goes on. As one example, they put out that ad about the magnificence of Canada.

  24. Or put antoher way,

    when something is reported in a headline (as the two ejected suspected Liberals story was),

    the press is saying to the world that THAT particular item is the most important thing for the public to know about.

    Consider that for a moment.

    Of all the things going on in the world, the most important thing to everyone is….whether two suspected Liberals were refused entry into a CPC rally?

    or even narrower,

    Of all the issues facing our Country that the election stands to affect:

    …two people asked to leave a CPC rally, is the absolutly most important to all of us????

    The answer is undoubtedly "no, don't be rediculous". So what gives?

    Well try asking the question a different way:

    "If you a liberal, and were scouring the political landscape for a "gotcha" moment to nail Harper with, and you were a journalist who viewed stories through that prism, is the ejection story the most important to you?"

    Why yes, yes it would be.

  25. But I'm pretty sure that part (only part) of the reason he doesn't is because it keeps the travelling pack feeling frustrated and, therefore, comically self-obsessed, so we will keep asking variations on “Why are you so mean to us?” and ask even fewer questions about his record and projects. His daily 10-minute torment having thus been neutralized, he can then leave the pack behind and go run his real campaign.

    The longer this happens, and stories like the Facebook rallies are "front-page" news, the more likely average voters are to tune everything out. Harper wins that round, too.

    He's running a Ralph Klein 2004-type campaign. Except without the "I'll retire after this one" part.

  26. When "reporting" became "journalism," the quality of the product that the media collectively churns out suffered terribly. The political journalism of today is, quite simply, appalling. Six months of breathless election speculation, but now they have their election, so you would expect that they might help inform voters of what the election is about, i.e, reporting. After all, an national election is about the future of our country. But no. Political journalism is obviously about entertainment or celebrity gossip or Charlie Sheen quotes or Oscar-speculation or something trivial and hopefully trashy, anything but politics.

    Mr Ignatieff is a journalist, pundit (sorry, "public intellectual") and former BBC talk show host. The journalist/pundit/TV talk show host class are in love with him. We get it.

    But Mr Harper knows that regular Canadians quite simply loath the media (our kind host excepted) and getting them mad at him helps him, not harms him. The media hate it when nobody takes them seriously, and are "flabbergasted" when confronted with the stark evidence that they haven't a clue what really is happening (that requires research and "thinking") and they are called on that. The experience of the Toronto Star during the Smitherman/Ford election should have taught the media something – trying to defeat a candidate actually helps them get elected!

    Thank you Mr Wells for being an old-fashioned reporter as opposed to a "journalista". I would greatly appreciate it if you would do some more of your excellent reporting about the election in Quebec. Something interesting may be happening there. I am tired of the boring, useless, distasteful journalism we are getting in English Canada.

    I think that Mr Harper

  27. As opposed to whining, why doesn't the press corps just refuse to cover Harper at all for the next four weeks? Maybe after a week or two they'll be begging to have you come back–especially if you focus the whole time on Ignatieff instead.

    • because it does not matter. the press is too consumed with the gotcha to shore up ratings. Like Wells said the PM would far rather spend time taking the messge to the people in between the times he spends tolerating their petty self indulgent egocentric little whines.

    • Because then the one outlet that decided to stick around and report what the Prime Minister of Canada is doing with his day would get 100% of the views from people who care about such stuff.

  28. So in effect, whether Harper increase or decrease the time answering questions, it would not really matter as journalists always choose to ask stupid, oohps, nonsensical questions?

  29. When the press stops showing up and covering the conservative events the attitude will change. As long as they choose to play by the rules the conservatives pick they get what they deserve. From my stand point there is no rush to tune into the work of a stenographer. I can just read the Conservative parties web site if that is what I am looking for.

  30. The sad reality is even if there were unlimited questions, the news would report the juicier soundbites of gothcha politics rather than thoughtful answers to complex issues…so why bother.

    But hey, I am still waiting for the" wafergate" issue to be resolved.

  31. I disagree with Wells. Playing Harper's game just encourages the dispicable act of shutting down public access to the government.

    Journalism is about demanding answers, even if it means asking the question 100 times. Journalism is not about backing down from the questions the authorities don't want to answer in order to make room for other important questions, because you're "not allowed" to ask any more.

    If Harper won't answer the question about access, then keep asking it.

    If you run out of questions, fill the rest of your stories with the phrase "Harper was unavailable to explain …. because he refused to take more than four questons from reporters"

    The public has a right to know both that he won't answer the access question AND that he won't make time to answer questions about his policies.

    You journos who defend him are sounding like battered wives who keep going back for more.

    • I think you have reading comprehension deficits. Wells was not defending journos in his piece; far from it. He was decrying their navel-gazing tendencies, etc.

      • He was decrying his own attitude?

        • I thought he was appropriately self-deprecating at times during his piece. But certainly he was more critical of other journos than of himself.

      • Actually, you're the one with comprehension problems. I didn't say he was defending journos. I said he was defending Harper. Go back and read that line again.

        • "You journos who defend him are sounding like battered wives who keep going back for more. "

          You're dumping on journos there, not Harper, by any reasonable reading of that sentence.

          Anyway, Wells was making a nuanced argument, to the effect that both parties — lazy, self-obsessed journos and Harper — are to blame for the inane coverage of the Harper campaign, just as, presumably, the same dynamic exists in the coverage of other campaigns. I tend to agree with Wells.

          • I don't know about lazy, Self- obssessed so much as vain and conceited.I thought that confusing the public right to know,with a sense of personal entittlement [ rather then a responsibility to report the news] was supposed to be a cardinal sin of journalism, that has to be ruthlessly driven out while the training wheels are still on?

    • But what are the questions they are asking? It is about them. I frankly don't care about the journalists, and have ceased to listen to them and their concerns.

      You seem to have this quaint notion that these folks actually could fill the important role they have in a democracy.

      They don't. They and their editors are incompetent. Harper is playing them like fools because they are fools.

  32. Buy the book later.

  33. The media irrelevancy and impotence at shaping the agenda of the election is largely self inflicted. The media are clouded by a dense fog of hatred against PM Harper, just like their Liberal party comrades, and helps explain the medias irrational behaviour. The media decided that it would follow the Liberal party agenda, regurgitating the Liberal narrative and repeating Liberal party attacks and talking points, and in doing so become irrelevant. The more the media whine about not being able to get the Liberal/Separatists "back to power" the more they are perceived as lackeys and Liberal party agents. PM Harper is not going to embrace the vipers of the PPG because they are seen as the enemy, and as long as the media continue to be a part of the "Liberal team" thats how they should be seen. The media never want to accept any responsibility for their self inflicted impotence and irrelevancy in shaping the agenda, but it is of their own making. If the publics perception of the media was that they were fair and balanced and were not in the pocket of the Liberals and Separatists then they would surely have more influence. The Liberal group think, pack mentality of the media does not help the Liberal party they shill for, it simply makes the media look like weak minded partisans that let their emotions and allegiances dictate their reportage.

    • Sorry, should have read, "Wells you magnificent b*stard, you're a national treasure."

      • Yep, Wells is gathering the material for his chef d'oeuvre about the fall of Canadian democracy; a true bastard as you say.

        What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.

        • "A prudent question is one-half of wisdom. "

          Paul Wells should argue for one of those half-wisdom questions…..even if it isn't his policy specialty.

  34. Aaron is himself beyond parody, he is an obsessed addict.

  35. Dictatorship with minority!

    Majority?! LOL! can you imagine the Harper regime with a majority government?! SCARY!.

  36. Harper's control over the media is remarkable! And very scary!

    Paul Wells took a week to figure this out and hopefully hopped off ScareAir and saved his boss a load of cash!

    Why don't his fellow journalists do the same?

    I guess they all suffer from the Stockholm syndrome.

  37. Hey Paul, ask why the government of Harper has failed to take adequate steps to curb CO2 emissions:

    "…Climatologist Andrew Weaver, at the University of Victoria, said the new report highlights the "hypocrisy" of the Harper government's approach to climate change.

    The Conservatives agreed internationally to take steps to help keep warming below the 2 C threshold, but the government continues to promote expanded use and export of Canadian oil and coal that are driving up emissions.

    "If we want to deal with this problem, we have to start transforming our energy systems now," said Weaver. "Not yesterday, not tomorrow, now. That means we should be weaning ourselves from our dependency on oil, not trying to expand it as fast a possible."…"

    Read more: http://www.canada.com/technology/Canada+hasn+done

    You could also ask how many public servants Harper plans to fire because of their honesty over this.

  38. How many questions did Harper take in the Halifax radio interview and the ethnic media roundtable?

  39. new plan – at every stop you put on a false moustache and pretend to be from the local paper.

  40. So that's Harper's bubble. I don't think it's wicked. Having predicted it, I think it's rather clever. But it rather makes a mockery of the thousands our bosses are spending for the theoretical benefit of access to a national party leader.

    That's a remarkable piece. It's made me think a bit about not being distracted by the small stuff. [ i don't say trivialities, because contempt of parliament is no triviality] The liberals had better learn this leason fast too. Or risk being taken for not being serious.
    What has happened to the proto-type wise old editor – you know the guy in all the president's men – the one who's one step ahead of the wily politician. The one who saves the day? Surely he wasn't just a fictional character PWs? Tell me it isn't so…don't let another of my illusions slip away? I can't afford to lose anymore. I'm already convinced my hair isn't coming back and Gretzky's likely gone for good,

    • Very simply because journalism is populated by people who got to where they are by learning to suck up to their betters.

      • That's a generalization that could be applied to large chunks of society, why just pick on journalists?

  41. This is a very thoughtful blog posting. Thank you for writing it.

  42. I'd have more confidence in Mr. Wells assessment of the brilliiance of Harper's strategy if it didn't look so much like Harper is just plain old stepping on his own story every day, spinning some bit of mendacious bombast around some secondary campaign issue. I fail to see the brilliance in this.

  43. Well, it's really like saying the Leafs have more fans attending its games than all the other teams in the league combined. It doesn't sound plausible on the face of it, is demonstrably false, and makes the claimant sound at best silly and at worst like a liar or an egomaniac.

    • That was the best analogy you could think of? Really?

    • not only bad analogy – not true. While the hockey thing is obviously false, it is possible that in a country the size of Canada, that a party with a larger support base would have a few thousand more people at their rallies. Not a stretch at all.

  44. WHY doesn't the press just ignore Harper, refuse to go on his campaign, and cover the Liberals? The media articles get more attention than Twitter or Facebook, in the end. Just let the bastard go off on his fatfaced way by himself. Mr. Potato Head Goes to Film Himself. What an idiot.

    • And Ignatieff will say 'how could I lose to such an idiot'.

  45. So he pisses off the Press Corps; and they go into 'reaction' mode, asking questions about why he's being nasty to them.

    In so doing, he gets to avoid the more important policy questions, answers to which will damn him to the electorate. And the press is following along obediently, by asking the wrong questions? Is that it?
    And they bore the voters.
    He also refuses questions on topics he doesn't like, I've noticed – will say "I'll answer a question on another topic".

    What great judgement Canadians have – hiring such a dud for the Emperor's job.

    Harper is hiding, running, and avoiding. I wonder if he'll manage to avoid the Great Debate? Six minutes with Ignatieff on stuff he knows nothing about, but Ignatieff is well informed on.

    • C'mon Mags, you sound like Iggo's Mum.

    • I think Paul Wells makes many points in this article. One of them is that Harper is prioritizing the type of media that he'll make himself available to. He concentrates his media attention to local press, rather than national press.

      "The other day he did a round table with a large number of ethnic media organizations. Last week in Halifax he did a radio interview."

      It's not that he's avoiding the media; it's that he's going directly to local/specialty media, rather than the travelling press. I don't think that's general avoidance, insomuch as it is particular avoidance: Restricting questions from media group A in favour of giving media group B more attention.

  46. Because journalists get their information from other journalists, and other journalists are talking about how frustrated they are, so that obviously is the important news?

    With rare exceptions.

    I for one don't listen or read any of those fools any more. Maybe they will eventually disappear. Unfortunately quite a few of them in Canada are paid by tax dollars and are immune to reality.

  47. The press, indeed the Canadian press via consummate liberal Jennifer Ditchburn,

    is now looking into the backgrounds of those who "travel in Conservative circles".

    Meanwhile Iggy brings into the party one who is a leader of a white supremist party and…..

    well that's already old news, nothing to see here.

    The media are, as Norm Spector tweeted so cleverly a few days ago, "redoubling thier efforts" to aid Iggy.

    It would be comical if it wasn't so corrupt.

  48. Why woudn't Harper ignore a left adoring press that slants opinion against him and his party at every opportunity. The bias wouldn't have anythng to do with the fact the populace at large is also turning their back on these folks as well. Remember Mommy said that for every action there is a reaction. Can't remember the last time I watched a Canuckistani TV 'news' broadcast. Oh yea, I remember, the lead story was a Vancouver bus driver on his cell phone. Thought it was Machinegun Kelly. So much for affirmative action reporting.

  49. So here's a question…why haven't the media adapted?

  50. .
    Seeing Harper's standards for acceptable criminal convictions, we can expect to see Conrad Black as one of the Government of Harper's policy-makers in our future.

    Mr. Get-Tough-on-Crime Stephen Harper.
    .

  51. The solution to this for reporters and news organizations is to ask the relevant questions in investigative stories, and leave them open. No reason to ask Harper or his coterie of image manipulators for comment. You can play the same game as he does. Then we'll see how long it takes before the bubble bursts.

  52. Holy Moly! After reading Paul Wells piece I have to admit not all journalists are juvenile in attitiude. To me, this lame election so far has been more about the media and its reporting of it, than it has been about the leaders, the parties and the platforms. This juvenile attitude of reportes, of constantly trying to find some politically incorrect gotcha moment, to see how much feigned outrage the leader can muster is quite boring and tiring. The editors and bosses should fire about 85% of the reporters and start over. If the likes of Kady O'Malley is the standard of Canadian journalism we have to endure….forget about it!

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