Q & A: when politicians pose for pictures and journalists pose questions - Macleans.ca

Q & A: when politicians pose for pictures and journalists pose questions


The Prime Minister’s Office seems to have backed off on a threat to block a CTV cameraman from traveling with Stephen Harper on a foreign trip, after the cameraman tried to ask Harper an unwelcome question at a photo-op in New York last week.

It’s not uncommon for journalists to shout questions at politicians during staged events, where no formal opportunity is offered for reporters to ask them. Last spring, for instance, after Harper gave that widely panned speech to his MPs about the Nigel Wright-Mike Duffy affair, some reporters tried to pose questions from the back of the caucus room. He didn’t answer, and the unruly press was soon ushered out.

In Washington, interrogative outbursts of this sort seem even more common. I asked Steven Thomma, president of the White House Correspondents Association, and McClatchy Newspapers’ government and politics editor, to explain. Here’s an edited version of that brief phone interview:

Q. How often does the President have questions shouted at him when he’s not necessarily expecting them?

A. It has happened often. At statements where the President is speaking and is not going to take questions. At photo-ops. It doesn’t happen frequently at this White House, but it has happened more frequently in the last year than it did in the first four years of [President Barack Obama’s] term.

Q. Why is it happening more lately?

A. Because the President doesn’t take questions, or doesn’t formally agree to take questions, as often as we in the press corps would like. So we get frustrated and start shouting out questions.

Q. Has the White House tried to reprimand or deny accreditation to somebody who shouted out a question?

A. No. I do not recall that ever happening. There have been requests made to us, the correspondents association, to reprimand reporters who have been, I would call it aggressive, some people would call it impolite.

Q. What did the association do?

A. There was a case about a year ago where a reporter interrupted the President in the Rose Garden while the President was still speaking, and the President was frustrated and angry. People asked us to reprimand the reporter in some way and we refused. We debated it for about two minutes. We don’t police the journalism of our members.

Q. So this sort of thing is generally accepted in Washington.

A. There’s frustration, maybe even anger, on the part of politicians, the White House, the government. But there’s been no effort to take away the credentials of reporters for shouting out questions.


Q & A: when politicians pose for pictures and journalists pose questions

  1. It’s not as if reporters should be allowed to interfere or ask questions at all time. I don’t know why reporters think they themselves should be center stage each and every time. Sometimes just take what the leaders have to say, and at other times ask questions. It’s a give and take process, and not a one-way-street.

    I am interested in what the political leaders have to say, but I am not interested in playing ‘gotcha’ with the leaders.

    Why would Harper answer any questions on Del Mastro right now, as is being heard within this clip? All reporters know by now that Del Mastro has been officially charged and that his time in court will come, and the outcome of that courtcase will be reported on, no doubt, just as it should be. There is nothing else to say about the Del Mastro case right now, and for the press to push Harper on saying anything about Del Mastro at this time, is pure ‘gotcha’ politics being played by members of the media.


  2. this is a very good article because it tells me that harper is after shutting down everyone from asking him questions except the media. harper shuts down his MPs, he shuts down his senators, he shuts down parliament, and harper also shuts down the opposition, and now he wants to shut down the media. the media are the last soldiers of truth left on the battle field of parliament, that are still capable of asking harper tough questions. please don’t give up asking tough questions, media ! signed, taxpayer.

    • If we lose freedom of the press….we lose the country.

      This is important.

  3. Didn’t Brian Topp just write an NDP memo (about what he learnt in the BC election fiasco) saying that slapping the media around was good politics? And that being friendly to the media was the kiss of death for a politician?

    The media squawking must have been music to Harper’s operatives ears?

    • Are we taking his advice, at this point?

    • I think Mr. Topp said it was Winning politics. Good politics
      can sometimes be a different thing.

  4. Harper give answers to questions from reporters about governmental response to Canadian issues? It’s none of Canadian’s business. After all, he is the state, it’s his divine right. Mere mortals must simply acquiesce and bend over.

  5. Does either leader ever answer these shouted out questions?