Look around you


A German correspondent in Washington complains that Barack Obama won’t sit for interviews with reporters from other countries. At the risk of further reducing Stephen Harper’s willingness to sit for interviews with reporters from this country, I should point out that our prime minister also sees non-Canadian journalists as unworthy of his time. Usually before G8 meetings a few of the leaders — Bush, Sarkozy, Merkel, Putin last year and I believe Medvedev this year — sit down with reporters from selected G8 member-state news organizations for interviews in the week before the summit. Harper doesn’t partake in this bit of neighbourliness.

The reasons aren’t always quite the same. A Canadian leader who speaks to foreign journalists will, more or less automatically, be accused of putting on airs. Chrétien and Mulroney were, reliably, when they spoke to U.S. journalists. The reason Obama and Harper have in common is that readers and viewers in other countries don’t vote. So a politician who sits with a foreign reporter is facing all the dangers (misspeaking, wilful or accidental misinterpretation) and none of the benefits (so-called “earned media” campaign juice where it counts).

But it’s unfortunate. Any country’s leader has to operate in the wider world beyond his electorate. It’s too bad when leaders, aspiring or actual, don’t count benefit of explaining themselves to be worth the risk and the trouble.


Look around you

  1. Foreign media to one side, I must say I’m puzzled by how the Canadian media has allowed itself to be shut out of the PM’s throne room. Why are they not paying him back with slander & abuse (/misrepresentation)? (The Toronto Star doesn’t count.) Even those journalistic breathen bound by solemn Vows of Neutrality might show signs of unconscious payback. Whereas I have to say the coverage of Harper’s government has been more than fair. I’m not complaining, just trying to psychologise. O media, media, wherefore are ye media?

  2. I think one of Obama’s campaign promises is that he will improve the image of the US in the world. It is probably therefore important for him to give voters some reason to support him on that count. But in the end, I think you had it right when you said the foreign media don’t vote.

  3. Jack Mitchell,

    You are saying two curious things. Firstly that the coverage of the Harper government has been more than fair. A very challengeable comment. But twilight zone strange, you are then suggesting the media to get better audience should blackmail our PM by slandering him and his party to force a better media relationship.

    Granted, that journalists don’t exist within the ethical confines of a professional association, but you are asking for a media coup de tat. Do you really think democracy is that bad that our next leaders should be the TV news reader? or would you prefer the editor of the Globe and Mail?

  4. In general, the media have been dangerously sycophantic towards the Harper regime.

  5. I was going to answer, Jack, but I had a feeling this comment thread will soon be more eloquent than I could be. It’s already well begun.

  6. Tomm,

    Let’s steer clear of the just-or-unjust question, which is unanswerable except in Paul Wells’s next book. Justly or unjustly, Harper hasn’t been ridiculed like Mr. Dithers was. I was just saying that was pretty surprising, given that he’s spent nearly 3 years grinding his heel into the spine of Canadian journalism. Surprising to me as a non-journalist, I mean. I wasn’t thinking of it as a marketing strategy, just as viscous id bubbling up from the oil sands of the Fourth Estate’s soul. But no.

    As to journalists running wild, I rather like the idea. I wish we had a dozen national dailies and five newsweeklies, like they did in Britain in the 30’s, each with its own unapologetically political line. You know, ten Lords of Crossharbour, twenty Jeff Simpsons, thirty apoplectic Newfoundlander windbags. That strikes me as “real” democracy, provided monopolies were forbidden.

    It just seems to me that politicians are supposed to be the lovers and journalists the beloved; the politicians are supposed to beg, plead, flatter, cajole, etc., and the journalists are supposed to hold the cards. The present reversal of that relationship fills me with foreboding. Our PM is not a god, like the Tsar of the US President; he’s supposed to emerge from his tenure with a sense of grievance. There’s a great bit of “Yes Prime Minister” I recommend on this – I think it’s “Official Secrets,” where Hacker, dining with an editor, first tries to threaten him with blocked access to No. 10 and then caves at the threat of war.

    Well, my comment is now too long. Therefore I shall post it without removing anything.

  7. I heartily support the emergence of a yellow press, with ten different national papers, each with a given known viewpoint… It would be more open and more honest than two or three authoritative papers, each trying to be ‘neutral’.

    As for Harper vs. the media — I am a fan of his, and I’ve been cheering him on. But if the media wanted to push back, why, more power to ’em. I enjoy a good donnybrook.

  8. Isn’t approval by foreigners, Europeans in particular, anathema to large sections of American voters?

  9. Shenping has a point. One suspects the Obama camp contains at least a few people who are worried that, if he’s well-received abroad, he’ll *lose* votes at home.

    But isn’t it kind of sad if that drives operational decisions? The Martin camp, to pick one example among many, used to look forward to a distant future day when it could be bold or upstanding or innovative, and lament the (never-ending) present, when circumstances forced different kinds of behaviour.

    Am I really comparing Barack Obama to Paul Martin? Lately, more often than I’d like to.

  10. I wasn’t thinking of it as a marketing strategy, just as viscous id bubbling up from the oil sands of the Fourth Estate’s soul.

    It just seems to me that politicians are supposed to be the lovers and journalists the beloved; the politicians are supposed to beg, plead, flatter, cajole, etc., and the journalists are supposed to hold the cards.

    Ugh. Not just long, but terrible too.

  11. Paul I have not been thinking about Obama and Martin similarities much but something I read in another thread earlier made me think of one potential similarity.

    The Canadian media seemed to think Martin was some kind of colossal politician who was going to transform the country into something all of us could be proud of. When, inevitably, Martin did not live up to their hopes/expectations the journos took their disillusionment out on him.

    I was thinking this could happen to Obama. People are buying into his talk of ‘hope’, ‘change we can believe in’ and the like but what will happen when Obama’s administration doesn’t live up to the hype?

  12. I like your purist attitude, Eric. Do you know Sir Desmond Glazebrook?

    Sir Desmond: City’s a funny place, you know, Prime Minister. If you spill the beans you open up a whole can of worms. I mean, how can you let sleeping dogs lie if you let the cat out of the bag? Bring in a new broom and if you’re not very careful you find you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. If you change horses in the middle of the stream, next thing you know you’re up the creek without a paddle.

    Hacker: And then the balloon goes up.

    Sir Desmond: Obviously. They hit you for six. An own goal in fact.

  13. jwl:
    Obama’s support has dropped, and the gap with McCain has narrowed, because the hype is waning. The hysterical reaction to the New Yorker cover was another gaffe in a long line of recent gaffes.

    My personal feeling is that Obama is avoiding interviews simply because he knows very little about Europe. There is a big risk he might say something stupid.

    In fact, Obama seems to know little about some interesting things, such as his recent comment that he will be in office for 8-10 years (http://newsbusters.org/blogs/warner-todd-huston/2008/07/20/obama-ill-be-president-next-8-10-years), and that during his campaign he visited 57 states (http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=864_1210390356)

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