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.