Monday, November 10, 2008

Why Harper Picks Fights With The Media

It is being reported that Stephen Harper is fighting with the national press once again, reminiscent of when he first became Prime Minister and how he took the unprecedented step of alienating the national press gallery, refusing to give interviews, and devaluing their purpose; however when one looks at the advice he gave to the fledgling leader of the Canadian Alliance Stockwell Day in 2000 Harper's motivations become all the more clearer.

As president of the National Citizens' Coalition Stephen Harper in a September 23 2000 article for the Globe and Mail explained why a leader like Stockwell Day 'picks fights' with the media. The article reported:

"Generally speaking, the Ottawa press gallery would not be in favour of Stockwell Day's political agenda and he knows that," Mr. Harper said. "By picking a fight with the press, it kind of forewarns the public to view some of the media coverage skeptically."

Mr.Day may also have been trying to distract attention from other party leaders, Mr. Harper said, and some reporters have indeed had to cut away from interviews with other politicians to attend Mr. Day's press conferences this week."
Stephen Harper when he was elected Prime Minister in 2006 adopted this very same strategy but to an exaggerated level. He has rarely entered the National Press Theatre and continues to choose the few reporters who may ask him questions. And though he gradually warmed up to the media throughout his first term, upon his re-election he has once again adopted this strategy of fighting with the media.

In light of this re-emergent hostility from the Prime Minister the Canadian Press has suggested it is Harper's way of trying to control the media, however as the 2000 article suggests, there are other factors involved. Stephen Harper does not only want to control who asks him questions or what topics can be discussed but he wants to control the public's perception of the media, and his relative importance to them compared to other party leaders.

Ignoring the media allows Harper to become the centre of their attention when he does decide to talk, overshadowing those other politicians who are regularly friendly to reporters. Not only that but having public quarrels with the media induces Canadians to question reporters negative stories on Harper. In the end these factors lower the public's perception of the media while elevating his own, leaving Canadians with less information about a Prime Minister who wants it that way.

As the Globe and Mail article points out, Stephen Harper's decision to fight once again with the media is not based on some moral or on some noble reason; but as he himself explained, out of a sheer strategic concern that is only motivated by political opportunism.


Constant Vigilance said...

Excellent digging. It is a theme I have noticed that he is out to achieve his ends by messing the bed for everyone rather than discussing the relative merits of his ideas. I expect it is because he knows he can't defend the goals he has for Canada.

If he forewarns "the public to view some of the media coverage skeptically" then it is harder for the public to be informed of the true nature of the man and his policies.

Figuring out how to fight this sort of strategy is a challenge however.

ottlib said...

It is only a challenge when the media is treated this way and they still kiss his ass like they have been doing since 2006.

If our MSM had anything resembling a backbone this strategy would have failed in 2006.

Instead we are seeing the same movie all over again. Stephen Harper treats the MSM like something he found on the bottom of his shoe. They complain bitterly but do nothing about it.

Anonymous said...

Ottlib: I agree, but in a way they're forced to report on him no matter what, as he is PM. Harper has put the Press in a very bad position. Either they report on what he wants them to or they don't report and they don't get readership.

I was surprised at how manipulative Stephen Harper truly is. I had thought he attacked the Press for some reason, not because its just a part of his election strategy.


Ted said...

Figuring out how to fight this sort of strategy is a challenge however.

One strategy is for the Liberal leader, when chosen, to be super-available. Openess and accountability should be one of the Liberal themes next round - contrast Deceivin' Stephen and his lies and deceptions and lack of accountability and transparency with the New Liberal's openness, "we've learned our lesson the hard way", etc.

By being ever ready - and not in a Jack! Layton kind of way - the media will ensure that our message is heard, seek out our response to Harper's attempt to define the new leader. Give the media what they want - access, interviews, exclusives - and just by doing their job they will help in doing ours.

Anonymous said...

Ted: But just to be devils advocate, wasn't that what we were doing before? I'm not sure but I thought Liberals were open before, if they weren't how weren't they?

Now this has sort of developed to an interesting point. First I saw Stephen Harper as abusing the press and being politically opportunistic, then someone commented about how the media is allowing this to happen, and to a degree I agree. But now we're suggesting that the Liberals can use this to their advantage by being more open.

And on that point it's amusing to me that to be better than the conservatives we only have to be open. Not some grand elaborate strategy, but just more welcoming to journalists. It makes you wonder how much effort would be needed to really blow them out of the water...Actually working as a team?


ottlib said...


The MSM is supposed to have the power in the relationship between media and government. After all, they are the ones that determine what is important and what will be the narrative.

There were many occasions where the Harper government needed to get its message out in the most positive way and the MSM was more than happy to be of assistance.

Who knows, maybe they believed by doing so Mr. Harper would change his approach. He has not so I wonder if the media will change its approach to the government. I doubt it. Our MSM is truly pathetic.

Ted, the Liberals should do what you suggest until after the leadership race is over. Then it should essentially embargo the media.

Starve the beast. If Mr. Harper and the next Liberal leader refuse to talk to the media the MSM would have to look elsewhere for its content. In that situation they would look at the government and what will be a quickly deteriorating economy.

Anonymous said...

Ottlib: But don't you think the Conservatives strategy was effective? That the MSM needs him perhaps even more than he needs them. He'll be PM with or without them, but they won't be much of an msm without him.

And the MSM is at a disadvantage considering they have institutionalized integrity and non-partisanship while he does not. Thus Harper is freer to manipulate till his heart content.

Ottlib, I guess we're in disagreement over the medias power. I suggest the media must cover Harper when they have the chance, but you are suggesting otherwise. If the media did black out Harper don't you think some other type of media would cover it undermining the MSM?


burlivespipe said...

One problem is that we talk of 'the media' when in fact, let's stick with print but as you know the whole media is an incestuary bastard, there are split personalities involved.
For the most part, reporters chase the power, want to cover and unearth stories about the power and how it affects the regular joe and josephine. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable ad nauseum... There's where the rumour of 'liberal friendly media' percolates from.
But above the reporter, whether it's culling the stories, creating the headlines or writing the editorials, is a huge other beast, essentially the 'comfortable.' Someone like Patricia Graham at the Van Sun, who once was among the reporters, became ingrained with the power and comfort of her position. Nevermind that she held tightly on a subsidized apartment on Granville Island long past her 'hard days'... These people are applying some stick and carrots to the reporters.
So the reporter is not only battling a dickhead at the PMO, but also some malignant SOB who wants so badly to be invited to the waterskiing party in honour of the CEO, that he trims stories or shuffles assignments, skims leads or even kills them altogether. No indepth story on what the hell Zaccardelli was doing with the release that the RCMP 'was investigating members of the Martin gov't' -- pray tell why isn't there some real digging going on about that? The guy's retired and living it up in Europe, for christsakes, on an rCmP pension?!
Unfortunately, too many of the leaders in media circles are licking Harper's highknee. It's likely, that with all the grease the CONs have, that it will take something culpable and insideous to stop that trend.
Not that I have any inside info.

Anonymous said...

Burlivespipe: See that's another factor I didn't consider, the Print media get it from both sides, the people they report on (harper) and the people they report to (the newspapers).

But acknowledging the media kowtows to Harper because of his political opportunism, is there anyway for the media or for us to change that?


MilitantLiberal said...

The press needs to get some balls. It shouldn't even matter what their personal politics are. For example I'm Liberal but if I was in the press core and a Liberal Prime Minister tried to restrict access and control the message and treat me like a little kid like Harper does to the media, I would spend the entire rest of my career writing articles blasting that PM. Any self respecting press core when subjected to this kind of abuse would bury Stephan Harper, dig him up and bury him again. The media have all the power and can frame any story anyway they want. The media decides when a scandal is a scandal. They buried the Liberals with Adscam and let Harper walk on at least ten potential scandals. Our media acts like Harper has the power and they need to keep access. I dont need access to Stephan Harper to write a column bashing Stephen Harper and neither do they.

MilitantLiberal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MilitantLiberal said...

I know , I know I keep spelling Stephen Harper wrong. That always seem to happen when I type angry. This subject baffles me and brings out the worst in my spelling and grammer. Apologies to those who had to cringe.