Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Media Bias Stole My Lunch Money

As I noted back in this post, the McGill Observatory on Media and Public Policy has analyzed the newspaper coverage of the last two federal elections and, on both occasions, has found that the media has been most hostile towards the Liberals and most favourable towards the Conservatives.

Meanwhile, the most important event since the election of the Conservative government in January has been the budget. Here is how Warren Kinsella describes the media coverage of the budget in his column entitled, "Eating from Flaherty's hand"

"...a budget is a winner when a government's desired headlines match, exactly, with the media's actual headlines. In this case, they do. Big time."

Days before the budget's House of Commons debut, two really, really, really senior Conservatives -- not Stephen Harper, mind you, but that's the only hint you'll be getting -- were asked what they wanted to see in the media.

Said senior Conservative: "At the end of the day, we want the budget [headlines] to say: 'Tories deliver for the middle class,' or something like that."

And: "A focus on tax cuts. Focused spending. And an acknowledgement ... that the budget remains balanced, with debt pay-down."

That's what they wanted. And that, almost eerily, is what they got.


On balance, the Canadian media's uncritical reliance upon desired Conservative headlines -- to wit, "middle class," "tax cuts," "focused spending" and so on -- was widespread. While the budget may be fiscally unsound, or unpopular in the long term, it was -- without any doubt -- a massive media home run."

All of which brings us to today's headline: "Harper says he'll avoid national media because they're biased against him"

"The prime minister says the parliamentary press gallery seems to have decided to become the opposition to his Conservative administration. He told a London, Ont., TV station on Wednesday that he is having problems with reporters in the capital that a Liberal prime minister would never face. So Harper says he will take his message out on the road and deal with the less hostile local media."

First of all, the media as a whole is not, in fact, biased against the Conservatives.

Second of all, even if the media was biased against the Conservatives, that might seem logical given that the Harper government has gone out of its way to antagonize the media, going so far as to keep the time and location of meetings secret to make it impossible for the media to report on them, and demanding that the government be allowed to decide which reporters are allowed to ask questions.

Finally, even if the media was biased against the Conservatives - waaaaah! Grow up and take it like a man, don't run off and hide in some regional market.

I guess the real question is whether Harper is truly paranoid or whether this is some sort of political tactic. The other day Paul Wells dug up some old quotes showing how battles between the government and the media in Ottawa are nothing new. I wonder if he has anything along the lines of this latest outburst. In case not, Dave, over at The Galloping Beaver, provides a recent example, courtesy of George Bush, who made pretty much the same statement back in 2003. Hopefully the Conservatives will break away from the Bush media-handling playbook some time before he reaches the stage of threatening to imprison journalists who publish stories harmful to the administration. Err, I mean hopefully those sentiments will at least stay limited to Conservative backbenchers.

Anyway, Harper may be paranoid/playing games with his whining about media bias but that's not to say that the media is doing a good job. Once again I defer to Paul Wells who reprints some remarks he made a couple of years ago in which he laments the media's descent into covering trivial, rather than important matters. Not much has changed since then. Of course, some might say this post is guilty of the same thing. To which I reply, uh, good point, time to move on from this idiocy.


  • I know this is a minority view, but I can't help but think that this whole thing is part of a broader communications strategy on the part of the Conservatives.

    Compare it with Stockwell Day's attempts to "bring decorum" to press briefings by holding them in a room - how long did that last?

    We're seeing a much more coordinated attempt to let the media frame itself in a particular way. Whether or not it will backfire on him is hard to say, but it certainly isn't hurting him right now.

    I don't know whether or not Harper really believes the media's biased against him, but playing the role of the guy who's trying to take his message right to the people, bypassing the fat cats et al. sounds pretty familiar - anyone recall Trudeau's speeches during the repatriation talks?

    By Blogger A Conductor, at 6:04 AM  

  • aLT - It may be a minority view, but it is the one I lean to as well.

    Trudeau was before my time, but certainly I've seen the 'media bypass technique' before and not just in politics.

    But Harper has shown enough signs of paranoia that I decided to just leave the question open in my post whether this latest outburst was tactical or not.

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:56 AM  

  • It's hard for me not to see it as tactical, and that this crisis was manufactured.

    I should also mention that I don't think this is a dark conspiracy, but just an example of the same kind of communications strategies governments and corporations use to influence the public all the time.

    Let me put it this way - given the cone of silence around Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers, would we really expect the PM himself to lose it and say something unscripted?

    And given the fact that he's still on this, I suspect it's going the way they want it to.

    By Blogger A Conductor, at 8:33 AM  

  • Yes, the more I think about it, the more it all seems pretty scripted.

    I guess I am projecting my own reaction "what a baby!" onto the population, thinking that everyone will have the same reaction, which may not be true.

    Still, I'm not sure it will be such an effective tactic. This isn't the U.S. (at least I hope not, Harper & Co. seem pretty convinced it is so I guess we'll see).

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:37 PM  

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