Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Prime Ministers And The Press

Yesterday, Lawrence Martin provided an historical review of the relationship between prime ministers and the press. And, while Justin Trudeau's appearance at last week's Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner was hailed as a tour de force, Martin writes that we shouldn't expect the camaraderie to last:

In one campaign, John Turner got filmed giving a couple of women friendly pats on the posterior. It became a national sensation. The media labelled his campaign plane Derri-Air. Brian Mulroney tried getting along with the media but got in trouble over such weighty affairs of state as the platoon of Gucci loafers adorning his allegedly two-acre wardrobe chamber.

On his anti-social calendar, Mackenzie King described the press gallery dinner as his most unpleasant outing of the year. Jean Chr├ętien’s folksy charm worked for a while with the press but he fumed at Shawinigate coverage. Pierre Trudeau soured on gallery dinners after one in which a bevy of half-smashed scribes pelted his table with buns.

Inevitably, prime ministers determine, though often it is their own folly that is the cause, that the media are biased against them. Justin Trudeau may be even more apt to feel set upon than his father. In Pierre Trudeau’s era, the press was more liberal. Today, the fellow who runs the great mass of print media in the country is an avowed conservative, Postmedia’s Paul Godfrey. Though not the force it used to be, print still factors heavily in the national discussion and never have conservatives been in control of more major newspapers.

Our democracy would be in trouble if camaraderie between our leaders and the press were the order of the day. However, it is refreshing when -- for one night of the year -- politicians and ink stained wretches can have the courage to laugh at themselves.

And it's also a sign of a healthy -- not a toxic -- democracy. 



Anonymous said...

I'm not sure a press gallery dinner tells us much about the state of democracy. The event's been a staple of the American political scene for years, but I wouldn't call the US a healthy democracy. In fact, it has more in common with an oligarchy than a democracy.

In a democracy, average citizens and mass-based interest groups would have influence on public policy. Instead, even in Canada, the only substantial impact on government policy comes from economic elites and organizations representing business interests. I include the corporate press in that latter group.

Owen Gray said...

I agree that's been the case, Anon. Martin points out that most of the country's papers are controlled by Paul Godfrey. And, interestingly, they are in deep financial trouble.

The Mound of Sound said...

The numbers suggest that Trudeau's popularity with Canadians has a solid foundation, even among New Dems. It creates the impression that he might not be as vulnerables to the whims and fancies of the press as some prime ministers of the past.

This brings back memories of the little girl from Galiano Island, Iona Campagnolo, whose bum John Turner patted to his regret.

Owen Gray said...

Anyone who lives on the shores of the Pacific -- or the Atlantic -- knows full well, Mound, that winds can shift quickly and dramatically. Wise navigators never forget that axiom.