Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, now wants the Parliamentary Press Gallery to put their names on a list if they wanted to ask him questions. In protest against this effort at news management, the gallery reporters all declined to sign up and walked out of a press conference when Harper refused to answer questions put to him by anyone not on the list.
Harper essentially has fired the national media. From the LA Times:
"Unfortunately, the press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government," the recently elected Conservative leader told a Canadian television network Wednesday.
"We'll just take the message out on the road. There's lots of media who do want to ask questions and hear what the government is doing for Canadians, or to Canadians. So we'll get our message out however we can," Harper said.
This reminds me of Vice President Cheney's controversial decision to ignore the U.S. national media when he shot his friend's face, instead allowing the hunting party hosts to disclose the information to a small Texas newspaper. Cheney then agreed to be interviewed by the friendliest possible national reporter, Fox's Brit Hume. As far as Cheney was concerned, the rest of the national press corps that covers the Bush/Cheney Administration could pound sand.
I wrote about this incident a couple of months ago, citing Jay Rosen's suspicion that Cheney's perceived "bungling" of the shooting story was, perhaps, a deliberate test-run of a new political tactic for dealing with the national media — to treat them as worthy of no greater respect or deference than any other working reporters, anywhere in the country.
The president and other administration leaders owe it to the country to explain themselves through the press. But which press? Are only White House press corps reporters experts on the matters pertaining to the presidency? That's a hard case to make. Are those reporters the creme de la creme, so much better than any other reporters that the nation is ill-served by shutting them out? Even harder case to make. In essence, the only thing that makes them special is that the White House credentials them to work in the White House, based on requests for access issued by leading news organizations. It's a courtesy, given out arbitrarily, based on nebulous factors like the size and influence of the news organization requesting the assignment.
So now, Bush/Cheney's conservative neighbor to the north has taken it one step further and said he won't talk to "the gaggle" at all.
Here's how the Globe and Mail covered the story today:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks you won't be interested in reading this article because it's just "inside Ottawa stuff."
Despite this, Mr. Harper, who claimed Wednesday the Ottawa press corps is biased against him, was forced to talk again yesterday about his continuing dispute with the Parliamentary Press Gallery and about how to decide who gets to ask questions at his news conferences.
He was asked by a reporter in Vancouver whether the Ottawa-based press corps has become "elitist" and out of touch with the interests of most Canadians.
Mr. Harper said: "I don't think this story is really of much interest to ordinary people. I think what they are interested in is what is the government doing, and do they agree with it or do not agree with it."
The news media, he continued, "will always have their opinions about government policy," but the public will ultimately make up its own mind.
While cooperating with the PM's request to join a list, the provincial reporters sounded like they were standing in solidarity with their colleagues in Ottawa. But that's just this week. How long can the media keep writing the story of Harper's "feud?"
A lot of politicians and PR people south of the Canadian border will be watching with great interest.