Gaffe of the Week: Tory hacks caught on tape!

Gaffe of the Week: Tory hacks caught on tape!

This morning’s on-line version of The Hill Times offers a thorough and thoughtful summary of what, for lack of a better handle, I’ll call the Sparrow’s Folly. I am referring, of course, to the ill-fated effort of the PMO’s media machine to spin the RCMP’s investigation into alleged election finance malfeasance. In events that sound remarkably like the embarrassing jokes told by your Uncle Lester after several too many at Christmas, three Torys—a flack (party spokesman Ryan Sparrow), a hack (Tory campaign director Doug Finley) and a lawyer (Paul Lepsoe)—held a secret briefing in an Ottawa hotel for selected journalists (this after changing the location to put other ink-stained hounds off the scent). They were found out, confronted by the excluded journos and forced to flee down a fire escape. I’m not making that up. Promise.

Quoted in the Hill Times piece, blogger Kady O’Malley sums it up best:

“To try to describe this in a manner that makes it sound organized and coherent does a grave disservice to reality, because you really did get the feeling they were making it up as they went along,” said Ms. O’Malley. “It was literally like, ‘Oh God, that reporter just walked in the door, we don’t want him in here, let’s change the rules.’ I did not get the sense there was a lot of thought going on here.”

T’was. Ever. Thus.

For me, the question left in the air is why, broadly speaking, the press (particularly management and ownership) put up with a government bent on propagating an adversarial approach to the fourth estate. There’s something timorous and deferential—even sycophantic—in CP bureau chief Rob Russo’s milquetoast reassurances:

“I don’t blame the Conservatives. They can privately brief anyone they want…. Are people going to grow longer fangs because they were shut out of the briefing? No, not at all.”

Mr. Russo said that because the government is less forthcoming with information than past governments, it just means journalists have to readjust their approach to reporting. “Go to documents, go to human contacts in Cabinet, caucus, in the government. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing.”

Ben Bradley he ain’t. This is the Government of Canada he’s talking about, not some Swiss bank. The press has a right, if not an obligation, to hold the government’s standard of accountability up to the light. In the States this sort of thing would bring a Sulzberger, a Graham or even a Murdoch in front of the microphones to defend the First Amendment. In Canada, the elements of the working press slink back to a corner and mutter that “we’ll all just have to try harder.” And not an owner in sight.

• Ethics chickens come home to roost [Chronicle Herald]• ‘Shelf-life is over’ on Tory media strategy, says press gallery’s president Brennan [Hill Times]• Tory spokesman would ‘take a bullet’ for Harper [Globe and Mail]• Indignation grows over police tactics [Globe and Mail]