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and I can't do a thing about it

CTV embarrasses itself

CTV called it “A Conversation with the Prime Minister.” I have a few alternate names for the program. How about: A Cure for Insomnia? Or even better: An Hour of My Time Wasted. Just a few weeks after my return from India where I noted the toughness and preparedness of the Indian interviewers and hosts, CTV has managed to make my point better than I ever could. Robert Fife, CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief, and Lloyd Robertson, the soon to be former anchor of CTV National News hosted a snooze-fest with the Prime Minister at Christmas.

Stephen Harper rarely makes himself available to journalists and has continuously shown his disdain for them during his time in office. So, when the opportunity arrives to grill the man it must be taken seriously. This has not been an easy year for our P.M. At a time when the Leader of the Opposition is proving to be a difficult if not impossible choice for most Canadians and Jack Layton is losing ground, Stephen Harper has managed to lose support. We can argue back and forth about why Harper can’t find the votes to secure a majority. We can even disagree about some questionable political moves like getting rid of the long gun registry and playing politics with the census, but there is no question that there are an abundance of issues to tackle when you get a chance to interview the Prime Minister. CTV missed that boat…they had a ticket, but couldn’t make the departure time.

For an hour Fife and Robertson lobbed softballs at Stephen Harper and the P.M. in turn batted them out of the park. In the first section on the economy Harper said his government was doing a great job. He even mentioned that “the deficit continues to fall.” I don’t know what universe the Prime Minister lives in but it is clear from his own Finance Minister that the government debt is still expanding and the Canadian economy has slowed to a crawl. Flaherty has even had to extend measures to support spending and job creation. Yet there was not a single rebuttal, not a query about the pronouncements. Hello! Robert, Lloyd, time to wake up.

The interview continued in the same way through the second segment on Canada’s relationship with the U.S. and the “Continental Security Perimeter.” Whatever Harper said was accepted at face value; never a follow up, not even a difficult question. When the P.M. was asked whether there was a chance the government could fall on the issue his answer was, “I don’t go around making threats.” Perhaps a question about past Harper behavior might have been in order here. Never happened.

To be fair, Fife did try to ask a few tough questions about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. Are we supporting a crooked regime? Isn’t the Taliban getting stronger? Are we wasting our troops and our money on a war we cannot succeed at? These are old questions that Harper can easily handle and in any case, they were not followed up on. It’s not good enough to ask the tough question, you must then question the answer if you have information that doesn’t jibe with the answers you are getting. Either Fife and Robertson didn’t do their homework or they chose to give Harper a relatively free ride.

The interview with Harper ended with a series of questions about the possibility of an election in 2011. This was the most egregious portion of the program. On several occasions Harper talked about an “opposition coalition.” He made it seem like the NDP, Liberals and Bloc were in cahoots to bring down his government. He went out of his way to question any deals that included those nasty separatists in the Bloc Quebecois. Was this not the perfect opportunity to finally question, among other things, Harper’s past working with the Bloc when he was in opposition and his attempts to unite the opposition parties at that time? Hey, and what’s wrong with a coalition? It is a perfectly legal tool used in the parliamentary system. I might have mentioned that Great Britain is currently being ruled by a coalition government. Harper has railed on-and-on about the terrible possibility of a coalition government. He always seems to make it sound illegal or at least un-parliamentary. It is neither, and a good interviewer should not allow him to get away with the characterization. Heck a poor interviewer should catch this one.

Okay, so those are the things that were actually discussed. This interview was more disheartening for the issues that were never brought up. Stephen Harper was never asked to explain his government’s stand on the Canadian census. The long gun registry was not used as ammunition for debate, but for me there were three issues that demanded tough questions and an effort to get real explanations. Why is Canada now rated last of the industrialized powers in dealing with the environment? Canada’s handling of that issue has embarrassed Canadians of all political stripes.

Nobody in the federal government has been asked to explain the fiasco that was the G-8 and G-20. The huge waste of money for which there has been no explanation. The choice of downtown Toronto as a venue. The disappearance of civil rights. Harper has a lot to answer for here. He can’t answer if he is not asked to.

Finally, the government’s Middle East policies. Whether you agree or disagree with Harper, you have to ask the questions. Is the P.M.’s support for Israel counterproductive in getting a deal between Israel and the Palestinians? I think President Obama would think so. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, but it sure makes it ripe for questioning, especially after Harper went on at length about better relations with our American partners.

By now you get the point. I hated the interview for the waste of an important opportunity and for, in the end, contributing to Canadians lack of interest in politics. It was beyond boring, it was just plain bad. CTV News and Robert Fife should be embarrassed. Lloyd Robertson was never an interviewer of any note and shouldn’t have been there. Let us all hope that when Lisa Laflamme, a real journalist, takes over the anchor position and when the new news bosses settle in at CTV that abominations like this one can be avoided.

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Filed under: Media Commentary, Political Commentary, , , , ,

19 Responses

  1. JohnR says:

    You are upset that CTV didn’t implement Frank Graves strategy advice to the fledgling Liberal Party. I do agree that it was a weak interview but it is well ah Christmastime. It’s Political E! Obama does it all the time

    Coalition: The Brit version was between the first AND second vote getting parties. The Canadian version comprised all the losers and not the party garnering the most votes. The coalition was a non-starter with MOST Canadians. That is mostly due to the above in conjuction with the fact that a separtist party would be an integral component. It also had more seats than the NDP so it is not wise to attempt spinning that they’d sit back and agree with all propositions put forth by a Lib NDP Bloc coalition controlled only by the Liberals. We accept a lot but please.

    • hlbtoo says:

      John, a coalition of parties that control the majority of seats in a parliamentary government is a tactic that is both legal and permissible. Whether it is smart politically is not part of my question. It is Stephen Harper’s innuendo around the issue that is wrong and should be challenged. Also, according to your logic we should stop reporting serious news because it is the holiday season. Sorry I cannot think or act that way.

  2. Allan Sorensen says:

    I always have very, very low expectations when it comes to ANY interview with Harper.
    We’ve become used to his style of calmly disagreeing with any questions that are put to him.
    So really, could anyone coax this guy out of his wax museum lifeless demeanor? Everything is going well and nothing is his fault.
    In fact all of our current government leaders are as dull as a late show with Strombo.

    But I’m also a bit surprised to see that you would expect anything more from CTV.
    As much as FOX TV down south, this is the network that has forever supported the Conservatives. They were so obviously eager to roll over for the PMO during the Mulroney years.

  3. Peter McCluskey says:

    Howard;

    You didn’t even mention that unbelievable portion of the hour when they trotted out Lauren Harper! It was cringe-inducing. I can’t imagine why CTV agreed to it. I’ll betcha Don Cameron did a spin in his grave this week!

    • hlbtoo says:

      Peter, I wonder if anyone at CTV even knows who Don Cameron was?

    • Bill says:

      CTV has always managed to be in the back pocket of whichever Govt is in power in Canada, especially the Conservatives.

      Why Lloyd has ever been thought of as a journalist boggles the mind, he is a news reader, that’s all.

      Duffy and Oliver have been known Conservatives for decades. Yet when the “bias” issue is raised its always the CBC which comes under fire!

      Bill

  4. Bill Murphy says:

    Yes, does anyone remember: Don Cameron, Tim Ralfe, Peter Reilly or Norman Depoe?

    These guys could sup/sip with the Politicians but still ask the tough questions!

    Bill

  5. Mark Spark says:

    Craig is personal friend of the Trudeau family … and went on many a canoe trip with Pierre. He was hard wired into the liberal party for many years … and hardly a conservative.

    And isn’t Bernstein the guy who suggested Clark and Laflamme were going to dual anchor until one of them emerged victorious … I guess there was going to be an American-Idol style call in for that? I wondered what the Frank Magazine contributors were up to these days.

    And you guys who lionize the past … are an embarrassment. You probably consider Abbey Road modern music.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Oh, and Mark, do you consider good journalism a thing of the past?
      ps…check with your buddies or co-workers at CTV and ask them if they were considering using Tom and Lisa.
      Finally Mark, I notice you had nothing to say about the Stephen Harper interview, did you see it?
      I know Craig Oliver, I worked with Craig, and I know he canoed with Pierre Trudeau. I also know he is an excellent journalist who would not have embarrassed the profession like Fife and Robertson did.

  6. Mark Spark says:

    Of course I saw the interview … so what? It’s just TV. It’s not like someone’s out there curing impetigo. If you want journalism … read a newspaper. HB’s read of Lloyd’s retirement was so awful … I can’t even trust his impressions.

  7. Mark Spark says:

    I read a lot of suspect material … and then I rely on experience to inform my opinion. I also try to keep an open mind. That hardly makes me unique.

  8. Mark Spark says:

    Julian Assange strikes again.

  9. Justin says:

    While the Harper interview was a complete waste of time, he was right in saying that “the deficit continues to fall” in 2010 as Deficit doesn’t equal Debt (which is rising).

    Another example of Cdn journalists largely ignorant of basic economic/finance fundamentals.

    • hlbtoo says:

      You’re right Justin, but is this not an opening to question the overly positive numbers presented in the last budget and the fact that the economy has slowed to a crawl?

  10. You ROCK man.

    Bringing the ugly truth back to the people’.

    snip snip: Canadian media coverage of Afghanistan for 10 years has been the equivalent of covering news in Canada and Canadian events by having three reporters driving around in Vancouver Police cruisers on Vancouver’s east side.

    http://hilltimes.com/page/view/qnataylor-12-6-2010

    When people like General Rick Hillier dumbed it down and said the Taliban are scumbags and murderers—absolutely true. What he failed to mention is that the guys we’re propping up are also scumbags and murderers.

    .
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    .

  11. Mark Hlady says:

    Paradise lost! The usually incisive, Robert Fife will survive to fight another day. All is well in the New Vatican, from sea, to shining sea, and the old boys, are doing just fine. A coalition, doesn’t do our cultural mosaic, and diversity justice. Or in Canada, just ice. Sad!

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