Tales: Politics and Media—Perennial Dance Partners

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      Brian Mulroney’s cunning attempt to conclude a deal on Canada’s constitution provided a backdrop for one of the most telling moments of my career in the news media. For me, it perfectly illustrates the co-dependent relationship between the media and public figures.

In 1990, I was a reporter-editor with Sunday Edition, the hour-long weekly newsmagazine show hosted by Mike Duffy and broadcast on the CTV network. For days, the provincial premiers had been holed up at the Government Conference Centre in downtown Ottawa trying to hammer out a deal. As they met into the evening, my role was to coordinate live hits: arrange a camera, uplink and satellite time so that the hosts of supper-hour news shows across Canada could speak with Mike Duffy live from outside the Centre. Even in the singular mania of live television, it was a bit of a crazy task: stay in touch continually with studios in other cities, make sure Mike Duffy didn’t stray too far when live slots approached, negotiate for expensive satellite time and keep track of the larger story as it unfolded.

With the penultimate live hit finished and darkness falling on a fine June evening, Mike and I walked back toward the Conference Centre, discussing the upcoming live link with BCTV Vancouver. At that moment, New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna stepped out and was immediately surrounded by a phalanx of reporters and camera operators. It was a bizarre sight: a group of perhaps 20 moving as one, bright lights shining on a man trying his best to look confident and comfortable. Suddenly, McKenna spotted Duffy and called out his name; the circle opened to admit Duffy. They quickly shook hands and began to converse as the circle closed around them, cameras rolling. They completed and complemented each other: McKenna bolstering Duffy’s reputation as an insider and Duffy providing McKenna a conduit to his constituents.

As the group marched past in the gentle twilight, I was struck by the theatricality and co-dependence of politics and media. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, my reaction reflected a growing alienation from my chosen career. This sense grew a day or two later, when we interviewed Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells. It was about 1:00 a.m. on Sunday, the Meech Lake deal had collapsed and a clearly exhausted and exasperated Clyde Wells bemoaned the manipulation of central Canadian power brokers. Rather than rejoice about the opportunity—newsworthy events rarely occurred so conveniently close to our Sunday-morning broadcast slot—I stewed about editing challenges and deadlines. 

photo courtesy of Karl Binder/freedigitalphotos.net

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