Can Canada's Harper Teach Bush a Lesson in Media Relations?

May 19th, 2006 11:24 AM

Most Americans don't care one whit about news from Canada, often justifiably so. I think at least some Americans, namely the press folk in the Bush White House, are keeping an eye on how Stephen Harper, the new Conservative prime minister (whose party is in power after decades of Liberal dominance) is taking no prisoners when it comes to dealing with a press that is actually further left-biased than the one in this country.

There are two effective ways of dealing with the press, neither of which has been pursued by the Bush White House up until new press secretary Tony Snow started practicing the genial-but-tough tactic.

One gets the impression that Harper and his staff are pursuing the "bad cop" route, based on the conclusion that making nice with journalists who despise you, your party, and your policies, doesn't do much good.

The latest proof of this is that Harper has let it be known that he won't be attending the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, Canada's version of the White House Correspondents Association confab over a dispute about media behavior at press conferences.

Harper, like his Liberal predecessor, wants to keep the practice of a staffer calling out a reporter's name before he or she is allowed to speak. For its part, the press wants to return to its regular practice of shouting out questions with whoever is the loudest and most brash getting called on by the PM.

So far, the "bad cop" approach seems to be working for Harper. His poll ratings have gone up significantly since the Consevatives took power two months ago. Will Snow's "good cop" approach work similar magic for Bush? Will Harper's no-nonsense approach make journalists increase their attacks? Only time will tell.