Someone must have broken Ed Hollett's fingers for him not to be commenting on the latest media racket involving Premier Danny Williams. I know he's in self-imposed exile for right now, but my God, I thought for sure he would break on this one....
So I read this lovely column from Geoff Meeker about a dust-up between CBC reporter David Cochrane and Premier Danny Williams. Cochrane was asking a bunch of questions about the latest bonehead stunt former mayor Andy Wells pulled - a fundraising dinner to help cover off the legal costs from his idiotic and ultimately doomed lawsuit against Paul Sears a couple of years ago.
Now if Wells was just basking in retirement, that might be one thing. But since he's head of the Public Utilities Board, there is just a hint of a conflict of interest happening there. Sending out invitations to businesses asking them to donate money to the guy in charge of a fairly major and influential organization is doing to draw some attention. So it's fair game to ask the premier if Wells should be doing that sort of thing and what the premier thinks about it.
But it seems that Williams didn't like Cochrane's questions. And after a heated exchange, and in front of witnesses, Williams turned to his communications person and said to cut Dave off. Which, as many reporters in Newfoundland know, means that any phone calls, any access to Williams Dave might have had, just vanished with the premier's snit.
Dave joins an illustrious group that once included Ryan Cleary of the Independent, until he worked his way back into the premier's graces, and Craig Westcott of the Business Post and CBC, who is still cut off and one figures will be as long as the premier draws breath.
This is a doomed and idiotic strategy. I'm tempted to tell all of you to just read this post I wrote from 2006 about Prime Minister Steven Harper cutting off the Ottawa Press Gallery and tell you to insert Williams' name where I have Harper. Much of what I said then, applies to this situation. But let's just be clear on this.
This. Will. Not. Work. It's is a doomed strategy. And it will, in all probability, just make Williams life more difficult.
First of all, there is zero chance Dave and the CBC are going to take this lying down. I've known Dave for more than a decade. We're not what I'd call close friends, but I know him well enough to sit down and have a drink with when I'm in town. He's as tenacious a reporter as you're going to meet locally. Being outside of the Premier's good graces won't mean a damn thing. He's only going to work harder to get his stories. And he will likely put a big "the premier refused comment" with every story where he needs comments from Williams. Which always, always makes the person who refuses comment look terrible.
Second, I'm not saying the press gallery at Confederation Building is going to rally to Dave's defence. But he might be the straw that finally breaks things, especially since this was a very public blacklisting. Williams normally does this more stealthily, but I guess the last few weeks has addled in his brains a bit.
Too many reporters have been blacklisted by the premier on and off over the last few years. At some point that's going to piss them off enough that there's going to be consequences. What those are, I do not know. But I can't imagine the premier is going to be any happier with the press he's going to get in the next few months.
Also, and I can't believe I have to say this again....they're doing their jobs. It's not their job to make the government look good. In the absence of any kind of substantial opposition in the House of Assembly, it falls on the press, who have resources the opposition often doesn't, to dig around and see what's happening. They're doing their jobs, which involves asking hard and fair questions. If Williams doesn't like it, then he really doesn't have to be there. And honestly, he's had it mostly pretty easy since getting into power. This is the first time (well, maybe the public service strike) that he's been seriously under the gun. And given the stories that are coming out right now, he deserves it. It isn't the goddamn press or the inquiry that's going on right now into the massive clusterfuck that was Eastern Health that's going to "ruin health care", as Williams said earlier this week. They're only pointing out the really effective job the current government is doing in that field already.
If he thinks taking it out on Cochrane and the CBC is going to make things any better, that "that'll teach him a lesson" and make them contrite, then he's falling deeply out of touch with reality.
My advice? Call Cochrane, apologize and say that he lost his temper for a moment and that it was unprofessional of him to behave in that manner. I doubt he will do it, but my way shows that he's human and the story blows over quickly. If he sticks to his guns, then he can look forward to be tortured for many, many months to come.
1. Wonderwall - Ryan Adams*
2. Everybody pays - Mark Knopfler
3. When anger shows - The Editors
4. The lucky ones (live) - Allison Krauss and Union Station
5. I would die 4 U - Prince