Saturday, May 17, 2008

Well, that was dumb

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.

Last Five
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


Geoff Meeker said...

Well said, Crag.

Megan said...

Geez. What a misstep.

Chris said...


I think you hit the nail right on the head. You’re right; to blacklist a respected journalist like Cochrane who, God forbid, was only dong his job when asking tough questions, is standard operating procedure for the Williams regime. And you’re right in saying that phone calls and requests for interviews will go unanswered. How petty is that?

But your suggestion of Danny calling to apologize – although the right thing to do – won’t happen. And that’s unfortunate. Cochrane will find himself on the outside looking in through no fault of his own. That’s a big loss for all of us.

I voted for Williams – well Beth Marshall to be precise – and I would have voted for her again - whatever party she ran for. Seeing her in the backbenches because she pulled a “ Cochrane” long before it was in vogue, only strengths my belief in two things. One, Cochrane, like Marshall, will be send by the regime to the backbenches for a while. Two, while in exile, we’ll miss out on what these two have to offer.

Geoff Meeker said...

Chris, to clarify, Cochrane may be frozen out of one-to-one access, but he can still cover the goings-on in the House and participate in scrums. If anything, he will probably start breaking more stories, as he works his contacts more aggressively, and disgruntled government insiders began calling with "tips" in the quiet of the night.

towniebastard said...

Geoff is right. Dave's always had really good sources. It's one of the annoying things about him...;)

But in all seriousness, this will backfire on Williams. The lack of access will be an inconvenience at best. Cochrane will just work harder at getting his stories and, if what I'm hearing from back home is even vaguely accurate, Williams has bigger problems to worry about. If people are as pissed with him as I'm hearing, Cochrane is going to have a hard time keeping up with all the tips and leaks.

Anonymous said...

I like David Cochrane; his stories are the main reason why I continue my vain efforts to catch Here & Now in the evenings.

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out. Williams, Wiseman and Jerome are certainly not endearing themselves to anyone these days ...

towniebastard said...

Yes, but you've known for years what the rest of the province is only discovering right now...that Wiseman is a twit.

Your father should have run for the Liberals when he had the chance. He might have stopped Wiseman from winning....;

Anonymous said...

Dude, Dad's got one foot in the grave and one on a banana pell as it is ... I can think of more humane ways to finish him off than have him go into provincial politics!!!

You gonna do a piece on "Andy-handling"?

towniebastard said...

As much as I like your dad, I am amazed he's still alive considering he was nearly dead when I left Clarenville seven years ago.

And forget politics, making him a Liberal is a pretty cruel way to end him.

And I have no idea yet what next week's column will be. Something will jump out at me.

KOTN said...

"Which always, always makes the person who refuses comment look terrible."

A favorite prick reporter move of my own. I have written paragraphs describing in detail how someone hid from me, said they would answer questions, then demanded the questions in writing and refused to answer by deadline.

To get the same thing in TV, I need to pull some Mike Wallace moves...

Anonymous said...

Dealing with the media is one of the few things that scares the living shit out of me.

towniebastard said...

Wait, so does that mean you me when I was a reporter in Clarenville?

Damn, I had power over you I didn't know about...