Media frames election agenda: “May the best PR win”

This  morning, a Toronto Star editorial is lamenting that “The early days of the federal election campaign have been dominated by images – mostly negative ones of Liberal leader Stéphane Dion – rather than substance.” The Globe’s headline is about process stories overshadowing policy announcements. The Ottawa Citizen’s sole front-page election text complains that there’s too much talk of gaffes and strategy in the campaign so far.

As the “Process vs. Content” post series shows, the newspapers indeed favour process stories on their front page, even when they have policy stories on file. So what is this sudden wailing about the campaign being too much about gaffes and PR attacks? Talk to your editors, people!

So far this campaign puts a huge weight of commentaries on style and strategies, with issues typically pushed to page A6 of the dailies. Apparently the media think the public should base their choice on the tactical abilities of the various teams.

When you ask journalists about it (I have, in previous elections), some will indeed tell you that if a candidate’s team cannot run a campaign properly, can’t possibly do a good job running the country – thus their responsibility to report on gaffes and scheduling problems (plus it pisses them off when the schedule gets scrambled – “I’ve got to file, man!”). I believe that answer says a lot more about the state of journalism than the mechanisms of governance in this country…

In that context, elections are decided more and more by the best flack team – the Web wizards, war room warriors, make-up faeries, on-site spinners, as well as the logistics experts who can keep the bus on schedule, make the airplanes take off on time and serve hot meals to reporters on the bus (they love to be pampered by PR staffers).

So after the election is won, it’s perfectly legitimate for the victorious flacks to get paid at higher salary scales than the ministers they serve (which is the case now – a hint for those making career choices now). After all, the flacks got the job done and are now expected to run the country.

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