Gaffes don’t matter. No, really.

This comment in the Citizen about the Conservatives’ polling numbers from Ipsos-Reid CEO Darrell Bricker, confirmed what I suspected:

“The gaffes don’t matter. The only people they matter to are the people on the planes following the campaign. The public is not focused on them at all.”

Yet the news are full of stories about foul-mouthed politicians and staffers and mechanical mishaps. So why do reporters write gaffe stories and why do their editors keep putting them on the front page?

  • The gaffe introduces a nice little narrative into the larger tale of the election campaign. A gaffe is fun to write about: first phase is the gaffe itself; second phase is the outrage it generated; third phase is the consequence (apology, resignation, suspension or lack thereof). With the current 24/7 news universe, you can wrap the entire storyline within 36 hours easy.
  • But also because an election campaign is really the only time when political reporters get to report on those little demeaning stories they normally share only between themselves in the Press Gallery. The Hot Room in the Center Block, its equivalent across the street and in the provincial legislatures are great places to exchange stories about who this politico is sleeping with or how that flack fell on her face. Come election time, those stories magically become newsworthy.
  • And of course, once one reporter has the little story, it has to get out as fast as possible. Because with current War Room operational standards, it’s certain that all reporters will have the same story on their Blackberries within minutes.

Bad PR. Bad, bad journalism.

Further reading: Journalists and “off-colour” jokes, Paul Adams.


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