The prime minister may snub the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner this fall, a move he's considering in order to register his displeasure with an ongoing disagreement his office has with Parliament Hill journalists over the way his press conferences ought to be conducted.The press gallery dinner is similar to the White House Correspondents Dinner here in America, a social event in which party leaders poke fun at themselves. As you may recall, this year's WHCA dinner here featured not one but two Presidents Bush. Not to mention a searing satiric speech from Stephen Colbert that seemingly left the president less than amused.
CTV News has learned that Stephen Harper plans to tell his caucus at a future meeting that he will not attend the dinner, to be held Nov. 25 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.
Kind of makes the White House look a little better from an engagement-with-the-press perspective, doesn't it?
Now, I realize Bush's WHCA dinner performance isn't really substantive engagement, but it is symbolic. Harper's stance has Newsbusters wondering if Bush should be looking to the conservative prime minister for lessons in media relations. Righty media critic Matthew Sheffield – who rather amusingly opens his post with the line "[m]ost Americans don't care one whit about news from Canada, often justifiably so" – writes that "[o]ne 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."
I'm not really a fan of journalists and politicians making nice either – the WHCA dinner, with its hey-we're-all-members-of-the-same-country-club vibe, has long been distasteful. But I have trouble with the notion that there's something inherently good in politicians shutting the press out more than they already do. If Harper wants to skip the rubber chicken and faux self effacement that goes on at these dinners, more power to him. But if he wants to skip serious engagement with the press – and that starts to be seen as a successful model here – that's another story entirely.