Party Leaders Need Better Media Training
Today is election day across Canada. For the last five weeks, we've followed closely as the leaders for all parties laid out their platforms and answered questions from the media.
Let me correct that. They have answered questions from the media they wanted to answer and ignored ones they didn't want to answer.
In the final week of the campaign in particular, there were some glaring examples of party leaders refusing to answer questions from the media.
Kissing Babies and Dodging Questions
Election campaigns have changed so much over the years. Federal party leaders used to tour the country, shake hands, kiss babies, make promises and answer questions from reporters who tagged along. It was a good time.
Some of that is still the same, but for reasons related to the pandemic, they don’t shake hands or kiss babies anymore. Oh, and they don’t answer questions from the media either. Not the tough ones anyway.
Example #1 comes from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who refused to answer questions related to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and COVID around 15 times last week. Several months ago, O’Toole praised his buddy Kenney for the way Alberta has handled COVID. However, Alberta’s troubles became problematic for O’Toole after Kenney made his “I’m Sorry/Not Sorry” comments, so reporters dogged him late last week asking if he’s still a fan of Kenney’s COVID approach.
Here’s one of the ways O’Toole dodged the question last Thursday.
The Conservative Leader wasn’t the only one dodging questions from the media.
Let’s check in on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who was sliced and diced by the CBC’s Rosemary Barton on the issue of the Trans Mountain pipeline. By the way, I know Rosie has her critics, but I think she’s one of the best journalists on TV today and I love the way she handled Singh.
Trudeau Does it Too
I don’t have a clip of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau avoiding questions, but just check out any of his media appearances on YouTube and you’ll find him dodging them. On the day he called the election he was asked what he would do if he didn’t get a majority and his reply basically was “Canadians should get vaccinated”.
I’ve written about Trudeau doing this before and in the interests of fairness on this election day, feel free to check out this blog I wrote last year on the subject.
This Isn't Rocket Science
I fail to understand why avoiding questions from reporters has become a thing. I understand why they’re doing it. They think by doing so, the impact will be less than if they did respond and their comments went viral. O’Toole is doing well in the polls and doesn’t want to stir things up. I get that.
However, coming up with answers to the questions all party leaders are avoiding is not that difficult. It really isn’t.
I work on questions at least this difficult all the time with the people I do media training workshops for. We spend some time during each session trying to anticipate the questions they would be asked about various stories and how they would respond. I always make sure they’re ready to answer the most difficult questions, because if you can handle those, the rest will seem a lot easier.
O’Toole has an easy out on the questions related to Kenney and Alberta’s disastrous COVID response. I’ll write it for you Mr. O’Toole.
“Several months ago, I did praise Alberta for the work it did on COVID, because it did do a great job. As we continue to learn from dealing with COVID, things can change quickly, but I don’t intend to give my opinion on how provinces are doing since we’re in the middle of the fourth wave. I’m sure all Premiers are doing their best for people in their province. If I am elected Prime Minister I’ll work with all provinces to help them get through this pandemic.”
There you go. This isn’t rocket science.
Although a response like that may not be perfect, in my opinion, it’s far better than trying to bullshit everyone by ignoring a question and giving the answer you want to give. Why have a news conference? The political leaders can just make statements or give speeches. It’s the same thing.
O’Toole also cancelled what was supposed to be a lengthy one-on-one interview with CTV News late last week. It’s easy to see why. While dodging questions from reporters at a media scrum or availability doesn’t look good, refusing to answer questions in a one-on-one interview looks downright terrible.
I’m guessing the handlers of Jagmeet Singh wished he wasn’t put in front of Rosie Barton a few days before that.
I know one thing. If there’s a leader who won’t duck questions from reporters in the next election, he or she will have my vote.
If you want to learn how to speak to the media (better than the politicians do) check out my media training workshops. Virtual training remains the most popular option, but there are others.
Photos and videos courtesy CBC