Occasionally, your words can be "imprecise", but not too often. When it is, imprecise wording becomes precise.
It's Not a Radio Show
11-years ago this month, Danielle Smith was leader of the Wildrose party and was thought to have a decent chance of upsetting the ruling Conservatives under Alison Redford.
The final score was Conservatives 61, Wildrose 17.
When she was opposition leader after the election, nobody really cared much about what Danielle Smith said. After all, she was in opposition. Her job was to criticize everything the government was doing. If the government liked something, she didn’t. People knew what she said was skewed by her role in opposition.
After her ill-fated floor crossing, Smith left politics and eventually hosted a radio call-in show in Calgary. It’s the job of a talk show host to stimulate discussion and get people to listen. Like a columnist in a newspaper, it wasn’t her job to be fair and balanced, she had to give her opinion to generate discussion. She said some crazy things as a talk show host, but that’s what some talk show hosts do.
Last year, she ran for the leadership of the UCP after Jason Kenney resigned. Once again it didn’t really matter what she said to the news media because she was trying to get elected. Her opinions were her own and she did well by becoming the talk of the campaign and getting elected six months ago this Wednesday.
Words Have Meaning
A few days after that she was officially sworn in as Premier and suddenly things were different.
Danielle Smith is finding out the hard way things are very different when you’re Premier and represent a province. What you say and how you say it matters.
Words matter – something Smith continues to learn the hard way.
When you’re doing a radio talk show, who cares what you say? It’s entertainment. It’s not real. If you complain about COVID restrictions and how terribly harmful they were, as Smith did, well that’s just your opinion. You’re just doing your job to get people to call your show and listen to it.
More listeners = more advertising = more money.
When you’re Premier though it’s different because you now have the power to make decisions that affect everyone.
Danielle Smith, as Premier has been consistent. She says something controversial, or what some people have called unethical or illegal, but she then says her wording was “imprecise”, or she should have used different words to make her point.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Being a provincial Premier isn’t easy, especially when you’re as opinionated as Smith is. That’s fine on radio. Don’t bring it into the Premier’s office.
You Said It, You Own It
I’ve written before about the trend we’ve seen in the last few years of political leaders reading from prepared statements when speaking to reporters. I don’t like it and find it even more discouraging when the media pulls a two-line statement from the politician’s newser and runs it on the air.
It’s easy to do. The clip aired on TV or on the radio sums up what the politician was saying.
Journalism needs to be more than pulling a five-second clip the politician is giving you and wants you to use. It should include the politician facing some hard questions about the prepared statement they’re making.
With Premier Smith, that’s not a problem. Her experience in radio and as a politician means she rarely has to resort to reading something prepared for her. She’s confident in her ability to communicate.
That’s been her problem though. In the last six months, time and time again she’s said something that got her in trouble.
There have been lots of former media people who have gone on to politics at all levels. Unlike Smith though, they knew what to say and what not to say.
Smith has been inaccurate and boastful. Both have come back to hurt her.
The good news is, in Canada we still care about what our political leaders say and understand they need to be held to account for their comments. When Smith says she talked to crown prosecutors on a weekly basis, we don’t dismiss it when she cites imprecise language.
You said it, you own it. This isn’t a radio show.
Image credit; National Observer