Sunday, April 16, 2006

too funny; harper's puppets wired for the press ....

Hear that glove snap? The PM will see you now
Apr. 17, 2006, Toronto Star, LINWOOD BARCLAY

All this animosity, these bad feelings, this distrust between the Ottawa press gallery and Stephen Harper should soon be a thing of the past now that the government has got this whole lie detector screening system pretty much up and running.

Since the Conservatives took office, the media have been having a heck of a time dealing with the Prime Minister. Reporters barely get to ask Harper any questions, interviews reporters book with cabinet ministers are cancelled at the last minute without explanation, photo-ops of Harper meeting important national and international visitors are not allowed.

One might almost get the idea that Harper is, I don't know, paranoid or something. A control freak, perhaps. But the government, in its wisdom, realizes keeping the media at a distance can't last forever. Harper has decided to open the door to reporters, to let his caucus members be as up front as possible, provided reporters are willing to meet the government halfway.

That's where the lie detector thing comes in.

Before members of the press can have face-to-face interviews with members of the government, they must first answer a handful of preliminary questions while having a few, simple, non-invasive wires attached to various parts of their body.

Once the government is confident the reporter is being on the level, there's a pretty good chance the interview request will be granted.

If you're a reporter, the first half a dozen questions are very straightforward, so as to establish a baseline with the lie detector machine. You must state your name, the media organization that employs you, where your live, are you the spawn of Satan, do your taps run red with blood, that sort of thing.

Then there are some general questions that go to character. Have you ever stolen a candy bar, did you ever lie to your parents, do you sleep naked, have you ever seen porn on the Internet, innocuous stuff like that.

Then the questions become a bit more relevant to the specific interview request.

"Do your questions have anything to do with government policy?"

This is where you may run into trouble, because the representatives of this government get very prickly about having to answer reporters' questions about government policy. Saying yes here, even if you're being truthful, may prove counter-productive. But if you only want to ask a cabinet minister "Hey, did you catch Lost last night?" or "Have you noticed how the days are getting longer?" answering in the affirmative is not going to make that lie detector needle jump about as if there's been an earthquake on Parliament Hill.

Reporters will also be asked, "Have you ever written unflatteringly about the Prime Minister?" Even if you say no, and are being honest, they won't believe you, even if the lie detector backs you up. They'll simply assume the machine went on the fritz at that point. The same is likely to be true for the next question, "Is it your intention to make your interview subject look like a horse's ass?"

But if, having completed the test, you are able to persuade government officials that your intentions are honourable ("honourable" being defined by the government as "not intending to glean any useful information whatsoever"), you will be ushered in to see the politician of your choice, unless of course he is suddenly called away on urgent business, like flossing.

Also, and I nearly forgot to mention this because it's not that big a deal, there's the small matter of the full body-cavity search for supposedly off-the-record discussions. If you're a reporter, the government doesn't want you hiding a microphone in places where it would be hard to spot. So if you're watching the news, and happen to see Harper snapping on a glove, now you know what's going on.