The flaw in Alboim’s defense of the press gallery

CBC Sunday Edition guest host Robert Harris chided Elly Alboim this morning for the national press corps’s failure to pick up on the NDP surge until the polls made it obvious.



Alboim responded, reasonably, that reporters couldn’t be expected to pick up on a phenomenon before it existed. (He did credit Chantel Henert for noticing it a week before her colleagues.)

Alboim went on to speculate that the NDP’s dramatic rise in the polls reflected, not a sudden blooming of love for Layton, but widespread anti-Harper sentiment that coalesced around Layton following his good performance in the debates.

If Alboim is right, and I think he is, support for Layton may be new, but dislike of Harper and his autocratic manner is not. To re-phrase Harris’s question then, how did the cream of Canada’s national press corps miss the anti-Harper mood?

On issue after issue, press gallery reporters have, wiuth few exceptions, been quick to accept the Harper squad’s assertions that, “The public doesn’t care about parliamentary technicalities.” “No one wants this unnecessary election,” “Canadians don’t expect us to coddle Afghan terrorists,” “The public has no love for the long form census,” “Talk of contempt is just partisan bickering,” etc. Faced with these airy dismissals, the gallery has too often shut down coverage of important news stories that reflected badly on the Harper government.

Reporters have also accepted unprecedented and humiliating restrictions on their ability to put questions to the Prime Minister, his cabinet, and now the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in an election campaign.

The gallery collectively underestimated Canada’s appetite for thoughtful coverage of the nuts and bolts of Harper’s burgeoning autocracy. That is the failure unmasked by the last two weeks of the 2011 election.