Do the Nation’s Media Have Any Place in the Bedrooms of its Politicians?

A comment on my post about Eliot Spitzer asked about the role the media play in disseminating stories about the personal lives of its politicians, and suggested that the Canadian media are less likely to do so than the American media. I think the point is well-taken, and have some suggestions why this may be so.

In the US, the constitution mandates that the Senate provide “advice and consent” for presidential appointments of executive officials, ambassadors, and judges of the Supreme Court. Confirmation hearings have thus provided a forum for rigorous public scrutiny by senators of the professional and personal lives of nominees. Such hearings provide a rationale for the media to undertake its own investigations. Canada has no comparable forum.

On the Canadian side, Pierre Trudeau, hitherto the most successful politician of Canada’s second century – and someone who lived a colorful personal life – famously proclaimed that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. This influenced public attitudes, and the nation’s media appear to have followed, and continue to follow, this dictum.

We have an interesting case in point right now. Noted blogger, and Globe and Mail columnist, Norman Spector, posted last Dec. 24, that Laureen Harper for the first time accompanied Prime Minister Harper in his Christmas eve interview to dispel rumors that they had separated. Within six hours, the Globe and Mail pulled the post, with the justification that “it fell short of [the paper’s] standards with respect to fairness, balance, and accuracy.” So far, the MSM have not returned to the topic.

Spector’s rationale for posting was that if the Prime Minister’s marriage was in trouble, it could affect his performance and lead to bizarre decisions and hence “the troubled marriage could impact all Canadians.”

The counter-argument is based on the value of privacy and the assumption of professionalism. In this view, politicians, like all other citizens, have a right to privacy about their personal lives. The assumption is that the Prime Minister is a professional, in the sense that, when acting as a public official, he is able to put aside all personal matters and focus solely on his public responsibilities. Like most Canadians, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, in that I assume they can keep their personal baggage from affecting their performance at work.

I think it isn’t a bad thing if this story stays in the blogosphere for now. Because it is in the blogosphere, the MSM are watching it carefully, and, if there are any further developments, they won’t be able to ignore it any longer. If Prime Minister Harper and his wife are attempting to work out strains in their marriage, they should be able to do so without the attention of the MSM. And, if there is absolutely no truth in the rumors, little harm has been done to Prime Minister Harper.

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