The dance between politicians and journalists can be an intricate one

By Haley-Lynn Bohan

Jan. 26, 2017

MP Sean Casey he got a card when he was in a media training class.

One side listed nine ways to start an answer while talking to the media so your message comes out.

The other side had a piece of advice, he said.

“If the media is calling, you don’t answer the phone.”

Let your office answer it so they have time to brief you, if necessary, on the subject so you can formulate your answer, he said.

Teresa Wright isn’t surprised Casey has that card. She’s a political journalist at The Guardian in Charlottetown.

“That’s not surprising that they have a way to manage their answers, all governments do that.”

She’s used to dealing with politicians’ answering techniques, having spent 10 years interviewing them.

You know what you want from them, and they know what they’re not willing to say, but they don’t want to be seen as not answering a question, she said.

“It’s like a cat and mouse game.”

She loves writing about politics, as every part of it touches the community, Wright said.

However, there was one time she had some trouble getting an answer.

Wright was doing a live interview with Premier Wade MacLauchlan on cable TV.

The topic was e-gaming. She wanted to know whose emails were being deleted. The premier tried dodging by giving long, rambling answers.

After phrasing the question differently three times trying to get an answer, she had to give up, as there were time constraints.

Most politicians only want to give you the positive spin on the subject, which should make you skeptical, Wright said.

“Maybe the positive isn’t the big part of the story.”

The best way new reporters can prepare for an interview with anyone in power is to have information on what your interview is about so you can challenge their answers, she said.

It’s a complicated dance, said Casey, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice. The media is necessary for the party in power to get its messages out.

“It’s a little like marriage. You need each other, but you don’t always get along,” he said to Holland College journalism students on Jan. 22.

Every politician goes through media training where they learn the dos and don’ts of how to talk to a journalist, he said.

“You have to proceed carefully, but you can’t ignore them.”

Casey was in the opposition before the Liberals won the last federal election, making his dealings with the media much easier.

He could criticize the government while he was in opposition, but now he’s in government. He has to be more guarded with his answers, as more people are watching, he said.

“Now that we’re in government, it’s not nearly as fun.”