05 December 2008

Tale of the Tape

Stephan Dion's biggest sin this week, according to the national press, wasn't his dastardly alliance with socialists and separatists, but his lack of focus on television.

From Keith Boag and Susan Ormistan on CBC Newsworld immediately before the airing of Dion's reply to a plethora of news reports, columns and editorials, pundit consensus is that Dion's great mistake - completely irrespective of what he actually said - was displaying low production values.

I'm likely going to stop defending Stephan Dion pretty soon (I think, in fact, I already have). But I think it's notable, and suggestive, that A/V quality has been such a major bugbear for the media

Is it because journalists are so obsessed by the sanctity of their medium that they tolerate no adulteration of its quality? Or do we really just expect our politicians to look good and say nothing? Either way, the implications aren't pretty. I know, I shouldn't be surprised. And I'm not. But it's a pitiable and slightly terrifying symptom of the digital hall of mirrors in which we live that the news is so profoundly about the medium, not the message.


Aldous said...

To be slightly more charitable to the pundits, you can argue that political messaging is all about signaling; not media elite's fetishization of the instruments of their own art. Harper in focus, from a non-offensive camera angle, sitting behind his deep mahogany desk with requisite Canadian flag (and evil grin about which nobody else seems to care) signals that even though he's taken a huge tactical misstep, he and his office can still be trusted to competently perform simple tasks like taping an address. Dion out of focus, 1 hour late, taken from a camera (camera phone perhaps, as Nick pointed out to me jokingly) slightly beneath his eye level, was an indication that reinforced an already extant public sense that, well, he is a bumbler. And, the last week aside, we know that the public thinks that Harper is relatively far more politically (and thus managerially--which is questionable) competent than Dion. And we know that there's something to that perception.

Notice I said "signal" for Harper and "indication" for Dion. Yes, fellow IR nerds, I was making a clumsy allusion to Jervis 1970. Now I don't completely buy the argument, but I think there's a lot to it.

Aldous said...

And of course, you might simply reply that the fact that such things can be considered signals and indices of competence, well, simply indicates that the media overly fetishize the instruments of their own art. Maybe, but perhaps so now do we all.

Aldous said...

Dion's setup reminds me weirdly of a botched attempt to copy Obama's weekly president-elect-ial Youtube radio addresses. In those he also meets the camera from a seated position, in a fairly ordinary-looking office setting, and the camera is centered slightly beneath his eye level. However, a few reasons why mimicing Obama's style contributes to a further comedic undermining of Dion's own position:

1. Dion's web address is not as awesome as change.gov .

2. Dion has not handily won an election following a gruelling 1+ year campaign.

3. Dion has not previously appeared in front of: a neoclassical temple in a football stadium in before 80,000; an almost comical number of American flags and the better part of the Democratic economic brain trust; Victory Column in Berlin before 200,000...

Finally, if you're going to do the whole seated thing, you need to get the whole picture from desk up. That's something Obama does in his addresses, and the small change makes a surprising amount of difference in this viewer's "amateur hour" perceptions.