Ending with a Bang (or a Whimper)?

As a journalist (though not practising these days) I know how obnoxious we can be as a profession. They teach it in journalism school.

I’m only half joking about that. Young journalists in training have it drummed into their heads that the story is all-important. Sometimes, they are told, that means you have to do things you don’t feel comfortable doing, like asking a grieving family for a photo of a deceased serial killer or accident victim. The public’s right to know trumps human decency.

Politicians know just how obnoxious journalists can be. The two species have a symbiotic or perhaps parasitic relationship. Those winning political office undergo training in how to deal with journalists, how to give or not give information and especially how to keep calm when dealing with the press.

Canadian politician Danielle Smith knows that full well – she was a journalist before entering politics. But when things are going bad it is easy to forget your training and let your real feelings show, as she did this past weekend.

Three years ago Danielle Smith was a politician with a meteoric rise. Now she is a political has-been. It appears three years is an eternity in politics. As leader of Alberta’s provincial Wildrose Party, Smith was expected to become provincial premier in the 2012 election – she was far ahead in the polls. As the cliché goes though, the only poll that matters is election day and on that day her party failed, leaving Smith as leader of the Official Opposition, losing yet again to the governing Progressive Conservatives, who have been in power since 1971.

From there it has been all downhill politically. Working, I guess, on the principle of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” Smith led eight other members of her party, including her deputy leader, across the legislature floor to join the governing Conservatives in December 2014. It was an unprecedented move in Canadian politics and not well received by the public (if the polls were to be believed) or the media.

As a now Progressive Conservative, Smith had to compete for her new party’s nomination in the next provincial election. You would think as such a high profile politician it would be a formality. It wasn’t. This past weekend she lost the nomination contest, and in the process forgot what she learned as a journalist and her media training as a politician.

When, immediately following her loss, Smith asked if she would be willing to do an interview she said she wasn’t available. When the journalist pressed, Smith’s response was “piss off.”

Needless to say that has become the story. As someone who has worked in both journalism and politics I don’t know whether to be appalled or delighted. It is refreshing when a politician expresses how they really feel. But at the same time it is a little disconcerting that someone at that level would forget their training and lose their self-control, no matter how provoked. Certainly the outburst will make it more difficult for her to consider a future in politics.

I will admit though that I felt sympathy for her for the first time. I was not at all impressed with her leading a revolt against her own party and crossing the legislature floor. It seemed to me to be rather contemptuous of those who elected her. Not winning the nomination for her new party in the next election seemed somehow fitting.

That being said though, it must have been emotionally devastating to be rejected by that by the members of your new party. In lashing out at the reporter she was showing her human side. It wasn’t right, but it was honest – and honesty in politics always seems to be in short supply.

Of course the media won’t forgive her. I wonder if she will return to journalism as a career, and, if so, how she will treat people when she is on that side of the divide?


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