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The Great Interview Gaffe of Election 08 

How beside the point will the final days of the federal election campaign get?

Consider the latest hiccup in a hurricane over a botched question-and-answer Thursday (October 9) involving local CTV anchor Steve Murphy and federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

During the taping of an interview with the Liberal leader, Murphy asked: “If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper hasn't done?”

Dion looked puzzled. “If I had been prime minister two-and-a-half years ago?”

“If you were the prime minister right now…” Murphy responded.

Dion began to explain—repeating his post-debate mantra about his 30-day plan—but seemed to get confused and asked to begin the question again.

There’s nothing especially unusual about this sausage-making interview moment, except that CTV decided to broadcast it for all to see. One of the luxuries of a pre-taped interview is the ability to stop and start. Often, there’s a technical glitch and the producers want the question and answer repeated. Sometimes the interviewee, as Dion did, gets confused in mid-answer and asks for a second chance. Most often, it’s the interviewer who blows an intro, or gets caught up in a question with one too many sub-clauses, stops suddenly, turns and asks the camera operator, or the unseen controller in the control room: “Can we do that again?”

No biggie.

One can also understand why Dion—or any of the other party leaders, in fact—might be momentarily confused by a question at this late stage of an exhausting 38-day marathon criss-cross-the-Canadian-time-zone campaign.

Is it significant?

The Globe and Mail (which is owned by the same company that owns CTV and has developed an annoying habit of hyping anything CTV does) apparently thought so.

Dion, the Globe breathlessly reported this morning (October 10), “whose campaign gained some momentum this week, suddenly faced questions about his abilities last night after a question about the economic crisis had to be repeated to him three times in a laborious television interview.”

Stephen Harper, according to the Globe report, delayed his campaign plane so he could watch the Dion debacle and then did the very unusual for him—met with reporters more than once during a day—to make way-too-much of the moment.

“When you're running a trillion-and-a-half-dollar economy you don't get a chance to have do-overs, over and over again,” Harper lectured. “What this incident actually indicates very clearly is Mr. Dion and the Liberal Party really don't know what they would do on the economy.”

Uh… not even close. What this incident really indicates is just how easy it has been in this campaign to divert media attention from the issues that matter and from the actual positions of the various parties on them.

***

One final note: CTV’s handling of the Great Gaffe Moment of October 9 merits further consideration. The Globe says “the Liberals asked the network not to air the portion in which Mr. Dion appears confused, but CTV felt it was their responsibility to show it.” (The episode is, of course, also posted on YouTube).

CTV is probably correct to have broadcast the exchange in the interests of transparency. That said, given that such stops-and-starts are common in the business, it probably should have established ground rules in advance so Dion—or any other interviewee—would be aware of the potential consequences of asking to re-take a particular question and answer. And CTV should have been upfront with its viewers too about just how often this sort of thing happens in the real-world of television news—including cases involving its own reporters and anchors.

Perhaps, in the interests of real transparency, it could have broadcast some excerpts from its own blooper reels to highlight exactly how messy the sausage-making can sometimes get. Or perhaps those are best left on the cutting room floor. Or for a laugh at the annual staff Christmas party.

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