During election night coverage last week on CBC Radio, host John Furlong interviewed Conservative candidate Craig Westcott, soon after he was defeated by Jack Harris of the NDP.
During that exchange, Westcott took a broad swipe at media coverage of the election, saying it was among the worst he has ever seen.
This piqued my curiosity. Was Westcott offering plums of wisdom, or sour grapes?
I called to find out, and, boy, did I get an earful. Craig's brief flirtation with federal politics has not softened him at all.
"Some coverage was actually useful for the electorate, other outlets I was hugely disappointed in," Westcott said. "The Telegram and CBC Television were both abysmal in their coverage They should have been good, but were terrible. It was like they didn't cover the campaign at all."
A strong statement, for sure, and I asked Westcott to explain, because I had seen some election coverage in both outlets.
"The Telegram didn't do as much as a riding profile," he said. "They didn't cover any of the major issues. It was just unbelievable For better or for worse, they just didn't cover it at all. No analysis, nothing There wasn't even a profile of any of the candidates in The Telegram, or on CBC Television. CBC Television didn't even carry a debate in any of the ridings."
In Westcott's particular case, he said the extent of coverage about his campaign was limited to editorial comment he had made previously about Stephen Harper.
"If they had mentioned it two or three times, and then a few more times in passing, that would have been fine. But they didn't get past it that was the extent of their coverage."
Westcott was also critical of the coverage that CBC TV did get on the air.
"Glen Deir was there to cover the bloopers and the strange aspects of the campaign, which is fine, as a sidebar to the main coverage. But there was no main coverage. So all we got was sidebar, silly coverage that had no relevance to the campaign at all, hardly, for any of the sides. CBC TV just took a vacation for five weeks."
Westcott also complained about CBC's coverage of the Prime Minister's visit to Harbour Grace, in which the infamous "Grace Harbour" flub was made.
"I was there for the whole thing," he said. "Harper must have said Harbour Grace' 12 or 15 times. He was in this dimly-lit room, with television lights on him from the back of the room, so the script he's reading is in shadow and he can hardly see the friggin' thing. So the 12th or 15th time that he said the word Harbour Grace' he just reversed it. He misspoke."
I stopped Westcott for clarification on this point. I had formed the impression, presumably from news coverage, that Harper opened the event with this mistake.
"He was about 20 minutes into the speech and in the whole speech he probably said Harbour Grace' 25 times, and this was probably the 15th time. What galls me about it is, when Jane (Adey) went back to do her report, she might have done two or three takes. She would have edited out her bloopers and no one would have seen her mistakes."
Westcott said most of the coverage that he did see was focused on the ABC campaign.
"If Danny Williams passed wind, they reported on it. They never got into substantive issues about what the implications of the goose egg meant. They're only getting around to that now, which is a little late, now that the election is over.
"You've got to ask whether the readers and viewers and listeners are really served by such shallow reporting. Here we are, for the first time in history, we've basically opted out of participating in the federal government, and we're only talking about it now, after the fact."
I asked Craig if he did see any coverage that was up to snuff.
"Kathryn Welbourn's paper The Northeast Avalon Times, Frank Petten's The Shoreline, The Muse and, to some extent, even The Scope outclassed the Telegram, by leagues not by degrees, but by leagues in terms of exploring the various issues of the election and trying to flesh out who the candidates were.
"The Telegram has six opportunities every week to cover the election and missed it almost every day, whereas The Shorelines is only a weekly and The Northeast Avalon Times only a monthly, and they still managed to beat The Telegram."
Westcott offered to present his own personal Westcott Awards, under categories of his own creation. Here they are:
Best political reporter of the campaign:
"Michael Connors of NTV. He really worked hard and tried to do his best. He was very conscientious and completely objective."
"A tie between CBC TV and The Telegram."
"A tie between Jane Adey and Glen Deir."
Most surprising coverage:
"In the sense that it was a contribution to public discourse, I'd have to give a tie between the Shoreline News and Northeast Avalon Times."
Westcott also said there were hot issues being discussed among the public that weren't picked up by the media.
"The most common question I heard, and it kept coming up during the whole campaign, was: What is your stand on abortion?' I was really blown away. Someone asked me that when I was leaving the press conference, on the day I announced my candidacy. I was asked it every day after that mostly from the pro-life side, but some from both sides If that was the most common question (being asked) in the campaign, then it should have gotten some coverage."
Westcott said he was interviewed by a writer from The Scope who was noticeably surprised about his stance on abortion and gay marriage.
"She couldn't believe that I said women had a right to abortion, though she did eventually and also couldn't believe I had no trouble with gay marriage. She had me stereotyped as a Conservative dinosaur."
Westcott lays a lot of the blame for this stereotyping at the feet of journalists including his own.
"We haven't, as journalists, done a good job explaining who or what Conservatives, Liberals or NDP are."
Westcott publishes two newspapers, The Business Post and The Irish Loop Post, and is already back at work putting together the next issues. I asked how he feels about the suggestion made by some observers that he could no longer work credibly as a journalist.
"St. John's is a small place and people think small, especially the journalists," he said. "In most places around the world, people move back and forth between politics and journalism. And there are different kinds of journalists. There are mainstream, completely objective journalists who supposedly write for CBC or The Telegram, and I can tell you that not all of them are objective and unbiased. But they are supposed to be, and that's their role. And then there are other journalists who fall to the left, right or centre, wherever on the political spectrum, and they are still journalists and are entitled to their views. Whatever their opinion is, whether you agree with it or not, it's still helpful because it gets you to think about and analyze issues. So if I'm seen as a Conservative-leaning journalist, that doesn't bother me an iota."
I don't necessarily endorse all of Westcott's comments, but I think they deserve to be heard. And I invite other reporters and editors to add their points of view to the discussion.