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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Think Before You Speak: ONW and the #onpoli NDP

Wow.  Just wow.

The article in question is a piece by Susanna Kelley that suggests the Ontario NDP have come to the conclusion it is no longer in their strategic partisan interests to prop up the governing Liberal Party.  It mentions specific rationale and references an email sent by the NDP to their local riding associations.  

It's pretty specific stuff that isn't too hard to fact-check.  Fact-checking, of course, is one of those things that journalists do.  Their integrity and relationship with their readers kinda depends on them being right.

So when Gilles Bisson suggests that the substance of Susanna's article is a complete fabrication, it's kind of a big deal.  

He is questioning her integrity and reliability - essentially, telling her audience that she has no competence to do the job she is paid to do.

And has done, for years.  Successfully.  Since before the NDP team bought their first copy of The War Room.

Full disclosure - I know Sue and consider her a friend.  I, like many in and around Ontario politics respect her a great deal.  She's been in this business for a lot longer than the NDP's current communication staff and has earned her reputation as an honest, dedicated journalist.

I have no doubt that the truth will out on this; emails will surface, other journalists will corroborate Sue's story and in a worst-case scenario for the NDP, someone in their camp is going to have to backtrack on Bisson's comments.

That's all a given.  What's more interesting to me is why on earth the NDP would have issued such a blistering response so quickly without having talked to Susanna herself first.

This hints at a trend in politics that communications folk should be paying attention to.

Whether it's Rob Ford lying about his crack use or any number of denials at the federal and provincial levels about who ordered who to do what, the truth keeps coming out.  

Invariably, someone in authority ends up with egg on their face and the public's disenfranchisement with politics as a whole grows.

Yet it doesn't matter how many other people get rolled over by their own spin - the communications whizzes in the backrooms of politics keep figuring they're too smart to get caught or everyone else is to dumb to catch them in the act.

I think this in no small part has to do with the fact that politics as a whole has morphed into an industry that's almost strictly about sales (instead of debate).  Whether it's talking points in Legislatures, fundraising letters to Party members or attack ads online, political messaging goes one way only, from the inside out.

The trend has increasingly been to hit fast, hit hard, never waver in your message and never give your opponent time to breathe.

We know what the problem with this model is; it's been widely recognized as one of the structural failings hobbling our society and economy, resulting in poorly-conceived policy decisions.

When your only tool is a hammer, you tend to view every problem as a nail.  War Room politics has essentially turned every critic, even friendly ones, into enemies to be hammered.  

It may be effective for countering foes in the short-term, but in the long-term the result is lost relationships, lost respect and as such, less opportunity to gain the meaningful insight that only comes through a healthy debate of the issues.

So here's a bit of age-old wisdom for partisan communicators - think before you speak.  Listen and consider before you react.  

And for God's sake, don't be afraid to talk with (not just at) the person challenging you.  They may have a point you haven't considered, and you might have one they overlooked.  Either way, you'll learn valuable lessons that could help you avoid such conflicts in the future.  You don't get that when you operate strictly in a vacuum chamber.

Oh - and you might just save yourself some embarrassment down the road.  After all, if you find yourself in the position of having to deny something that's true, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

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