The journalist-politician

Le Soleil’s Julie Lemieux has become the latest journalist to turn to the dark side… no wait, that’s PR. The other dark side: running for office. She’s joining the party of Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume.

Oh wait, she’s not the latest. Looks like that’s Sue-Ann Levy, the Toronto Sun city hall journalist who’s running as a provincial Tory (causing some panic on the other side of the aisle). Her column is “on hiatus” during the election campaign, which I guess means she’ll go back to being a journalist if her life as a politician fails.

The list of journalists who have turned politician is so long I could spend days compiling it. But among the highlights:

  • Bernard Drainville, former Radio-Canada host and journalist, now a PQ MNA
  • Mike Duffy, former CTV News political anchor and now a Conservative senator
  • Joan Fraser, former Gazette reporter and editor and now a Liberal senator
  • Peter Kent, former Global News anchor and now a Conservative MP
  • Christine St-Pierre, former Radio-Canada political reporter and now a Quebec Liberal MNA

The stories all sound the same. The journalists – usually on the politics beat – decide that they can do more in office than as a sideline commentator. Party leaders, desperate for some semblance of integrity and trustworthiness, prey on the journalists in order to suck out as much of it as they can in an election campaign.

In each case, there were (or should have been) serious questions: did the offers come with strings attached? Did the journalists go easy on the parties they would later join? Will they leak sensitive government documents to their journalist friends? Will they back away from critical comments they may have made about the parties they have now joined?

When I was in university, reporting on the student union for the student newspaper, I was drafted into a political position. The student union was in the middle of a political crisis and had no executive at the time, so someone thought it would be fun to appoint me as a vice-president. (I attended more council meetings than most councillors, and probably knew the issues better, so I’d be good at the job, they reasoned.) I didn’t consent to the appointment, but they didn’t seem to care. As my journalist colleagues wondered what the heck was going on, I was handed an executive key by the president, who asked for me to stay on. I didn’t. After peeking around at a few things I now had access to for the first time, I returned the key.

I’ve always thought journalists have more freedom than politicians. Compare what Bill Maher gets to say to what Barack Obama gets to say. Though it’s tempting to ponder what might happen if you actually had the power to change the system for the better, the freedom to call a spade a spade has always appealed more to me. I’m not sure which would help society more.

Of course, my job as a journalist isn’t permanent yet, and my industry is in a death spiral. So just in case, I should probably say some nice things about our political parties here.

Only I can’t think of any.

8 thoughts on “The journalist-politician

  1. Jim J.

    “Though it’s tempting to ponder what might happen if you actually had the power to change the system for the better….”

    This presupposes that, after successfully entering politics, the former journalist actually is accorded some power. However, it is far more likely that one becomes one of the so-called ‘trained seals,’ who does nothing beyond what the party leadership dictates or allows.

  2. David Pinto

    Everytime I see a photo in the newspaper of politicians in the commons or the provincial equivalents standing en masse, clappig their hands on command, just like the trained seals that they are, I think: how many more folks are now being persuaded not to vote in elections?

  3. Z.

    Dude, Bill Maher is NOT a journalist. Neither are Keith Olberman, Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, or Jon Stewart.

    It would be more accurate to compare what Katie Couric or Peter Mansbridge or Christiane Amanpour or Jeffrey Simpson gets to say to what Barack Obama gets to say. They’re not that different.

    Would you say Michaelle Jean is more or less outspoken since she became Governor General? (I know, she’s technically not a politician, but a political appointment)


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