05 February 2010

Another view on The Big Story

This time from Andrew Coyne at macleans.ca who sparked a rather interesting series of comments on how the media has or has not been covering the story which has the local personality cultists in such a snit:

Ever since Danny Williams was revealed to have been seeking treatment for a heart ailment across the border, the media have been observing a strange and uncomfortable silence about the matter.

On one hand, this reticence is commendable. Williams’s [sic] preference in health care is nobody’s business, and should remain, as far as possible, a private matter between him and his God. Though some claim this is a lifestyle choice, it’s far more likely that it is a result of something beyond his control. As such, it is not a fit matter for public commentary.

But once the story has, by one means or another, entered the public domain, that puts a different colour on it. At that point, the media are not just declining to report on something: they are actively colluding in a fiction. The issue is no longer Williams’s [sic] medical inclination. It’s the media’s refusal to acknowledge reality

On a day when Jack Layton announced that he is being treated for prostate cancer and labradore reposted a block of news stories and three official news releases from a previous trip Danny Williams took to the hospital,  it all adds to the views worth considering.



Wm. Murphy said...

This whole issue has been a train wreck from the beginning. What a bunch of mopes

...pardon my $0.02 worth, but these are the 8th Floor talking points I would have cobbled together at the East Block cafeteria...

Talking Points:

I am extremely wealthy and can afford the best proceedures money can buy.

I have full confidence in the NL and Canadian health care systems.

It would not be right as a Premier of a Province, to skip the line in Canada.

I will be back to work as well as Tuesday night hockey quicker... if I went to a private US hospital.

I am wealthy;

I will refer all medical questions to Dr. Doolitle. He will describe why this medical proceedure was the best available.

Don't clench your teeth and look disapointed but angry.

And thank you to the Liberal's for not having a leader!

Go Leafs Go!

If DW had a newser before he left with these talking points.....we would have had a pretty boring week


Wm. Murphy said...

opps I forgot a talking point...

Because I have shared with you every medical proceedure and operation since I have entered public office; I feel compelled to do it again.

WJM said...

HINT: The Andrew Coyne posting is not actually about Danny Williams or health care.

Ed Hollett said...

Rather than specific lines, I'd suggest there are general approaches or principles.

These come from my own experience in handling tough issues and in watching others around the world do it:

1. Accept reality. You can't escape the celebrity status you have cultivate and more than you can escape the reality of any other part of the situation. Deal with it.

2. Always tell it like it is. Simple, straightforward and factual statements are always the best talking points.

3. Minimise the drama and the emotionalism in public.

4. Offer a technical expert or tech experts of some kind to handle the technical issues - medical, medical administrative, policy. You pick since you are controlling the information flow.

That feeds the most likely avenues of first inquiry and therefore will shape what comes later. The avenues of first inquiry are also likely the concerns/questions the majority of people will have.

5. Ignore the aresholes.

6. Indicate in public - by name - who is filling in for you. In this case, putting someone clearly in charge - handing the baton - is a visual demonstration that you are slipping into the shadows for a bit. It shifts the focus and the attention.

7. Allow/accept that people will, for the most part, be sympathetic and supportive. Let that blossom.

Now these are really simple ideas right off the top of my head on a snowy morning. But I know they work because they have worked countless times before.

Specific clients may mean you adjust your approach on some of them (spend more time working to achieve one than another in a given situation) but those will satisfy the needs and concerns including - BTW - TAKING THE PERSON ACTUALLY EXPERIENCING THE CRISIS OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT.

That's the main goal.

In this case, I have to say that I am frankly appalled at the situation in which the Premier and his family have been put. The situation is ridiculous and totally unnecessary.

But they are put there not by the media (who have done their job admirably under terrible stupid and unecessary fire) or those of us ordinary unwashed who have, with rare exception, had nothing but compassion in our thoughts and actions.

Rather they are there as a result of ineptness and amateursim somewhere along the line in handling the entire matter.

Ultimately they are put there by someone close to the DW camp to know the story and who (I would suggest) very consciously and deliberately leaked the story in such a way as to maxmimise the panic within the DW camp and to ensure the story got covered with maximum spread.

Of course, if the thing had been handled professionally in the first place, none of what followed could have occured including whatever angst is currently being experienced by someone who - while recuperating from heart surgery - nonetheless is made aware of all the media coverage and Internet action out there.

Wm. Murphy said...

I didn't mean for you to go classroom on me but your points are well taken. Your dead on!!

The underpinning of this debaucle is the level of arrogance that flows from this admiinistration.
The "kick in the arse look" of Dundedale and the exacerabation in her tone that we are even questioning the Prem's motives...says a lot. This sickening arrogance from the Prem to the underlings wearing the suits on the 8th and 10th floors, needs to be exposed for what it is. The cockiness and total indignation that we should even question the area that is somehow sacrosanct is bullshit.

Then you have other mopes who make comments that some people are politicizing the issue. What horse shit. As referenced..."Always tell it like it is. Simple, straightforward and factual statements are always the best..."
This is all the public wanted and expected.

Instead you had the smug look of the administration spewing total contempt for people and agencies that dared to ask the questions that should have been answered in the first place.

If that wasn't bad enough, you now have the sickening dislpay of bloggers and the like, making refernces that we are infringing on the Premier's privacy. Some of these characters are so far up the ass of the admin that it would be too dark to read my response..so why bother going on about how out to lunch these people are.

Just imagine answering the question...Why the Premier of NL decided to have heart surgery in the US?

...Just imagine if the Premier employed a communication strategy that would ... "Always tell it like it is. Simple, straightforward and factual statements.

To those that feel that I somehow politicized this...fuck 'em!

Ed Hollett said...

Schooling wasn't the intention.

What I wanted to do was take your idea and shift the focus from the specific comments and indeed the specific issue to show that the it's actually a matter of the right approach. If you get the principles right then the rest can flow more easily.

Any of a number of people - you included - have hit this point. I just wanted to give it some shape.

Had they done even half of what they did in May 2003 this would be a non-issue on any level. But they didn't.

They miscalculated.

The reason may be unimportant; the key facts are;

1. that they miscalculated and

2. that some shadowy figure within the camp decided to do what is known in political circles as "ratfuck" them.

Everything that follows flows from that.

I'll leave the rest of it to you as those are your views. I offer no comment or observation except the following.

1. Arguably the very first person to politicise this issue is the one who decided to leak it in the first place. There's a shadowy figure no one has elected to talk about publicly. I doubt you'll ever hear a reporter in this town even obliquely mention that one because - if it is correct - it gets way to close to a much bigger and more sensitive story.

2. The people who talk about politicising the "issue" are - pretty much exclusively - people who have politicised it themsevles since Day One. They are Cultists or closely associated with the Cult. They continue to politicise the entire matter largely based on fabrication.

3. As I noted in the post, one of the more intriguing aspects of this story is what is actually driving it and how it is being managed.

In an earlier draft of this post I considered calling the Cultists tone-deaf and I think that's a part of it.

As time as gone by, the Cultists have grown increasingly out of step with what is actually going on in the province. They have developed some sort of political atherosclerosis or atrophy.

The Straits is a sign of that. The entire handling of this issue/story is another big one.

The suppleness and skill of 2003 seems to be gone.

The next weeks and months will be affected by that more than anything else.

A Newfoundland Blog said...

7 February 2010

There’s no question but that there was political mishandling of this incident and I think you do an excellent job of pointing that out. Clearly, Williams’ advisers didn’t feel that this would be a big deal – they were wrong. Once the news media picked up on the story, they went beyond ”reporting” to “creating”. It’s a tried and true technique in the news business but that doesn’t make it right.

It seems that the National Enquirer or TMZ is now the role model used by many newsrooms, including the CBC and others. In part, it’s because of the tabloid trash, but also because of the fact that so many people consider Jon Stewart’s show to be genuine journalism. We’ve moved away from credible reporting to infotainment. Getting into Williams’ health situation is far more interesting than paper mill workers in Corner Brook being forced to take a cut in pay.

To me, the larger question is the moral argument over whether a political leader has any right to medical privacy or privacy, period. I think they do.

The fact that Williams was going stateside for heart surgery is the story. Asking local cardiologists to comment on whether it was needed is giving them their 15-minutes but what does it accomplish? The ones who know aren’t talking and the ones who don’t know are more than willing to share their opinion. You’re left with conjecture.

I’ve never met Williams but I have a feeling that based on what I’ve seen of him, he will answer any question put to him when he returns to Newfoundland and is back on his feet. Why not wait until then rather than trying to create a story now because it’s a slow news day?

And, just in case you’re wondering, I’m not a “fanboy” (or a “fangirl” for that matter) to use your term. I would vote for him if I was in his riding, but I can’t say that about any other members of his party. I don’t belong to any party and never will.

I admire Williams for what I’ve seen of him but I would say the same about the privacy of any elected official with health issues. Let’s wish them well and hope they recover. I hope the media has more class than to keep kicking while they’re down. But I doubt it.

Ed Hollett said...

Thanks for the compliment but plenty of way smarter people than me have been saying the same thing (the whole thing has been badly mishandled) publicly and privately since Day One.

Politicians are entitled to privacy however, the very nature of their job changes where the edges on that are compared to what each of knows about strangers in our community.

The idea that none of this story is open for discussion of public knowledge is as wrong as the idea people had some right to get inside his chest with the surgeon.

The 2003 approach is a good example, as is Jack Layton's.

But just to make it clear exactly how much pure bullshit NALCOR lobbyist Tim Powers wrote in the Globe a few days ago, the Premier's Office only acknowledged the story AFTER Williams was wheels up and gone and even then they were as skimpy with the information as to be laughable.

The subsequent self-rightoues indignation from the Cultists only made the situation worse.

When caught - and this at least looks like they got caught trying to sneak something by - it is usually unwise to defend in detail. That only feeds the story. The Telly used the gasoline on fire analogy and it is very much an appropriate one.

And attacking people who have done nothing - like news media generally and unnamed commentators - only makes more hotspots and adds more sources of ignition to help the fire spread.

"Caught" isn't the right word in this instance, incidentally. I used it simply because the entire series of events, including the reaction by the team at the centre of the storm, seem to be a textbook case of how not to handle the general type of crisis where public figures are found out to have been doing something.

A Newfoundland Blog said...

There’s been an enormous change in the way we view public figures – whether it be a political leader or an entertainer (sometimes the line is not so distinct). Certainly, the culture that allowed FDR to conceal his polio from the American public is long gone … but I often wonder if we have gone too far in the other direction?

We seem to want to extend our voyeuristic ownership to every element of a political leader’s life.

Part of the debate around Williams’ heart issues is why didn’t he opt to go to Halifax or some other Canadian location where he could get the surgery and be just like the rest of us? It’s almost as if echoes of the French revolution rebound in our national psyche … he may have money, but he shouldn’t use it. I have friends who go to the Lahey clinic in Boston because they know they will get superior care to what they can expect in an overburdened Canadian hospital. They can afford it. What’s the issue? Williams entering the Canadian queue is not going to improve our health care one iota.

I was disappointed to hear Ottawa heart surgeon and Tory senator Wilbert Keon say the main difference was that Williams would get a nice big room in the States where his family could visit instead of the more proletariat room available in Ottawa. I always gave Keon credit for more substance than that.

I’m not as quick as you are to dismiss any responsibility for the media stoking this fire. As I said in another piece, when I heard the first item from a young reporter (at least he sounds young) on CBC radio in St. John’s, there was a righteous indignation to his tone in that he had not been informed about what was happening with Williams. From there, various news organizations made that angle a centre piece of their coverage.

The only reason this story gained the legs that it did is because of the media hammering at the mistaken “we have a right to know” mantra. Williams’ team may have made some errors in not getting the word out that he was going but I agree with their position afterward – we’ve said all we’re going to say.


Ed Hollett said...

Wow, ANB what a remarkably inventive take on things.

But dolling up Cult talking points in slightly different language doesn't change their lack of substance.

1. "but I often wonder if we have gone too far in the other direction?"

Who asked to have a camera in the room with the surgeon?

2. "Williams entering the Canadian queue is not going to improve our health care one iota."

If you actually know what he had done, then by all means share it so we can agree. Since we know basically nothing at all your comments here - like everyone else's on this aspect - are pure invention.

3. "I always gave Keon credit for more substance than that."

Since when does pointing out one of the few differences in some forms of care count as lacking substance?

4. "As I said in another piece, when I heard the first item from a young reporter (at least he sounds young) on CBC radio in St. John’s, there was a righteous indignation to his tone in that he had not been informed about what was happening with Williams."

Interesting you give absolutely no information so others can find the clip and see if they agree with your interpretation.

Blaming the news media is an old game and it is - certainly in this instance - a dodge to avoid discussions of other points.

5. "The only reason this story gained the legs that it did is because of the media hammering at the mistaken “we have a right to know” mantra. Williams’ team may have made some errors in not getting the word out that he was going but I agree with their position afterward – we’ve said all we’re going to say."

As a citizen of the province I have a right to know when the main political figure is going to be off the job for upwards of three months and may be incapacitated due to ill health.

I have the right to know what the governance plan is while he's out of the office.

Putting it that way it tends to rob your - and the Cult's - efforts to simply invent things and then argue against your own invention.

Perhaps you could try - instead - telling us what you actually think. The thrust of your argument seems to be this:

1. None of anything to do with the Premier is anyone's business at all.

2. They were right not to say antyhign at all.

3. It's all the media's fault.

Would you care to explain any/and all of those?

WJM said...

The fact that Williams was going stateside for heart surgery is the story.

I thought the bizarre and clumsy cover-up, combined with the way it was blown open, were the stories.

A Newfoundland Blog said...

Thank you for the comment about my inventive take on things. I’ll take that entirely as it was not intended, as a compliment. 

There’s a danger in seeing the other side in a debate as the enemy and labelling them so … “cult talking points”. No, these are my own opinions which others may or may not share. That’s their choice. Your choice too.

Ok, to the substance of your reply …

1. It’s the “right to know” vs. “the right to privacy”. I don’t believe that you surrender your right to privacy because you’re an elected official. I agreed with you at the outset that this was poorly handled politically. Two separate issues at work here although I’m not sure you can separate them in your quest for rightness. I certainly didn’t suggest that you or others who share your opinion were asking for a camera in the room with the surgeon.

2. Read my comment again. I said entering the queue would not improve the system. Do you think it would have improved the system? It would appear that’s what your saying. How? Share your thoughts.

3. I thought Keon’s comments were below a man of his calibre.

4. My comment was based on a report I heard on the 7am news the day after the story broke. I’m not inclined to take notes. I’m not “blaming” the news media. I’m describing what I consider to be tabloid journalism. Go back and read my previous contribution to this discussion if you desire clarification.

5. You mean you haven’t been following the news? Williams is having a heart disorder treated in the US. The Deputy Premier said she expects him back in early March. I think she said she’s in charge. That answers those two questions. Any others? 

My grade 7 debating teacher taught me that when you start calling people names, you have already lost.

Have a nice day.

Ed Hollett said...

Well, it's good that you had a debate teacher.

He or she likely also told you that referring to your argument is not the same thing as calling you names. I said you'd taken the Cult's talking points and dolled them up a bit. That isn't the same thing as saying you are a cultist.

You might be, though. Then again you could be Aunt Minnie's socks since you are yet another one of the clever ones who comes online and hides every possible trace of your identity.

Since that's the way you elect to be, so be it. Let's instead deal with your comments.

1. Your starting point and the general thrust of your comments do tend to the view that people having been calling for some extreme level of knowledge of the Premier's situation. Hence my reference to the camera in with the surgeon.

'Voyeuristic' though was your word. It suggests not only an excessive level of interest but also includes an implicit judgment that the interest is immoral/amoral or obscene.

That is a wonderful straw man of exactly the time type deployed by the official partisan crowd but having you say it - and from behind a mask at that - doesn't make it any more credible or even vaguely close to true.

It is - as these things go - a strawman. It is fantasy, a convenient fiction for you to attack and in so doing avoid dealing with the actual issues. No one has been calling for any sort of "voyeuristic" detail. Bravo: you defeated a figment of your own imagination.

2. This is supported by your Point Four which reveals that you heard something which you called "tabloid journalism" just now but which you earlier described as a case of sour grapes on the part of the reporter for not having the story first. Unfortunately you know it was at seven in the mornign but for the life of you, you just can't recall who it was.

So you have nothing there to back either the earlier version or the new interpretation.

So far, so bad for you in the persuasion department, eh?

3. Senator keon made a comment based on his considerable experience in the field. Since we have no idea who you are, I think it is a safe bet he has more experience ind eleivering health care and more knowledge of the health care systems in North America than either of us. I think I'd take his characterisation before your discomfort that he noted there was less of a difference than some might want us to believe.

4. This brings us to the queue business which, it may surprise you to know, is not really much of an issue for urgent or emergent care. Being appropriately triaged by the system - that is being assigned a spot in the cue based on medical need - doesn't count as cue jumping.

The Premier's presence in or absence from the queue doesn't change the health care system, but then again that's really just another strawman you've created so you can then cleverly set it aflame.

5. This leads to your last point:

"You mean you haven’t been following the news? Williams is having a heart disorder treated in the US. The Deputy Premier said she expects him back in early March. I think she said she’s in charge. That answers those two questions. Any others?"

The initial plan was to say nothing about anything. Once the whole thing was blown away, they resorted to minimal information. I think the first inclination was wrong both as a matter of practicality and as a matter of principle in a democracy.

As I think evryone can see i also think the reaction of the cult was both counterproductive and - to be frank - quite silly.

There is no way of knowing where exactly the balance ought to be; I can say, though, that I reject categorically the idea that a politician's privacy is "sacrosanct" on the one hand or that everything must be known on the other. Extremes don't work in practical.

Had Williams's crew done as they did in 2003, then there would have been very little for anyone to say except "get well soon."