08 October 2014

Questions and Answers #nlpoli

Unelected cabinet minister Judy Manning was “surprised” that her personal relationship with Paul Davis’ political bagman came up in a recent CBC interview.


That’s an interesting choice of words.

Just like it is interesting for Manning to say that:

“Quite frankly, in terms of my predecessors, I don't recall the media ever approaching any of our previous cabinet ministers or our previous premiers about with whom they were sleeping.”

A complete unknown, with a relatively limited experience practicing law and no public profile at all suddenly turns up as an unelected attorney general, states emphatically that she will violate a fundamental constitutional convention, and then says she is surprised that people wonder who she is and where she came from.

She is surprised?

Lots of cabinet ministers and premiers have been asked questions about their romantic partners.  They help us all understand who the person is.  What Manning faced was a pretty simple and fairly typical question.

In Manning’s case, people are more curious about how she got this job because, unlike every other minister and Premier, she dropped out of the freaking sky and shocked the living crap out of everyone.  Even Conservatives had no idea who the frig she was.  So in her case,  Manning was more likely than most to face a question about her personal and professional relationships.

Politics these days is like that. Personal lives are on the table. Brian Tobin included his wife in his political campaign in 1996 and later lashed out at people when rumours flew that she landed a local job because of his influence. You can’t have it both ways, as Tobin found out. 

In Manning’s case, the cause for public curiosity is a bit different, but it is rooted in the same thing.  People want to know who has influence over the new Premier. Leo Power obviously does.  Whether that had any part to play in Manning’s appointment is another – but perfectly legitimate  - question.  If it wasn’t about this job, they’d be wondering about something else that could happen involving Leo.  If he’s got juice, people are going to wonder what that juice can do.

Manning wasn’t surprised at all, in case you missed it.  Unless she and Leo are as dumb as a bag of hammers, there’s just no way they didn’t anticipate a question about the relationship between the two of them.  Saying she was surprised was just part of Manning’s planned response.  whether she cooked up the response lines herself or had help,  they reveal a lot.

Let’s look at the “surprised” line itself.  One one level, it suggests that she is naive in the extreme. On another level, it suggests that Manning believes her audience is gullible enough to accept that someone sharp enough to get where she is in life never imagined there’d be any kind of question about her personal relationship to one of Paul Davis’ closest confidants.

On yet another level,  the “surprised” line suggest that Manning is ignorant of recent events or believes her audience is clued out. The local media wussed out when Danny and his wife split.  They caved in when his posse organised an assault on local media in order to stop their coverage of his health problems.  But in an earlier, more honest, and definitely ballsier time, the news of the Premier’s personal difficulties made the news.  Ask Brian Peckford.

More recently, the personal relationship of a senior cabinet minister became a public issue because her significant other managed to turn up as the chair of the Nalcor board even though he had no relevant experience whatsoever. 

That things us to another aspect of Manning’s response to the predictable question.  She tried to make it about the fact she’s a woman.  Supposedly the question about Leo would never have been asked of a man.  Well, that clearly isn’t true.

Then there’s the characterisation of the question as being about who Manning slept with.  Chris O’Neill-Yates didn’t ask her about her bed mates.  She made no reference to that aspect of Manning’s relationship with Power at all. She simple mentions that Power as her partner.

What you have there is Manning’s deliberate  - and very hostile - restatement of the question.  She then describes herself somewhat oddly as an “unmarried lady,”  tries to downplay Power’s relationship with Davis, and portray her own situation as one of great sacrifice since “a lawyer of her vintage’ would make much more than she will in the time she is a minister without having a seat in the House of Assembly.

Chris started to ask a simple question in which she mentioned Leo Power as manning’s partner, but Manning was so keyed up for the question with her response all ready that she jumped in and interrupted Chris before she finished the full thought.

Look closely at the question and you can tell Manning had her lines prepared.  Unless Manning normally speaks in such a tortured fashion to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition,  it’s pretty obvious Judy thought it might come up or someone helped Manning with a prepared answer to the predictable question.

Who in the name of all that is unholy says “about with whom they were sleeping?


It screams “prepared answer.” It sounds like she has thought about the response a few times, even if it was only in her own head.

The prepositional ping-pong goes with another of her phrases – “an unmarried lady” – that just doesn’t sound natural.  Presumably, Manning is living with Leo Power in a committed personal relationship. This isn’t the 1950s.  People understand that.  Calling herself an “unmarried lady” sounds completely oddball, like she is trying to distance herself from him somehow.  Manning sounded like she was trying to speak grandly,  like she was putting on airs.

Overall, her attitude was defensive.  Manning came across like there was some connection between her new job and her relationship with Power that made her uncomfortable.  Her discomfort was unmistakeable.

Manning was ready with prepared lines about her salary.  She actually brought that up, not O’Neill-Yates.  Manning had detailed information on her salary and what the lawyer’s pay scale involves.  She rattled the information off lickety-split. That took preparation.  She repeated the line about being in the job for public service. That sort of “poor me” line is a vintage Danny Williams kind of tactic.  He’s not the only one who has used it.  People with money and power love to portray themselves as humble schmucks.

People are smart enough to understand how things work.  Manning’s prepared lines were basically disingenuous.  They assume people are idiots.  Ultimately, comments like “I am here as a public service” are such a load of self-serving crap that it wouldn’t be surprising if people blew raspberries at the screen as she spoke. Rather than win any fiends, Manning just pissed people off.

In that respect, Manning is like Paul Davis.  Either she is getting bad advice or she’s not taking the good advice someone is offering. It’s why they both had such a disastrous first week in office.

Judy Manning’s interview is a good teaching tool, by the way, for anyone interested in media interviews.  What people should remember in these cases is that the question is just a question.  The key thing is always the answer.  A simple, plain, honest answer is always best.  Judy Manning gave answers that were – or appeared to be – exactly the opposite of that.

Unless Manning changes her approach, she is going to continue to have a very hard time. If Judy wants to know how that feels, she can ask Frank Coleman.  He’s the guy who got upset when people asked about the relationship between his wife’s personal political campaigning against abortion and his own potential actions as Premier. 

It wasn’t a very comfortable spot, not because of the questions he faced, but because of his lousy, rehearsed answers.