Fear and thievery on the campaign trail ’15

My first trip with a national election campaign was in September 1972, when, as a rookie reporter for UPI, I joined the Nixon press entourage for a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty.

I’m sure I didn’t pay the nickel fare, or whatever it cost at the time, so it must have been a White House charter.

A couple of years later, as the UPI correspondent in Vancouver, I flew around B.C. with Trudeau or Stanfield when each was campaigning in my territory.

I’m pretty sure UPI didn’t pay for the flights, and certain I didn’t pay for the beer on the planes and buses.

Didn’t matter. Didn’t make Stanfield any less boring or Trudeau less foppish.

Good reporters don’t carry the baggage of a political agenda. It’s their corporate overlords who add partisan context.

In any case, everything changed after Watergate. The press got haughty and sanctimonious, drew a line between itself and governments/politicians in indelible ink.

No more free rides. No more free lunch. No more freebies of any kind.

The media could afford it then. They weren’t yet begging for ad bucks or pissing into the wind and calling it a new revenue stream.

But the worms have turned. Now, the slimy invertebrates are using the media to subsidize political parties during election seasons.

How else do you explain the rates being charged to play follow the leader in the current Canadian campaign?

Want to ride with Stephen Harper? That will cost $3,000 a day per person.

Tom Mulcair – $2,000.

Justin Trudeau – $2,500.

What do you get for the money?

A seat on a plane or bus. That’s it.

The two-to-three grand a day doesn’t cover hotels, or meals, or beer, or booze, or weed, or uppers, or downers, or pain killers, or massages, or illicit sex, or other essentials of life on the road.

You don’t need Will Hunting to calculate the profit for parties charging a couple of grand apiece to bus a herd of reporters and shooters from Oshawa to Toronto to Hamilton and Niagara Falls.

Or fly from Victoria to Vancouver to Kamloops.

Yeah, it’s a big country. Lots of places to tell lies in both official languages.

But it’s not as if Harper, or Mulcair or Trudeau would be driving from coast to coast in a Prius if the media didn’t climb aboard.

Only now, they get to drag the press out of its palliative-care facilities to kick in for the gas.

So far, only the CBC and Canadian Press have committed to go the entire 11-week campaign with all three leaders.

The CBC, of course, is spending our money, while CP hit its clients for an extra fee for election coverage – and then got screwed when Harper nearly doubled the length of a traditional campaign.

It’s no wonder many penny-pinching news organizations are taking a pass, and justifying it with uppity journalistic rationalizations.

“Essentially you’re just tagging along for most of the day watching them participate in photo-ops, watching them deliver speeches,” Global News parliamentary bureau chief Jacques Bourbeau told the Hill Times. “You’re just a tourist.”

What’s wrong with taking in the sights on assignment? My old boss at UPI used to go to Vegas for an industry circle-jerk every year and put 100 bucks on his expense account for “a hammer.” (That’s what the hottest hooker in town cost in the ’70s.)

Harper charges a lot more for a fleeting rendezvous.

Since he will answer only four questions from national reporters paying three grand a day on the Tory tour, that’s $750 a pop — a sweet trick for a prime minister who would be thrilled if only the local media showed up at each stop.

Here at thebeckerfiles, we, the editorial board, say: No mas.

It’s time for the media to get creative. As long as you’re paying, start playing:

  • Have all the reporters and shooters dress up in the colors of an opposing campaign. Imagine the fun you’d have on the Liberal tour looking like the Blue Man Group.
  • When his trial is not in session, hire Mike Duffy to report from the Tory tour.
  • At one of those phony news conferences, where the leaders don’t answer questions anyway, ask Mulcair to autograph a copy of Harper’s hockey book. (Consider the possibilities since all three have published books, which are dirt cheap on Amazon.)
  • The next time on the Left Coast, play hooky from one of the Big Three and join Elizabeth May in her war canoe for a trip around the Gulf Islands.
  • Conspire to ask Trudeau the same question again and again: Are you ready?
  • Do the same with Harper: Are you envious of Justin’s hair?
  • And with Mulcair: Who had the better PM beard, Mackenzie Bowell or Alexander Mackenzie?
  • Instead of asking the leaders about the polls, solicit personal advice on placing a bet on the election with British bookies.
  • When you are sitting, stupefied, on a campaign bus traveling from Moose Jaw to Swift Current, fondling your smartphone with nothing to tweet, ask yourself: What would Hunter Thompson be doing in my place right now?
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