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Please, Mr. PR flack, tell my editor I pissed you off

You can always pick out the pros. They call you back, they ask about your deadline, they don’t make it…

By Megan Stewart , in Making the News: Focus on Canadian journalism , on February 2, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

You can always pick out the pros.

They call you back, they ask about your deadline, they don’t make it so apparent they’re avoiding your questions, and they make an attempt to provide information as if it weren’t actually the spin they want you to have. Hype and truth collide in the realm of public relations, and Sheldon Rampton calls this the age of virtual factuality.

Sometimes the pro’s job is to thwart you.

So when I met–we’ll call him Victor–at a presser this week, I blew off his gray silk suit and violet tie. He was tall, balding and peered at the pages of my notebook as I scribbled. But he smiled after asking what publication I was with–the Globe and Mail brings credibility, no doubt. (It was a two-week internship, which I’ve written about earlier and is now over.)

I was at a hotel near Vancouver’s city hall to hear an announcement from a group of private health providers. (You can read my story and an excellent, more nuanced article on the same issues here.) I knew they were filing a lawsuit against the province and wanted B.C.’s courts to weigh in on the 2005 Chaoulli v. Quebec case. I won’t go into the arguments, ideologies or histories here, but needless to say, this legal challenge has enormous implications for Medicare in our province.

In the lobby of the hotel, I asked a woman with a recorder and notebook about the conference. It was upstairs. She had been asked to leave. Turns out, this was Colleen Fuller, a recognized left-leaning health policy analyst. She once worked with a union representing public-sector, hospital professionals.

So, once the press conference had wrapped, I asked Victor if the meeting was considered public.

It’s a press conference.

It’s public?

It’s for the press–media only.

Why did you ask Colleen Fuller to leave?

Who is that?

She is a policy analyst and her forte is health care.

I don’t know who that is.

Why did you asked her to leave?

This meeting is for the media only.

What were you concerned she’d do?

This meeting is for the media only.

Were you worried she would ask questions like the reporters did during the hour-long meeting?

She’s with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, right?

So you do know who she is. All the information today will be made public, including the documents filed in court–why did you ask her to leave?

She’s not media.

Could you tell me your name, please.

This isn’t for attribution.

That’s fine, but could you please tell me your name.

Are you going to attribute this?

No. But I would still like to know who I was speaking with.

Not if it’s for attribution.

I said that’s fine.


Fine. She’s downstairs. I’m going to speak with her.

Who do you work for? Who?

Perfect, Victor. Feel free to complain to my editor. Feel free to call him up, say you’re managing a communications team for private surgery clinics who are suing the government, and tell him I was pushing you to answer my questions. Do it. I’ll thank you for the endorsement.