Shameful question of the day

NDP Youth and Families critic Olivia Chow held a press conference yesterday to outline her party’s position that the Conservative $1200 daycare allowance should instead be offered as a tax credit.

Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette is introduced by the press theatre moderator and she first contrasts “working mothers” with stay-at-home moms and the differences in benefits each would receive under the Conservative plan.

Thompson, not getting the answer she wanted instead prompts Chow:

“A stay at home mom doesn’t have any income of her own, outside of the $1200. I guess the point that I’m trying to get: to what extent does this system, sort of, perhaps encourage women to stay at home with their kids, which is something some elements of the Conservative Party tends to advocate?

Chow chuckled off the sexist question and to her credit did not give Thompson the point that she was trying to get: that the Conservative Party advocates that a woman’s place is at home with her children.

Of course, this is not the Conservative position as the Conservative plan is not explicit about stay-at-home moms or stay-at-home dads. The factor outlined in the plan is income (which in fact was the point of Chow’s presser).

Unfortunately, some reporters have deeply held biases. A reporter should never allow these biases to affect their work. Here we see Thompson’s bias against women (as the default stay-at-home parent) and against Conservatives (as sexists). (see the update)

Watch the video of Thompson’s question

(Firefox users, right click and save as…)

UPDATE: Elizabeth Thompson responds in the comments: “Those who know the media and how it works know you should never mistake a reporter testing to see just how far someone’s position goes (and just how much of that rope they may want to use to hang themselves) with the reporter’s personal views. The question I asked jibed with the views of many NDP supporters and was the logical extension of what she was suggesting – I just wanted to see whether Olivia Chow was prepared to go that far.

“As for the dispute with the press gallery – fewer press conferences means less to distract us from finding out and reporting what a government is really up to. I just wonder how long it is going to be before the people who dreamed up the strategy realize they are actually in the process of losing control of the agenda.”

Fair enough. I guess I’m still getting to know the media. Was Ms. Thompson baiting Chow? Perhaps. I’m not willing to withdraw my assertion that some reporters have deeply held biases, but I will give Thompson credit for providing a logical response and will give her the benefit of the doubt.

In cases such as these, reporters’ questions only go on the record if the person questioned makes the error of taking the bait. As a result, it is the politician that is held responsible rather than the reporter. Granted, if Ms. Chow had latched onto the question, this post would have been about her instead. My apologies to Ms. Thompson for accusing her of bias on this exchange with Chow.

Now, the second half of Thompson’s response is interesting as well: the limited number of press conferences (or PPG accessibility to cabinet) will actually damn Harper’s camp because reporters will have more time on their hands to dig up the real answers? That’s the first time I’ve heard of this angle on the issue and Thompson is likely in the minority POV in the PPG on this. It will be interesting to see if it does indeed play out this way. Will Harper’s communications team’s attempt at order lead to disorder? The strategy is keep discipline among cabinet ministers (so that they aren’t hanged by the rope that the media is so willing to provide) so I’m not convinced. The PPG may have more time to ask staffers, opposition MPs and “anonymous sources” more questions, but keeping discipline among the high level credible sources is an understandable facet of the PMO’s self-preservation strategy.