THE PARLIAMENTARY PRESS DINNER
Like dogs returning to their own vomit (2007)
people get too chummy I get suspicious. Especially if
they’re newscasters on my television, bantering among
themselves and exchanging lame one-liners. Apparently I’m
supposed to think of these people as my friends. I’m sure
these coifed commandoes are nice enough in real life, but
that's just the thing: television is not real life, and a
one-way connection to a bunch of phosphorescent dots is
doomed to disappointment.
The friendly neighbourhood news team shtick, originating
with private American news outlets, supplied Canada with a
template for broadcast bonhomie. Anyone who’s tuned into
the evening news out of Seattle knows how cloying the
routine has become, with canned merriment alternating with
local reports of fires, auto accidents, chemical spills,
homicides, and Hollywood couple splits. It’s like cheery
updates on the inner circles of Hell from bipolar stand-ins
for the cast of Friends. Me, I prefer the news read in a
serious manner, with a minimum of verbal and facial tics.
The old Edward R. Murrow gravitas. The same applies to
politicians. I want them to do their job, not tickle my
funnybone or blow smoke up my fundamental aperture.
This brings me to the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery
dinner from Ottawa. Working from scripts vetted by
handlers, federal leaders tell jokes, sing songs, and
generally deconstruct their Oz-like personas for the
gathered bigwigs of print and pixel.
(As per usual, the PPGD is modeled after similar US events.
And ever since the eighties, when Nancy Reagan mocked her
personal penchant for pricey ball gowns at the Gridiron
Club dinner by singing "Second Hand Rose,” media have
become less secretive about the goings-on at such soirees.
During last year’s Radio and Television Correspondent’s
Association dinner, George W. Bush showed slides of himself
looking around in the Oval Office for Saddam’s missing
weapons of mass destruction. "Nope, no weapons over there,”
he said, as he cued up shots of him looking under the
office furniture. According to The
David Corn, the audience actually laughed at this
stunningly callous shtick.)
This week CBC Newsworld broadcast a few highlights from
last Sunday's Press Gallery dinner in Ottawa. Prime
Minister Paul Martin read entries from his diary,
apparently written in the voice of a teenage girl, on
Belinda Stronach’s defection to the Liberals. "Dear Diary,
Oh my God, so like, David (former Ontario premier David
Peterson) called and he said that Belinda is like totally
thinking of crossing over. And I’m like, ‘no way.’ And he’s
like ‘yes way,’ and I’m like ‘no way!’ Stephen Harper,
putting the ‘hearse’ back into rehearsed, acknowledged
rumours of being a personality donor. “Actually, I’m really
exited to be here. This is how I look when I’m excited. …As
you know, I did the barbecue circuit this summer. We called
it the Summer of Love Handles." The most cringe-worthy
performance on the clip was courtesy NDP leader Jack
Layton, who played guitar and sang about his party's
willingness to sell out. "Party for sale or rent, will
support any government. No principle, no guts, no spine. No
tape recorders when we dine." Self-deprecating is one
thing, Jack. Self-defecating is something else.
A more successful shtick came in the form of a videotaped
greeting from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. With a
gravelly rasp, he solemnly greeted the Governor General and
the assembled press, before requesting author Peter C.
Newman to perform an impossible act of self-penetration.
What vaguely creeps me out about these kind of events is
the chummy, insiders’ dynamic between mainstream news
reporters and their nominal prey. I'm reminded of the
classic Chuck Jones’ cartoons about Sam the Sheepdog and
Ralph the Wolf. The mortal enemies greet each other in the
morning at the timeclock, and proceed to bash each other’s
brains out in the pasture. At the end of the day, they
punch the timeclock and amble down the road together,
lunchbuckets swaying as they disappear into the sunset
together, no harm done.
But I guess what really disturbs me about the clips from
PPGD is the idea of federal politicians have a good time.
Not on my tax dime, Monsieur et Madame. I want you with
your nose to the grindstone, your ear to the ground, and
your finger to the wind (the index finger). And if you want
reading material for your bathroom break, better make it
David Orchard’s The
Fight for Canada --
Berles's 1001 Jokes for All Occasions.