August 23rd, 2008 at 12:06pm
If there is one thing that I have to give Jon Stanhope credit for, he is very good at playing with the media. Whether it’s his “I will spend five minutes answering your question about what you perceive to be a lack of rubbish bins by telling you a story about the social interaction between rubbish trucks and rubbish bins and why the cost of diesel dictates how many of these interactions can be made on a weekly basis, and why we therefore have the most economically sustainable and responsible number of rubbish bins per rubbish truck in the industrialised world” answers during time-limited radio interviews or his surprisingly effective “I’ll keep saying this publicly, and people will believe it, no matter how irrelevant it may be” way of wriggling out of trouble, Jon Stanhope continuously manages to make the media run the message that he wants to have aired.
The story was about ACTEW Corporation’s yet-to-be-approved, but already heavily advertised, projects to secure Canberra’s water supply. It’s hard to tell whether Mr. Stanhope referred to himself as the leader of the Liberal Party by accident, but it hardly matters. If it was accidental, then Mr. Stanhope showed how well he knows the media by correcting his entire sentence, and not just the errant word. Most of us in his position would have said “I’ve been the leader of the Liberal..err, Labor Party for” etc, whereas Jon Stanhope restarted his sentence, knowing that most, if not all, broadcast media, if they wanted to use his answer, would cut out the erroneous sentence due to their own time constraints, effectively nullifying his slip-up. Correcting only the erroneous word would have meant that the sentence, including error, would have been broadcast by anybody who wanted to use his answer.
The other possibility is that Mr. Stanhope made the reference on purpose. The answer he was providing was clearly one of his “my track record speaks for itself” answers as he was using his line about how many years we have all known of him, and that line is generally part of a defensive argument. In this case, by referring to himself as the leader of a party he his not the leader of, he has distracted the media and the public from his answer.
“Chief Minister makes amusing mistake” is a much more interesting story than “Chief Minister defends his record”, and even if the media did run his answer in full, the public would be much more likely to remember his amusing mistake than his dreary answer. Even more importantly, in a month or so when commentators are looking back over Mr. Stanhope’s reign as Chief Minister, they’re going to have a chuckle about this incident, rather than having anything negative to say about the topic he was talking about. Far from making him look incompetent, it will make him look human in the lead-up to the election.
When it comes down to it, the only person who truly knows whether the statement was an accident or intentional is Jon Stanhope (and possibly his advisors), and regardless, it has given the public something to laugh about as they enter the weekend, rather than remembering the rather awful week that he had. People won’t forget the week of events, but they won’t be as prominent in their minds. And the fact that I’m writing about this, and not the week of events, says something about how good Jon Stanhope is at making the media (and I’m including bloggers in the definition of that word) see and hear what he wants them to see and hear.