"I'm always intrigued by the fact that opportunities like this are used to talk about the issues of the day as opposed to the issues of the relationship. It's a press conference with the prime minister of Canada and the president of the United States. I know the convention is to whenever the president is available, ask him any question that's possible.
"I actually hoped there would be more questions about the Canada-U.S. relationship as opposed to what are our international crises. We know what they are. We hear about them daily. We'll hear about them tonight, I'm sure. I would have liked even more conversation about the relationship, which I thought was the subject of the meeting."
Gordon D. Giffin was the second U.S. Ambassador to Canada under President Bill Clinton from 1997-2001. Giffin was a guest on MSNBC's coverage of the press conference on Monday afternoon with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump.
As someone who writes about Canada, who has covered politics on both sides of the border, I had wondered about the huge gap in knowledge of Canadians who know too much about the United States and Americans who only knows stereotypes about maple-syrup-covered polar bears who play hockey and speak French.
The news story was right in front of them and on live TV. Canada, the largest trading partner of 35 states, with an above-average looking prime minister was being tossed aside for the same stories that would be talked about ad nauseum on a 24-hour cable news cycle.
MSNBC anchor Brian Williams proceeded to pompously defend the obsessive direction of the coverage. Williams wasn't indignant at Giffin or Canada. In fact, Williams blew off the content of the question entirely along the lines of "we have to be obsessed at repeating the same stories over and over." Williams dragged in Andrea Mitchell, who agreed with Williams' point.
After Giffin said "the Canada-U.S. relationship," MSNBC reporter Katy Tur said off-mic and off-camera "that would have been something as well."
Unlike her MSNBC colleagues, Tur was willing to defend the notion of sticking to Canada in the conversation. But she played a bit from all sides, thoughtful and closer to journalism than Williams or Mitchell.
Tur pointed out the lack of journalism depth in the 2 reporters picked by Trump for questions. The Daily Caller, a right-wing Web site, and WJLA-TV Washington, an ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair, a openly right-wing TV stations owner.
Mitchell agreed on that the U.S. questions were much weaker than the Canadians, adding that in the previous news conference that the 2 questions came from Rupert Murdoch owned properties: the New York Post and Fox 'News.'
In the spirit of the moment, the Michael Flynn story was significant as this press conference came less than 24 hours before his resignation as national security adviser. But Flynn has been part of the conversation all week in the U.S. news cycle. Except for Sean Spicer thinking of Trudeau long-lost cousin Joe Trudeau and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah poking fun at Ivanka Trump's schoolgirl-crush reaction to the Canadian prime minister, Canada had disappeared from the news radar.
Williams made this out to be a battle between government vs. journalism. In his mindset, Williams thought focusing on Canada was the "government" side and obsessing over the same easy-to-handle stories was the "journalism" side.
MSNBC brought in Richard Stengel, former under secretary of State and a former Time magazine managing editor. Williams introduced him hoping he would jump in on the "journalism" side instead of the "government" side.
Stengel took the "government" side, noting that you "can't make governing hostage to the news media." Stengel had a beautiful summary of what is wrong with cable news. "There's a little bit of an aspect in cable television of a 6-year-old's soccer game where everybody follows the ball all the time."
Cable news can't think too much about Canada that matters more to average Americans than chasing its proverbial media tail over and over. The news becomes the news and those few stories are all that can be discussed. That isn't journalism, that is bullsh-t.
The European Union approved the trade agreement this week between the EU and Canada. NAFTA and the United States might become less relevant to Canadian trade with that deal, even if the Keystone XL pipeline ever gets built. About a year ago, the EU-Canada deal was seen as a template for a similar U.S.-EU trade deal. Between Brexit and Trump, that won't happen anytime soon.
The EU-Canada deal was worth headlines in Canada; maybe page 18 in major U.S. newspapers but certainly nothing on U.S. cable news.
Trade and trade partnerships have become a focus in U.S. news but more about political allegations not actual trade policies.
You would think that given 24 hours, cable news would have time to talk about trade or Canada or Canadian trade. But the cycle can only handle shallow discussions of the same
Tur made the point that if Trump had asked members of the standard press e.g., The Associated Press, NBC News, the questions from the U.S. side would have been more substantial. While I agree with Tur, there is no guarantee that the questions would be germane to the trade talks between the two countries.
Giffin's original point wasn't invalidating the Michael Flynn coverage but wanting to know why Canada and trade couldn't be a part of the 24-hour cable news cycle for awhile. Williams' response was to invalidate anything that didn't follow the rhythm of the 24-hour cable news cycle. For lack of a better term, Canada and international trade are too boring and not sexy enough for TV news.
Taking a potshot at the journalism reputation of Brian Williams would be too easy. Williams is the messenger, albeit a pompous one, of the MSM cable news mentality that the only news that can be covered is easily digestible, leaving out somewhat complex or quieter concerns and issues. The American people deserve better news coverage of its Canadian neighbour. You can find a good list on the right-hand side of our blog or you could keep reading CanadianCrossing.com. We are inquisitive and curious, never pompous.
You can read the transcript to judge the quality of the Canadian vs. American questions in the press conference. The Canadian reporters are Tonda MacCharles. Ottawa bureau reporter for the Toronto Star and Richard Latendresse, White House Correspondent for Groupe TVA. The American reporters are Kaitlan Collins, White House Correspondent, The Daily Caller and Scott Thuman, Chief Political Correspondent, WJLA-TV, Washington, DC.
photo collage: MSNBC