Stephen Harper faced a barrage of accusations and criticism about his performance as Prime Minister last night but he stayed largely unflappable in the face of the severe criticism sent his way by Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe. In televised debates perception is everything so despite the solid heavy body blows that the opposition leaders landed it is not yet clear how the debate was received by its television viewers. The various partisan spinners and spinners in disguise who work as newspaper journalists largely awarded the debate on points to either Harper or Jack Layton but many viewers may have a different sense of the debate.
However Michael Ignatieff suffered from a disadvantage in terms of his camera location and even the graphics background that was behind him. Ignatieff was located third over from the left as the viewers saw standing between Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe. This tends to give the passive tv watcher the false impression that it is Layton who stood between Ignatieff on his left and Harper on his right who is the central figure to watch in terms of the opposition to Harper. In the French debate Ignatieff should insist that he switch positions with Layton to avoid this problem twice in a row. Harper also had the advantage of the sharpest and most clearly defined background graphic black and white bars while Ignatieff was largely televised against an NDP yellow and orange beige background which gave a less sharp impression. These observations may all seem petty and irrelevant but unfortunately as Mcluhan and others have shown us perception on tv is very different from perception in real life, particularly for the large segment of the population that is moved by imagery rather than substance. Harper also looked straight into the camera and therefore openly addressed the television viewer at home conveying the impression of an honest unflappable leader who is simply trying to take care of the people’s business while being unfairly harassed by these pesky opposition politicians who are emotional and distort the facts. Of course, this is all Conservative spin but the viewers don’t all know this. The debate in French should be more advantageous to Ignatieff since his French is excellent although clearly Duceppe is the man of the hour in the French debate.