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Please Advise! Does Poilievre Hate Apples, Reporters or Both?

Conservatives think their leader’s slapdown of a reporter is great. Dr. Steve disagrees.

Steve Burgess 23 Oct 2023The Tyee

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Read his previous articles.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

A video of Pierre Poilievre in an Oliver orchard munching an apple and parrying questions from a local reporter has gone viral, attracting attention in both Canada and the U.S. But no one seems to agree on why. Some think it makes Poilievre look like a hero, others that it makes him look petty and mean-spirited.

I am confused. What's your take?

Signed,

J. Appleseed

Dear Johnny,

There are many varieties of apple, like spartan, golden delicious and McIntosh. Poilievre must have been eating a Rorschach. That could explain the wildly different reactions to the video. Not since Steve Jobs and Isaac Newton were expelled from the Garden of Eden have apples caused such confusion.

The Conservatives clearly think the video is a winner. They even put out T-shirts with a picture of apple-munching Pierre, labelled “How do you like them apples?” Respected American eminence grise Sarah Palin retweeted the video with an approving remark. Elon Musk loved it. Down at Fox News, Poilievre was suddenly the apple of their eye.

Dr. Steve's initial reaction to the video was perhaps a bit beside the point. He wondered what Poilievre has against apples. The Opposition leader seems to attack that piece of fruit with genuine hostility. He appears to be angry at it. Contemptuous, even. “Apples? Bah! Sleeping Beauty was a weakling. Bring it, Wicked Queen.”

It reminds Dr. Steve of one of his cinematic pet peeves — the chewing shot. Filmmakers seeking a visual shorthand to display someone's nasty character will sometimes show that person eating, with a gruesome close-up of their masticating mandibles. It's a sly way of portraying a character as vicious, ruthless and cruel.

Dr. Steve thinks it’s a cheap shot. The Conservatives? They put it on a T-shirt.

Poilievre's fans certainly think the video shows their man in a flattering light. It featured the Conservative leader in an Oliver, B.C., orchard, fielding questions from Don Urquhart, editor of the Okanagan-based Times Chronicle. “You're obviously taking the populist pathway,” Urquhart said.

“What does that mean?” Poilievre replied.

“Certainly you tap very strong ideological language quite frequently,” Urquhart said.

“Like what?” Poilievre retorted.

Urquhart eventually gave up and veered off into policy issues. Poilievre's fans crowed that he’d slapped down that line of questioning like Scottie Barnes batting away a weak layup.

To be fair, Poilievre benefited from a lack of preparedness on Urquhart's part. When Poilievre said “Like what?” Urquhart might have mentioned the time Poilievre was caught on video calling Justin Trudeau (and his father Pierre) “Marxists,” or perhaps the time he called Global News “a Liberal mouthpiece."

Things got downright risible when Urquhart suggested Poilievre engages in divisive political labelling: “Left wing, you know, this and that, right wing.”

Poilievre responded that he never really talks about left or right. “I don't really believe in that,” he said.

Urquhart, to his credit, remained upright rather than collapsing, rendered helpless by spasms of hilarity. Pierre Poilievre, the man who once tweeted that his enemies will shed “leftist tears,” does not believe in “left and right”? This is like hearing your cat claim it does not care for small boxes, a snake declaring indifference to small rodents, or a moth saying, “Eh, porch lights, I can take 'em or leave 'em.” Pierre Poilievre is more focused on left and right than a marine drill sergeant.

Many cringed at the video. Even as the applause resounded through right-wing halls, a popular Twitter hashtag read #NobodyLikesPierrePolievre. (At the very least, it seems nobody can spell Pierre Poilievre.)

Regardless, Poilievre did handle Urquhart’s queries with unruffled confidence. For his supporters it was perhaps reminiscent of the way Trudeau has deftly handled hecklers at various public appearances. But whether Poilievre's backers know it or not, the comparison doesn’t fit. Poilievre wasn't being heckled — he was dealing with a reporter.

It’s a distinction that won’t mean much to the faithful, though. To Conservative partisans the media is the enemy and slapping down reporters is no different from handling hecklers. No wonder it played so well south of the border — the Fox News crowd love to see a confident right-wing politician sticking it to the liberal media.

But you’ve got to have your head a long way up your own posterior to think the snide Poilievre of that video presents as an attractive personality. As political strategies go, chewing up apples and reporters ranks a long way below kissing babies. Poilievre comes off like someone who would rather debate the baby. He'd give the little brat something to cry about.

Poilievre is certainly getting noticed with his orchard oratory. Now his party is gleefully asking the public, “How do you like them apples?” But in politics, as in law, it's dangerous to ask a question if you don't know the answer. And considering the usual flavour of Poilievre's rhetoric, Conservatives should remember not everybody enjoys the taste of crabapples.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics, Media

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