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TORONTO, Ont. Mar 8, 2016/ Troy Media/ – When word first leaked out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was going to appear on the popular U.S. television program, 60 Minutes, the Canadian reaction was predictable. Liberals cheered, Tories grimaced and New Democrats sighed.
These were, unsurprisingly, pretty much the same reactions when Trudeau’s interview with 60 Minutes’s Lara Logan aired this past Sunday.
Hence, the $64,000 question remains unanswered: Did the PM succeed or fail to get his message across to an American audience? As someone who once served as former prime minister Stephen Harper’s speechwriter, you may think that my answer would be obvious. It’s not.
Let’s break down this interview, point by point.
Placement: The Liberals put their leader on a major American network (CBS), and on a successful show that has won 106 Emmys over 47 seasons. Millions of people watch 60 Minutes each week, and many others will go to the website and click on the episode. Hence, the public exposure for Trudeau this past Sunday was enormous. Verdict: success
Format: While 60 Minutes traditionally operates as an intellectual newsmagazine, its interviews and exposes aren’t always forceful and penetrating. Logan opted to keep the interview relatively light, asking some intriguing questions but nothing earth-shattering. Trudeau would have had a much rougher ride on Fox News, MSNBC and possibly CNN. This format worked to his advantage. Verdict: success
Appearance: Trudeau appeared with a shirt and tie throughout the interview. His handlers opted to not use a suit or jacket, following a similar style to U.S. President Barack Obama during several TV appearances. This workmanlike status isn’t entirely professional, but has gradually become more acceptable. It likely resonated with the CBS audience, and gave the impression that Trudeau wasn’t stuffy and acted like “one of us.” Based on his family background and privilege, it was a wise move. Verdict: success
Comfort Level: Trudeau seemed, for the most part, relaxed and confident during the interview. He smiled a fair bit, tried to engage Logan at certain points, and had a bit of swagger in his responses. Trudeau’s tendency to pause during responses has never been a desirable feature of his public persona. His constant use of “umm,” “uhh,” and the collaqualism “you know,” needs to be curtailed by his spin doctors, too. Otherwise, he came off looking relatively comfortable – which was the desired effect. Verdict: success, tiny failure
Responses: Most of Logan’s questions were of the softball variety, and Trudeau had little to no problem with them. In particular, his answers about the 25,000 Syrian refugees and his father’s legacy were both fine. Where he stumbled – and quite badly – was his view that “it might be nice” if Americans “paid a little more attention to the world.” He went on to say, “Having a little more of an awareness of what’s going on in the rest of the world, I think is, is what many Canadians would hope for Americans.” Besides the fact that these statements made Trudeau look smug and arrogant, it’s not really his place to speak on behalf of Canadians’s perceptions of Americans. If it was his own point of view, fine. That’s not how he answered it, and it reflected badly on him – and our country. Verdict: part success, part failure
By and large, the 60 Minutes interview worked to Trudeau’s advantage. He showed an international audience that his leadership will be fundamentally different than Harper’s leadership. He appealed to younger audiences on social media, and proved that this so-called “scion of Canadian political royalty,” as CBS called him, has a mind of his own.
At the same time, Trudeau didn’t leave the best impression to American viewers. Criticizing the nation that’s about to give him a state dinner on March 10 – our first prime minister to receive this honour since Jean Chretien in 1997 – wasn’t very hospitable.
If Obama looks at him in a perplexed manner that evening, he’ll know why.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Michael is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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