Carney's true test at Bank of England may be fickle British media

For the 5½ years that Mark Carney was head of the Bank of Canada, you hardly knew he had a wife. That's about to change as he steps into his new job as the head of the Bank of England today and into the unforgiving glare of the British media.

Canadian press went easy on former central banker

As Mark Carney assumes his new post as governor of the Bank of England, he's entering not just a new workplace but a new arena of gotcha journalism where the details of his personal life are fair game. It's something the tame coverage of the Canadian media during his years as the country's central banker has ill prepared him for. (Jason Alden/Getty)

For all the time that Mark Carney was head of the Bank of Canada, you hardly knew he had a wife. Except for the politicians who drag their families on stage during election campaigns, the spouses and children of most Canadian officials appear only as an off-stage glow.

The British media have reported more details about Diana Fox, above, in the last few weeks than Canadian journalists did in the 5 1/2 years her husband, Mark Carney, was the governor of Canada's central bank. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

That has all changed now that the Carney family has moved into the orbit of the British media. This week, as Carney takes his place as head of the Bank of England, one of his greatest tests will have very little to do with central banking and a lot to do with gotcha journalism.

And it's Canadian journalists who might have to take the blame.

Canadian journalists were just not inquisitive enough. The Bank of Canada was supposed to be a training ground, but we have left Carney and family unprepared. 

I must personally admit that there are a lot of questions I never asked about Carney, his wife, her politics, her profession, her family's pig farm, their children's schools.

Perhaps Canadian journalists are a little like the French, who hardly notice their leaders' peccadillos, at least until they are finally dragged into court.

We do stories on gay politicians without even mentioning they are gay. We and the French are just too polite to ask the hard questions.

Canadians rarely do tabloid journalism

I am ashamed to say that despite the many words I have written about our former central bank governor and the many more I have helped to instigate in CBC News coverage, I never even knew Mrs. Carney's maiden name. Now, not only do I know the life story and generations of Diana Fox Carney from reading the British papers, the woman is on the verge of becoming a tabloid celebrity. 

The U.K. press have been relentless in reporting on the foibles and faux pas of London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is often caught on camera with his hair in disarray. (Andrew Winning/Reuters)

It is true that the Canadian media can occasionally stir themselves to bouts of tabloid-style journalism, which I remember one mentor in the profession describing as "bumptious and gum-chewing." While we go over the top every now and then with a story like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's (alleged) crack video or senators who double dip, compared to the crocodiles of the London press corps, we are as fluffy kittens.

Ford may be getting a hard time just now, but London's mayor, Boris Johnson, is dragged through the mud almost daily, dangling helplessly from a zip line, caught out saying something infamous, caught on camera every time his hair is oddly combed.

The British media have some of the best journalists in the world. They are well paid. The highbrow financial writers are often better educated than the people they cover. At the lowbrow end, they are even better writers, making every headline a punchline and making every story feel like they have discovered an outrage or new superlative. 

As Carney dons the Bank of England mantle on this Canada Day, the coverage of him in the British media is at the superlative end of the news spectrum. And why not? As we found in our much milder Canadian way, Carney was a media-friendly central banker. Clever quips on the tip of his tongue, quotable answers to serious questions, big smiles, spiffy clothes. 

The Canadian media's coverage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been tame and fleeting by comparison. (Mark Blinch/Reuters )

I must, frankly, admit I am no better than the rest of the reading public. It is fun watching our former central bank governor, his family and their connections as if they were characters on Downton Abbey. But don't be fooled by the current round of adulation. There is no better tabloid story than that of Hero to Zero. And once tabloid celebrities are in play, they must take the good with the bad. 

Carney must be a good central banker in his new post, but now, he must also live his life in the limelight in a way he has never done before. This might be Carney's greatest test. I fear the new master of Threadneedle Street has a target on his back. I hope it ends well.

At the same time, I have this nagging doubt that perhaps I should pick up my game. Does anyone know Valerie Poloz's maiden name?