Monday, November 30, 2009


Let's Treat Them As Jerks And Not Listen To Their Fibs

The couple who cheated their way into the White House party have had their minutes in the publicity sun. Now let's give them sunburn and ignore them.
Any reporter who has been around the powerful for only a year or so is familiar with the desperate hanger-ons who just ache to be noticed by the president or PM or premier and. more importantly, by the media. And the picture is important. If the Salahis had not been photographed with Barack Obama and his crew, it would have been an absolute failure. After all, they don't care about Obama and his people, they just want the rest of the world to see them mingling as if they were important too.
It's a sickness, a denial of self-worth. I have been around the rich and famous and powerful my entire life. Yet I was never under any illusion that I was that important personally. The only reason 99% of the famous had any time for me was because I was a columnist or editor. They could get their message out through me, and I used them to get a story. It was a business relationship, and both sides knew it.
I sat at a head table recently with the premier, two former federal ministers and JFK's famous speech writer and listened as a desperate climber at the back asked a garbage question. I'm sure every listener recognized that all the questioner was doing was trying to draw attention to himself. The next day, he probably boasted to every single client how he had been at a private function with one of Canada's elites and been probing with question.
Ironically, you have more success being close or even chatting with the powerful and famous if you don't try too hard. It's like those people popping up and down behind someone on TV so they will be noticed. Believe me, as someone who has been in the background of countless news events, the cameraman will keep shooting with you in the background providing you don't act like a demented kid. If you do, he goes for another angle. After all, the cameraman only cares about a background with as few distractions as possible.
For those who wonder just how it is possible to slip by the famed Secret Service security and actually pose with the president, it has to do with the audacity of a brazen couple. They had willed themselves to ignore the chance of embarrassing failure. If you don't give a damn, security isn't an insurmountable problem. Ask terrorist bombers!
I remember a huge fund-raising dinner at a giant Toronto hotel where the speaker was Gerald Ford, the veteran congressman and vice president who as president had pardoned Richard Nixon. It was around 1985 and even though he hadn't been in office since 1977, he was still very active in U.S. politics and swept into downtown surrounded by clouds of agents and police.
My wife and I were wending our way through the corridors towards the dinner when we ran into June Callwood and Trent Frayne. June, of course, was the famous writer/activist, and Trent was equally famous in sports as an elegant columnist. We were old friends and marched along the hall together, chatting. There was a room filled with waiters and people in formal dress so the four of us slipped by a knot of men at the door and went in to get a drink.
A few minutes later, I observed that we had probably crashed the VIP reception for the head table. June questioned that until I pointed out that Ford was standing just behind her. She swivelled around, looked hard at everyone, and turned back to ask me why so many of the men were hard of hearing. I was surprised that such an experienced journalist wouldn't recognize agents and their earphones and wrist microphones.
June said you're telling me that they're Secret Service. I said yes. So she stuck her tongue out at the nearest agent who was swivelling to survey the room. He looked at June before she pulled her tongue in. He looked away, then back, surprised. June was impassive, acting as if she had done nothing. I lectured her. I said I knew she wasn't a great supporter of the police but why was she mad at the Secret Service? What did they do wrong?
We stood for a few minutes, Mary and me and the Fraynes, with Ford chatting a few feet away, surrounded by Secret Service, with at least one agent wondering if the biggest threat in the room was that older lady with the mischievous tongue. But at no time did the Secret Service move us out because it was obvious from our body language that being near the former president wasn't that big a deal. I can't say that for about 20 other people in the room who were panting to touch the hand of the famous man.
When the White House gatecrashers get their fortune to tell their silly story, I for one will not be listening. And I hope the media outlet which buys the meaningless tale is rewarded with poor ratings. It's time for all of us in the media to spend on real news coverage, not trash.

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