OUR TORONTO SUN NOSTALGIA NEVER TIRES EVEN IF WE DO
All Hallow's Eve is the best time to celebrate the birth of the Toronto Sun. Around us, there are enough legends in their own mind, walking dead, and accountant vampires to populate Park Lawn Cemetery. The flood of nostalgia through the survivors is a powerful life force.
I drive carefully through the rain, watching for chocolate-crazed dads and darting tots. All around me are "ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night." Danger on slick streets. And danger ahead at the restaurant."Good Lord," I think, "deliver me" from whatever Donato is going to do now.
The sequence gets lost in the telling but on Oct. 30, 1971, I supervised a hung-over skeleton staff and put out the final edition of the Toronto Telegram, an historic, combative and innovative large newspaper that continually beat its rival, the Toronto Star, because it lacked our soul.
Then on the Sunday, 62 of the Tely's 1,200-member staff put together the first edition of the Toronto Sun, which was only possible because of new technology and a lot of hard, even inspired work. It appeared Nov. 1 and was an instant success. Indeed, despite traumatic years where staff was crushed, for example, under Quebecor's jackboot heel, it is now the flagship of the largest newspaper chain in the land.
Which I knew would be one topic at our reunion dinner. After all, at the head of it all now is Paul Godfrey, a man of many parts, liked by some, like me, hated by some, like those who thought that in a devious reincarnation he sold us down the St. Lawrence to the separatists.
But first I would have to find out what Donato was up to. After all, all I knew was the sanctimonious crap in the Star, and a cover-your-ass mealy-mouthed defence in the Sun itself, about the latest fallout from a Donato cartoon. The authors of that explanation/apology must have trained at the Star.
Seems NDP leader Tom Mulcair is upset about a Donato cartoon just before the election where Olivia Chow for good reason got creamed. Of course he does "upset" well. It's the only thing he does well.
Chow is wearing a Mao tunic standing on the coattails of a Jack Layton suit. Nothing unusual there. Donato dislikes the NDP and always draws the socialists in communist garb. And the only reason she was even considered a mayoral candidate is that she had been married to the NDP leader who became the saint in death that he wasn't in life.
Face it, dear reader, Chow and Layton lost most of their votes and motions and deserved to because most voters and fellow politicians prefer the alternatives.
It all began with the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council complaining about the 'racist' cartoon because Donato depicted Chow with slanted glasses and eyes.
That council is always complaining about something. I tangled with them often, a couple of times over Donato cartoons. They do outrage almost as well as Mulcair because it's about the only time they're noticed. They're not really a major outfit, or that representative.
Of course the Star rode to battle because those goody-goody editors dislike the fun and good reads of the Sun. The usual suspects were called upon. After all, this was an unexpected golden opportunity to attack Godfrey and Postmedia buying Sunmedia, a deal they hope to block at the federal level.
John Honderich, the holier-than-thou head of its board of directors, should concentrate on getting the share price much higher to compensate all the stupid investors silly enough to buy his stock. Instead, he wastes his time to take a jealous swipe at Godfrey, who now runs the larger operation and has defended Donato this time, and in the past.
No need to deal with what Heather Malice wrote. She hates the Sun even though she worked there and it resurrected her career after it crashed at the Financial Post.
The complaints say the cartoon was racist, sexist and offensive. So now cartoonist can't ridicule women? So now cartoonists must produce characters scrubbed of any ethnic characteristic? Since cartoonists routinely exaggerate weight, height, eyes, nose and mannerisms, these critics with their special agendas argue that the artists now have to stop this technique which dates back to cave days and produce only vanilla images?
Is this really what these yahoos want? I suppose Honderich, Malice and the council would have preferred a bland Donato offering that showed a WASP figure of indeterminate sex brushing off a Santa suit while a choir hummed Kumbaya. Donato didn't goof. They did for a candidate who ran a feeble third. Chow's best role in politics is defeated candidate.
Turned out at the restaurant that we discussed the cartoon for about 30 seconds.
After all, Dianne and Andy Donato have been through countless skirmishes over art and cartoons.
Yvonne Crittenden as a tough reporter and reviewer spent years cheering from the front trench as her husband Peter Worthington waded from law suits to police investigations to controversies.
As Editor I spent at least 15 years supposedly approving Donato's cartoons and also having to defend him because he pricked the pompous with his pen. He caused me more grief and more joy than anyone with whom I worked in the news business. Even when I was allegedly his boss. he could be difficult but all great artists are.
The final member of our group, Mary, my loyal wife, knows the business is wacky and no wimps can prosper. She knows brawlers are loved only when they're on your side.
Together, we formed an indomitable core against the usual suspects mouthing the usual arguments against the usual imagined slights. We ignored the Star, lefty politicians and councils desperate to keep their funding and titles because we didn't want to ruin our appetites. Besides, it was all rather deja vu because they were mouthing antique arguments.
We concentrated instead on the wine, grumbled about the racket in the Kennedy Public House and indeed most noisy restaurants today, figured Godfrey just had to be better than what had happened at the Sun recently, and heard Yvonne relate new anecdotes about Peter which just added to the legend of the most remarkable newsman I've ever worked with.
I told them that Godfrey had phoned me the night before the announcement of the Post purchase and invited me to the press conference. I was the only Day Oner there. I hope it's the last such occasion. I remember previous ones, like Quebecor's, when Godfrey and others thought it was a good idea if I, who was there for another reason dressed as Santa, kicked everything off by announcing this Christmas gift for the staff. Pierre-Karl Peladeau balked at the last minute, then joked he started his Sun life firing Santa. Unfortunately, all the other firings that followed weren't as funny.
The annual birth celebration we've had for several decades is never an ordinary affair. Several years ago, Worthington checked out of hospital with blood still oozing out of a tube in his chest just to be at our dinner. Last year Donato fell on his head and arrived at the dinner directly from the ER exaggerating all his ghastly stitches. He got 17 but suggested a round number like 20 sounded better.
All I know is that the council, the Star and the NDP haven't even inflicted a paper cut on him. Nor should they! You would think that at least those who pretend to be real journalists would not copycat the politically-correct czars and instead defend the rights of cartoonists to be tough and even rough in their message. And that means not making a Canadian of Chinese ancestry look like a safer Barbie-doll-type target.
I love a good cartoon. I wonder if the present careful management at the Star would run some of the cartoons that Dunc Macpherson produced for them when he was one of the best in the world. After all, I can remember his tirades at the press club bar about his dealings with gutless Star editors, and they actually had more steel in them then than the present crop when facing the PC wimps.
A good newspaper has a good cartoonist, crusading columnists and editors and reporters, a razor-sharp editorial and an attitude, a mystique, that if you're not making at least one national leader mad that day, you're not doing a good job.
Go get 'em, Andy. Just keep falling on your ear, never on your sword. Keep comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, especially the Star.