Thursday, May 23, 2013



Nearly 30 years ago, I came back from my first trip to Turkey and self-consciously told my experiences to world-traveller Peter John Vickers Worthington.
After all Editor Worthington had been in all of the landmarks of the world before I even arrived at the Tely where his star was rising, and rising, until it turned into the Sun.
I told him of a marvelous blue day on the eastern Mediterranean near the islands off Izmir where a wealthy Turkish publisher took me on a day's cruise on his boat, a converted channel steamer.
One of those lovely days where the shrimps were the size of lobsters, the drinks were nectar from the gods, the steaks were bigger than an editorial writer's ego, and the talk was like the aroma of a Cohiba.
For those who argue that the heaven of the Bible may actually occur after the Rapture right here on earth, I felt I was already sailing around an ante room. I hoped the day would be eternal.
Then over the horizon sailed a boat that was just large enough to handle a sea. The publisher and I appreciated the scene as if it were a painting.
Figures waved from the sailboat as it slipped by, and then surprises happened. From the stern floated a majestic Maple Leaf flag, blazing against the deep blue. An expensive stereo surrounded us with the haunting tune of Red River Valley. "...come sit by my side if you love me/ Do not hasten to bid me Adieu."
I sang those lines to a startled publisher, then explained it was an old Canadian song,  at least 130 years old. I said it had had various names, including Cowboy Love Song, but the valley was not cow country, so it was really more a folk song. A song I loved.
Editor Worthington dropped that lazy half smile as he listened to my story a week or so later. Then he told me he loved the valley song too.
All this had slipped to a corner of my memory until that quiet moment in Editor Worthington's funeral
when John McDermott, the troubadour of a vanished Toronto Sun era, sang with a haunting soft melancholy Pete's favourite song.
And I know that somewhere he smiled. Thank heavens John didn't sing Danny Boy then or the church would have dissolved in tears.
McDermott, who blossomed from a humble circulation job thanks to the support of people like the founding Sun publisher Doug Creighton and the loyalty of Pete and others, took time out from the recording studio where he is working on a CD of old rebellion songs to sing of the valley, and finally,  Amazing Grace, the prayer anthem of sinners.
Thank God he came. There seems a point in funerals where silence and then a favourite song speaks more elegantly of the departed than eulogies. It helps each of us to remember why we came. And then we can return, renewed,  to words after we've listened to the notes of angels.
It was a funeral for the ages, filled with nostalgia and anecdotes and some unruly tales typical of the news business.
I will never forget it when I hear Red River Valley. By John, of course.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013



Don't believe that stuff about the future of Paul Godfrey as head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is under review. Godfrey is so mad at the Liberal government that he is forcing it to fire him.
You have to be pretty inept to make Godfrey so angry that he won't depart diplomatically. And with the loss of Godfrey, who knows more about Toronto politics than most of the present council shoved together, the decision on a Toronto casino  really does enter a twilight zone.
With Godfrey as head of the OLG, at least you knew you were dealing with a smart politician/businessman who would never,  for example, waste hundreds of millions gassing a Mississauga neighbourhood with a generating plant in the wrong place.
Godfrey, a careful conservative Tory, seemed an odd fit when Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed him to the gaming job in 2009 before his government really started to go nuts.
But everyone knew that Godfrey had been the best head, arguably, of the Toronto regional government before he was my clever boss at the Sun chain, first as head of the flagship Toronto Sun, then as head of the whole empire. Then he headed the Blue Jays and did well, except in the choice of a general manager, and lately he has been the boss of Postmedia and RioCan, a real estate REIT, and director of charities, and is so busy that I was reminding him the other day that it was time to slow down and write his memoirs, in which I'm sure the Liberals will not be praised.
I've watched Godfrey since  I published his very first picture in a newspaper in 1965. The first of zillions! As a columnist who often spent more time around him than with my wife, I respected his astute stewardship. When I was Sun Editor, he was a great boss because even though he often regarded the columnists and editorialists as being as difficult to handle as if he was trying to herd snarling tomcats, he was fair and reasonable and agreeable.
Yegawds, in the news business, that almost makes him a saint.
I'm writing this Wednesday, and I would imagine that by the time some of you read this, Godfrey will have already been shoved out the door. In his world, when you make firings obvious, you have a very good reason. His reason is to show his dislike of how the Kathleen Wynne government is operating. Unfortunately, he's enjoying life and grandkids and baseball too much to run provincially in the election that we should have right now if the NDP really did act as honourably as they pretend they are with their holier-than-thou we're-really-principled attitude.
My wife Mary was telling me the other day that I talk about the past too much. I guess I do. But when I look at the current crop of MPPs at Queen's Park, and this government, I don't just talk about all the good operators we have had in all parties in the past, I yearn for them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013



I've just decided to make a lot of money and write the true story of Peter Worthington's life and sell it to Hollywood as a vehicle for Robert De Niro or some star capable of handling insight stirred with whimsy and ego with a dash of fine appreciation of women.
The first time I saw Worthington, it was 7 a.m. on a fine May in 1958 and he was galloping down the street chasing a nurse from a nursing home fire that had killed four people near King and Jameson.
There were reporters and photographers everywhere, mixed with cops, firefighters, relatives and the curious. It was my second day on a big-city newspaper and I didn't have a clue as to what to do because famous bylines were scrambling everywhere led by Peter.
So I asked an award-winning Tely gentleman, Arthur Kent, what I should do. And he said come stand on that lawn with me so we won't get trampled.
Then the fire chief asked who wanted to see where they had found the dead. Peter and the other veterans said nothing. So I went. And when the firefighter put his axe in the third floor over my head and tons of stinking water poured over me, my only good clothes and shoes were ruined for all time, smelling of fire and death no matter what the drycleaners tried.
Lesson One from Peter: Don't volunteer when it's really stupid. You can go looking for trouble but keep your wits about you.
There were many others over the years. They talk of the five Ws which are the foundation of a news story: who, what, when, where, why. I learned from Peter about the other Ws: work, write, wanderlust, wacky, wary. And while I'm at it, war horse.
I was chatting with Peter after the funeral service for former mayor Phil Givens at Beth Tzedec when I  turned to developer Phil Roth and whispered that all the eulogies were more about the speaker than the great politician.  Peter and I decided it was only natural to concentrate on how we relate to the person in the coffin, but let's not forget the departed.
As I survey what was written and said in the last days, I half expect Peter to descend and say with that half smile, gentle but with a splash of acid, that comments were speckled with mistakes and misinterpretations and it was funny to hear fine words from a couple of blowhards among his host of friends.
Peter didn't rant or rave in person. But he knew how to prick pomposity. Some times I thought he was hard on enemies but harder on his friends.
Let's not say RIP because Peter never did that in his life, no matter what the circumstances. He's already exploring the far clouds and asking about the chances of seeing what Hades is like for an hour or so.
The reason I included work and write in my second Ws list is because Peter was a shining example of how success often goes to being there, all the time, and writing about it, all the time, and being competitive, all the time.
 I once chided him in print about how he had written about Bambi Bembenek 31 times.  He descended on me claiming exaggeration. I referred to the Sun computerized library. He left, not apologizing, because if he wanted to write that she had been wrongly convicted of killing her husband, again and again, he would. And if he wanted to churn out countless columns on Igor Gouzenko or Clifford Olson or the corrupt Grits or his Army, then those stupid editors better put it ALL in the paper.
A startling array of newsworthy people had confidence in Peter. That was his candid charm.  Gouzenko, the paranoid Soviet spy who defected in Ottawa, came to see Peter so often that when he approached me when I was rushing through the newsroom to ask why Peter wasn't at his desk, I called him Igor rather than the cover name of Mr. Brown. He reacted like a spooked bird, but I managed to cover it up by coughing.
Peter worked and played fiendishly hard. He loved to write, but he also over the years went above and beyond in even the most basic chores.
My first shift as Night Editor at the Telegram, a TCA plane crashed just north of Dorval killing 118 around 7.30 p.m. It started badly for me too. I heard the warning summonse of the Teletype bells just seconds before Art Cole phoned. (Cole, who could terrify a daisy, was described aptly, of course, in the obit that Peter wrote about himself.) I phoned Ron Collister in Ottawa who said he had been warned by his wife that their marriage was over if he went anywhere. I told him the toll. He went. I phoned Peter and his first wife Helen and they came instantly to the old Tely office. Pickups are an awful thing to have to do. You go to the door or phone and ask the crying wife or husband for a head-and-shoulders of the spouse who died just a few hours before. Yet by the time the first edition came out 11 hours later, we had 85 pictures of the dead in the paper, 75 of them from the Toronto area.
I remember that tortuous night almost as much as the night he had to flee Moscow with his interpreter Olga (mentioned in his own obit)  and we stood over the Teletype for his messages as he escaped to Egypt or Belgium or ????  because Canada wasn't welcoming him since he was travelling with the wife of a KGB colonel. So our publisher, John Bassett, who valued Peter as an star employee and friend, appealed to the PM and the bureacrats crumbled. He arrived at the Tely to acclaim as a conquering hero but there was a chill in official Ottawa which I don't think ever forgave him.
His flight from Moscow read like a John le Carre spy novel but I never thought we got to read every page. His exotic defector of a companion went on to teach Russian at U of T.
Peter always kept churning out the columns. No matter what else was going on, heart attacks, travelling, holidays, fatigue, the columns poured out.
 He once told me that his famous father, Fighting Frank, the general who fathered the tank in the Canadian military, had give him a middle name of Vickers after the dependable machine gun that  helped win the Great War more than the belated entry of the Americans.
An apt name! Peter shot out columns like the Vickers poured out millions of bullets without ever seizing up. As someone who has written thousands of columns and editorials, I would estimate that no one in Canada has ever written as many columns as Peter.  He was a Niagara Falls of comment.
But migawd he could be difficult . Doug Creighton said he carried around a letter for months firing his friend/partner/confidant. Peter had rebelled against the sale of the Sun and grumbled that we were important to read for comment but not really for news. When Creighton pulled the trigger in the fall of 1984 after Peter had quit as Editor two years earlier in favour of his friend, Barbara Amiel, we had a new publisher just of the flagship Sun, Paul Godfrey.
 Godfrey didn't know much about newspapers but he was a quick study and was told within minutes that the firing would hurt circulation. So he and some others gathered around that Friday and persuaded me to phone Creighton at his summer place, Seasons. I  told the big boss that everyone knew that Peter could be a horse's ass but he was a great tilter at windmills and readers loved him.
Creighton said I was presuming on my friendship with him, since he had been a mentor, and he yelled a lot and I spluttered even more. He reminded me that I had my own history with Peter where he would call and say that he was going away the next day for some unstated period to some unstated destination and I should write the editorials and edit but, of course, continue to write my daily column.
Peter had been in Egypt sailing the Nile when Creighton walked into his office and asked what I was doing there. Where was Peter? I said he had been away for some time and I thought he was in Egypt. Creighton demanded to know when he was coming back because we're having a board meeting next week.  I didn't know. Creighton said he didn't know Peter was away because my editorials now read like his.  I wasn't sure he meant it as a compliment but when I told Peter later, he gave me that half grin and didn't say a damn word.
Several years later, Godfrey kept agitating to get me to ask Creighton to rehire Peter. Doug just waved one hand in dismissal when I made the case. But I think everyone from Creighton to Peter to the Day Oners knew eventually the two would kiss and make up before their next disagreement.
I tried to get Peter back when he started writing for the Financial Post, which the Sun bought, but there was no light in the window of Creighton's office. What happened finally is rather strange, when you sort the variations. Peter told me that he found out that Creighton had made him Editor of the Ottawa Sun when it came over the car radio in 1988 when he and Yvonne were driving in the Maritimes. Except Peter just wrote in his own obit that it was on the Globe's front page. And you never disagree with a guy who writes his own obituary. It is truly the last word!
It was a marvelous stormy relationship between two good entrepeneurs and great journalists. The tempest was reflected on our tabloid pages. At one point, Creighton tired of being worried about what Peter would write next and brought in, to the surprise of everyone, Doug MacFarlane, a formidable editor so famous in the country that he was known by his initials JDM.
Creighton and I had both got promoted when JDM was fired at the Tely by Bassett but we still respected him. I led the Ryerson search committee that brought him in as Journalism chair, and Creighton hired him later to watch Peter.
Peter ended any newsroom talk about his title and JDM's title and who reported to whom by going to the composing room that night and making himself Editor-in-Chief on the formal Masthead and faced down Creighton the next day when he got a half-angry half-laughing lecture,
There's enough material in Peter's life for several movies. Wars and rumours of war. Threats of arrest. Interviewing the legends. Stunts like climbing mountain, walking marathons and the day he dove into the Thames beside the thrashing propellors of the London cruise ship on a dare. He was never happier, as I said on TV, than when he was swimming one way and everyone else was swimming the other. He gloried in being a contrarian, in advising the Leafs, Jays and Argos. He was tear-wrenching when he wrote about his beloved Jack Russells. (And his buddy Donato's cartoon showing his dogs waiting for him in Heaven should bring more tears.)  He cared about honest humane organizations protecting animals but even here he demonstrated his cantankerous independence by supporting the seal hunt before he attacked it.
I could go on, and will, any time the conversation over a few cold ones turns to the great people I have known. The movie could be called It's A Wonderful Life, but the great Frank Capra used it first in a 1946 movie. It won a lot of awards, but then so did Peter, because he never did anything average.

Sunday, May 12, 2013



I write a blog under my own name. I judge my words by the same standards in libel and fair comment that I used when I wrote or edited for 50 years in paid journalism.
I do not hide behind pseudonyms which aren't even pseudoclever. I don't pass along "gossip" unless I feel I could say it on television and radio. And I have thousands of commentaries to my credit on the CBC, CTV, Global and CFRB.
I do not pass along emails unless I believe them interesting, reasonably accurate and not racist.
So I have never sent anyone an e-mail comparing Obama to a monkeye, poking fun at the unfortunate with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, or suggesting most Muslims want to blow us out of our beds.
The other day, a friend sent me an email filled with hateful misinformation praising the American medical system, whatever that is, against Canadian medicare.  That is laughable. OHIP is one reason I live in Toronto rather than in the South Seas.
 So I asked why he would send me erroneous garbage-ridden propaganda on behalf of Republicans and the insurance industry. His reply was that he was just forwarding it. I replied that under Canadian law, whenever you write or forward or say information that can be read or heard by a third person, you are responsible for it. Don't send or forward emails to a group and think you are not under the fist of the law.
And while I'm at it, don't forward every damn thing under the sun. When I come back from the cottage, I prune without reading, and never open an  attachment. It helps protect me because we are living in a Misinformation Age. And don't bother me with the nonsensical argument that bloggers are not part of the Unsocial Media, which has become a new religion.
I was Associate Managing Editor of the old Telegram and Associate Editor and Editor of the Toronto Sun.  As a result of those positions for several decades, I was named in dozens of lawsuits, none of them successful. I have written 6,000 columns and 3,000 editorials and have been sued, but never successfully. I often represented the Sun at the Ontario Press Council and  never lost. As a result of court appearances, examinations-for-discovery and countless legal conferences, I know this subject, and most amateur bloggers and Unsocial Media trumpeters prove daily that they don't.
That is why when bloggers are sued by former Leaf exec Brian Burke for alleging (a word that gives no protection in law) that he had an extramarital affair, and one of them says he's shocked because Burke now had given him far more publicity than he ever got for the blog, there is a sick naivitee that turns my stomach.
You are responsible, ethically and legally, for what you tell others, and these idiots who want to foam at the mouth like mad typists because they are shocked that the maligned target and authorities would take them seriously should be locked up for being legally stupid and morally bankrupt.
The other day, I was forwarded grotesque pictures of the dead and maimed at the Boston Marathon under the bizarre heading of what you didn't see in the media. As if the sender was striking a blow for free expression.
The reason you don't see exactly what happens with bones sticking out of shredded legs is because the media are too compassionate and sensible in 99% of the cases to blight the minds of readers and viewers by showing them exactly what awful things happen in the real world. As an editor, I routinely ditched such photographs because, believe me, a newspaper photog shoots everything around him and we censor later.
Since my oldest son was coming to the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and his wife was blown down by the blast, and my grandson was about to move 20 feet into the victims to get a better angle of his mother and father at the finish line, I have a personal interest in saying that any person who emails those bloody pictures needs  counselling from a psychiatrist who normally deals with really sick people.
You know the Alzheimer joke about always meeting new people. I banned such material from comment in the Sun with the support of an associate editor who had lost the three dearest members of his family to Alzheimer's.
You know the Parkinson's joke about the old man who wants to sit on the bench with a woman with Parkinson's.
I hate the fact that almost all readers will know those jokes because they are so common on the Internet. I don't think they're funny because I know people with Alzheimer's and severe senility. I have and had friends with Parkinson's, like Doug Creighton, the founding publisher of the Sun chain. Doug and Peter Worthington, who just died after a wonderful, wacky life, were the souls of the paper, and we at the Sun didn't just believe in tilting at windmills, we blew them up. We marshalled adjectives and adverbs and sent them into war.
The last time Mary and I were with Doug and Marilyn Creighton, we played bridge and I had to shuffle the cards for him and we agreed not to look when he kept dropping them. But the competitive spirit still burned and when I made seven no trump, the highest bid in bridge, he beamed and his cares for a moment were on the shelf.
 It's sick to ridicule  such people. Why would we torment the families of these people with these asinine attempts at humour? Do we, deep down, want to wound everyone?
I was taught on my very first day in Ryerson journalism by a gifted teacher named Ted Schrader that pro athletes and politicians and all those in the public spotlight or domain can be attacked and criticized for their PUBLIC actions more than ordinary Joes.. They are vulnerable to reasonable criticism.
But too many bloggers want to be verbal flamethrowers, insulting rather than illuminating. For example, I happen to think that Rob Ford is a disaster as mayor and too often is more clown than diplomat but he often reflects the majority view of the pro-car anti-tax suburban conservatives and any comment that ignores that just doesn't know reality. Of course with the daily anti-Ford malarkey in the largest paper in the country, bloggers do have an excuse.
I have received crude emails about Obama and Muslims and Conservatives and Ford and Israel that are so vicious and obscene that I wonder who let the senders out of their cage of bigotry.
Some of the bloggers and rabid forwarders of  emails have political aspirations, want to influence public policy or already have major appointments. I have had emails bounced to me by a man who has an important provincial post. If two or three of those were sent to the minister or premier, that person would be fired within minutes.
The next time someone is considered for a political post, they should be required along with the routine recommendations and CV to make available non-personal material that they have e-mailed or forwarded for a week or so. This material would be more revealing than what university they pretended to finish.
What I think I will do with the curdled cream of what I find when I turned on my Mac each day is to return them, ask the sender to print them out, and then tell them to stick the paper where the sun doesn't shine. (See, such is the decline in communication,, you thought I was saying they should stick it up their ass. No, I meant gag themselves.)

Thursday, May 9, 2013



If you are thinking of running in the next election - no matter what level - let me give you a suggestion that will guarantee your win.
Make your platform an anti-bike one. Don't pander like some councillors who ignore that some cyclists are just bikers dressed up and feel they have to pay attention because they are a very mouthy minority who can hurt you.
Basic planks in the platform should be these. Ban bikes from main roads in rush hour! Ticket jerk cyclists! Require bike couriers to be licensed after they pass a sanity test by one psychiatrist and one pedestrian!
On April 13, Mike Strobel wrote in the Toronto Sun apologizing for comparing cyclists to psychos. He was kidding, of course. You knew the next line was going to be that he didn't mean to insult psychos.
What baffles me is how Strobel could tell them apart.
Too many are vain mouthy nuts. The majority of decent cyclists are swamped by the yahoos.
I hasten to defend most cyclists to keep peace with the family and friends. My son Brett often bikes to work.  My friend Mary Corey, who used to bike to her research at Sick Kids, accused me once of waiting until Brett was away on his honeymoon before grumbling again in the Sun about how cyclists screw up traffic even when they're not trying to.
My sons have always had nicer, much costlier bikes than I could ever afford. And Brett just had one stolen for the second time. There must be a pattern here. I remember the first bike I bought for him as a kid from the old Bloor Cycle was stolen the first night out of the garage.
There is no honour among bike thieves. They may claim to be better than the rest of us because they are allegedly "green" but until you can leave a bike in the garage without a ton of locks, I will say that too many cyclists are not to be trusted. It's what they do between shop lifting and ripping off "the man."
I was driving hours ago down my street in the agreeable Royal York and Bloor area . I stopped at a Four Way stop, accelerated again, and almost hit a hefty woman on an old bike who drifted through her Stop Sign without stopping and made a left-hand turn in front of my car.
I leaned on my horn and shouted out the window as she sailed by. "Hey man," she said, "you frightened me."
I'm careful at that minor intersection because the other day,  after I started up again, a cyclist wearing more gear than Lance Armstrong whipped through the intersection without stopping. I leaned on my horn, not that it seems to be of much use with idiots, and drove on to my house.
The jerk showed up a couple of minutes later when I was lugging stuff out of the car. "Did you blow your horn at me," he demanded? "Yes I did," I said. "You didn't even pretend to stop." "What's it to you. Get a life," he replied.
Then I told him, between curses, that the intersection was a block from the Sunnylea junior school and the last thing we needed in the neighbourhood was idiots like him, who look ridiculous in their pseudo racing garb, blowing by Stop Signs.
After all, the street four times a day is filled with frazzled mothers half towing their kids to the school, and too many nannies pushing personnel-carrier-sized strollers while dragging another toddler and walking the family dog while concentrating on their  cell phone. It's bad enough that too many cars sort of pretend to stop. Introduce some psychos and some kids are going to be sideswiped while the harried mothers and oblivious nannies may be too busy to notice.
It was clear in my exchange with the Lance Armstrong wannabe that he was one of what Strobel and others have called the bicyc-cult. He used all the code words which are supposed to aggrandize any holy green person travelling by a bike AND THEREFORE NOT POLLUTING, except for what comes out of their mouth.
And I don't even suspect this guy was as out-of-control as the drunken madman who assaulted a former A-G and blighted the life of a bright and pleasant lawyer. His only crimes were restless ambition, and not realizing that when he drove downtown, you stay as far away from cyclists as possible so they don't pound your hood or kick your fender at the next stop light.
I never used to hate bicycles, even though my experiences aren't that great.
I once stepped out of a King St. E restaurant and was hit by a cyclist roaring down the sidewalk close to the door.  Didn't bother me that much because of the pleasure I took that he was more hurt then I was.
I had a prominent accountant whose lady, a high-ranking CBC exec, was hit by a cyclist on a bike lane and spent years in a coma before she died. I certainly think about that every time I see one of those damned bike lanes that cripple traffic on too many block for the sake of a few and are often empty for most of the day or in winter.
A teen-ager trying to impress some man hit me on Bloor St. E. a month ago, but fortunately, he was just walking the bike as he yammered, and I saved myself from falling into traffic.
I used to ride an old bike a lot. Delivering papers before the age of the adult carrier. I even delivered dry cleaning on a bike in the winter in a town that didn't believe in plowing that much.
For some years I joined my sons, and later a Sun team, to participate in those charity bike rides. I stopped because I really didn't think they were much of a feat.
Still, there was nothing nicer on a hot summer evening when I was trapped in the city than to cruise through the quieter city and get some air. So I do know what it's like to compete with tons of flying metal. I had a tow truck cut me off so I almost crashed my bike into a ditch. I caught him at the next Stop Sign and said I would like to either punch his nose through the window or at the side of the road . He didn't want to play because I was bigger and angry.
This city spends too much money and too much time on cyclists. Use the money and debating time on real transportation like the TTC and cars. There are those who would like to have a referendum on just about anything. How about one on bike lanes?  And then, after Torontonians vote 75% or so against bike lanes and in favour of banning cyclists from major arteries during rushhours, we can tackle other impediments to vehicles.
After all, that's the way most people travel in this city and how all goods travel,  Sure there are too many cars with just one person but more than one person on a bike actually attracts the attention of the cops when they're not manning cash register radar traps.
So we could have referendums about speed humps and whether neighbourhoods should be allowed to wall out their neighbours with signage and one-way labyrinths.
By the time we finish voting, and democracy rules instead of anti-car activists, mouthy cyclists and their captive pols, we may have a safer city where traffic actually can move, the daily commuting headaches will be eased and  you feel you can actually walk down a sidewalk without fearing the mouthy green monsters.