Sunday, September 13, 2015



After five decades of playing reporter, editor and columnist covering elections in Toronto, Ontario, Ottawa, United States - and wildcards like Britain, Taiwan, Israel, South Africa, South Korea, Czech Lands etc. - it is a relief to ignore the crap flowing on both sides of the border that we can't defend against BS.
When I was churning out thousands of columns and editorials, it was useful to have the same issues trodden into the mud in front of the microphones because then I could remark on even the tiny changes. Straw fodder for a relentless press!
But these days when I don't write as much, I stick with the Jays and chewing gum TV when the political fiction stays repetititious and everyone craves a new issue.
I look back to Dief the Chief and Mike Pearson and my early elections and tell anyone who actually wants to talk politics that campaigns certainly have slid down hill, along with the politicians.
When you read political histories, and I've written a couple, when campaigns were fiery - and great entertainment too - and then survey the contrived clashes of 2015, I have the feeling that this is a rare case where they really were the Good Old Days.
Look at this poster for Sir John A. and mourn the passing of the passion from our politics.
These days the leaders move around in contrived folk dances for the faithful.
Survey the wreckage of what passes for coverage and you would think that Mike Duffy's cheating and Hillary Clinton's emails daily had huge new developments that revealed new corruption as nasty and hot as the earth's centre.
Take Duffy for instance, or rather his case since no one wants the man.
Now after all the years around politicians, I got to know the players, and those clustered around them like barnacles on a ship's bottom,  so intimately that some times I could tell you how they liked their spaghetti cooked or the steak seared.
 I have stayed away from the  Duffy bog even though I knew him from lunches and bar talk. In fact, he asked my advice on how to get more out of the CBC and then used my accountant to work out a deal with CTV.
(Fans of Six Degrees of Separation would be intrigued to know that the late and lamented Arthur Gelgoot, C. A., was recommended to me by Bill Marshall of film festival fame because his boss, Mayor David Crombie, had got him from CBC giant Peter Gzowski and then gave him to the mayor of Vancouver.  Arthur's fame spread that way through the arts and media worlds. At tax time, you could meet Peggy Atwood or John Honderich in the waiting room, or other famous Canadian fauna.)
Gelgoot was an agile and aggressive fighter against the income tax hordes but schooled me on keeping track of every dollar and never cheating or misrepresenting deductions. I listened but guess who didn't.
The public impression has been left after the Senate revelations, I'm sure, that the media must be filled with expense account cheaters, that living high for free was still being done in the legendary Time-Life fashion.
Not so. As someone who has produced hundreds of expense accounts and approved thousands of the concoctions of others. I found that someone who cheated on their expenses would also routinely cheat on just about everything else - whether holidays, overtime or  facts.
And then there were the bloody newspaper accountants who once challenged my humble expense account that had been approved already by the publisher.
To me it was always obvious that the popular Duffy was only friendly with me because I was useful to him. He used politicians and the media. (And they used him. ) The only surprise was the extent of his cheating. Duffy and his fellow media senators. certainly splattered muck over their former colleagues because of the way they acted when they were gifted into the chamber of unsober second thought.
Of course the Duffy affair became a mess. Yet it seems obvious that the elite Tories were as sickened  as the public and just wanted it to go away as quickly as possible, like a  dog turd on the carpet.
Just like the other parties would have done, and have done, with their messes.
So a clever and rich aide to the PM paid for it to go away. He probably would have found a way to be compensated later from the party.
And that's that. End of story. No evidence has been produced that senior Tories knew what Duffy was up to. They condemned it rather than condoned it. But the story lingers like a bathroom smell.
That's the trouble with political reporting in North America today, particularly with radio and TV. The demands of the 24-7 news cycle is such that political news is a cheap way of filling space and time. Even a raw rookie can fashion together what tries to pass as a bit of a new angle on a very old story.
For a couple of years, I had a job every evening of finding new angles to the political stories had had made the last editions. That was when it was driven home to me that most new(s) is really old,
often just warmed up from the previous day or week or month.
What bothers me in my few snapshots at these elections is that so much of the coverage has to do with process and how things were done, not on what really happened. Even with the main watchdogs, the newspapers. You don't expect much from the rest of the reporters , since radio's political coverage is skimpy and TV often settles for the same talking heads on a few main shows.
Reminds me of when Ronald Reagan was the GE spokesman and would look into the TV camera and say "progress is our most important product." Too often today it seems our legislatures and councils  act as if  their slogan is "process is our most important product." Too often the media, especially the electronic outlets, settle just for that.
I never have been a fan of the disciples of governance. I have been a director on a couple of boards where we started sinking when we talked more about governance than product, about structure more than what was actually done in the guts of the job . Enough of this talking about rules and structure and more about trevealing the essentials.
Those talking endlessly about Clinton's emails have failed to produce an intelligence disaster. Oh, they say, she broke the rule. But her "non secure" emails are actually endless trivia and quirky stuff. No smoking gun! Indeed, all the really good stuff, the statecraft, appears to have been done in the normal secure channels, and no government was toppled or war begun because she didn't lock herself inside a vault when she wanted to send a memo.
Her critics have to content themselves with dire suggestions about what could have happened because they weren't getting that far in attacking what did happen.
The popularity of such clownish charlatans as Rob Ford and Donald Trump prove just how fed up the public is with the careful brand of political puppets. The marathons of campaigns just sandpaper raw our nerves with the boring and repetitive rhetoric of our plastic politicians.
Yet the pols are spending fortune tailoring messages for the public through the media which they misuse as megaphones The reporters each day are fed what they responded to the previous day. The cycle has to be crippled.
You can blame the politicians, of course, but one reason they are acting in such an artificial fashion is that the political coverage  by the electronic media is so gawdawful.
It doesn't help that the campaigns are too damn long. It doesn't help that the leaders hide under their security blankets of aides and party guards and only appear in managed simplistic events.
Maybe the answer is just to print or say that the candidates said the same old stuff yesterday, and the photo opportunities were as phony as ever, so we have decided to reprint some humour columns or show an old classic movie.
We would return to real political news when the politicians get around to producing real political news and not just name-calling drivel.

No comments: