Tuesday, Sep 21 2010
The Calgary Herald and its new parent company, Postmedia Network, today apologized to the CEO of Telus Corporation for a story “that falsely and wrongly imputed” that the executive had not been meeting regularly with the investment community.
The crux of the apology: “The Calgary Herald, which did not contact Telus before the story was written, has now reviewed documents that clearly demonstrate those imputations are completely inaccurate and unfair.” (See link below.)
Every student of Journalism 101 knows that the subjects of their reporting must be given a chance to explain their side of the story before it goes to print.
So why does this basic, time-honoured rule come as breaking news to the suits who run the Calgary Herald, the National Post and Postmedia Network?
We’ve consistently posed that question here. After all, Kent v Don Martin et al isn’t about an executive’s bruised feelings: Martin’s biased attack article in the Calgary Herald helped sabotage an election.
Martin went to press during the 2008 Alberta election campaign without getting a single word of comment from me or my supporters. His sources were “insiders” and “senior campaign strategists” of the Progressive Conservative Party, who Martin shielded with unexplained anonymity.
Martin mentioned nothing about the axes being ground, at that time, by PC party backroom figures over my calls for an end to their patronage culture.
Nor did he explain the backlash from Premier Ed Stelmach and his aides to my warnings about the premier’s doomed energy royalties scheme, which he subsequently reversed after a flight of investment capital and jobs to other jurisdictions.
When I filed a rebuttal to Martin’s defamatory attack, his bosses at both the National Post and Calgary Herald refused to publish it.
All of this begs a simple question, echoed by today’s groveling confession by the Herald’s brass and their Postmedia owners: who are these people, and where do they get off calling themselves journalists?
Don Martin’s longtime canoodling with Alberta Tory bigshots was revealed in Dr. Bob Bergen’s “Exposing the Boss: A Study In Canadian Journalism Ethics”, published by Calgary’s Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership. Dr. Bergen, a distinguished former Calgary Herald journalist, was awarded a media fellowship by the Chumir Foundation in 2001.
In Chapter Four, pages 20 to 22, Bergen quotes one editor’s experiences with the “deals for stories” regime maintained by the Calgary Herald’s management in the mid to late 1990’s:
"I remember clearly the first night I personally encountered it. A big story by (Herald Legislature columnist) Don Martin was coming in. We were told to get ready for a scoop on the government’s new policy on protecting the environmentally sensitive Whaleback region. As night city editor, I reacted as I always did to such a circumstance, by assigning available reporters to round up the usual suspects and put together some reaction to the story.” The city desker said he had one reporter call Liberals and the New Democratic Party, while another pursued reaction from the environmental community. A re-write desker was in the process of weaving the reaction into the main story for the first edition. “That’s when I was told there was a deal with the government and, in return for the scoop, there would be no reaction until tomorrow. I refused to take the offending reaction out of the story.” Another editor took the reaction out."
The chapter continues:
"The reaction by some editors on the news desk responsible for the front section to a similar scoop as a result of a deal with the provincial government was the same, former Herald copy editor Christine Mushka recalled. “My favorite example of an ethical dilemma relates to a Don Martin column. It ran across the top of the Herald’s front page trumpeting that, once again, the Tories were about to post a huge surplus. Trouble is, Martin made no attempt to contact the opposition. Editors who read the story on the rim and objected to a) a column running as a banner news story and b) its total lack of fairness and balance were told by Lorne Motley to just shut up and proof it for typos."
Don Martin’s contact in the office of Progressive Conservative Premier Ralph Klein at the time of the incidents recounted above was Rod Love, Klein’s chief of staff and the PC's most bumptious backroom operator.
Rod Love endorsed my Liberal Party opponent during the 2008 Alberta election. I had campaigned on the need to leave the rudderless Klein era behind, along with its endemic patronage practices.
Other observers have noted the close bond between Love and Martin. On page 59 of his book “Ralph Could Have Been A Superstar”, political analyst Rich Vivone recalled being “stunned” to receive an email in 2002 from Love regarding Vivone’s bulletin “Insight into Government”:
“Love asked about a partnership with Insight into Government, expanding it to include Don Martin’s political column from Ottawa, and aggressively marketing it in Ontario ‘to make some real money.’”
Vivone wrote that he wasn’t sure Love was serious, but that a trio of editors on the same newsletter would not work, and that “this wouldn’t be a good marriage…”
For his own part, Don Martin isn’t shy in heaping praise on Love.
In his celebration of the Klein era, “King Ralph: The Political Life and Success of Ralph Klein”, Martin regales the reader with tales of his frequent boozy interludes with the former premier and his Mr. Fixit, Rod Love.
“I’ve given Donny more scoops than any other journalist,” Martin quotes Klein boasting on page 231.
Klein maintains that “leaks are political currency”, while Love tells Martin: “The essence of our leak strategy on any particular issue is what do we want to leak to whom to get maximum benefit for the organization” (page 181).
Martin goes on to detail Love’s strategy for leaking first to the National Post, then to the Calgary Herald or Calgary Sun.
How does all of this relate to today’s groveling climb-down by Postmedia Network and the Calgary Herald?
Very directly, not least in determining whether Canada’s biggest newspaper chain can avoid going broke again only a year after the Canwest empire’s breathtaking collapse.
Because here’s another primary lesson of Journalism 101.
News organizations notorious for conflict of interest and defamation do not prosper. They wind up in the dinosaurs’ graveyard of old broken media, a crowded place these days, particularly for poorly edited newspapers.
Dr. Bob Bergen's “Exposing the Boss” is published in its entirely at:
"Ralph Could Have Been A Superstar" By Rich Vivone, 2009 Patricia Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-0-9812954-0-4
"King Ralph: The Political Life and Success of Ralph Klein" by Don Martin, Key Porter Books, 2003 ISBN 1-55263-272-5
Lastly, today’s apology from the Calgary Herald is at: