A Conflict Of Interest That Speaks Its Names

It is the kind of cosy relationship that honest journalists strive to avoid.

Yet former National Post and Calgary Herald employee Don Martin openly boasts about having benefited for many years from – in his own words – a “conflict of interest” with Alberta’s most notorious Progressive Conservative Party backroom operator, Rod Love.

Equally disturbing:  Martin’s employers published the boast in their newspapers, and continue to publish it online.

In a farewell article to mark his departure from newspapering to his new post as a trainee host at CTV’s news channel, Martin waxed eloquent about his links to PC party “insider” Rod Love.

Under the title: What I learned from 32 years in the newspaper business, the article was published on December 11, 2010 by the National Post, the Calgary Herald and other dailies owned by Postmedia Network Inc.

Martin’s text celebrates what he terms Love’s “advanced media manipulation.” And he writes:

“Conflict of interest declaration: He leaked me almost everything that crossed his desk as Klein’s right-hand man.”

The words “Conflict of interest” are Martin’s. And by way of their presses and web servers, his former employers at Postmedia Network Inc., the parent company of the National Post and Calgary Herald, would appear to wholly endorse the "declaration."

In full, the relevant paragraph in Martin’s goodbye tract states:

“Rod Love: There might’ve been no Ralph Klein in politics without the power of Love, who brought strategic genius, babysitter supervision and advanced media manipulation to the campaigns of the former Calgary mayor and Alberta premier. Conflict of interest declaration: He leaked me almost everything that crossed his desk as Klein’s right-hand man.”

Martin sounded a decidedly different note when questioned under oath in discovery for the litigation chronicled in these web pages, Kent v. Martin, National Post, Love et al.

Documents filed with the court show that Martin read out a passage from my response to his attack article, which the media defendants refuse to publish:

"'Virtually every tidbit that Martin has ever written about Klein came from Love.'"

Then Martin stated:

“That's a bit of an extreme stretch.”

His statement “That’s a bit of an extreme stretch” preceded by less than six months his published boast that Love “leaked me almost everything that crossed his desk.”

Backroom ties of this kind are forbidden by the media defendants’ policy and practice directives, as produced during discovery in this lawsuit. For example, the Calgary Herald Editorial Code of Ethical Policies and Practice contains a section titled:

       Political Membership and Other Affiliations

“Newroom employees are encouraged to be active members in the community. They are also obliged by journalistic ethics to remain free from formal associations that might influence, or appear to a reasonable person to influence, the editorial independence of themselves and the Herald in a negative fashion… Primarily, the associations in question involve groups regularly involved in and associated with the pursuit of political power and lobbying to influence public policy.”

Despite these worthy goals, Don Martin’s Love affair goes on – and on air, CTV’s air.

On September 16, 2011, Martin invited Love onto a program Martin hosts for CTV, Power Play.

The calculated replies to Martin's soft-ball questioning in the 6-minute segment are relevant to the lawsuit chronicled in these web pages, not least because the subject is Alberta politics, specifically politics within the PC party hierarchy.

The Martin-Love exchange is a carry-over from Martin’s newspaper career. Still today, at least one of the media defendants’ newspapers, the Calgary Herald, routinely endorses the PC party leadership – and leading insiders – in the run up to elections and leadership votes.

The Herald endorsed the ill-fated ex-PC premier, Ed Stelmach, prior to the 2008 election, and did so in circumstances central to the facts in Kent v. Martin, National Post, Love et al.

The newspaper’s editorial management similarly backed the unsuccessful front-runner in the recent Tory leadership race, a former associate of Rod Love’s named Gary Mar, who figured prominently in the CTV program mentioned above.

As well, the court pleadings of Canada’s largest newspaper chain reveal management’s wide-eyed admiration for the Alberta Tories.

The Statements of Defence by the media defendants in both Kent v. Martin and the separate action, Kent v. Postmedia, Paul Godfrey et al, uses language such as:

“In the province of Alberta, the Progressive Conservative Party enjoys a considerable majority position in its popularity, governance, and influence over the citizens of Calgary and of the Province of Alberta generally.”

The Statements of Defence further describe Alberta as:

“…a province which is largely Conservative in outlook and governed by the Progressive Conservative Party…”

Not surprisingly, the links between the PC party and the Calgary Herald’s editorial management have caused ructions in the past.

In an earlier posting we explained how Don Martin’s long-time canoodling with Tory bigshots was first 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 is a former Calgary Herald journalist who 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 top managers 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.”

A review of Martin’s two Whaleback stories published by the Calgary Herald on May 11, 1999 reveals no mention of Alberta’s opposition parties, much less a comment from an opposition member of the legislative assembly. However the second story is replete with comments from then-Premier Ralph Klein.

Bergen’s Exposing the Boss 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.”

As with the Whaleback saga, a review of Martin’s budget story published by the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1999 reveals no mention or comment from members of Alberta’s legislative opposition.

Don Martin’s long time contact in the office of Progressive Conservative Premier Ralph Klein was none other than chief of staff Rod Love. Although Love had temporarily left Klein’s employ by 1999, the Klein government’s “deals for stories” arrangement with the Herald had been firmly established years earlier.

In the 2008 Alberta election at issue in this litigation, Rod Love endorsed my main opponent and Liberal incumbent in our constituency of Calgary Currie. It seems I had provoked Love’s ire by campaigning on the need to leave the rudderless Klein era behind, along with its endemic pork-barrel 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 wouldn’t 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.

Elsewhere in the book, 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.”

In a passage that resonates eerily with the facts of this case, Martin goes on to detail Love’s strategy for leaking first to the National Post, then to the Calgary Herald or Calgary Sun.

Fittingly, the last word on the subject belongs to Rod Love. In his own article for the Calgary Herald published on August 1, 1999, headlined:

Leaks are an exercise in power

Love wrote:

“A smart leak also is a solitary act. No matter how many people are suspects, if only one person really knows for sure who did it, it’s a clean getaway.”

Clean getaway? In this case? That will be determined at trial, a very different venue for the forensic analysis and adjudication of those solitary acts…

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