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When “Media” Wallow in the Public Trough

December 5th, 2012 · 25 Comments

In the “business”, we call it “going to the dark side”: when reporters leave the profession to take jobs as corporate spokespersons or, even worse, become political appointees to the staffs of particular parties or governments.

But let’s keep it real.

Deserting from journalism to become a corporate fart-catcher or hired gun, or partisan pusher is not that hard to understand: some media careers just don’t work out as people had hoped or don’t offer much room for growth,  and not everyone can then become a journalism teacher, administrator  or author.

And I have no problems with some of those who have gone over to the dark side, but still manage to maintain, at least off camera, a fair degree of openness, frankness and integrity with their media counterparts.

But I have NO TOLERATION for media types who  … often after lengthy, fairly successful careers in the craft … accept political appointments and, in my view, wallow in the public trough  … as much as, and maybe more, than those they used to cover.

Which brings me to three Senators, former members of the media I knew personally when I covered Parliament Hill: Pamela Wallin, Jim Munson and Mike Duffy.

Wallin had a distinguished media career, ending up as CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief and then went over to the dark side, accepting an appointment under Prime Minister Jean Chretien as Canada’s Consul General in New York.

That always bothered me: just the idea of a reporter selling out, in my opinion,  and then going on to live high on the hog at the public’s expense, in one of the world’s most expensive cities. For four years. With a salary and likely dining and entertaining, living in high-end fancy digs and with expense account at levels that would boggle the mind of most taxpayers.

In 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed Wallin’s move to the dark side by appointing her to the Senate … where the pay, perk, pension and privileges … all at public expense of course … will ensure her relative luxury for the rest of her life.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

And that’s not bitter grapes.  I could NEVER see myself, in any way, as a communications type or political servant or mouthpiece. And even when I worked on the Hill in Ottawa, I had this quirky respect for saving taxpayers’ dollars to the point I always used the blank backs of press release to write my notes, messages and even scripts… even though members of the National Press Gallery were provided MOUNTAINS of free pads, stationery and bright white paper to use to their hearts’ content.

That’s just me…and it’s why I look so unkindly on reporters who go “rogue” and accept political appointments/rewards … not just jobs.

Like Senator Jim Munson.

Munson also worked at CTV’s Ottawa Bureau when I was there for BCTV, and to be honest, I cannot recall him ever asking a really tough question. LOL!

Not like my pressing Bloc Quebecois Leader Lucien Bouchard for his hypocrisy …an exchange that actually made it into Lewis Martin’s biography of Bouchard.

Or the time aspiring Liberal leadership hopeful John Turner made his Ottawa announcement of his return from his Bay Street exile (saying he would seek a seat in Vancouver) and I pressed him, in front of his adoring media crowd, what made him any different from any other Liberal who promises the West a lot but then turns their backs on us once elected.

Turner responded with a kind of “I’ll be different” line…but then, back at CTV, Munson denounced my cheekiness, telling me “that’s why you’ll never work for the Network!”

“Good,” I replied, “I couldn’t take the cut in pay.”.    Another staffer then had to intervene when Munson lunged for me.

So you’ll understand why I was NOT surprised in 2002 when Munson joined Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s staff as director of communications.  Or when, TWO DAYS before retiring from office, Chretien appointed Munson to the Senate.

Pure pork!

Mike Duffy, another CTV alumnus, was appointed a Senator by Harper in 2008.

Funny thing: that was the same year that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled Duffy had violated its broadcast ethics code …. not being “fair, balanced or even-handed”  in airing some false starts by Liberal leader Stephane Dion in an interview AND also for misrepresenting the views of a panelist on his show …a Liberal MP.

Now he’s a Conservative Senator … wallowing at the public trough.

And his spending and expenses have drawn attention from his former journalistic colleagues.

In fact, just this week, Duffy is in the spotlight for claiming $33,000 from the taxpayers in Ottawa living expenses even though he has been a decades-long resident there.

How does he do it?  Officially Duffy represents a PEI riding in the Senate ..and has a property he bought there in 1998, although has reportedly spent most of the time in Ottawa, where he has worked for more than 30 years.  But Duffy officially claims the PEI is his” home” and his Ottawa home therefore qualifies under special Senate rules that allow senators from afar to claim living allowance in the capital.

STINKS to me!!

I could never live like any of these media-senators do … but I can tell you, I sleep very well every night knowing I have always tried to stay true to journalistic integrity. Despite paying the cost.

Scary thing … the sellout senators probably sleep well too!

Harv Oberfeld

Tags: Media · National

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 morry // Dec 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I always found Duffy to be a phoney.

  • 2 212Degrees // Dec 5, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Yes, and it is especially sad that even if they have shown some degree of integrity and have done a decent job in their formative younger years, they throw it all away with selfish and self serving compromised behavior latter on in life. I guess the devil , like a persistent salesman, is always knocking at the door and is more then happy to take on new willing customers.

    (Response: I think many don’t realize the financial benefits/pressures, even for those with good media careers, encouraging them to go over to the dark side. Readers of this blog know I paid a fairly high price for trying to stay true to my integrity, craft, beliefs: I was taken off the air for a time; my subsequent profile at BCTV was curbed; my old supervisor there called me “Judas” after i wrote critical aritcles about declines in the media; I was thrown off the Webster Awards judges’ panel; I failed to get their Lifetime Achievement Award, despite all the other awards ,ragional and national, during my career, and what many would say was a much more stellar contribution to journalism in BC than some of those who have received that honour; have alienated most of our political leaders, and even many of their supporters by keeping it real etc. etc. BUT I HAVE NEVER REGRETTED any of it ..and am buoyed by the support, thanks I still get from many others, including many of those I used to work with over the decades. h.o)

  • 3 chuckstraight // Dec 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    I also found Duffy to be a complete phony.

  • 4 D. M. Johnston // Dec 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I just wonder, who of us could not resist a slurp at the public trough?

    (Response: Thankfully…MANY. h.o)

  • 5 Leah // Dec 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Good ol’ Canadian filth coming to the surface. And here we thought ourselves to be above it all to a degree. Seriously? They sleep as well as you do or better Harv – no worries or stresses for them – that would require a soul with integrity. Something they appear to know nothing about.

  • 6 r // Dec 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Revolving door and concentrationof media ownership 2 items to be concerned with.Thanks for
    keeping it real Harv.

  • 7 e.a.f. // Dec 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I never liked Duffy. He always seemed to support the government. Sort of like Craig Oliver. It is interesting that the 3 reporters all came from CTV. Then I’ve found CTV isn’t all that critical of whomever is in power, at the federal level.

    These 3 reporters, in my opinion, are simply being rewarded for their yrs of faithful service to the federal iberal & conservative parties.

  • 8 SC // Dec 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Excellent post, Harv.

    Just a teeny of a correction. Jim Munson was laid off from CTV in 2001, and did indeed join the PMO in 2002 and appointed to the Senate in 2003.

    Here’s an interesting article I remember reading, and found it on here how now retired CTV National News Anchor Lloyd Robertson was approached and contemplated being a senator (appointed by Chretien) while continuing reading the news and how then CTV President Ivan Fecan thought it would’ve been a great idea! (Perish the thought) http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/Lloyd+Robertson+considered+holding+down+senator+position/7436106/story.html

    I did see something that would probably make you laugh. One poster on NW wondered if you’d be Christy’s next communication hire! He obviously isn’t a reader of this blog!

    (Response: LOL! You’ve made my day! LOL! As I’ve written on here, I knew/covered Christie’s predecessor, Gordon Whatshisname,since 1972 at Vancouver City Hall. He was always very good about making himself available for interviews ….not because of me, but because I worked for the powerhouse BCTV: when I retired,his press rep Mike Morton (now working ror Christie) told me Gordo would want to call to wish me the best: some of my friends believed an Order of BC might follow for my 38 years of journalism service! LOL! He never called, wrote, not a word! (Carol James sent a nice note, by the way.)And after reviewing what I’ve written about his un-elected, unmandated successor , the idea of that NW poster is quite hilarious! Not to mention what I’ve also written about Dix/NDP and the mini-NDP, Vision … so I can assure you there have been NO concrete offers from any of them. But as I said, I’m very happy, sleep very well and can still look at myself in the mirror with professional pride, after a great, fun career.. h.o.)

  • 9 kootcoot // Dec 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I can hardly imagine Duffy other than with an apple in his mouth, rotating on a spit…….

    Don’t feel bad about being banned by the Webster awards panel, judging by the asshats they honour these days, Jack Webster would be kicked off the panel, or storm away in disgust before they could kick him off!

    Speaking of Senatorial wastes of space, how about the dude that your heartthrob Justin beat up? The king of the bloggosphere was certain Justin would be hospitalized or buried! That martial arts expert can probably suck on the public teat for about fifty more years, he ain’t very old, just out of shape.

    (Response: I really believe Jack …who personally convinced me to move from The Vancouver Sun legislative job to the BCTV post, would still be very proud that I have NOT sold out, given the media a free pass or gone to the dark side in any way. h.o)

  • 10 Gary L. // Dec 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Harvey, any idea whose side Olsen is on now?

    How about Pamela Martin? After May 14th 2013?

    Cheers.

    (Response: Last I heard, Olsen had joined a p.r. company Peak Communicators; as for Pamela, don’t worry about her future …she is apparently married to a multi-millionaire. h.o)

  • 11 Islander // Dec 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    The Canadian senate is one of the truly galvanizing Canadian subjects – almost everyone agrees that it is an utter waste of space and money. Yet on it lives – PM after PM using it as a bottomless pork barrel to pay political debts.

    The most blatant abuser was Brian Mulrooney. When he found his despised GST bogged down in the senate with its hangover Liberal majority, he found a loophole in the law, and simply stacked the senate with 8 new conservatives – political ‘dead wood’ from across the country. Two were under investigation by the RCMP at the time – one would have to resign his seat when charges were laid. The others were mostly former failed politicians; largely despised by their former constituents. But all perfect senate material; warm breathing bodies that would vote exactly as instructed, ensuring passage of the GST.

    To be fair PM Chrétien did much the same thing when he was in power, although over a longer period of time.

    Now retired, I have no trouble looking myself in the eye each morning in the mirror. I’ve not led a perfect life by any stretch, but I have not done anything I’m ashamed of. What must go through Duffy’s mind when he looks in the mirror? He knows the senate is the ultimate pork trough, and he took the bait. As Mulrooney once said so eloquently, ‘There is no whore like an old whore.’

    Two hypothetical questions:

    First, if the Government decided to offer the occasional senate seat to a Canadian ‘Joe Lunchpail’ or ‘Annie Average’, and you were selected, would you turn it down? We’re talking a six figure salary and $50Kish in expenses. I honestly don’t think I would turn it down. It would be like winning the 649 of Canadian patronage.

    All you have to do is show up from time to time. You can take lots of time off – no one will notice or care – just as long as you’re there for the big votes. The only way you can get into trouble is by thinking. The deal is, you vote brainlessly and precisely as you’re told by your PM buddy who put you there.

    Second hypothetical question; what if the salary for Canadian senators was $1.00 per year? What if being offered a senate seat was thing of honour; highly respected by the average Canadian? The PM might ask successful retirees from business, science, the arts, and even politics, to serve a short term in their twilight years as a way to ‘give back’ to the country that made them so successful and wealthy. Would people like Duffy still abandon their principles and lobby shamelessly for one of those plum senate seats? Not a chance in hell.

    The deal for senators is too good. People want in for the big dough, the expense account, and the perks. Not for the honour of serving their country.

    The whole lot of them make me sick to my stomach.

    (Response: I am not a foe of the Senate itself: for example, it saved BC and the West from the gang up of the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Liberals in the Commons that would have limited Supreme Court appointments ONLY to expertly and fuently bilingual judges. And some of their committees do valuable work … studying issues, holding hearings across the country etc. BUT it should be elected: that would weed out a lot of the wallowers at the trough; it should represent the country more fairly …so BC would not be so marginalized there. We need Senate change … but that would require changing the Constitution …and no way Quebec and the Maritimes would agree to giving up their falsely privileged positions. But elections could be implimented very quickly, if there was the will to do so. h.o)

  • 12 off-the-radar // Dec 6, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Webster would have loved your blog and he would be reading it every day like the rest of us who want a straight up view. It’s one of the beacons of light in a MSM wasteland. Thank you Harvey for keeping it real! BC citizens need you!

  • 13 off-the-radar // Dec 6, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Webster would have loved your blog and he would be reading it every day like the rest of us who want a straight up view. It’s one of the beacons of light in a MSM wasteland. Thank you very much Harvey for keeping it real!

    (Response: Comments like that make it ALL worth it. Thanks. h.o)

  • 14 212 Degrees // Dec 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Senators are appointed to do a job of providing a check and sober second thought on legislation and laws put forth by parliament. Given such a noble and arguably critical function, you would think certain standards, periodical reviews of job performance and evaluations would go with the territory. At present, it appears Senators are given free reign, no basic accountability, and no minimal performance requirements once they land the coveted position.

    (Response: You are correct in theory. That’s WHY the Senate was set up. But these days it is highly partisan and a huge trough that those in power too often use to reward those who served their interests well … like party workers, financial backers, fellow ideologues etc. I get that…don’t like it but get it. However when a reporter is rewarded by a politician with a partisan position that shells out a pile of public money …it not only should make him or her really rethink the role they played as journalists…but also reveals the same for the public who witness the move. h.o)

  • 15 Edgar // Dec 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Not unlike the financial sector where bankers go back and forth between the private and public sector.

  • 16 thomas // Dec 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the three you named and their selling out. Thank you for having the courage to say it. I don’t agree with your assessment of others who go to the dark side. I’m not suggeting you didn’t aren it, but the bottom line is that you had a big advantage over current reporters. You worked in “the good old days”, you worked for a unique station and had the advantage of a big salary protected by a union. Most current journalists do not have that. There are many dark side jobs (non-partisan) just as respectable, or more, as mainstream media jouralism jobs. To be clear, I agree that’s a totally different situation from Wallin’s, Munson’s and Duffy’s. I agree with your assessment of them completely.

    (Response: Maybe you missed the part where i said I have NO PROBLEM with some of those who, for professional growth or economic needs go to work in corporate or government posts as fart-catchers etc. and indeed have known some who remained honest and frank off camera in talking to formere media colleagues. And I agree with you sabout the good old days when newspaper, radio and tv station owners and management were ready, willing and able to put proper resources into hiring experienced, talented reporters AND WRITERS. But you are wrong when you say I personally had an advantage: to the contrary. Being a big man was NO ADVANTAGE in getting a job on tv news; there was no union at BCTV protecting reporters’ jobs for the first 21 years I worked there; I actually opposed the first organizing bid in 1989; and in 1998, when I and others felt management had gotten much worse, esp towards women and younger reporters ….I supported the union drive, and i paid a fairly heavy price for that. So your revisionist history is simply incorrect. It IS harder today for young reporters to get good jobs..but they are out there ..and people with reporting AND WRITING skills will always still rise to the top. But we do agree on those at the trough! h.o)

  • 17 Bill P // Dec 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Apparently, His Highness Duffy and 3 other senators are being investigated for something smelly in the 21,000 dollar living expenses claim. I guess the public trough wasn’t enough so they needed a wallowing spot too.

  • 18 13 // Dec 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Harvey,it takes all kinds . Ive walked out of a union meeting and had the company owner call me before I even had a chance to get in my car. Threats and intimidation less than 5 minutes after a meeting. Even greater diatribe if there was a vote that didnt go the owners way. The suck ups either sat though the meeting with their cell phones on or made a call asap. They were rewarded with higher paying jobs and all around better treatment at work. To the point where when the owner closed the doors and reopened as a non union entity. The suck up(s) all got jobs at the new company. These workers are absolute scum. They are lower than scabs. Lower than the owner that used them. Bottom of the barrel worthless pieces of —p. May they rot in hell.

    So I get the idea of the senate appointment. These reporters are not much better than my union buddies.

  • 19 Ole Nielson // Dec 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    One name is conspicuous by its absence – one Peter Kent who has had a distinguished career as a journalist, producer, foreign correspondent, and anchorman.

    You coulda knocked me over with a feather when I discovered that he chose to leave his career behind to enter politics. (There must have been a Huge enticement.)

    Now I find much irony in the fact that as Environment Minister he shills for Harper. Read this from Wikipedia:
    [On Jan. 24, 1984, the CBC television program The Journal broadcast a full edition documentary called "The Greenhouse Effect and Planet Earth." It was hosted, narrated and written by Kent. Broadcast more than 27 years ago this may be one of the first major media reports on the subject. Kent concluded with these words: "The greenhouse effect must be considered as the world's greatest environmental concern."]

    I find it very sad that this Minister has brought forth much legislation, as instructed by Harper, that rolled back other laws going back 78 years that for example protected our lakes and rivers, etc., etc.

    What a supreme sellout!!

    (Response: I thought about Kent..but concluded his case is QUITE different from the others. Any Canadian should be able to seek participate in our democracy and seek election. (You might not like his politics or policies…but that’s irrelevant in determining or curbing his rights as a citizen.) The others wre not elected, but appointed to sup from the trough… bad enough…and even worse if any are found to be excessively hoarding the spoils selfishly. h.o)

  • 20 John // Dec 7, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Hey Harvey,

    I think Frank Magazine had Duffy down pat quite a few years ago. They nailed him perfectly and eloquently: “a fart catcher”

    My God, that rag used to make me laugh.

    I would’ve hated to have been caught in it’s sights.

    (Response: From Wikipedia: “In the 1990s, Duffy sued Frank magazine for defamation. Duffy claimed that the magazine’s satirical attacks against him cost him the Order of Canada.[2]Frank settled out of court with Duffy.” Many of us who loved reading Frank Mag also feared it ever turning its gaze and typesetters on us!. h.o)

  • 21 Ole Nielson // Dec 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Hi again Harvey,

    By sheer coincidence, the name I brought up earlier, Peter Kent, has appeared in the news.

    I believe this is germane:
    From the online news-magazine, iPolitic:
    [It’s all the more remarkable that someone with the journalistic track record of a Peter Kent seems to have disavowed the principles he stood for and imbibed the Conservative Kool-Aid to the point where he is seen as one of the government’s muzzlers-in-chief.]

    Full article can be read here:
    http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/12/05/should-peter-kent-still-be-in-the-broadcasters-hall-of-fame/

    I’m going to stick to my guns – Peter Kent, whether elected or not, is a former journalist who was co-opted by the very ones he reported on, and continues to enjoy all of the considerable perks of government office – a gold-plated pension not being the least. Like many others he has made connections with powerful names in industry and could well be rewarded with sitting on multiple boards after retirement. There are other benefits besides simply the monetary ones.

    Thanks for your valuable and insightful post. If only more out there in the vast sea of apathy would get involved!

  • 22 Norm // Dec 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Why do you think they call it the govt-media complex. Reporters are only allowed to report what their masters say they can. ie no criticism of “global warming” or mentioning the antarctica ice is growing at 1-3% per year for the last 30+ years.

  • 23 Larry Bennett // Dec 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Oh the sour grapes, it is unbelievable! Personally, I think Mike Duffy a very straight forward, stand-up kind of guy – before and after his appointment. Then there was the politically correct crap that gave the appointment of two persons who were part of the old CBC pig-out! Both, but especially the first one, thought herself quite regal, and was married to one of the most self-important prigs I have ever read. I have no problem with media people being appointed to the Senate or other government posts, especially if they are seen as bright, dedicated people, but I will admit that they are few and far between when it comes to the media!

  • 24 r // Dec 27, 2012 at 12:47 am

    No oil plan.?

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/13540-watchdogs-say-us-regulators-are-not-prepared-to-prevent-arctic-oil-spill-file-suit-for-access-to-more-information

  • 25 Kranky // Dec 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Not that we’ll ever see it,Harv, but this country needs it’s own Leveson inquiry. The press, police and politicians in a very incestuous relationship across this land!