Follow-up on Cochrane

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Friday's post boiled over into the mainstream

Last Friday's post, about Premier Danny Williams's public instruction to his staff to cut off CBC journalist David Cochrane, caused some major ripples in the local journalism community.

In fact, it percolated into mainstream media coverage, and was referenced in a page four story in Saturday's Telegram. It was also the top item in today's (Tuesday's) Cheers & Jeers editorial in The Telegram. (And yes, it is quite exciting and gratifying when a blog item breaks into the news, and generates such heated discussion among journalists and the public.)

Amazingly, in Saturday's Telegram article, the organizers of the Andy Wells fundraiser were still personally blaming David Cochrane for the cancellation of the event.

"The whole thing was distorted and I lay it and I don't mind saying to you right at the feet of the CBC," (Kevin) Breen said. "Cochrane went to Danny Williams and told him we were out soliciting money from the business community, and made no reference to the dinner whatsoever."

However, the dinner was just window dressing, and didn't change the facts of the story that the event was a fundraiser for Andy Wells. This point was made quite eloquently on the editorial page of today's Telegram. Here's what they said:

"Cheers: to taking one on the chin. OK, so we've occasionally bashed CBC's David Cochrane for his style of political coverage. But his Thursday tussle with Premier Danny Williams over a fundraising dinner for Public Utilities Board chairman Andy Wells was worth the price of admission - especially when Cochrane refused to back down in the face of Williams' strident claim that the fundraising dinner was just like Williams going home for his own supper. Williams' point? "It's just a dinner." That's like saying the sponsorship scandal was "just ad contracts." The point is not about the food on the table, but where a substantial sum of money goes afterwards, a telling nuance that seems to have escaped the premier. And what exactly did Williams mean at the end of the scrum, when he pointed at Cochrane and said, loud enough for other journalists to hear, "He's cut off." What? Does that mean another journalist has been added to the premier's personal "no-fly" zone?"

At least three well-known bloggers linked to my post, and two of them weighed in with extensive comments of their own.

In his Townie Bastard blog, Craig Welsh said the premier's tactics were a "doomed and idiotic strategy" that will likely make Williams's life even more difficult. You can read his full post here.

"First of all, there is zero chance Dave and the CBC are going to take this lying down," Welsh wrote. "I've known Dave for more than a decade He's as tenacious a reporter as you're going to meet locally. Being outside of the Premier's good graces won't mean a damn thing. He's only going to work harder to get his stories. And he will likely put a big "the premier refused comment" with every story where he needs comments from Williams. Which always, always makes the person who refuses comment look terrible.??

"Second, I'm not saying the press gallery at Confederation Building is going to rally to Dave's defence. But he might be the straw that finally breaks things, especially since this was a very public blacklisting. Williams normally does this more stealthily, but I guess the last few weeks has addled in his brains a bit.??

"Too many reporters have been blacklisted by the premier on and off over the last few years. At some point that's going to piss them off enough that there's going to be consequences. What those are, I do not know. But I can't imagine the premier is going to be any happier with the press he's going to get in the next few months."

Welsh offered some excellent counsel for the premier:

"My advice? Call Cochrane, apologize and say that he lost his temper for a moment and that it was unprofessional of him to behave in that manner. I doubt he will do it, but my way shows that he's human and the story blows over quickly. If he sticks to his guns, then he can look forward to be tortured for many, many months to come."

Outspoken journalist and photographer Greg Locke also weighed in.

"So, how far will Williams go with his banishment?" Locke wrote. "Will it just be a refusal to return calls for comment or interviews? Will he make sure that public money is not spent on government advertising in the offending media? Will he refuse to answer questions in a scrum from certain reporters? With a dozen reporters present, live mics and cameras rolling, THAT would certainly be a few awkward silent seconds. Will those journalists in the scrum react in support of "The Blacklisted"? Doubt it. Journalism in St. John's is pretty cut-throat and friends have been known to stab each other in the back... repeatedly. There is also the problem that there is more than one "media" who feel it is not their place to question the Premier. Some just don't have the stomach for it."

Interestingly, both Welsh and Locke toyed with the idea of starting a club' devoted to journalists who have fallen out of favour with the premier. Locke said the idea occurred to him while swapping war stories with some other local journalists.

"We joked about a club and website for journalists who have been cut off from the privilege of having Danny Williams comments or return their calls and ignore their requests for interviews," Locke wrote. "There are more than a few now and we decided to open it up to victims of previous premiers who thought it was a brilliant idea to heap wrath upon journalists and media outlets who pissed them off."

You can read the full text of Locke's post here.

Friday's post also drew some insightful and provocative comments from readers of this blog. If you haven't read them, I do recommend jumping over to do so. There is some quality thought there.

For example, here is an excerpt from blogger Mark Watton's comment, which asks some uncomfortable questions.

"I've written about this before," Watton wrote, "the first great example being (the premier's) lowering of the Canadian flag, where nobody in the media asked the very simple question at that time, i.e. where does a premier derive any authority to take such an action? Was there an order in council? Nope. A motion of the legislature? Nope. Nothing. Yet nobody questioned him. What gives him the power to do that? Can he haul down the statue of Cabot tomorrow? What about removing Joey's profile from the highway sign in Gambo? What's stopping him? And for nearly four years it continued. The man decided long ago that he was more than Premier. He is leader of his people, defender of our race (his words, not mine) etc., etc. It's crazy. And up until this Cameron inquiry, the media have been his prime facilitators."

Finally, I also received some "off the record" calls and emails from journalists who just wanted to commiserate about this whole sorry state of affairs. I will close with this comment, from a well-known local journalist who would rather not jeopardize their relationship with the premier either:

"Read today's blog with great interest. I heard about it almost immediately of course... I can assure you, we've all felt that chill at some time or another. Purely between you and I, the funny part of all this is, the government needs the media more than we need them. We don't always need government officials to tell a story. In the spirit of fairness, we will seek out all sides, but in the end, the story will still get told, it just might not carry the government's spin'. The government needs the media to get any message out. They can have all the communications officials they want without the media, no one will know."

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  • Mike
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Premier Williams is way out of line on his approach to David Cochrane's attempt to elicit a comment on the Wells attempted dash of cash.

    I have been of the opinion that Cochrane was too easy on Williams in the past and not willing to ask the tough questions. Maybe I was wrong.

    Premier Williams would do well to back down from this building confrontation with the Press for his struggle will no doubt be like struggling in quicksand.

    Then again, if his ego has risen to such lofty levels as it appears to have in recent behaviour perhaps the Premier has developed a constitutional incapacity to recognize when he screws up as he is doing in this issue.

    Step up and back down Danny.

    Sometimes you got to surrender to win!!