August 24, 2012 — I’m a regular reader of Ed Hollett’s Bondpapers blog. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to concur that Ed is outspoken, entertaining and prolific.
Recently, Ed wrote a blog entry that drew together VOCM Backtalk, political lobbyist Tim Powers and John Steele, president of Steele Communications. Ed made the connection that Powers is a Conservative strategist who supports the Muskrat Falls deal, and John Steele sits on the Nalcor Board of Directors.
“Two hours of free publicity for Nalcor’s favourite cause every day,” Hollett wrote. “That’s pretty sweet. Imagine if VOCM charged Nalcor for the time. The show isn’t as popular as Randy Simms Open Line show but surely VO can get a decent price for 30 seconds of advertising.”
You can read that entry here:
Now, John Steele is no shrinking violet. In the past, he’s always been a straight shooter – giving blunt answers to direct questions. I contacted him, and asked for a reaction to Hollett’s blog.
“I read it. I always read Ed’s stuff. One thing that I respect about Ed is, he’s got balls enough to put his name to stuff. He’s not anonymous, so I respect that.”
And how about the insinuation, that Powers was guesting on Backtalk to flog Muskrat Falls?
“I can honestly tell you, there’s nothing more further from the truth than what he wrote there. I can see why he would think that, but I can honestly tell you that’s not the case.”
Powers appears twice a week on the VOCM morning show, Steele explained, chatting with backtalk host Paddy Daly about Ottawa politics.
“We just wanted to help build the profile for Tim in the market and Paddy’s got a super strong show, so it’s just something that we wanted to try out. It was just a one-off type of thing.”
If Steele is indeed trying to influence the discourse on his talk radio programs with regard to Muskrat Falls, he’s not doing a very good job of it. While Paddy Daly seems supportive of the deal, Randy Simms of Open Line and Pete Soucy of Nightline are totally, well, out of control, making cynical comments about the project and entertaining tough questions. Steele chuckles when I say this.
“The fact of the matter is man, we’ve got everybody pissed off at us. The guys who are pro-Muskrat are pissed off at us. The guys who are anti-Muskrat are pissed off at us. I think that, unless their line is being espoused, people get pissed off.”
I noted that Steele likely would be unable to control his hosts, even if he tried – he’d have better luck herding cats – and even if he could, there is no way to control the discourse that takes place on the programs, which are caller-driven.
“That’s the thing. Both sides have their messaging and however they bother to get that out, that’s their strategy. You can’t tilt the thing one way or the other.”
I asked Steele if he ever attempts to influence the tone of stories in the VOCM newsroom.
“No. I have viewpoints like everybody else does, but you’ve got to let people report the news. That’s what we do, and if you look at it, I think the fact that both sides of the Muskrat Falls debate are pissed off at us indicates that we are not shaping the message.”
Does Steele ever feel pressure from Nalcor to push positive Muskrat Falls messages while sitting around the boardroom table?
“No. I can honestly tell you, never. Seriously, Ed Martin is a class guy, a super-competent guy, and he’s not going to mention that to me.”
I thanked Steele and was about to hang up when he said, “If you’re going to use one quote, put the one about (Ed Hollett’s) balls in there, because it’s true.”