Telling insight from the frontlines of local journalism
August 31, 2012 – Political reporter James McLeod is one of the best writers at The Telegram, and one of the leading journalists in the province – and a dapper dresser to boot.
He writes a blog that is hosted at this page – right above mine, in fact – and his latest entry is causing some chatter among his fellow journalists. McLeod wrote about Muskrat Falls, and how the “debate” over this important subject has devolved into name calling and acrimony.
“There is plenty of legitimate public policy and political debate to be had without resorting to vile personal attacks and cheap shots on the credibility of anybody who's saying something you don't agree with,” McLeod wrote, using Twitter comments from Brad Cabana and Steve Kent to make his points.
In a nutshell, McLeod is sick and tired of the tone of the debate, and is “dreading” this fall. “It's going to be an interminable three months of intensely technical debate dominated by emotionally charged true believers who won't listen to anything that doesn't jibe with what they're already absolutely sure of.”
And he is talking about both sides of the debate when he says that.
I found this paragraph, wherein McLeod describes the complexities of the deal to his parents, especially telling – and a rare glimpse into how journalists are wrestling with this issue:
“In the course of the conversation, I explained the Muskrat Falls project in some detail, and told my parents that I thought there are a lot of really legitimate issues to be discussed. On the one hand, I explained that none of the independent experts have ever concluded that Muskrat Falls isn’t the cheapest source of electricity for Newfoundlanders. I explained that the potential Labrador mining projects can use all the surplus power and more if they all come through, and I explained that the Maritime Link is also a good way to unload excess electricity, and it opens up tantalizing possibilities for future energy development. On the other hand, I explained that the current structure of the deal leaves the province on the hook for an outsized share of potential cost overruns, and if all of the excess power ends up getting used in Labrador, then the province is going to be sending 20 per cent of the electricity over to Nova Scotia on the Maritime Link and not seeing a whole lot in return. I also explained the trust issues the government has run into, when it limited the scope and length of the PUB hearings, and only grudgingly agreed to do a debate in the House of Assembly. I explained that by refusing to do a detailed, public examination of natural gas right off the bat, they left an information vacuum that has been enthusiastically filled by Muskrat Falls opponents. The same, to a lesser extent, is true of wind power as well.”
Is there any wonder that confusion reigns about this project? McLeod is one of the province’s best reporters, yet he is as conflicted as the rest of us. He has attended most of the news conferences and scrums, listened to hours of talking heads and written reams of copy about Muskrat Falls. Yet, he can see both sides of the issue and is not sure where to fall.
At one point, McLeod writes:
“I've interviewed Martin more times than I can count, and I've never found him to be anything other than a very intelligent, capable man who’s working very hard for what he believes to be the best interests of the province. Debate is a wonderful thing, but calling his credibility into question should not be done lightly, and it should not be done without evidence.”
That’s a fair point. No one should challenge his integrity without evidence. However, I see in Ed Martin a CEO who is smooth and unflappable. He is far more credible than Jerome Kennedy and Kathy Dunderdale, which is why they defer to him so often. However, someone as slick as Ed Martin sets off alarm bells for me. I’m not suggesting he is being intentionally deceitful, but he may be mistaken. And there is a lot at stake here. Tough questions need to be asked of him. He should be cut no quarter because of how he appears, just as we should not make judgments about shifty eyes.
In my view, McLeod's conflicted feelings on Muskrat Falls demonstrates the need for more investigative reporting into the issue. The straight reportage has not been enough. One or more of the local newsrooms should assign a person – or a team – to really dig into this issue and put together a series of reports or full-length documentary.
I received a direct message yesterday from a local journalist who said this:
“There’s something missing in these pieces, Geoff – no one is saying what we’re not covering, no one is offering questions that haven’t been asked. Lots of ‘not good enough’ but little suggestion for improvement.”
That observation is correct and it’s a challenge I will tackle in my next entry.