Much like an athlete who bounces from team to team, suitcases plastered with logos, having accumulated ordinary credentials interspersed with the odd bit of fame, establishing a record of employment devoid of identity and loyalty and operating with a burning-bridges mentality, Craig Westcott has another new job.
And like the hockey player starting with a new team, Westcott had hoped, I’m sure, he would make a bit of a splash and score an important goal on his first shift.
Unfortunately, he has had a disastrous, ignominious debut, and fired the puck into his own net.
Westcott has been (and I may miss the odd locker room here) a reporter with The Telegram, a commentator with CBC Radio, the owner of a couple of weeklies, a candidate with the federal Tories, a general pain in the arse for Danny Williams, and now — drum roll please — the director of communications, chief flunky, with a once powerful, now feeble organization, called the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Now, I certainly don’t begrudge Westcott a few extra silver dollars for taking the road to Flackville (I certainly had several years in newsrooms making near pauper’s wages), and this latest gig for poor old Westcott is probably supplying the heftiest salary of his diverse career.
But it’s a high price to pay. His journalistic credibility, which took a severe pounding when he ran for the Tories in the last federal election, is now in the sewer.
Having said all of that, the Liberals are in need of every single scrap of help they can get, and I initially thought Westcott might supply a solid boost to a party in a deep slump, that he could provide his employers — the talking heads in the legislature — with material that could, for example, show Williams at his very worse, provoke those occasions of true colours when he plays the schoolyard bully, when he makes even some of his own supporters cringe as he displays his mean-spirited side and rips into the “traitors” to the Newfoundland cause (as he sees it).
At least that was my belief prior to the disclosure that he, as a journalist in 2009, had stupidly asked the premier’s office in an email whether its boss was being treated for mental illness. Those are the type of politically incorrect remarks reporters make to each other all the time, and I confess (to the gods of the Fourth Estate) that I’ve had conversations along those lines about any number of politicians, other types of public figures, even my fellow journalists.
But I was never so foolish as to conclude that my weak attempt at humour in a bar at 11 o’clock constituted a possible story, or requirement to share the joke in a note or phone call to a press secretary.
And I’m not sure Westcott can extricate himself from this load of dung and be an effective spokes-man and backroom boy for the Liberals.
Last year, I was given a hard time by Williams’ disciples because — during the course of a radio panel discussion about the way reporters cover the premier’s private life — I mentioned his marriage breakup, and offered the view that this had been a legitimate, albeit minor news story, one the press had chosen to ignore. I have no regret about what I said. And have no problem defending it.
But Westcott will never be able to legitimize official emails to the premier’s press secretary asking whether her boss has syphilis or a bipolar affliction. It has made Westcott look like an idiot and, perhaps worse still, has elicited for the premier — the most powerful person in the province — a certain amount of sympathy in some circles, an opportunity for some of his lap dogs in cabinet to charge that his critics bash him unfairly, and that he deserves better.
Believe me, you don’t want to give Danny boy, or his devotees, that kind of ammunition.
If I was in control of the Liberals, I’d have to wonder whether their newly acquired communications expert should be cut loose (“communications” having been shown this week to be somewhat of a misnomer), and traded to another team.
Williams is allowed to say and do what he wants with near impunity in Newfoundland, and this place is in desperate need of an effective opposition to try and keep him in place.
Westcott, I’m afraid, will only hinder those legitimate efforts.
And that’s his own damn fault.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.