Going to the gutter

Peter Jackson
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Has politics become too negative in this province? Danny Williams thinks it has, and he blames the media. But as a number of observers have pointed out recently, the premier himself is no stranger to negativity. He can be quite incendiary when he wants to be.

When the Liberal party hired Craig Westcott as head spin master last month, a government minister released an email to the public that Westcott had sent to the premier’s office in 2009, asking if Williams was suffering from mental disease.

The contents of the email were greeted with the revulsion it deserved. But questions soon arose as to why the premier allowed its release so long after receiving it. Why wasn’t it released then? It seemed like a cynical ploy to discredit the Opposition’s new hire.

The answer to that question is obvious: of course it’s a political ploy! Westcott had re-entered party politics and was therefore fair game. Politicians play politics. The end.

What’s interesting, though, is that few of those who turned this affair back on the premier seemed troubled that the Liberals were poised to plunge deeper into that same cynical muck.

By now, half the planet knows about Westcott’s famous email. But few are aware of what led up to it.

For a couple of years at least, the premier had been refusing to grant interviews to Westcott because of what he considered to be an inherent bias. In his opinion, Westcott would never give him a fair hearing.

A while back, Westcott released a 2006 email exchange he had with communications director Elizabeth Matthews to media blogger Geoff Meeker, who posted it on his website.

At one point, after fielding several requests for an interview, Matthews finally sent Westcott a litany of descriptors he had used in the past to describe Williams.

Here are a few samples: “a small man,” “cowardly and self-demeaning,” “an immature and petty tyrant,” “another rich guy looking after his friends,” “duplicitous and cowardly,” “a bully ... a vindictive one,” “he’ll squat you like a fly” and “for leaders like that, only absolute power for themselves and abject loyalty will do.”

Westcott rightly points out that these were all opinion pieces. And in some instances, journalists are forced to do double duty, switching between reporter and commentator.

But given Westcott’s jump from journalist to pundit to Board of Trade speaker, from federal Conservative candidate to provincial Liberal hack, he clearly doffs and dons hats like a champion quick-change artist.

And those hats seem to serve only one purpose: to bring down Danny Williams by any means possible.

Now, this is fine, as long as he doesn’t resort to criminal methods. He can play the archnemesis all he wants; the Moriarty to Williams’ Sherlock Holmes.

But how can one take anything Westcott says without a grain of salt, any more than one would take a shiny, happy news release from a sitting politician on its face? The agenda is overt and unmistakeable.

Westcott considers himself a journalist by trade. Some refer to him as a maverick, someone who pulls no punches and tells it like it is.

Often, though, “it” is often nothing close to what he says it is. His over-the-top psychoanalysis of the premier is often comical in its excess. And all roads lead to that.

Take his assessment of how the government handled last year’s H1N1 flu vaccinations.

The provincial health department came in for both criticism and praise at the time. There were some glitches and missteps, but also examples of solid communications policy and adaptiveness.

For Westoctt, though, it was an abysmal failure. And In defending his assessment, he spends much of his time issuing broad slurs against the current and former health ministers, all wending its way back to Williams.

Again, via Meeker: “It’s important to remember that Danny Williams appointed each and every one of these fools, so the crucial failure of leadership rests squarely on his twitching shoulders.”

Perhaps Westcott sees himself as the one who will ultimately slay the dragon. The new Ray Guy against the ghost of Joey Smallwood.

But his righteous zeal has got the better of him. And now, the current Liberal guard are at risk of following  the same path of gutter politics and ad hominem excess. Against someone as popular as Danny Williams, this is sheer lunacy.

Let negativity reign.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. He can be reached by email at pjackson@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Board of Trade

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Recent comments

  • A. Noseworthy
    November 09, 2010 - 20:06

    Shannon Reardon As it relates to the manner in which Ottawa treated the province of Newfoundland and Labrador as compared to the way it treated the other provinces, there was NO Democracy Practised for our people. The people of our province were dictated to and not treated as equal citizens of Canada. When we survey the footprints of our natural resource base, we find that they were all shipped out to create economies and employment in the other Canadian provinces, what Democracy was practised there? And Shannon Reardon, Premier Williams had nothing to do with any of it.

  • Shannon Reardon
    November 09, 2010 - 16:50

    A. NOSEWORTHY: "...Premier Williams would not have to waste his precious time dealing with those who opposed him because he dared to say 'no more give away' of our natural resource base." Yeah, I mean, that little old thing called DEMOCRACY is a real pest, innit?

  • Mark
    November 09, 2010 - 15:23

    Westcott had re-entered party politics and was therefore fair game. Really? What's the basis for that?

  • baieboy
    November 09, 2010 - 12:47

    Great job of shooting the wounded. Ever think that Westcott moves around because he needs to make a living. Williams cut off govt. advertising to his paper a large source of his revenue. Im a Williams fan but we also need these people Harold Horwood, Ray Guy, Ted Russell etc, to keep out leaders in check.

  • W McLean
    November 09, 2010 - 12:42

    What’s interesting, though, is that few of those who turned this affair back on the premier seemed troubled that the Liberals were poised to plunge deeper into that same cynical muck. = = = The use of that verb tense — "were poised" — would suggest that there were in fact instances, in the intervening time, of plunging deeper (deeper than what?) into cynical muck. What additional cynical muck would that be? For that matter, what was the original cynical muck, the muck that the new plunging is getting deeper into? I fully agree that the depth of the muck-plunging in the past couple of weeks has been extraordinary. Yet few columnists seem troubled by it, which I'm sure is in no way related to the identity of the persons doing the muck-plunging.

  • Peter loves Danny
    November 09, 2010 - 11:10

    Jackson is a Danny cheerleader, clearly. Gutter politics arrived here in 2003, Peter. But, of course, you turn a blind eye to that fact. Williams set the tone for the discourse in this place, where it is petty, personal, and downright degrading. Craig Westcott did not. Why are you, and the Premier, so aggrieved by the same kind of invective that Hisself uses time and again towards adversaries???

  • A. Noseworthy
    November 09, 2010 - 11:05

    Had it being seen to by former Newfoundland and Labrador politicians that the province's well endowed resource base of Fish, Hydroelectricity Energy, Minerals of every type and Oil, which are worth Billions of dollars annually had been utilized to build vibrant economies in our province, instead of other parts of Canada and the World, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador would have been the most self-sufficient province in the country and Premier Williams would not have to waste his precious time dealing with those who opposed him because he dared to say 'no more give away' of our natural resource base. It is unfortunate that every Prime Minister had promised us the moon while campaigning to be PM, and the present one Prime Minister Harper, had spoken of our wonderful natural resources and said that if he got into power as PM he would see that Newfoundland and Labrador's resources would work for it instead of others, but when he assumed the throne of Ottawa things got worse than they were ever before, he reneged on his promise. And besides when Premier Williams asked to speak to the Nation to apprise Canadians of what had transpired in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador over, the 54 years that our province had been part of Canada, at the time our Premier had being elected, the National Media refused to allow him the space in their publications to speak about the subject. Instead they were relentless in bringing him down to the lowest common denominator. Premier Williams has been trying to get our message across to Canadians ever since he came to power and not only has he had to do it over the din of the National Media, but sadly our Local Media joined in as well. For the life of me I can't see why those who would benefit from a good economy in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador would have done that. What our Local Media has done is it has given a royal slap in the face to every Newfoundlander and Labradorian who lives in this province, who wants their province to move forward with jobs, but the constant criticisms of the Premier by the Local Media is wasting his valuable time, time that he could be directing at something more positive. I am wondering if there is some entity outside of this province paying the bills for these people to keep the Premier down. Now that there will be no more give-away of our resource base, it is the other provinces of Canada which will suffer and Ottawa is not too happy about that. Other parts of Canada were so used to getting our great natural resources handed to them on a silver platter for 54 years, without even having to raise an eyebrow, it certainly must have come as a shock to hear a premier from the province of NL saying it had to come to an end. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians never knew what was transpiring in their midst during the time of the give away of our resources, but then why should they as matters had been far too non-transparent and certainly the National Media were not about to alert them of what was going on and neither were the Business Schools in Central Canada who were in on the say.

  • Willi Makit
    November 09, 2010 - 07:50

    ''And now, the current Liberal guard are at risk of following the same path of gutter politics and ad hominem excess.'' Really? Is this speculation based on anything other than Jackson's opinion? When I look for negative statements coming from government in NL, they're only coming from one party, and for the most part, one man. Neither have an affiliation with the opposition. Perhaps Jackson could point out objectively a shred of evidence supporting his musings?