A mix of messages

Bob Wakeham
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An offering this Saturday of what some might see as the columnists' saviour in times of journalistic desperation (or intellectual laziness, my critics might suggest), but what I unabashedly view as an opportunity to spread my opinionated wings.

See it as you wish, but this is a little bit of this, a little of that.

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I thought the flogging from a number of circles of Jim Bennett for his nasty phone call to Joan Burke's constituency office was a case of overkill, a sledgehammer job when a slap on the wrists at most, might have been warranted. The Tories milked the matter for all it was worth, what you'd expect from anybody engaged in the often mean-spirited and double-standards world of politics. And Jerome Kennedy was eager to release an audiotape of Bennett threatening one of Burke's political hacks that he would hit the open-line circuit if a plea from a constituent in need of chemotherapy was not met.

The point has already been made by columnist Russell Wangersky that this Tory government is very selective in its release of tapes.

It's true enough that Dunderdale and company hide behind their own legislation when it suits their purposes, but open the lid on information when it is politically expedient (the Bennett tape, for example). But I also believe the government was hypocritical here, as well, in making it sound as if the Liberal MHA had committed the crime of the century. If the public could eavesdrop on conversations among our elected types and their flunkies about manipulating an open-line show or setting the attack dogs loose on a vulnerable politician, it would recognize that Bennett's phone call was relatively tame stuff.

Bennett's problem?

He was stupid enough to put his threats on tape, and he got caught.

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It was refreshing to hear former Liberal cabinet minister and former B.C. NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh talking so openly on "Radio Noon" this past week about the legalization of marijuana.

He admitted, of course, that it's easier to talk about these sorts of controversial subjects once out of the electioneering wars, with political repercussions no longer a worry (it did confirm, though, a thought I've always had about politics attracting an inordinate number of sheep who use cabinet and caucus solidarity and party unity to avoid saying how they really feel).

Nevertheless, better late than never, and Dosanjh, I thought, made a sound case for legalizing marijuana. It was a solid and interesting piece of journalism, as well, and balanced with an interview host Ramona Dearing conducted with a spokesman for police chiefs who are opposed to making it legal to possess marijuana for personal use.

As someone who had a few brain tokes in my time, I'd say it's about time grass was legalized. Have the cops put their efforts and money into pursuing the drug barons and the gangs, instead of giving people a criminal record for imbibing in a product less harmful than a half-dozen beer (in my humble estimation).

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Geoff Meeker, The Telegram's blogger on media issues, noted in a recent piece that he and I had gotten an email from the CBC's David Cochrane who seemed to take great delight in pointing out that The Telegram had recently wrapped one of its front pages with an advertising supplement. It was an opening for Cochrane to imply that we (Meeker and I) had been hypocritical in criticizing Mother Corp's approval of the involvement of its journalists in turkey drives, pancake breakfasts and the like. All I'd say to Cochrane is that I have always been decidedly uncomfortable when the advertising and editorial sections of newspapers and magazines intertwine, as they did in The Telegram in the edition to which he had promptly referred us. But I remain equally ill at ease (and that's an understatement) with the notion that it's quite all right for journalists to take an active, public role in charity drives, especially when the campaigns reek of cheap self- promotion and create potential conflicts of interest. Comparing the positioning of the advertising supplement and the fact that CBC journalists are permitted to front charity drives is like comparing the moving of bowels and the breaking of wind: they both stink.

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I can't think of anyone who did more than Lanier Phillips to enhance the reputation of Newfoundland, particularly the people of St. Lawrence and Lawn. His survival in the Pollux and Truxton disaster was a turning point in his life, he was fond of saying whenever given the chance, and he told the world it could learn a lesson from the people of Newfoundland about humanity and kindness (I'm not quite sure we're as open-minded and generous of spirit as we were 70 years ago, but Phillips apparently did, and always reminded his audiences of the type of compassion he found here during the war, a place he said was devoid of racial bigotry). The Lanier Phillips story would make a great movie, I was thinking the other day when his death was announced, with ingredients that would captivate any film-goer: the tragedy itself, the dramatic rescue of the survivors and the profound impact it all had on Phillips in his life-long crusade as a civil rights advocate.

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Deadlines being what they are, I don't know as I'm writing this column on Tuesday how the New York Madison Square Garden crowd greeted Sidney Crosby's return to action Thursday night. I hope the Ranger fans were gracious. But I doubt it. I recall my father and I being at the Garden in 1976 watching the then Soviet Red Army team play an exhibition game against the Broadway Blueshirts. The Rangers were losing badly late in the game when the great winger Valeri Kharlamov skated through every Ranger on the ice, and then faked Ed Giacomin out of his jock strap to score. Dad and I were the only two fans of the 17,250 people in attendance to stand and applaud in appreciation of the magnificent goal. But we didn't exactly ingratiate ourselves with the Garden faithful, and were lustily booed and cursed to the high heavens. Then, a guy nearby, with one of those heavy, stereotypical New Yorker accents, screamed at the top of his lungs: "Sit down, you two Commie bums!" Dad and I immediately re-planted our arses in our Garden seats, discretion, we quickly concluded, being the better part of valour. In other words, we wanted to get out of there with all of our teeth still in place.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Bennett's, Liberal MHA, CBC Soviet Red Army New Yorker

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Anna
    March 19, 2012 - 14:06

    Unfortunately CBC is becoming more and more like all the other radio stations. They think by telling us they got a tweet from someone in Carbonear reporting on slippery roads or getting people to make fools of themselves by calling in and singing on the radio in Irish is going to increase the radio audience. Just listen between the hour of 7 and 8 and you will hear the word tweet at least 20 times. They are not going to get the 20-30 year old listerners by mentioning the word tweet but should try to hold onto the little audience they have. It would be nice if they got back into their real jobs and did some investigative work and I don't mean just do an interview but keep following up on the subject.

  • John Smith
    March 17, 2012 - 10:42

    I'd say that Bob's right... comparing the Telegram, and the local CBC is like comparing flatulance and excrement...both stink, but I think the Tely stinks a little more. LOL

  • Mike Walsh
    March 17, 2012 - 09:20

    I agree with you Bob (and Meeker) that the CBC’s shameless self-promotion, especially at the local level, has gotten out of hand. Pancakes? Really. They should stick to what they are supposed to do – report the news. And maybe, once in a while, do some hard-hitting investigative work. I’d wish they’d stop “reporting” on the how Fluffy the cat can’t get her vet bill paid stories - and wait for a ground swell of support. Another thinly guised attempt to increase a dwindling number of viewers. And Cochrane’s sanctimonious email reeks to the high heavens. Yes, Cochrane is good at his job, but he and others at the Mother Corp should stick to what they do best – reporting the news, not trying to make it.