Whether his game is politics or hockey, Danny Williams obviously demands that journalists covering his endeavours treat their profession with total
disregard for integrity, that they bounce up and down with his every move with unqualified, cheerleading exuberance.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the Williams’ reign at Confederation Building would have recognized that the then-premier felt journalists were never to think of themselves as observers of Newfoundland affairs — or to think for themselves, for that matter.
He preferred they take a
participatory role, complimenting through their reporting whatever mandate or goals his agenda contained.
Dare to criticize, or even put a government story in its proper perspective (as opposed to taking on the role of a glorified stenographer, an approach taken by too many reporters), and Dictator Dan had you labelled a traitor to the Newfoundland cause, a person who probably didn’t know the first and last verses of the “Ode,” who surely tolerated the word “Newfie” and “Newfie” jokes.
At best, it was naïve, downright stupid and petulant, especially coming from a person with obvious intelligence; at worse, it was a shocking display of arrogance and ignorance about the kind of role journalists are supposed to play in any free society.
Williams just loved reporters who were verbatim boys and girls, those who adopted the “he said” approach to suck-hole journalism, as we would put in my younger days.
“Without a doubt, I’m the finest premier this province has ever seen,” he said.
“God guard thee, Newfoundland,” he said.
“Journalists are a detriment to our progress,” he said.
Take Williams on and you may as well have turned that pink, white and green flag hanging in front of the house upside down.
Now, it’s into the realm of sports that Williams has taken his philosophy of all for one, one for all; a philosophy that demands journalists get on board his train and never question its route, its destination or, most importantly, the side trips along the way.
And it’s manifested itself in a harsh letter to The Telegram’s sports editor, Robin Short, for his coverage of the St. John’s IceCaps, Williams’ team.
A little diversion down nostalgia lane here: when I first started out in the world of notebooks and typewriters back in August of 1972, I had hoped to be a sportswriter.
In fact, while having a job interview with The Evening Telegram’s managing editor at the time, Bob Ennis, I said it was the only kind of job I wanted and I balked at first when he suggested I take a job as a news reporter while awaiting an opening in the sports department.
It’s been 40 years, and I never did get that sports job, continuing instead to work in news and current affairs in print, radio and television, and carving out what I immodestly believe to have been a fairly successful career.
But I’ve never taken my eye away from sports and sports coverage, and came to realize early on that the rules for sportswriters seemed more flexible that those we, the news reporters, had to follow.
For instance, one day I overheard one of our jock reporters at The Evening Telegram informing a newsman, who just happened to be coaching soccer at the time, “Listen, b’y, it was four in the clock in the morning when I was writing up the copy on your game, so I made up three or four quotes from you.”
“Don’t worry about that,” came the coach/newsman’s reply. “Just as long as you spelled my name right.”
So, yes, in a small city, the sports reporters have some inherent flexibility.
There’s usually a familiarity
that doesn’t exist in the ranks of news reporters and politicians, for instance (or shouldn’t exist).
But that doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that journalistic rules of objectivity and fairness and detachment should not apply to sportswriting and sports broadcasting.
But that’s what Danny Williams would just love to see.
It was obvious from his letter last week to Short that the former premier wanted a public relations job performed on the Calder Cup playoffs.
Any criticism of the team was shockingly unfair and traitorous, as far as he was concerned.
After all, we’re all in this together, all Newfoundlanders, and that includes journalists. You want an American Hockey League team to stay in St. John’s? You get onside with Danny Boy, journalistic rules be damned.
What Williams wanted from Short and all the other sports reporters and announcers covering the game were cheers (he got that and more from the IceCaps announcer, Brian Rogers, a classic homer), not jeers. Tell the Newfoundland world that the team fought valiantly, they gave 110 per cent, played through injuries, but just came up short.
Williams said in his letter that Short was entitled to his opinion, and he was entitled to his, as well, suggesting that the two were on equal footing with their assessments.
What Williams didn’t recognize was this profound difference: Williams was absolutely, totally biased, not an objective bone to be found in his body, while the reverse was true of sportswriter and journalist Short.
Short had the gall to do his job, to tell us how and why he thought the team finally floundered.
That’s what we expect from sportswriters.
That’s what we expect from journalists.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.