Musings —04.30.2011 07:37 AM—
- I’ve been a cop reporter, a political guy, a media commentator and (am) a voter. I tried to look at this Jack Layton story from all of those perspectives.
- As a cop reporter: I did the cops beat at the Calgary Herald and the Ottawa Citizen. At those papers – at almost any paper, then or now – we’d write about how the police periodically do sweeps at bawdy houses and places like that. If the round-ups involved a lot of johns, we’d write about that. If the operators of the prostitution operation were newsworthy, we’d write about them. And, if there was a famous person amongst the johns, we’d certainly cover it. We’d let the higher-ups, and the eggheads on the editorial boards, agonize about whether a story we filed should get published or not. Our beat was crime, and our job was to write crime stories. We did that. From a cops beat reporter’s perspective, the fact that a man has a shot at becoming Prime Minister, and was found at a place like that, is big news. Any journalist who says that it isn’t, isn’t much of a journalist, or is being dishonest. This is a legitimate cops-beat story – with one caveat: it happened in 1996, which is many years ago. All that renders it “news,” again, is the prominence of the person involved.
- As a political guy: A Sun reporter called me about this story yesterday afternoon. Before he could even describe what it was about – he said it involved “a major political figure and the police” – I told him I already knew what it was about. In Toronto, and amongst many political people, this story has been pretty well-known for years. Someone came to me about it two years ago. I looked at what they had, thought about it for about sixty seconds, and then urged this person to forget all about it. I certainly planned to. If the story ever saw the light of day, I told this person, it would hurt the source more than it would hurt the target. I still think that. If people within a political party were ultimately behind this – and there are four political parties which would have a direct interest in getting this story out – they’d better hope to God they don’t get found out before Monday night. Right now, there isn’t a voter in Canada who doesn’t think a political party was wrapped up in this somehow. Does that hurt Jack Layton? Not with most voters. Ask that Hugh Grant actor guy, he knows.
- As a media commentator: I’ve told people at the Sun I felt they were being used by someone with an obvious agenda, and to caution them about the story. They had weighed all of those negatives by the time they spoke to me, obviously, and they went with the story anyway. That’s their decision, and I think it’s maybe explainable by the fact that political people use media people all the time, and vice-versa. But two problems still remain, from my perspective. One, I think the Sun was indeed used by a political party during a hotly-contested election campaign, and – arguably as unhelpful – they’ve given their competitors an opportunity to also cover the story, while simultaneously slamming the Sun for going with the story. I wouldn’t have given the competition the opportunity to do something hypocritical like that. I would have let one of them go first. Two, the bigger scandal, here, remains unaddressed: at the time he was detained, Jack Layton was a city councillor on the City of Toronto’s budget committee, which has power over the police budget. The cops knew who he was, they knew the power he wielded over them. So what did they do? They walked him to the back door, and let him pedal away. Were the other men found at that place given that kind of treatment? If not, what happened here is a bona fide scandal, one that Toronto taxpayers need have probed, the passage of time notwithstanding.
- As a voter: On the one hand, I dislike prostitution, and I particularly dislike the media’s dishonesty about it – they condemn it, and then make money out of advertising that promotes trafficking in human beings (like the Toronto Star does, in its eye weekly paper). On the other hand, I don’t particularly dislike Jack Layton (he won me over, a few years back, when he called me to ask for a copy of one of my books – the one about punk rock, not one of the ones I’ve written about politics). Does this story make me, as voter, more or less likely to vote for him? Well, I was never planning on voting for him anyway. But it reminds me that he showed appalling judgment, sixteen years ago, and that he needs to express regret for that, instead of offering up the standard-issue political bullshit. In this election campaign, he’s not alone in offering up bullshit, I guess.