Dear Ezra and Lian,
One of the interesting things about my old house that burned down a few weeks ago, is who our neighbours were. I always thought it was funny that Jim Wilson, former Ontario Progressive Conservative cabinet minister used to drive by our place to get home. Earlier this year, he was the interim Leader of the Opposition Ontario Provincial Legislature. His house was a mile away from ours. This is a story about him and his election campaign manager, David Arnill.
Ezra since you are learning about media, I thought now is the time to tell you both some of my media secrets. It is important that you become wise about the media, but there are some things that your teachers just can’t tell you. Even though I have only passed through the media world, I have visited it quite a few times. I have had friends and acquaintances who were reporters, newspaper owners, television producers, and one television network president. The prime minister’s current director of communications knows your name. (Not many kids can say that, but he’s probably forgotten mine though.)
One day as I was reading the paper, I saw that a former colleague of mine had been nominated to a “board” that looks after a certain area of responsibility. Immediately, I knew how and why he got the job. It was stupid and wrong. After a little while I decided to call a reporter friend at the Financial Post newspaper.
I told the reporter that this man was a friend of and the election campaign manager for a cabinet minister. I also said that this man had a large business that was regulated by the very board that he would be a part of. It was a serious conflict of interest. The next morning, the Financial Post had a brief article outlining everything I said. His nomination was debated at a standing commitee of the legislature because of my tip. You can read what happened here http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/committee-proceedings/committee_transcripts_details.do?locale=en&BillID=&ParlCommID=44&Date=1998-04-15&Business=Intended+Appointments&DocumentID=18950 Shortly after that, there was an even smaller notice where the government withdrew this man’s nomination for the board. He spent only a few days in that job. Essentially, I got him fired before he had a chance to do anything.
If I stopped my story there it would be great. This is exactly how the news media is supposed to work. The news was 100% accurate, not even a spelling mistake. The results seemed 100% good. The government quickly fixed a stupid and wrong action. It would make the news media look good and it probably would make you a little proud of your dad. It would also be wrong. Here’s the rest of the story I have never told anybody else before.
That reporter trusted me because I had given him good, accurate stories before. Because of the time of day, he was in a hurry. He also wanted a “scoop”; to be the first one with the news in print. Based on our phone calls and the fact I needed my name kept secret, it was going to be really difficult to verify everything I said with a second or third person. I’m fairly confident he never did. He got me to repeat my information a couple times to be sure I wasn’t lying. He asked for proof or other witnesses. I told him, I couldn’t get it for him in a couple hours. It would take days, if not weeks. He asked me how I knew the man and I told him we worked together on an election campaign. He went to print based on that. It all turned out fine and he was off to write about the next story.
I neglected to mention a couple things to him. Previously, I was running a high profile election campaign, but I was young. It was going really well, when this same business man offered to help. For the sake of the candidate, I took a non-management role. This guy was put in charge. He made a lot of good decisions and helped the financial viability of the campaign immensely. Then for the rest of the campaign, this man had very little to do with it (busy guy). However, he was “still in charge” for appearances’ sake. I, on the other hand, worked practically from sunrise to past midnight on it every day. In the man’s absence, I helped make daily decisions. You might say, I did all the dirty work, while this man got all the credit. It was for the greater good.
I’m sure the man was surprised that I would swallow my pride, let him be in charge and keep working with him. You see, his father bought the back half of your great-grandfather’s farm and turned it into a gravel pit. They made a LOT of money from it. Then in the late 80’s, he tried to rip off your Grandma and Grandpa. He had sent his manager to buy our farm. I listened as he charmed Grandpa with pretty stories. He offered an incredibly low price for the farm, but he had Grandpa convinced it was a good deal. Even though I was barely older than you are now Ezra, I begged Grandma and Grandpa not to sell. Grandma didn’t want to live on the farm, but I pleaded with them. I told them this was not nearly enough money. They listened to me and agreed not to sell. Within 4 years, that businessman offered 9 times his original offer, but it was still too low and my parents still didn’t sell. Unfortunately, he continuously bothered and pestered my Dad’s aunt who lived on the farm next to us. She was an elderly lady and finally sold to them, but for far less than what her farm was worth (about 20% of fair market value). She never got any professional advice and because of that she got ripped off by this businessman.
So you see kids, I wasn’t a reliable witness. I had a “big axe to grind” with this man, but I never told the reporter that. Sure, what I told him was 100% true, but it wasn’t the whole truth. If I had, he probably would have taken an extra day or two to make sure my “whistleblowing” was really accurate. He may have lost his “scoop” because there were lots of other people who knew the truth about this man and this appointment to the board. However, it would have been done the right way. Doing things the right way is IMPORTANT. I didn’t want to complicate things with the whole story, but I regret now that I didn’t.
Many people in the media take their jobs because they want to “speak truth to power”. Yet what ends up happening is that they become the powerful speaking half-truths. This world is full of people who have become the very thing they hate the most. It is said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Evil also wins another way; it simply gets good people to do evil things or good things in evil ways; and little by little the good become evil. People become so intent on defeating evil, they become evil themselves. The power and influence they gain, gets used for evil. All the while, they convince themselves it is for the greater good. The media and their sources are full of such people. Be careful when you believe what they tell you. Be careful with power and influence. It can ruin you.