The people who throw stones are about to be moved into glass houses

Allan Fotheringham April 17 1978

The people who throw stones are about to be moved into glass houses

Allan Fotheringham April 17 1978

The people who throw stones are about to be moved into glass houses

Allan Fotheringham

For all the navel-gazing and literary justifications done by the inmates themselves—all those crooked lawyers involved in the most analyzed election in history—quite the most interesting book on Richard Nixon’s 1972 victory had little to do with politicians. It was about the mechanics of how the press covers the politicians. The Boys On The Bus, by Timothy Crouse, a young reporter for Rolling Stone, was remarkable because for the first time, we had a member of the press describing how other members of the press went about what Kipling called “the black art”: journalism. The reader had a spy on the inside. Crouse was the Trojan Horse, an unknown kid riding the campaign bus and campaign jet with all the press and TV heavies, then revealing all their secrets.

It is, I suppose, a sign of the maturation of Canada as a society that we too now have a designated watcher to watch the watchers. Doubleday has commissioned Clive Cocking, a free-lance magazine writer, to hitch onto the upcoming election trail and do the same to (for?) the Ottawa Press Gallery as Crouse did for (to?) the Washington press gang.

Good luck, Cocking. Your first mistake was in letting the secret slip out. How can a Trojan Horse function ¡if it is revealed, naked? Who’s going to attack the stewardess with you and your tape recorder watching? Crouse succeeded because no one knew what he was i5oing until the book came out. The press—which is more thin-skinned than most of its victims— squeals like a stuck hog when pricked and will be especially twitchy (ask Senator Davey) when it knows beforehand it will be under scrutiny. Cocking, good luck. You’ll need it. (Plus a protective cup.)

Actually, it’s a good idea, since the press is the last of the institutions—after the church, government, business, medicine, the law and the universities have had a dose of it—to be put under severe examination. John Porter in The Vertical Mosaic 13 years ago pointed out, “perhaps no other occupational group in modern society appropriates to itself a role which requires all-seeing wisdom in so many spheres.” (That’s us! That’s us!) Until the advent of Doubleday and Cocking, about the only serious look at the underbelly of the Ottawa press was Larry ZolFs 1973 tour de force Dance Of The

Dialectic, in which he defined the illuminati—broken into four subspecies: the Punditi-in (those the Trudeaucrats favored), the Punditi-out (those the Trudeaucrats frowned on), the Radical Chichi (self-evident), the Randiti (aged typewriter warriors who never budge from Ottawa—and the despised Paparazzi (those of mike-in-the-nostril fame.)

Since neither Arthur Hailey nor Richard Rohmer have volunteered to do us a paint-by-numbers description of how the

press really operates, we’ll have to wait for Cocking. He may even succeed, for the simple fact as explained by Crouse (and confirmed by the wife of any journalist) that the business is populated largely by “shy egomaniacs.” Instead of missing a beautiful opportunity to keep their mouths shut, they may indeed blab. Who of large reputation in fact steals most of his stuff from other reporters’ dupes? Which scribes (let alone which aggressive opposition critics) couldn’t exist if The Globe and Mail ever went on strike? Will anyone acknowledge what a useful journalist Paul Hellyer has become? For all the behind-the-hand jokes and ridicule about his Cold War rhetoric, how many reporters secretly admire the courage and consistency of Lubor J. Zink, the anti-Communist Quixote?

An outsider, accustomed to a constant adversary role with all politicians, is always slightly stunned at encountering the extent of cooperation between the Ottawa press and their supposed targets in government. In truth they are both victims (being denizens of such a small oneindustry town) of a symbiotic relationship—like the wary bond between prisoners and guards in a penitentiary, they

have more in common than with the strange outside world. (Given a choice, a Press Gallery regular would far prefer to spend several hours drinking with a politician rather than with a member of the real world.)

We are treading, you understand, on sacred ground here. Val Sears, The Toronto Sunday Stars vastly experienced reporter, complains that he has written hundreds of obviously brilliant things but is sinking into the history books because of being quoted in a book (by the editor of this here magazine) as saying as he mounted a Diefenbaker campaign plane in 1962: “To work, gentlemen. We have a government to overthrow.” It was accurate, of course, and typically sardonic Sears, who once wrote of Nixon and Agnew that Spiro was “the evil of two lessers.” And who recently wrote that he presumed Maureen McTeer “pulls on her panty hose one leg at a time.” There is the subject, ahem, of sex, since the current Ottawa sport is spot-the-cabinet-minister’s-stenographer. Is turnabout fair play? Do journalists in fact have sex lives? (It seems doubtful, considering the hours imposed on them by their cruel employers). Crouse dealt with it in The Boys On The Bus by explaining that on the Nixon press jet there was the West-of-the-Potomac rule: “Nothing that happens west of the Potomac is talked about east of the Potomac.”

There was the famous case, several years back, of the two resident Press Gallery studs—typically, one anglophone, one francophone—who on a prime ministerial stop overseas had only three hours to prove their record of never failing to score abroad. To waiting cheers from their jaded colleagues, they struggled, sweating, on board the plane with minutes to go, mission accomplished. Do Medicine Hat and Etobicoke care about such seamy stuff? You betcha.

There are dozens of pack journalism judgment calls. What broadcast legend threw up on the head of a stern columnist on a Pearson plane? What name journalist, zonked, walked off the plane in Moscow smack into a Russian tuba? What byline figure, by contrast, has lead paragraphs beneath his feet like confetti? Does Cocking dare? Will Cocking have a freelance outlet left? Will he ever get on the bus?—Me, I think I’ll wait until themovie. I can’t stand blood.