How Toronto’s Evening Papers Slanted the Election News
Two leading papers fought the election and a private war in the same ring. But what happened to the news?
TORONTO’S evening papers, the Star with a circulation of 375,100 and the Telegram with 200,464 according to the March audited figures, are the two largest English evening newspapers in Canada.
Both newspapers have declared allegiance to the democratic ideal of a free Press and both have made public profession of faith in the principle that a newspaper is obliged to report the news impartially, giving all sides of a question under public consideration.
When George McCullagh, publisher of Toronto’s Globe and Mail (219,265), became publisher of the Telegram last Dec. 1, he informed his readers in a front-page message that “. . . the Telegram will be
independent in politics ... it will seek to give fair treatment to all parties.”
In a speech to his assembled staff, he said: “Freedom of the Press, as I understand it, is freedom of the Press for the ordinary people, not for any Press lord or publisher. The news columns will be free from coloring and, outside of interpretative writing, reporters will stay to the facts. The newspaper will have its opinions on the editorial page and reporters will not be permitted to blend their stories to suit the newspaper’s editorial policy. Socialists, Communists, or any other recognized political party must be reported thoroughly and accurately ...”
While Harry C. Hindmarsh, president of the Toronto Daily Star, seldom makes statements under his own name, his devotion to a free and fair Press can be gleaned from editorials that have appeared in his newspaper. For example, in a front-
page editorial on March 29, 1949, the following section of the will of the late publisher, Joseph E. Atkinson, was reprinted:
“The publication of the paper will be conducted for the benefit of the public in the continued frank and full dissemination of news and opinions.” Again, on May 4, 1946, the Star published, approvingly, a British statement on freedom of the Press, which read in part: “If food was adulterated and contaminated as news, there would be a public outcry from one end of the country to the other.” How did the two feuding newspapers live up to their professed ideals in the reporting of the recent election campaign?
Some Men Had Photos Taken
TO ANSWER this question, both newspapers have been compared, issue for issue, from May 10, when the election campaign was formally opened, until June 27, election day. Here are some of the conclusions that have been reached:
1. During one test week—the last week of the campaign—the Star gave five times as much news space to the Liberal Party as it did to the Progressive Conservative Party. The Telegram gave five times as much space to the Progressive Conservatives as it did to the Liberals.
2. The Star gave the CCF party 2.4% of its total political news coverage in that week; the Telegram gave the CCF 2.6%. Both papers virtually ignored the smaller parties.
3. Headlines were used to support each paper’s political views.
4. Accounts of the same event appearing in the Telegram and in the Star were often highly contradictory. So far as these two papers were concerned, in such cases there was no way in which the reader could find out what actually had happened.
Here is a breakdown of the campaign coverage during the week of June 20 to June 25 inclusive. Space is computed in inches. Editorial page and advertising matter are excluded from this count; so is interpretative writing which makes even the slightest attempt at impartiality. Included are reports of speeches, broadcasts, meetings, interviews, material supporting the claims of parties and candidates, etc.
Liljerals........... 1,734 inches 290 inches
Prog. Cons......... 355 inches 1,402 inches
CCF.............. 52 inches 45 inches
Others............. 0 inches 4 inches
During that week the Star was sprinkled with 85 photographs of a political nature, which covered approximately 3,250 square inches, including captions. Of these, 73 (or approximately 2,800 square inches) were of Louis St. Laurent, his family, Liberal candidates and their supporters. All but one of the remaining 12 photographs pointed up what the Star called the “sinister alliance” between George Drew, Camilien Houde and Maurice Duplessis. Typical were two photographs of George Drew chatting with Maurice Duplessis, one of which was headed SHALL DUPLESSIS RULE CANADA? These were the only two photographs of George Drew to appear in the Star since the campaign got under way on May 10.
Of the Telegram’s 43 political photographs 40, or approximately 1,625 square inches, were published in the interests of George Drew and other Conservative candidates. During the entire campaign only two pictures of St. Laurent appeared in the Telegram.
To what extent did each paper cover the political events of the day?
On Wednesday, June 15, for example, the Star covered eight Liberal rallies which the Telegram ignored. The Telegram covered four Progressive Conservative speeches which the Star ignored and printed four other political items, all antiLiberal (example: The booing of The St. Laurent Story, a movie short, at a local cinema) which the Star did not carry.
Throughout the campaign the two papers carried contradictory reports of attendance at various political meetings.
On June 3, the Telegram wrote of a St. Laurent rally: “The Goderich (Ont.) grandstand, which
seats about 1,500, was by no means crowded.” Two Star men had different versions. One reporter wrote, “He (St. Laurent) told the 2,200 people at an open air meeting . . .” Another Star reporter recorded, “He (St. Laurent) jumps to his feet and greets the crowds with a wave. Three thousand people roar ...”
When Drew spoke at Moose Jaw, Sask., the Star (June 6) noted that, “The Conservative leader spoke to an audience of about 1,500 people.” According to the Telegram (June 6), “nearly 3,000 people turned up.”
On June 7, Telegram reporter Norman Campbell, who covered Drew’s rally in Brandon, Man., departed from his usual practice, and included no estimate of the attendance in his story. The Star’s correspondent, Dennis Braithwaite, reported, “when (Drew) spoke at the arena, which seats close to 5,000, barely 500 came to hear him. The entire centre of the arena was empty except for a Press table and members of a local band.”
The two papers were farthest apart in their estimates (June 20) of the number of people who met Drew at the railway station in Quebec City. The Star noted that “a total crowd of about 400” met the train. The Telegram had him greeted “by a crowd of close to 3,000.”
What sort of reception did the leaders of the two major parties receive when they toured the country? Torontonians who tried to find out by reading both the Star and the Telegram were in constant danger of. developing a split personality.
From Lacombe, Alta., for instance, the Telegram reported (May 28), “The meeting indoors at the fair grounds was made up almost entirely of farm folks . . . the size and spontaneous enthusiasm of the meeting was a pleasant surprise to Progressive Conservative organizers.”
The Star reporter wrote, . . the afternoon meeting here, attended by about 600 people, mostly high school students let out of classes for the occasion ...”
How Many Hecklers? Come again?
THE papers on June 18 were full of accounts of Drew’s invasion of Oshawa, Ont., stronghold of the automobile workers’ union. The Star’s description of the event was headed:
1,000 OUT OF 3,000 BOO
DREW AT OSHAWA MEET HECKLING IS CONSTANT
The Star story told how “George Drew was heckled at a jam-packed political meeting here last night . . . Mr: Drew repeatedly referred to his detractors as a ‘small minority’ and ‘a handful of hoodlums’ ... If they were a minority they were the biggest minority that ever crowded into one hall to hear a political speech. They were a noisy ‘minority’ numbering perhaps 1,000.”
How many hecklers did the Telegram count? According to correspondent Norman Campbell, “Fewer than three hundred Socialists were there determined to prevent Mr. Drew having a hearing . . .” However, only a few inches away there was a picture by photographer Nelson Quarrington with the caption, Continued on page 53 “Typical hecklers at the Oshawa meeting are pictured above. The disturbers, numbering about a score, were mostly young men in sports shirts and zoot pants.”
A few nights later Drew arrived in Quebec City. Of this event, the Star (June 20) wrote: “All afternoon and
evening Progressive Conservative organizers dashed about the city trying to persuade a crowd to be present at the station at 11 p.m. when Mr. Drew’s train arrived . . . there was no demonstration and no cheering except from a party group which surrounded Mr. Drew himself . . . French - language newspapermen here consider that it was a very poor reception indeed for the leader of a national party.”
Here’s what the Telegram had to say: “George Drew has been welcomed to Quebec. Beyond any question he has been welcomed and the welcome has been tumultuous . . . the crowd burst through the cordon of special police recruited to maintain order . . . the Drews were swept through Quebec City in a honking motorcade that stretched for well over a mile . . .”
On June 21, St. Laurent held what was probably his most important political meeting in Canada in Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto. The two papers agreed that more than 13,000 people attended. The most significant news about the meeting, according to the Telegram (June 22), were the adventures of an anonymous heckler from Saint John, N.B. The meeting itself was relegated to page three, while the heckler was written up on page one.
Under the head “Phooey!” the heckler was shown in a 5 Yi by 7 Yi photograph, with his arm raised in anger and disgust. The caption explained that the man was “abandoning the rally even before Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent rose to address it. His one attempt at heckling, he said, brought warning from burly attendants to keep quiet or his face would be ‘smashed in.’
An interview with the heckler was featured in a story below the picture which carried the headline RALLY STRONG-ARM SQUAD CURBS HECKLERS BY FEAR. The Telegram reporter quoted the N.B. heckler: “I daren’t give you my name and I daren’t go back in there. They’d massacre me.”
“The Facts Are Different”
What did the Star have to say about the heckler from Saint John? The man booed. Then, “He was advised by a Gardens attendant that he would have to leave the audience if he continued to make a disturbance. The man left his seat muttering ... he was neither threatened nor ‘hustled out’ of the meeting . . . He walked out of the Gardens unescorted after a reporter and photographer from Toronto’s other evening newspaper had unsuccessfully pleaded with him to stage another demonstration. When he refused to do this, they persuaded him to pose with raised arms as he came out of the street door of the building.”
“Out on Carlton Street the two renewed their demands on the man, who, obviously anxious to get away, agreed to walk through the door again. The first try wasn’t successful. He looked too much like any other taxpayer emerging from a political rally. Not until he raised his arm and tried
to look disgusted did the photographer’s bulb flash.”
While the Prime Minister was preparing for that rally, the Opposition leader was driving into Granby, Que., followed by a cavalcade of cars. A reception was described in a 25-inch story in the Star (June 22) by correspondent Dennis Braithwaite, headlined DREW “TAKEN ABACK” AS “OPEN HOSTILITY” HITS HIM AT GRANBY.
The Telegram, which had been steadily reporting Drew’s conquest of French Canada, commented editorially on Braithwaite’s report. “The facts are quite different,” said the editorial (June 24). “Mr. Braithwaite was not even at Granby. He was not within miles of that city when Mr. Drew held his meeting . . . The Braithwaite byline was a complete falsehood, as was the entire story. Mr. Drew received an enthusiastic welcome and tremendous ovation at Granby, as he has everywhere in Quebec.”
St. Laurent, Feeble and Vigorous
Heckling was back in the headlines on June 25—this time at a Drew meeting in the Belleville, Ont., arena. “A group of husky Progressive Conservative supporters,” said the Star, “resorted to violence to silence and disperse 10 young men who booed and heckled George Drew . . . Five of the hecklers were surrounded and beaten by from 30 to 40 enraged Drew followers . . . local policemen on duty made no effort to intervene in the fight and went up to the gallery only after the hecklers had been routed and the Progressive Conservative strong-arm boys had come down . . .”
According to the Telegram reporter’s version of the fracas, the police played an active role and the incident closed when, “As nearly as I could ascertain, five men were thrown out of the arena by the police . . .”
And what was Drew doing while all this was going on? Says the Star: “Mr. Drew stopped speaking and watched from the platform . . . His laughter and evident enjoyment spurred the attack on . . .”
Observed the Telegram: “1 could
hear George Drew talking down below. ‘I must explain to you, ladies and gentlemen,’ lie said, evidently for the benefit of the air audience, ‘that there has been a commotion here.’ Then I couldn’t hear any more for the people around me were shuffling in their seats and drowned out his words.”
Does St. Laurent genuinely love children? Anyone who read the preelection issues of the Star is bound to answer yes. Dozens of pictures of the Prime Minister with children were published in the Star. He was photographed playing with them, talking to them, kissing them. In Nova Scotia, he was mobbed by youngsters (Star, May 19) who wanted to shake his hand. In Moncton. N.B., a little girl gave him a bunch of flowers and afterward said, “My he’s nice” (Star May 21). In the Goderich area (Star, June 3) he was “swerved off his course by mothers and babies.” On June 4 a Star headline noted that LOVE OF CHILDREN WRECKS ST. LAURENT TOUR SCHEDULE.
Telegram reporters, however, succeeded from time to time, in casting some doubt. According to the Telegram (June 3) some of the photos published as spontaneous were taken under the direction of “a photographer employed by a Liberal pamphlet.”
“Inwardly,” notes the Telegram, during a baby-kissing episode, “the Prime Minister was rebelling against these demands to dramatize his affection for children for the cause of propaganda ... at every whistle stop they (St. Laurent’s Ontario sponsors) gather the young around him with ice cream cones as bribes. It is supposed to be grand stuff for propaganda.”
On page one of the same day’s issue of the Telegram there is a large picture of Drew and three-year-old Betty Spencer of New Westminster, B.C. As the caption explains, “Betty is really enjoying meeting George Drew—with whom she is sharing her sunshade.” What physical and mental effects did the grueling seven-week campaign have on 67-year-old St. Laurent?
On the evening of June 24, James Y. Nicol of the Telegram saw the Prime Minister in action at Bannerman Park, St. John’s, Nfld., and wired his paper (June 25) as follows:
“Today the leader of a once great political party faces the electors of Canada, confused, bewildered and vexed. His campaign, to which he intended to lend great dignity, ended up here in a rollicking burlesque . . . Overcome with shame—both for himself and his political affiliations—Mr. St. Laurent last night in his final appeal to the nation was unable to deal in a forthright manner with the main issues concerning the electorate ... he delivered his most feeble address.”
Exactly 48 hours later, Jack Karr of the Star listened to a speech by the same St. Laurent in the broad churchyard of St. Fidele in Quebec City. Following are bits from his story (June 27):
“Precisely at 11.10 last night, the Prime Minister completed a campaign tour . . . And as his last words rang out . . . Ix>uis St. Laurent was stronger in voice and seemingly stronger in body than he had been at the outset of the tour . . . His step was brisk, his eyes were bright and there was a vigor in his voice . . .” Under normal circumstances, the editors of rival papers often show an uncanny unanimity in selecting the most important stories for page one and in extracting the most newsworthy section for headline treatment. This, however, was seldom true o'" the Telegram and Star in their treatment of the election news.
When St. Laurent gave his opening election broadcast, for example, the Star (June 9) gave it a front-page banner headline SOCIAL SECURITY LIBERAL PLEDGE followed by a 35-inch story.
The Telegram of the same date ignored the speech, but found space on their front page to start a 46-inch story about Judge J. A. McGibbon of Lindsay, Ont., who after 16 years of being forced to use the women’s powder room, had been voted one of his own by the Victoria County Council.
Looking for an Angle
Of Drew’s speech in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the Telegram headline (May 10) read SAVE CONFEDERATION BY VOTE IN JUNE DREW PLEDGE, while the Star’s was DECENTRALIZE OTTAWA WHEN WE WIN—DREW SAYS.
Reporting the St. Laurent rally at Lunenburg, N.S., the Telegram’s headline (May 14) was OWN POLICY VAGUE ST. LAURENT’S BLAST AT PC PARTY IS DUD. The Star version: NEW US TREATY TO AID CANADIAN EXPORTER PREMIER ANTICIPATES.
At Stratford, Ont., the Prime Minister gave a long address on housing, the CNR, and Canadian prosperity. This was duly recorded in the Star (June 3) by a 50-inch story under the head, READY TO AID ANY PLAN TO BUILD DECENT HOMES ST. LAURENT DECLARES.
The Telegram version was 17 inches long. It was headed, ST. LAURfilNT FATIGUED CUTS HANDSHAKING HURRIES FROM MEET. Half the space was devoted to the “fatigue” and the attempts of a member of the audience to ask an embarrassing question. The remainder of the story— approximately eight inches-—deals with the speech proper in negative terms. For example: “He attempted to dis-
miss Opposition Leader George Drew’s criticism of North Star plane contracts simply by saying . . .” “He brushed off the housing shortage with these remarks . . .”
The Star noted (June 6) that St. Laurent’s speech at St. Appollinaire, Que., represented “the highest kind of statesmanship” and ran it under the head FORGET I’M A CATHOLIC VOTE FOR ME AS MAN ST. LAURENT TO QUEBEC.
The Telegram’s headline was less laudatory: ST. LAURENT SHUNS
ANSWER TO CHARGES OF RACIAL TACTICS.
Sometimes a political angle was injected into nonpolitical stories. On June 21 the Star published the following dispatch about the opening of the Fifth Canadian Penal Congress in Kingston:
PRISON REFORMS SAID GREATEST UNDER LIBERALS. “During the last three years of the Liberal administration greater advances were made in the care and treatment of prisoners than in the previous century, J. Alex Edmison told the Fifth Canadian Penal Congress . . .”
Edmison said no such thing. I covered the congress as a radio correspondent, followed Edmison’s speech from a typewritten copy. Similar copies were distributed to all news
papermen there. It was a nonpolitical speech and at no time was the name of the Liberal administration mentioned.
The Star’s headline and lead were derived from the following excerpt: “I submit that there has been more constructive advance in the science of penology in Canada during the past three years than in all the previous 97.”
Throughout the campaign a small army of nameless people worked overtime, and they deserve a mention here. These were the people who allowed themselves to be quoted in the Star in support of the Liberals, and in the Telegram, on behalf of the Conservatives. They included: “A prominent Quebecer,” “A veteran Liberal,” “A well-known Drew backer,” “A responsible official,” “A prominent Union Nationale party official,” “Political peers,” “Key people,” “An honest person looking at the election objectively,” “Minor party officials,” “An informed political source,” “A political writer.”
Both the Star and the Telegram squeezed whatever political advantage they could out of the news of the day.
On June 3, the Canadian Press (CP) sent out a routine story based on a release by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Both papers carried the release—but in slightly different form.
The Star gave it 1 inches on page one wdth the heading LIVING INDEX SHOWS SLIGHT RISE. The story “Ottawa June 3 (CP)—Canada’s costof-living index, showing a slight upward trend for the second successive month, rose a fifth of a point during April from 159.3 to 159.5, the bureau of statistics reported today.”
In the Telegram this news made the front-page banner headline LIVING COSTS NEAR RECORD. The head-
ing, over a six-inch story, said, UP TO 159.5 DEARER FOOD, CLOTHING.
One of the great unanswered questions of the 1949 election campaign is, “Which film was booed more—The St. Laurent Story or The Drew Story?” Torontonians who bought both the Star and the Telegram in the hope of finding an answer were more than a little confused. On June 13, a red banner across page one of the Star announced TORONTO SPECTATORS BOO ‘DREW STORY’ OFF SCREEN. The same day, a Telegram headline declared DENY FILM ON DREW BOOED OFF SCREEN.
Where Was the Smart Money?
On the last newspaper day before the election (June 25), the editors of both papers sent reporters to Toronto’s financial district to see what odds were being offered on the outcome of the election. The Star headline: BAY STREET ‘WRITES OFF’ DREW’S ELECTION CHANCES. The Telegram headline: LIBERALS ARE AFRAID TO RISK CASH ON PARTY.
According to the Star reporter, all brokers interviewed were unanimous in their opinion that George Drew would lose. “And what’s more,” the reporter wrote, “there’s big money to back it up.” Another broker was quoted as saying, “. . . Most of the smart money is against Drew.”
The Telegram reporter interviewed “a broker who is in the habit of placing bets for customers and associates.” He stated that “there is no Liberal money being offered on the Toronto Stock Exchange to back their talk that they are going to win the election.”
Both papers—but particularly the Star—ended their election coverage (June 25) in an editorial frenzy. The first edition of the Star had a three-line banner occupying 88 inches which read:
KEEP CANADA BRITISH
DESTROY DREW’S HOUDE
GOD SAVE THE KING
In later editions the last line was changed to VOTE ST. LAURENT.
Also on page one were two pictures headed, SHALL IT BE PATRIOT OR ISOLATIONIST? One was an excellent, dignified full-face portrait of the Prime Minister; beside him was the now-famous photograph of Mayor Camilien Houde of Montreal, in shirt sleeves, looking huge. On page three, there were another five unflattering photographs of Houde.
The same day the Telegram pulled all the stops in playing up George McCullagh’s speech the evening before which claimed the Star Weekly was favored by the government because it didn’t pay the 8% sales tax on newsprint. On page one, there was a banner line which read:
LIBERALS PAYING OFF STAR
This story occupied two columns on page one, practically all of page three, and more than half of page 16.
Although the McCullagh speech (according to the Telegram) was carried over 80 - odd radio stations throughout the country, the Star did not report it but contented itself with a front-page editorial pointing out that the Star Weekly was exempt from the tax because it was classified as a magazine.
At the campaign’s end, the Star boasted on page one of it’s June 24 issue: “No election has been covered
as the Star has covered this one.”
Many Toronto newspaper readers will agree with this claim. They only hope that the Star—and the same goes for the Telegram too—won’t repeat its performance when the next election rolls around. ★