It’s not as if there is a shortage of sensations, from the Kurds to Rocket Ismail. There are plenty of them, of the genuine quality. It is the artificial sensations that are so annoying, so trivial, so filling of newspaper space. The standard artificial sensation is the recital of how many aeroplane trips have been taken in the past calendar year by some bedraggled politician or official in high places. This, apparently, is worthy of tall, dark headlines.
The Washington press is currently asweat over the air travels of the widely unpopular John Sununu, the pit bull who presides as George Bush’s chief of staff. Reams of newsprint in otherwise-serious newspapers are devoted to how many times he combined trips on government planes with a little skiing or visits to an ailing aunt or whatever.
In Alberta, they are chewing over the flight paths of Premier Don Getty and his cabinet ministers, as if unearthing the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Ottawa, reporters, with visions of Woodward and Bernstein dancing in their computers, annually pounce upon the details of cabinet ministers’ travels, eager for juicy red meat.
Constant reader will know that defence of downtrodden politicians is not the usual favorite role of this department. But at some stage there is the necessity to cry “Enough!” John Sununu, who has the public personality of a picket fence, is the second most powerful man in the most powerful nation on earth. He works like a dog. He is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, required to make decisions at 3 a.m. that will allow his boss to slumber undisturbed.
As the nervous White House flacks try to point out, even when flying he has to have secure communications links with the President’s office. Economy class, seat 27 B, wedged between a wailing baby and a talkative talcum salesman from Omaha, usually doesn’t provide the circumstances for that.
It doesn’t matter. Marlin Fitzwater, the portly Bush prevaricator who is paid to give half-answers to the probing questions of the scribes, in a White House briefing was asked
more times about the Sununu travels than he was about the Kurdish refugees. Incipient scandal, as we know with randy Teddy Kennedy and supposedly randy Nancy Reagan, is always more interesting than mere dying, frozen children on a far-off mountain range.
In journalism, things you can look up are always easier than things you have to find out. The supposedly incriminating evidence that Sununu actually mixed a little relaxed skiing with his governmental duties was supplied, after all, from government files and records. The shocking news on how many times federal ministers from Alberta use government jets to fly home to their loved ones is available, after all, in meticulous Ottawa files available under freedom-of-information legislation passed by government.
(The stories, incidentally, are usually written by reporters, products of good Ontario universities, who live in the cosseted, subsi-
dized backwater of Ottawa, who would never know that it would take a cabinet minister named Iona Campagnolo two days of plane connections, involving a sleep-over in Vancouver, to reach Prince Rupert in her riding.)
So reporters turn into bookkeepers. Journalists convert themselves into accountants. Chaps and chapesses who go into newspapering thinking they will be the next Lincoln Steffens or John Dafoe become filing clerks, growing blind searching through obscure records in the parliamentary library.
To look up is easier than to find out. The other day, Gilles Loiselle, the rising star in the Mulroney cabinet, confessed to a reporter that if and when the day came and he had to make a choice between Quebec and Canada, he would choose Quebec. Why doesn’t someone go through every Quebec minister in the Mulroney cabinet and ask the same question? Not with the purpose of embarrassing anyone, but the answer—if what we suspect—might be very useful in making TROC (The Rest of Canada) more serious about contemplating the loss of Quebec.
The insular blindness and mental laziness of the Mulroney regime was demonstrated in the “re-invigorating” cabinet shuffle that produced only one new face among the bloated 40-body cabinet. Why does Canada, with 26 million souls, need 40 ministers, while the Americans, burdened with 260 million, can survive with a dozen? Why doesn’t someone do a survey of all the supposedly civilized countries on the planet and do a comparison, cabinet ministers per capita?
No one has really looked into the source of Brian Mulroney’s financing that provided the cheques for
his two leadership campaigns for the Conservative top spot. With Mr. Buchanan’s recent troubles in Nova Scotia, why does someone not inspect the never-talked-about little subsidies provided to most every leader from Lester Pearson on down through, excepting the millionaires who didn’t need them?
Why does someone not do a really good look at the rather fuzzy, rather quixotic life story of Audrey McLaughlin, who could be a future prime minister? There is far more romance there than we think. It might help her, humanize her.
The laziest thing in the world is welfarebashing, always popular in the best men’s dining clubs, but a little more brave is a serious look at the many Canadian business giants who rip off the nation through tax loopholes, the true “corporate welfare bums.”
Of course, it’s much easier to peruse old airline tickets.
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