CANADALAND Strong-Armed me into Writing this

EDITOR: Journalist Mark Bourrie responds here to this CANADALAND post by David Akin. Bourrie will appear on CANADALAND on Monday, April 20 to discuss the issue.

EDITOR: Journalist Mark Bourrie responds here to this CANADALAND post by David Akin. Bourrie will appear on CANADALAND on Monday, April 20 to discuss the issue. 

I do not believe I should have been strong-armed into talking about my relationship with Mike Duffy in the media. I believe I should have been able to give my evidence at trial. I believe I should have been afforded the protection of privilege (immunity from a libel suit) in testifying, and that, although sub judice contempt of court is no longer enforced (especially in judge-alone cases), I should follow the rules regarding arguing a case in the media while a court case is going on.

However, if I had waited to do so, my reputation would have been destroyed by Jesse Brown and David Akin, here and on social media. Since everything I do for a living – writing books, teaching, writing articles, and, in few years, practicing law – depends on other people making decisions about me based on the quality of my reputation, I felt like the most important asset I have is under attack.

Responsible journalism requires the subject of a story to be told one is being written. Jesse Brown and David Akin did not do that. It requires the person written about to have a chance to reply. They pushed ahead when I believed my hands were somewhat tied for the reasons I mentioned, and I had no idea there was a story in the works. All I had was emails of questions from a person who, to my knowledge, had been unemployed since Sun News Network folded.

I had no idea CANADALAND was publishing anything about me until the item appeared. David Akin sent me a series of emails late April 10 that never mentioned CANADALAND. In fact, it was his first story for CANADALAND, which should have set off a few alarm bells for Jesse.

Akin and I have a history. I had implored Akin to leave me alone until I testified. He and Canadaland went ahead. I spoke with the RCMP, then decided I really had no choice but to try to protect my reputation, first with a blog post, now this.

So what was so wrong with CANADALAND’s story? Basically, it says I’m a crook, that I sell coverage to Mike Duffy and deceive my “audience” while doing so.

That’s not true, I believe it’s libelous and damaged my reputation.

Yes, I was technically a member of the press gallery when I did research for Duffy. So is Christopher Waddell, quoted in the CANADALAND story, even though he’s a professor at Carleton University and glows nicely on the provincial Sunshine List. The Press Gallery bylaws say members should make most of their living by covering Parliament. Like many other Gallery rules, this one is rarely enforced. There has long been an understanding that authors and other kinds of writers who need Gallery access to do their research should get Gallery access but, despite years of off-and-on talk, the rules are the same as they were 75 years ago.

In 2009, I was a full-time instructor at Concordia University in Montreal. Mike Duffy asked me to do some research work on how to deal with troll posts on the Internet. Duffy had been a friend of mine for 15 years. His desk was next to mine in the Press Gallery newsroom, before I went to Concordia in 2007 and he went to the Senate in 2009.

I had not written about the Senate in at least three years as I was no longer doing legal reporting that required me to cover its justice committee. So I did some research over the course of several months. We had never talked about me being paid and I did not expect to be paid. I did decide to never write about Duffy — to recuse myself, basically, from covering him and the Senate, just because of the fact that he was my friend and I had been to his home. I tried never to develop personal friendships with politicians and kept my personal life and media work very separate.  (This is a much higher standard than usual for Ottawa reporters.) Several times, he asked me to ask my wife for legal advice. She did not provide him with any or talk to him.

Months later, he sent a cheque to my wife, who had just been called to the Bar. We sent it back. Then he sent a cheque to me from what appeared to be his own company. Since I did not believe I was in any kind of conflict, I cashed it. At that point, I was working full-time on a book that required me to have access to Gallery records and pictures, and to the Library of Parliament. (The book was about censorship in World War II. Four former members of the Gallery were senior press censors, and at least three of them went back to the Gallery after the war.)

Journalism ethics require people to recuse themselves in conflicts of interest and disclose conflicts where they don’t recuse. I did both of those things.

I never wrote about Duffy again except in a positive review of Dan Leger’s book (where I declared my friendship with Duffy), in a blog post where I talked about my friendship with Duffy and to mention Duffy’s “insider” journalism and his Senate expense scandal in my book. (I had to put in something about it.) I never sold Duffy coverage, never wrote journalism that was compromised by my relationship, did nothing unethical in any way. If the Press Gallery had a method of declaring potential conflicts, I would have availed myself of it. (This is the same press gallery, by the way, that is now soliciting corporate clients for its annual dinner, to which many journalists invite lobbyists.)

Duffy continues to be my friend. He and I do not share the same politics. Right now, he is in a lot of trouble. He is still my friend. He may go to jail. I will visit him if he does. I try to be a good friend, even when my friends stumble.

Now, let’s talk about what $500 buys you. It looks like a lot when you say “freelance writer” because people think freelancers live hand-to-mouth. I don’t. $500 is my standard per diem when I do journalism. I am part of the Canadian Writers Group, which are Canada’s best, and best-paid, magazine writers. When I teach a course, my effective pay is about $100 an hour. I have a Master’s in Journalism and a PhD in History specializing in the history of news control. On the open market, people with a doctorate can expect between $50 and $100 an hour for freelance research. The law school at the University of Ottawa pays research assistants with graduate degrees $48 an hour.

And $500 is just $20 more than I donate to CANADALAND each year.

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