PETA, renowned for its open-mindedness and subtlety, released an ad for American Thanksgiving equating eating turkey with cannibalism.

In the video, Gillian Anderson, one of the stars of the TV show Hannibal, the latest ode to Dr. Lecter, is seen at the head of a table topped with a holiday feast. The centerpiece is a roasted human leg.

“Eating meat – it’s a matter of taste,” says Anderson, before the camera pans down to a bandaged stump at her knee.

More than 40 years ago, well before novelist Thomas Harris created Hannibal Lecter and Anthony Hopkins played him in movies, I traveled to the Northwest Territories to write about a real tale of cannibalism.

The flesh-eater in this case was Martin Hartwell, a 47-year-old German immigrant – Germans really love the Canadian wilderness – and professional bush pilot.

On November 8, 1972, he was flying from Cambridge Bay, in the High Arctic, to Yellowknife.

His passengers were Judy Hill, a 27-year-old territorial government nurse originally from Kingsbridge, England, and her patients: Neemee Nulliayok, an Inuit woman who was eight months pregnant, and her 14-year-old nephew, David Kootook, suffering from appendicitis.

Shortly after takeoff on the 500-mile flight, they ran into a fierce storm. The small plane went down, killing both women.

The boy was not hurt seriously. Hartwell had two broken legs.

Thirty-one days after the crash, the boy was dead and Hartwell was rescued.

The story came out that he had survived by eating flesh he carved from the body of Judy Hill. This became an instant sensation around the world.

One British tabloid carried the news under the headline: KRAUT EATS BRITISH NURSE.

I was at UPI-New York when the story broke, but was the wire service’s correspondent in Vancouver at the time of the coroner’s inquest, in late February 1973.

I traveled to Yellowknife for the inquiry, as did reporters from across Canada and Britain – Fleet Street couldn’t get enough of it.

About a half dozen of us were booked on the same Pacific Western Airlines milk run from Vancouver, with stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort Smith and Hay River, N.W.T.

It took all day to get to Yellowknife on a chubby Boeing 737, with the flight attendants needing to replenish the bar cart at every stop to keep the reporters from rioting.

The entertainment was supplied by the pilot, Captain Carlson, who yakked away on the PA.

“I’d like to tell you the one about the chicken and the pig,” he began one story. “Now, the chicken, she contributes to our lives by laying eggs for our breakfast. But the pig, he sacrifices his life for the bacon that we have for breakfast.

“And that’s just what my first officer and I are doing up here with you today. If anything goes wrong, we’re on the same plate as you are.”

If this wasn’t disconcerting enough for a fearful flyer on his way to cover the story of a plane crash and cannibalism, Carlson dedicated every takeoff and landing:

  • “This takeoff is for little Johnny Andreychuk, travelling with his mom, Hilda, to visit his aunt in Fort Smith.”
  • “This landing is for little Suzie Simpson, who’s taking her first flight, with her mom, Edith. And in honor of Suzie, I think I’ll let the first officer take this one – he needs the practice.”

My airborne anxiety kicked in each time the alcohol wore off. By the time we got to Yellowknife I wanted to carve up Captain Carlson and send a takeout order to Martin Hartwell.

We checked into the Yellowknife Inn, the only place in town that wasn’t a dump. The inquest was held in a ground-floor meeting room.

Each morning, I passed through the lobby, noting the locals and their kids assembled. The kids remained alone after the bar opened in the afternoon. When it closed, the adults staggered out, kids in tow.

Most evenings, in the early dark and arctic cold, after filing our stories at the telegraph office, we reporters trudged across the street to a decent steakhouse to eat and drink the night away.

My great triumph of the trip came when the New York Times picked up one of my UPI stories, though the bastards dropped my byline.

The key testimony came from a statement Hartwell gave to the RCMP. (Hartwell did not attend the inquest.)

The police had asked Hartwell: “Did you eat or consume any part of Miss Judy Hill?”

“Yes, no one else did. David didn’t,” he replied, referring to the teenager, David Kootook.

“I asked him if he would eat their bodies,” Hartwell added. “We had talked about it before but he stated that he would not eat them because his aunt had been so good to him.”

So sad. So funny – for reporters schooled in gallows humor.

We joked about Hartwell only eating the “white meat” and that the Germans got their “pound of flesh” from the Brits decades after losing the war.

Hartwell never faced any legal consequences for his cannibalism. He lost his pilot’s license for a brief time, then went back to flying for a living.

He died in Nova Scotia, in 2013, at the age of 88.


A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.





Journalist exposes loose-lipped pol

This is the story of a young reporter who quit her newspaper job over a matter of principle and became a bit of a media celebrity in recent days.

Mickey Djuric, 26, was a reporter for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald. She’d been at the paper in the small Saskatchewan city for fewer than two years when she resigned last Thursday.

Growing up in Toronto and Los Angeles, she studied journalism at Durham College in Oshawa. Her first newspaper job was at the weekly Star News in Wainwright, Alberta.

It’s a too common path for neophyte newspaper reporters – taking any job they can get in any small town, working slave hours for slave wages, learning little or nothing from editors who are in Hicksville for a reason.

For Djuric, the Times-Herald was a step up – a full-time job with benefits, with a starting salary of $28,000.

She was one of three news reporters at the paper, churning out copy at a furious rate. In 17 months, starting in June 2014, her byline or photo-credit appeared 1,745 times.

“I loved my job,” she told me. “I love Moose Jaw.”

But the beginning of the end for Djuric began on election day last month, when she recorded a victorious Conservative Tom Lukiwski uttering the words “NDP whore.”

When the two words finally hit the fan, the politics of the slur took over, with the Conservatives on the spot and the NDP on the attack.

But I was more interested in how a story sat for a month before a reporter sacrificed her job and spilled the beans.

That’s why I phoned Djuric. Here’s her version of what happened.

On election night, October 19, she was covering Lukiwski’s victory speech at the Moose Jaw Eagles Club.

Wrapping up, Lukiwski went off on a tangent, touting one of his conservative cronies running in next year’s provincial election.

“We’ve got to get Greg back elected, he’s too important of an MLA to let go down to an NDP whore.”

At that moment, Djuric was doing what most reporters do these days – tweeting with one hand, recording video with the other, too busy to pay attention.

Her ears twitched when she heard whore, but quickly decided Lukiwski wasn’t stupid enough to pull another public boner. (His prior claim to fame was being recorded in the early ’90s talking about “homosexual faggots.”)

Djuric interviewed Lukiwski after the event, didn’t ask him or anyone else about NDP whores, went back to her office, filed her story – one of three under her byline in the next day’s edition – forgot about the video, and began two weeks vacation.

She returned to work on November 2nd. Sometime that week, she noticed the election night video on her desktop, played it, and heard “NDP whore.”

She played it for her managing editor and others in the newsroom, she says, who all agreed Lukiwski said “NDP whore.”

She says she was told to sit on the story until her editor ran it by the content director for Montreal-based TC Media, which owns 170 newspapers across the country, including dailies in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

“Every move I made was under the direction of management.”

On Thursday, Nov. 12, the content director was in Moose Jaw and reviewed the video. He too heard “NDP whore,” Djuric says, and she was given the green light to write the story.

She interviewed Lukiwski by phone from Ottawa, who first said he didn’t recall the remark and called back to say he said “NDP horde.” (His party would later back him.)

She got quotes from the NDP candidate, the woman who appeared to be the target of the slur.

By Tuesday morning, Nov. 17, the story was ready to go, the video attached to the web version.

Before the day was over, she says she was told: “The story isn’t going to run – ever.”

Djuric took Wednesday off to think about what to do next. On Thursday, Nov. 19, she quit the Times-Herald, uploaded the video on YouTube, alerted the media, did some interviews, and posted a 300-word blog titled: My Resignation.

It begins: “I choose personal integrity and strong ethics over deception and censorship.”

Her managing editor, Craig Slater, told CBC News he was almost sure he heard the word “whore.” But, after Lukiwski insisted the word was “horde,” Slater said he and his superiors decided not to run the story.

“We erred on the side of caution,” Slater told CBC. “I wanted to have the responsible journalism come out and not the tabloid journalism come out.”

The same day, the paper posted an editorial headlined: “Why not run it? The Moose-Jaw Times-Herald does not practice ‘gotcha’ journalism.”

It went on to throw Djuric under the combine-harvester by noting: “The reporter failed to tell editors until almost a month after the event that anything potentially newsworthy was said.”

True. A more seasoned reporter, even one required to tweet and take pictures on every assignment, probably would have lunged at the whore quote.

But that’s no excuse for a news organization to turn to the Palin playbook and talk about “gotcha” and “tabloid” journalism.

Djuric says she’s looking for a job, has a few leads, and will probably wind up coming home to Toronto.

I wonder if any news outlet might get up on its high horse and hire her.


Here’s the video.

Twitter tail wags newshounds in Paris

Some observations and thoughts on the Paris coverage:

Tuned to CNN when I first learned of the attacks. It’s a habit I’d love to kick, but no other network gets up and running faster than the Colossus of Atlanta.

Most of what it reported on Friday was weak. There was an endless Anderson Cooper phone interview with some guy who hurt his hand opening a gate somewhere in Paris.

But Cooper did a decent job with a man who had been at the concert when the lunatics started shooting.

When I went to bed well after midnight, there were more than 150 dead. When I woke up, there were fewer than 130.


The worst question ever asked in a news interview: CNN’s Clarissa Ward to a 12-year-old boy who was at the concert – “Have you ever seen a dead body before?”

CNN announced its poaching of Ward from CBS with great fanfare in September, calling her “one of the world’s most widely respected journalists.”

Based in London, Ward is now among the legion at the network wearing the title “senior international correspondent.”

When did everyone working in journalism for more than 20 minutes become senior? Senior editor. Senior writer. Senior producer. Senior boom-mike handler.


I miss the old Toronto Star headlines that began: Star man tracks down … Star man finds … Star man interviews …

There was a Boot of the Beast quality to those stories that made me laugh.

Now, when big news breaks more than 100 kilometres from 1 Yonge, the Star’s self-promotion machine spits out this headline: The Star in (insert country, city) – as if it’s the only paper daring enough to put a reporter on a plane.

Thus, this week, we got the online headline: “The Star in Paris …The Star’s Marco Chown Oved is reporting from the ground.”

From what I’ve read, perhaps Oved should get off the ground and do some original reporting other than streeters.


As soon as I learned on Wednesday that a police dog had been among the casualties in Paris, I knew the media would be in canine heaven.

Sure enough, the Twitter tail wagged the newshounds:

  • “People use #JeSuisChien to honour police dog killed in Paris raid.” – CBC News
  • “Thousands declare ‘Je Suis Chien’ after dog killed in Paris raid.” – BBC News
  • “Outpouring of grief for Diesel, the police dog killed in Saint Denis raid.” – Sydney Morning Herald
  • “French police dog Diesel killed by jihadists during Paris raid.” – Times of India
  • “The hashtag #JeSuisChien, which means ‘I am dog,’ began trending worldwide on Twitter as people tweeted tributes to the dog.” – USA Today

Tip for men watching football and drinking beer this weekend: Tweet #jesuischien.


Some of the translations coming out of France appear a bit literal, or twisted – or the French don’t speak conversational French.

The New York Times quoted the mayor of St.-Denis saying the neighborhood where the raid occurred Wednesday has “many buildings and habitats in a disgraceful state.”

He added, according to the Times: “We are a population that needs serenity.”


Why does the media refer to webpages of hate-filled propaganda as the “ISIS magazine”?

Speaking of magazines, Ann Beattie has a wonderful piece of fiction in the New Yorker this week.


Do British universities offer a course called: How to proclaim yourself a terrorism expert and earn scads of U.S. dollars doing hits on American TV?


Do the U.S. networks have recruiting booths set up at retirement parties for FBI agents, CIA analysts, and military officers above the rank of major?



It’s always judicious for the media to use the “A” word. Alleged terrorist. Alleged murderer. Alleged Rapist. Alleged Syrian.


I saw a few interviews this week with Republican governors seeking to ban Syrian newcomers from their state. (I can’t remember whether we’re calling them migrants or refugees this week.)

Not once did I hear the interviewer ask:

  • Are you planning to close your borders?
  • Set up passport control stations on every road entering the state?
  • Build walls topped with razor wire?
  • How the hell do you plan to stop some swarthy kid getting on a Greyhound in New York from getting off in your shitty state?


Wolf Blitzer – yes, his name is really Wolf – was trying to scare the skivvies off Americans again on Wednesday, talking over an alleged ISIS video showing a guy strapping on a suicide belt and cutting to scenes of New York. (I added the “A” word.)

I wonder if Al Jazeera would air the video of my Aunt Flossie and the rest of the Gray Grannies in Arizona wearing balaclavas, toting automatic weapons, and practicing parachute drops into the desert, beside a sign that reads, Welcome to Fallujah?


Why are the alleged reporters on the Paris story at the CBC and CTV news networks on the ground in their newsrooms in Toronto?

Je suis phony baloney.

Mr. Wang takes a vacation

Item from the official Chinese government news agency:

BEIJING, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) — China’s top graft buster has urged the implementation of two new Communist Party of China regulations aimed at tightening discipline among the organization’s members … Extravagant eating and drinking and playing golf are now explicitly listed as violations of Party codes of conduct.


Wang Wei, minister of finance for Shanghai municipality and a member of the National People’s Congress, is beginning a long-planned vacation in California.

“Business or pleasure?” asks the U.S. Customs’ inspector at San Francisco International Airport.

“Business, of course,” says Mr. Wang, his words noticeably slurred.

There is some discussion of the nature of his business, which is quickly and efficiently handled by his traveling companion, Susannah Song, a Chinese-American junior executive at a global financial firm in Shanghai.

A chauffeur greets the pair and escorts them to a gleaming black Mercedes limousine.

It is a sparkling Friday morning in early autumn, often the best season in northern California.

Mr. Wang, who was knocking back scotches on the 10-hour flight, folds into his seat and immediately falls asleep.

Susannah kicks off her heels and checks her phone again. There is a text from her boyfriend, Scott, a diplomat/spy at the U.S. embassy in Beijing: “No matter what they told you at the bank, sleeping with the old pervert is not in your job description.”

She laughs, tucks her legs beneath her, leans into the plush leather, inserts earplugs and listens to Norah Jones sing Good Morning.

Susannah fights to stay awake until they pass the Palo Alto exits on the freeway. She’s only a few years out of Stanford, where she earned an MBA and played on the golf team with Michelle Wie.

Is that why they chose me for this wretched assignment? It’s her last thought before she too falls asleep.

Susannah awakens as soon as the limo stops in front of The Lodge at Pebble Beach. Mr. Wang is still snoring a few decibels beyond decorum.

She gets the bellman started with the luggage, including Mr. Wang’s prized golf clubs, tips the limo driver handsomely and negotiates the check-in procedures.

When they arrive at their ocean-view suite, Mr. Wang disappears into one of the two bedrooms without a word.

As ordered by Susannah, there is a welcome basket for Mr. Wang: a Pebble Beach golf cap, a sleeve of Titleist balls stamped with the Pebble Beach logo, a Pebble Beach bag towel, a Pebble Beach golf glove and a Pebble Beach ball marker.

Her bank is picking up the entire tab for Mr. Wang: first-class flights, three nights at the lodge, golf, meals, drinks, whatever he wants.

Satisfied with the accommodations, Susannah pads off to the other bedroom, determined not to be among Mr. Wang’s wants.


A salty mist drifts in from the Pacific. It’s dark outside. There was a message from Mr. Wang to meet him in the Tap Room at 8 o’clock.

It’s just a few minutes past the hour when she spots him sitting at the bar, alongside a man she met briefly during her initial round of interviews at the home office in London.

“Nice to see you again, Ms. Song,” says Sir Anthony Summers.

There was supposed to be an American representative of her bank waiting to join them, not one of the directors of the bank, certainly not the legendary Sir Tony.

“A little bird told me there was a spot in a foursome at Pebble Beach this weekend,” he says. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Who’s the fourth?” Susannah asks.

On cue, a lovely young Asian woman slinks into a stool beside Sir Tony.

“Ms. Song,” he says, “may I present Miss Jennifer Li. She is serving an internship with us before she goes back to Cambridge for an advanced diploma in economics.”

“Jennifer is also a former Miss Hong Kong,” Mr. Wang adds with a smirk.

“And an accomplished golfer, like yourself,” Sir Tony adds in Susannah’s direction.

She surveys the scene.

The short, puffy-faced, middle-aged Mr. Wang, an ocean away from the People’s Republic and his wife, is well on his way to his second bout of drunkenness in the past 24 hours.

He also looks ridiculous in a double-breasted blue blazer with shiny buttons, over a pink golf shirt.

Sir Tony, tall, slender and pushing 70, is wearing a back suit, with a paisley ascot tucked into a white dress shirt.

Jennifer Li, barely out of puberty, yet self-assured, sleek and sexy.

What’s the plan here? Susannah wonders.

They move to a table, where the women order pasta with a side salad and Sir Tony opts for Caesar salad and steak.

Mr. Wang, between gulps of Johnny Walker Blue, orders a platter of shrimp, calamari and chicken wings as a starter, followed by the largest slab of prime rib on the menu – the “eagle” cut – with a side of macaroni and cheese.

“I would hope a lucrative deal or two transpires after entertaining this lout,” Sir Tony whispers to Susannah.

The women have little to say throughout dinner. They covertly exchange eye-rolls more than once.

Mr. Wang keeps drinking and talking, mostly about golf. Sir Tony is unfailingly polite.

When the women return from a bathroom recess – and Mr. Wang leaves to do his business – Sir Tony confides: “It seems our Communist comrade desires a little late night cabaret, with you two having sex while he and I watch.”

Jennifer is horrified. Susannah laughs.

“I’ll keep pouring the scotch while you, Susannah, have the porter bring your things to the room I’ve arranged for you here in the lodge. I’ll put our Mr. Wang to bed and that will be that.”


The foursome is standing on the seventh tee at Pebble. It’s a cloudless morning, warm enough for shirtsleeves, waves smashing the nearby rocky shoreline.

The wind is in their faces, requiring an extra club or two on the pint-sized par-three.

Mr. Wang selects a five-iron for the 100-yard carry, hitting his preferred shot – a laser-like shank tracking toward Taiwan before splashing in the ocean. He tries again with a similar result, walks back to his cart and sits down.

“Do we have enough balls among us to get Mr. Wang through the round?” Sir Tony asks the women, who are beating the pants off the men.

They shrug. “I haven’t heard Wangy brag about his Callaways – ‘A personal gift from Phil Mickelson’ – since the first tee,” says Jennifer.

Susannah has ample time to talk with Sir Tony while Mr. Wang chases errant shots all over the Monterey Peninsula.

On the ninth fairway, with its stunning view of the Pacific, she asks why two young attractive women of Asian origin happen to be along on this outing.

“Despite my desire to be surrounded by beautiful women,” he begins, “you are here because you are laudable ambassadors for the firm, the two best golfers on the payroll, and speak fluent Mandarin in the event our Chinese friend over-imbibes and lapses into incomprehensible English.”

Sir Tony, who plays a respectable game, and the women settle into an enjoyable back nine, leaving Mr. Wang to silently sulk and curse the capitalist gods of golf.

Back in the Tap Room, Sir Tony can’t help but needle Mr. Wang about his poor play – “Lovely day to be exploring the rocks and the beach” – and his government’s new policy prohibiting party members from indulging in golf.

“You must read the fine print of the regulations,” Mr. Wang says, regaining his ministerial smugness. “You may not have a club membership, but I can get a tee time at Sheshan International any time I want.

“In fact, you all must join me for the World Golf Championship at Sheshan. Your bank is a sponsor of the tournament, you know. I’ll be in your skybox. Isn’t that right, Susannah?”

“You’re certainly welcome,” she says.


They get through another dinner, Mr. Wang switching from scotch to the most expensive French wines on the list to complement a 22-ounce porterhouse.

Sir Tony arranges for a discreet $3,000 hooker, from a discreet San Francisco service, to spend the night in Mr. Wang’s suite.

Susannah fills the next morning walking on the beach, getting a massage, catching up on her emails, Skyping with Scott, and estimating the cost of the trip – north of $100,000, she figures.

“It’s the price of doing business in China,” Sir Tony tells her on the practice range before their afternoon round.

Mr. Wang is a bit improved on the course, though he approaches each shot with the sullen demeanor of a civil servant.

After a quick post-round beer and handshakes all around, Sir Tony and Jennifer depart for the airport.

Before he leaves, he retains the hooker’s services for the evening, so Susannah can order room service and catch up on the latest episodes of The Affair on TV.

The next morning, it’s back in the limo, back to SFO, back to the first-class cabin, back home.

Mr. Wang appears to be on the wagon, his diet reduced to bottled water, crackers and carrot sticks.

He says barely a word to Susannah all the way from Pebble Beach to Shanghai.

On asking the ‘dumb’ question

I see that one of my favorite interview subjects, J. Danforth Quayle, is back in the news.

In a new biography of the first President Bush there is the assertion that young Jeb wanted poppy to replace his veep on the 1992 GOP ticket.

That’s news, I suppose, since Jeb! is trying to make it a presidential three-peat for the Bushes.

Otherwise, Dan Quayle hardly rates a media moment anymore. He was your standard-issue vapid politician of another time, when the inability to spell a simple word or utter a coherent sentence grabbed a headline.

Today, he’d have to light his perfect haircut on fire while projectile vomiting fascist viscera to gain attention from the GOP faithful.

But his mention in Jon Meacham’s book did rate a paragraph or two. And it reminded me that I hadn’t heard much about J. Danforth in the past 20 years or so.

A little poking around online reveals he’s cashed in on his notoriety as a dim-witted vice president – becoming chairman of some multi-billion-dollar investment firm.

I’m sure his greatest gifts – glad-handing and golf – are being put to good use.

When I met Quayle, in June 1994, I was writing features about books and authors for Canadian Press.

In addition to real writers, I interviewed people who interested me and happened to attach their names to a hardcover: Judy Collins, a sweet beauty of my youth; Wolfman Jack, who chain-smoked through our chat and died a few weeks later; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, the rudest man in the world.

Quayle was promoting a book he allegedly wrote titled Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir.

J. Danforth grew up in the newspaper business. His grandfather was a media tycoon, with newspapers and radio stations from Indiana to Arizona. His father was publisher of one of the family properties, the Huntington (Indiana) Herald-Press.

Young Dan declared a talent for communications when he took a PR job with the Indiana National Guard as an alternative to being drafted and shipped to Vietnam.

Once his service obligation was fulfilled, he became a lawyer and briefly assumed an associate publisher role on his father’s paper before beginning a career in politics.

I knew all this when I sat down with Quayle in his suite at the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown Toronto. And though I rarely arrived at an interview with an agenda, I had one this time.

The only question I wanted Quayle to answer was: Are you as dumb as I think you are?

This would take some finesse. First, I had to gain his confidence.

For the occasion, I wore my best – only – suit: dark blue, with a blue oxford shirt, conservative dark blue tie and black Italian loafers. (I usually wore jeans and cowboy boots to work.)

He greeted me with a handshake, a smile and a slightly off-center look. I didn’t know what that meant. Maybe he was cockeyed.

“How’s your golf game?” I began. I knew he played on the DePauw University team with his roommate, the TV golf analyst Mark Rolfing, and was making some appearances on the celebrity circuit.

I moved on to his plans for running for president in 1996, which gave me an opening to turn to passages in his book where he addressed his three most memorable bloopers:

  • Visiting a class of elementary school students preparing for a spelling bee – and correcting the word “potato” by putting an “e” at the end.
  • Turning the motto of the United Negro College Fund – A mind is a terrible thing to waste – into: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind, or not to have a mind is very wasteful.”
  • Attacking a fictional character, TV’s Murphy Brown, for having a child out of wedlock.

Since my question – Are you as dumb as I think you are? – could never be phrased that way, I tried this: Do you think the gaffes will hamper a run for the White House?

His answer allowed me to write this lead:

TORONTO (CP) – Dan Quayle says his reputation as a dim bulb could help light his path to the White House.

The former U.S. vice-president said Thursday that voters in the 1996 presidential election might have a soft spot for someone who was unmercifully mocked by the media for misspelling potato and picking a fight with Murphy Brown.

“If I decide to run, in a weird way, this could be quite helpful,” the conservative Republican said in his downtown hotel suite before a lunchtime speech to the right-wing Fraser Institute and a brief news conference.

“There will be a natural tendency to say, ‘here’s an underdog, here’s somebody who’s getting off the mat, here’s somebody who’s been treated grossly unfairly. Let’s give him a break.’”

And he helped round out the story – and answer my original question – by quoting from his speech:

“The Republicans are going through the normal out-of-party syndrome.” (Presumably, he meant “out-of-power.”)

“I think he (President Bill Clinton) is obviously a very quick learn.” (Presumably, he meant “quick study.”)

To quote a 12-year-old at that New Jersey school: “He’s an idiot.”


A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.


Mansbridge hangs with two Trudeaus

I came away from Peter Mansbridge’s tag-along with Justin Trudeau thinking the new PM is better on TV than the old anchor.

Throughout the 25-minute mini-doc on CBC’s The National, Trudeau appears comfortable in the momentous moment, self-assured and articulate.

Mansbridge seems lost in a sentimental journey of his own design, clumsily stuck in the cliché of the son succeeding the father.

The piece begins on an early morning ride up the elevator in the Peace Tower, where Trudeau will raise the flag on his first day as prime minister.

Mansbridge: “Remember your first time going up?”

Trudeau: “No, I think my dad made us take the stairs.”

Atop the tower, Mansbridge presses on: “Anything special about this flag, in terms of family history?”


Next stop, the PM’s office: “You remember this?”

“It’s totally different from when I was a kid.”

The Sage of Front Street persists: “Sometimes, when you go from childhood to adulthood, things that you thought were big look much smaller.”

“Um, yeah. But this, it’s fairly big.”

Mansbridge isn’t getting much, no blubbering about the past. Time to move on. Do some reporting.

Instead, he turns to one of Trudeau’s two kids.

“Enjoy, that?” the 67-year-old anchorman asks six-year old Ella-Grace. “That was fun, eh?”

She nods.

The 43-year-old Trudeau appears as cool as his daddy, though more polite and less haughty.

He is also more observant than the one-time reporter as they sit side by side in a limo, en route to the next stop on their tour.

“Are we wearing the same tie?” Trudeau asks.

They fondle their neckwear, compare, and decide they’re similar but not exactly the same color or brand name.

The segment in the limo, Mansbridge one on one with Trudeau, is the longest Q&A of the piece.

There are predictable questions about the adjustment the new PM will have to make, living in the bubble of armored limos and RCMP protection, before Mansbridge returns to the ghost of Papa Pierre.

“You’ve mentioned your father a couple of times and I’ve asked about him and people do all the time. Did you ever talk to him about the possibility of this one day?”

Trudeau recalls “one awkward” conversation about politics in “maybe the last year of his life,” but there’s nothing revelatory.

For me, the most telling moment comes when they’re in the front seats of a bus, all the newly sworn-in Liberal ministers behind them.

“When you turn around and look at the people you put in cabinet,” Mansbridge says, “we’re on a BUS, heading up to Parliament Hill. It’s symbolism, I guess, not limos – a BUS.”

Trudeau talks about being part of a team.

“Still,” says Mansbridge, “it feels like you should be singing a we’re-going-to-camp song. Kumbaya, or something, in the background.”

“Maybe that’s your experience on the bus, Peter, but a lot of people take the bus every day to go to work.”


Who’s the one living in the bubble? The kid who grew up at 24 Sussex or the celebrity anchor?

In his element, Mansbridge is a colossus: The unchallenged heavyweight champion of the newsroom; the one everybody sucks up to; the one whose power bears the gift of gravitas.

During my 10 years at CBC, beginning in the late ’90s, my first and only experience in TV news, I never understood the reverence afforded any anchor.

A few were smart. Many were dumb. I never knew Mansbridge well enough – worked with him only a few times – to decide in which category he fit.

But you’d think a journalist spending Day One with a new prime minister would elicit some real news.

There was none in the doc. And, a story that day under Mansbridge’s byline on the CBC News website, merely amplified his only interest, his preoccupation with fathers and sons.

The text includes such chestnuts as:

“It would have been impossible for Pierre Trudeau not to have played some role in Wednesday’s swearing-in spectacle.”

Sorry, he couldn’t get a day-pass from St-Rémi-de-Napierville Cemetery.

“Over the several hours Justin Trudeau spent in front of a camera and tethered to a microphone for a documentary by CBC’s The National, it is clear memories of his father were threaded through his thoughts.”

Clear? Weren’t you the only one singing The Way We Were?

“The memories of his dad were waiting for him in his new office.”

Where you asked about his childhood memories.

“They had to be outside of 24 Sussex Drive when Trudeau pulled up in front of the empty executive mansion for the first time in years.”

Had to be? Is mindreading covered in the CBC style guide?

“What was Trudeau thinking as the armored sedan wound around the drive of his old home?”

“This is weird,” was all he would offer.

That’s because he isn’t joining your trip down memory lane.

“Trudeau would later insist publicly that few of his thoughts on this day would be dedicated to the father … ‘My thoughts today – sorry, Dad – aren’t mostly on him,’ he told reporters outside Rideau Hall.”

Sorry, Peter.