The Sultan of Smarm

In the past few years, there have been two major newspaper profiles of Paul Godfrey, the bush-league politician turned multimillionaire media honcho and my onetime boss.

Both stories – in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail – had essentially the same lead, quoting Godfrey’s mother, Bess, as telling him it’s better to be lucky than smart.

Her son, now 77, appears to have overdosed on Lucky Charms.

How else do you explain Godfrey becoming publisher of the Toronto Sun without knowing a damn thing about journalism; CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays without any experience running a sports franchise, and top dog at Canada’s largest newspaper chain – and still not knowing a damn thing about journalism.

Chalk it up to chutzpah. No one not named Trump has more.

Recently, the Postmedia president and former alderman from the wilds of North York went hat in hand to Parliament Hill to ask the federal government to enrich his business.

“Advertise in our newspapers and on our websites,” he pleaded with members of a House of Commons committee last month. “We’re asking the government to be an ally, not for a bailout of the Canadian newspaper industry.”

Liberal MP Adam Vaughan pushed back, saying “there have been no fiercer critics of subsidies to the media than the Toronto Sun and the National Post,” two of Postmedia’s principal papers. “How do you square your editorial position with your corporate position?”

The long-time influential Tory insider said something about columnists having free rein, apparently not understanding writers do not establish a newspaper chain’s editorial/political viewpoint, which in Postmedia’s case is decidedly conservative.

Godfrey, undeterred pressed on … and on … and on.

It was positively Trumpian.

Postmedia owns nearly 200 newspapers in Canada, constantly folding, spindling and mutilating its properties as it chews up competition and spits out journalists.

At the same time, Godfrey, who reportedly cashed a $28 million bonanza from a newspaper deal in the late ’90s, pocketed a meagre $2 million or so in salary and bonuses last year.

Told that Postmedia could have hired – or not fired – 15 reporters with his bonus, he fired back: “Guess what? Jose Bautista’s pay could’ve probably paid a lot of people … too.”

That’s Bess Godfrey’s boy – Paulie Bats, the Sultan of Smarm.

And while Cooperstown is not calling, Godfrey is already enshrined in one hall of fame.

Last fall, he was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame – which puts the emphasis on fame.

“I was quite surprised when told I was going to be inducted,” Godfrey said. “I’m not a journalist, I don’t pretend to be a journalist.”

Whether a rare attempt at understatement or a poke at those who link the words news and journalism, he should not have been surprised.

The hall, run by the Toronto Press Club – a place that hasn’t poured a beer for a working journalist since the ’70s – honors mainly media celebrities and fat cats, not the country’s finest reporters and editors.

My introduction to Godfrey came in September 1984, shortly after he became publisher of the Sun.

I was Toronto bureau chief for United Press Canada, which had come under the thumb of the Sun when the tabloid bought control of the wire service.

That September, a bomb went off in the main railway station in Montreal. People were injured, maybe dead.

Our three reporters in Montreal went to Central Station.

At UPC’s Toronto headquarters, we worked the phones, calling police, the station, hospitals, the railroads. I cranked out leads as more information came in.

In the middle of all this, I got a call from Godfrey.

“ How we doing on the Montreal story?”

I knew who he was, that he was technically my boss, and that he had admitted when he became publisher that he knew nothing about running a newspaper and less about journalism.

“Good,” I said.

“Do we have people there?” he asked.

“Of course we have people at the scene,” I said. “Our whole Montreal bureau is there.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” he said.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Just thought I’d ask. We’re here to help you, you know.”

You could help by not by wasting my time, I didn’t say.

Or how about fetching coffee for the troops, I didn’t say.

(The pipe bomb, planted in a locker, killed three people and injured more than 40. The bomber was an American Second World War vet and serial mental patient, who thought he was Jesus and was protesting Pope John Paul’s visit to Canada the following week.)

My final encounter with Godfrey was in his first year or so as president of the Blue Jays.

It was the early 2000s, and I was producing weekend news at CBC Newsworld, occasionally venturing out as a TV reporter when a quirky story idea hit me.

This time, I was struck by the ballclub’s latest ad campaign, which featured Godfrey, the old pol, as its star.

So, I went to the ballpark to talk to Godfrey, and interview fans about the team’s latest acquisition.

What position does Paul Godfrey play? I asked.

“Shortstop?” one fan responded.

“Left field?” said another.

“Who?” said a third.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s