Ink stained wretch in New Brunswick

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by admin on August 5, 2009

One of the most distasteful things a newspaper publisher can do is make an abject apology on the front page of his own rag (rag being a contemptuous term for any publication that irks or offends or afflicts the comfortably affluent).

I did it just once at the prompting of my legal weasel and it rankles to this day to have had to apologize for a story that was factually black and white but with the slightest shade of grey. It had to do with a story on the building that now stores the Chelsea, Quebec Freshmart.  I apologized under duress but I did it just that once in 25 years. Other times I stood firm and complaints (not many) evaporated eventually.

My apology still rankles but its scope was miniscule compared to what transpired at New Brunswick’s St, John Telegraph Journal last month.

A little background is needed here. New Brunswick is the home of the Irving brothers, known disparagingly by the locals as Oily, Gassy and Greasy because they own the province’s gas and oil industry; most of the forests; and a lot of the businesses including most, if not all of, the newspapers in NB.  Most of the offspring joined the family firm but one, Jamie Irving, decided he wanted to be a journalist and lo and behold he became publisher of the TJ – until last week when he and his editor resigned after admitting a story was  “inaccurate and should never have been published”.

The resignations came after the TJ reported on its front page that it had inserted unsubstantiated facts into a story involving Prime Minister Harper and a wafer that the paper claimed he had pocketed instead of eating during a religious ceremony at the funeral of former Governor General Romeo Leblanc. It also said that the two reporters whose names were bylined had no knowledge of the wafer’s fate. The story went national and became “wafergate”.

It seems this was just the latest in the scion of the Irvings tossing his family weight around. Earlier the mayor of St. John was called to a meeting with the publisher and was told if he wanted favourable coverage of city hall he would have to cut taxes and get rid of the city manager.  The manager is now gone but a newly defiant mayor has challenged Irving to a public debate  and issued his own ban on dealing with the paper and its “negative coverage”.

At the same time a dozen university professors have vowed not to speak to the newspaper’s reporters until the paper rehires a student it fired for story “inaccuracies”.

It must be galling to the senior Irvings to have the family name brought into public dispute. Over the years there has been much criticism of the family’s control over so much of the province’s assets, so much so that headquarters is now in the Caribbean. But there has never been the equal of the current brouhaha.

It is said that it takes one generation to make a fortune, a second one to enlarge it and the third one to throw it away.  In neighbouring Nova Scotia the McCain family ruled economically and happily until the second generation of french fry makers when the McCain brothers split over which son was to take over. The company survived. However, Jamie Irving is in the third generation and may be a forerunner of economic ruin to come in our forest-covered eastern province.

And all because he wanted to be a journalist.