Media and Mulroney (Nov 15, 2007)

Canada’s media have some answering to do

There are still way more questions than answers. The first, and most important, of course, is why did Brian Mulroney, a former prime minister of Canada, accept $300,000 in cash in brown envelopes at clandestine meetings with Karlheinz Schreiber, a shady German-Canadian influence peddler?

A second question is when did Stephen Harper, the current prime minister of Canada and a recent friend of Mr. Mulroney’s, first discover that Schreiber was claiming the arrangements for the $300,000 payout were made while Mulroney was still prime minister, and what did Harper do about it?

But there’s a third question — not much asked on editorial pages. How and why did Canada’s paper-trained parliamentary puppy press gallery and their bosses in most major news organizations manage, for close to a decade, to not only ignore but also actively, dismissively dismiss what will ultimately be one of the great scandals in Canadian political history?

That last question, one hopes, will not be part of the public inquiry Stephen Harper has now commendably, if belatedly, set in motion — it will have more than enough on its plate — but it is our subject today.

And it should be the subject of soul-searching in most major newsrooms in the country.

While there were a few exceptional exceptions — the CBC’s dogged Fifth Estate (though not its national news division), the late-awakening but now finally-fully-in-the-game Globe and Mail and the much-maligned freelance journalist Stevie Cameron pretty much exhausts the short long list — the reality is that Canada’s news media embarrassed themselves by their kiss-the-canvas collapses on this story.

In 1995, conveniently on the same day the story leaked that the RCMP was investigating Mulroney, Schreiber and former Newfoundland premier-turned-premier-lobbyist Frank Moores in connection with the 1980s sale of Airbus aircraft to Air Canada, Mulroney launched a pre-emptive multimillion dollar lawsuit against the federal government.

Perhaps predictably, the news media chose to focus on the politics of the battle and steer clear of the substance of the allegations to avoid being drawn into Mulroney’s legal crosshairs.

But, in fact, they did much more — and less — than that.

They even applied editorial pressure on the government and the RCMP to shut down the police investigation. “No such crime was committed,” declared the Globe in January 2000. “The case must be formally and publicly closed,” chimed in the National Post.

They didn’t seem eager to find out how Karlheinz Schreiber — already facing charges in Germany for bribing politicians and tax evasion — had distributed $8 million worth of schmiergelder (grease money) Airbus had handed him to help grease the sale of their jets to Air Canada. Or why Schreiber had set up 10 secret Swiss bank accounts with crudely coded names of Canadian political figures.

Except for the Fifth Estate, no journalist asked what Schreiber meant when he boasted to the German magazine der Spiegel that “I could create the most horrible Watergate here in Canada when I want to.”

Instead in 2000, when the RCMP abandoned their investigation, the national editorialists pronounced themselves “relieved for Mr. Mulroney,” and thankful that the “baseless, unjustifiable intrusion on Mr. Mulroney’s post-PM life, one bordering on harassment,” was finally at an end.

In 2003, when the Globe inadvertently tripped over the fact of the $300,000 payment, it did its best to slip it under the rug, burying the news in the 26th paragraph of the third installment of a series that actually focused on attacking journalist Stevie Cameron for her “vendetta” against Mulroney.

No wonder there were only two stories in the week following the revelation, one of which was a largely self-congratulatory report by the Star’s ombudsman, praising its lack of coverage of the Globe revelations.

In 2006, a week after The Fifth Estate broadcast a full-show documentary featuring the first sit-down interview with Schreiber, which neatly connected some of the missing dots between Mulroney and Schreiber’s Swiss bank accounts, I entered the names “Mulroney” and “Schreiber,” into Google Canada’s news library and came up with a grand total of just 13 stories about the Fifth Estate’s revelations. (That compared with nearly 10,000 hits about the Danish Muslim editorial cartoon controversy and more than 6,000 dealing with Wayne Gretzky’s connection to an alleged gambling ring, both of which were in the news the same week.)

Now that it is clear just how badly the news media blew this story, perhaps Canada’s major media organizations will engage in the kind of self-examination the New York Times offered its readers after reality caught up with its woeful early coverage of the war in Iraq. Perhaps…

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column, Kimber’s Nova Scotia, appears in The Sunday Daily News.

  1. Merry Christmas Stephen. Very good article, perhaps one reason for no heavy coverage is the fact that over 80% of Canadians believe Mr. Schreiber and well very few believe former PM Mulroney. Watching TV hearing several of Harper’s loud mouths (sorry for the unkindness but they really do growl and snarl at the camera’s when trying to spin the truth) telling we the informed readers Schreiber is the crook making that wonderful man Mulroney look bad. I will remember those “Big” black binders of written dealings with both Mulroney and Harper for ever. In any rate a Very Merry Christmas to you and your family and Stephen look for some good news out of Africa in book world next year.


  2. Mr. Kimber,

    I see from the above that you are now also running a dating service and I have to say thank you! I called Ralston and hope to get a call back. I like long walks on the beach, fireside chats and really, really cheap real estate. Best, Jane S.


  3. Hi, Stephen –

    This is Bill Ryan from PROJECT CAMELOT; we feature comprehensive video interviews with whistleblowers, and at least to some extent explore and investigate the world – and secret world – described by Bill Deagle.

    I enjoyed your Bill Deagle article. I do agree that to clear up some of the outstanding questions it would been very useful to have been able to get in direct touch with him.

    Just a couple of points as a contribution here:

    We at Project Camelot are weeks – maybe months! – behind with our e-mails. It’s impossible to answer them all. We mean well, and just get swamped. We even missed a radio interview the other day because we were dealing with something else which was demanding all our attention.

    I can readily imagine how Bill Deagle might be in the same situation. How he has time for telephone consulting in real time is beyond me. A friend of mine with a serious medical problem called him, waited for 5 mins while Deagle came to the phone, and then Deagle gave him 40 mins of his time at no cost. I was privileged to be able to listen to the call, and Bill Deagle’s knowledge, speed, understanding and compassion were all impressive.

    At Project Camelot we have a whistleblower source called Henry Deacon (pseudonym). Henry has worked extensively in black projects, and we know him well. He had not previously recognized Deagle’s name, but we asked him to watch his Granada Forum lecture video and tell us what he thought.

    Henry reported to us that not only did he recognize the man now that he had seen his face – he really had been in the places he mentioned, and their paths had apparently crossed – but that he was telling it exactly like it was in all the respects Henry knew about with one minor discrepancy where Henry apparently knew a little more than Deagle did (Cray 5’s are not in fact the most advanced computers on the planet… which may not actually be good news for us).

    Those details confirmed by Henry included the covert deployment of stealth pathogens to kill large numbers of people, and the technology of micro-nukes. Deagle apparently had all that, and much else, spot-on.

    So that impressed us also…

    With our best wishes to you,

    Bill and Kerry

    Bill Ryan and Kerry Cassidy


  4. Can you also post your blog in pdf? Or have an option to email it?
    I’m sending it to this guy at the Toronto Star, which I was disapointed to see is just as dismissive as the other media outlets. Where is Canada’s left media? Nowhere…


  5. Excellent article. You really nailed this one on the head. Its amazing how silent the media is on certain issues. Any criticism of the conservative government being one of them.
    And to think about how much they went after the liberals over the sponsorship scandal when in fact not a single liberal party member was convicted.


  6. Sir, Your recent article regarding Frank Anderson and SWSDA, combined with your earlier excellent articles make me wonder why other mainstream media have not gone all over the underhand workings of SWSDA under control of Anderson with the police?


  7. Please call me at 456-0494


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *