The Senator, the Herald and the obituary

Senator Keith Davey died last week at 84.


Davey was  a Liberal backroom wizard, famous for wresting electoral triumph from the jaws of political ignominy. In 1963, for example, he helped Lester Pearson become prime minister. In 1974, he helped transform Pierre Trudeau’s then-floundering minority government into a renewed majority. Most famously, in 1979, he helped engineer the stunning defeat of Joe Clarke’s barely elected Tory minority government and then convinced a despondent Trudeau—who’d already announced his retirement from politics—to run one last time. He won.

But Davey’s lengthy curriculum vitae also included heading up a seminal 1969 senate committee on the sorry state of Canada’s newspapers.

Its final report was scathing, particularly about Halifax’s Chronicle-Herald.

“There is probably no large Canadian city that is so badly served by its newspapers,” the report thundered, “[and] probably no news organization in the country that has managed to achieve such an intimate and uncritical relationship with the local power structure, or has grown so indifferent to the needs of its readers.”

At the time, the Herald reacted with predictable outrage and vitriol, inadvertently confirming much of Davey’s criticism.

So I was curious to see how today’s Herald—an unquestionably much better newspaper—would handle Davey’s obituary.

Its 246-word, wire service story—“Liberal ‘Rainmaker’ Davey Dies”—focused almost exclusively on Davey’s role as a political strategist. There was not one word about the senate committee or its stinging rebuke of the Herald.

Still curious, I tracked down the original obituary from which the Herald version had been carved. It was 594 words, more than twice as long, and included best-edited-out boilerplate tributes from Prime Minister Harper and Liberal leader Ignatieff.

But the story did include three paragraphs—85 words—on Davey’s senate committee report. The CP story didn’t mention the Herald directly, of course, and it’s possible—likely even—that the editor who sliced and diced the CP story was too young to recall the paper’s long ago connection to Senator Davey.

Still, it’s a shame the Herald didn’t take advantage of the occasion to recall its own, unhappy link to Davey—if only to show how much better a newspaper it has become.







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