I've already taken Jim to task for confusing an aide with a politician, so I won't
dwell on it -- the Toronto Star article appears accurate and fair -- but
here's some more commentary on what it means for the *aide*, from Southam columnist
Cheap shot a costly error
Don Martin, Calgary Herald, 23/11/02
'Moron' comment may bring babble chill to Parliament Hill
OTTAWA / There’s a netherworld between Ottawa journalists and federal government
officials where the rules of engagement in doing the devil’s work are flexible,
negotiable and often personal.
Francie Ducros is now a dead flak talking because the rules at the time of her “moron”
comment were fuzzy, the confidentiality agreement with one party to the
conversation did not apply to others within earshot and she’s disliked by more media
than is usual for a veteran spin doctor.
The prime minister’s 40-year-old spokeswoman was blurting away Wednesday in Prague,
allegedly on an off-the-record basis to a CBC reporter following a formal
background briefing, when her caustic assessment of U.S. President George W. Bush as a
“moron” was overhead by surrounding reporters.
Those journalists were still operating under the rules of a NATO background briefing,
one of those wretchedly useless thumbsuckers that provided carefully
filtered insight into the prime minister’s conduct courtesy of unidentified
“officials” which, in Chretien’s case, is almost always Francie Ducros.
What I suspect happened next is one of those difficult dilemmas many reporters find
themselves trapped in when a contact says something in a moment of unguarded
candour that’s so incredibly stupid, it could end their career.
The journalist must make a life-or-death call: Is the cost of killing the contact for
short-term story glory greater than ignoring the slip-up in exchange for
long-term favourable considerations?
In the case of Ducros, who will depart the Ottawa press scene along with Jean Chretien
and never get within a light year of any influential position under Paul
Martin’s reign, that imminent expiry date ensured her slip of the tongue was a death
Hers became the cheap shot heard ‘round the world.
Now, speaking as someone who has had the odd off-the-record lunch with Ducros, I find
her interesting because she’s so utterly and blindly loyal to the prime
minister; our chats are like having someone read you all Chretien’s private talking
If nothing else, and nothing is usually all she leaks, Ducros provides fresh insight
into Chretien’s wrongdoing denial strategies.
But she’s talked herself into big trouble on this one, and many a spin doctor feels
“No experienced communications person in the country hasn’t experienced what Francie
is living through now. It’s like a cold rush of s*** to the heart,” quips
former Alliance communications director Phil von Finckenstein. “But if you don’t want
it out there, don’t say it. Off the record means on the record.”
I disagree to a point. The Ducros comment would likely have passed without consequence
had it been shared over the sixth round of vodka in a Prague bar, or as
an offhanded comment uttered while walking down a hotel hallway.
But to make such an inflammatory observation in the same briefing room where she’d
handed out Prague pablum to news-starved journalists moments before, well,
that’s, um, moronic.
And, if you must shoot from the lip before your brain is fully loaded, one of the last
reporters you’d want within hearing range was standing beside her.
Robert Fife, the Southam News / National Post bureau chief in Ottawa (who is NOT my
boss, for the record), has been described as a journalist who could pick up
two sticks on the street and rub them together into a front page headline.
He’s particularly deadly on the campaign trail, to the point where rival journalists
apprehensively storm hotel newsstands first thing in the morning to see
what story angle they’ve missed.
In Prague, Fife was engaging in a Fife specialty – taking no prisoners as he took aim
at a story he knew had front page ink written all over it.
But what will happen as a result of this story could change the way Parliament Hill’s
netherworld is governed. Babble chill will enter into relationships where
some of the best information flowed to the public without attribution.
The prime minister said as much at his final news conference. “We don’t live in as
civilized a world as we used to, where private conversations are private.”
That’s unfortunate. The prime minister has shared some fascinating and useful insights
with me during two interviews in his office with the caveat it was deep
It was much the same when I worked in Alberta, where important information usually
flowed freely with jugs of five per cent amber truth serum.
Here in Ottawa, the rules will change in a Ducros-spun world where she meant it when
she said it – and didn’t when she read it.
Jim Cobabe wrote:
> Canadian politician calls President Bush a moron.
> Chrétien's decision to keep Ducros quickly came under fire back in
> "He should have accepted her resignation, perhaps with regret, perhaps
> understanding that people make mistakes," Canadian Alliance MP Jason
> Kenney said. "Senior officials should be held accountable for those
> Kenney suggested Ducros' remarks reflect a pattern in the Chrétien
> government, "a consistent attitude of anti-Americanism which has hurt
> our relationship on softwood lumber, on agriculture ... It doesn't help
> us in getting access to the decision-makers in the White House and in
> Conservative Leader Joe Clark said Chrétien should have accepted the
> resignation. "Ms. Ducros has done the honourable thing; so should the
> prime minister."
> Jim Cobabe
> [EMAIL PROTECTED]
> When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more
> nor less.
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Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland
“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick
himself up and continue on” – Winston Churchill
Note: This communication represents the informal personal views of the author solely;
its contents do not necessarily reflect those of the author’s employer,
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