- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 8 Mar 1979, p. 259-273
- Worthington, Peter, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The theme of the address is that "the western democracies are in some disarray. There is indecision, ... Confusion, … Lack of priorities and loss of a sense of purpose ... Freedom is in retreat around the world. The totalitarian east has the initiative." A wide-ranging discussion follows, based on the following premise: the four main villains in the loss of common sense in our society are the politicians, the academics and intellectuals, the church and the media.
- Date of Original
- 8 Mar 1979
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- MARCH 8, 1979
Blame the Media
AN ADDRESS BY Peter Worthington, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE TORONTO SUN
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald W. Lewis
BRIG. GEN. LEWIS:
Members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: It is my pleasure today to introduce to you the man who periodically stares at you from page eleven of The Toronto Sun--its editor-in-chief and our guest speaker, Mr. Peter Worthington.
I am informed that he is editor-in-chief, possibly because he was one of the founding members of the Sun. I take that item from a rather irreverent biographical sketch, which by its tone I presume to have been written by Mr. Worthington himself. Herein I think lies the popularity of the editor-in-chief as writer. He can be irreverent, reverent, or a wild-eyed fanatic to suit the subject he is writing about. You may not necessarily agree with his emphatic columns and editorials but you must agree that they often reflect the popular mood of the moment and they are always informative, frequently entertaining and eminently readable.
I suspect Mr. Worthington comes by his forthrightness quite naturally. It may not be generally known that his father was Major General F. F. Worthington, popularly known as "Fighting Frank" and the acknowledged father of the Canadian Armoured Corps.
Peter Worthington himself served in World War II as an air gunner with the Fleet Air Arm, and as an officer of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Korea where he was, incidentally, his battalion's intelligence officer and as such an expert on secret information. But he is first and foremost a journalist and indeed his writing talents were most evident in his military career.
Let me give you an example.
About the dullest reading in the world is a commanding officer's investigation report. I am told that Peter Worthington, while in the 3rd Battalion P.P. C.L.I., was detailed to write such a document dealing with an accident that took place in a football match. For a long time afterwards, Peter Worthington's investigation was used as an example of how they should be written. And, an astounding fact to me, it became the favourite reading of duty officers trying to kill time on duty. Particularly appreciated were the lines that went something like this: "Private Jones' eye inadvertently came into contact with Private Smith's boot, whereupon Private Jones commented, 'Oh, goodness gracious me,' or words to that effect."
Our speaker has covered major happenings around the world, and has been in such hot spots of revolution and conflict as Iraq, Syria, Cyprus, the Congo, Angola, Algeria, Jordan, Vietnam, Laos, India, Biafra, Greece, Czechoslovakia and so on.
He spent two years as The Telegram's "Man in Moscow" and gave us possibly the first real down-to-earth look at day-today life in the Soviet Union in our time. He was on the scene in the Dallas police headquarters when Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald.
Along the way he graduated from the University of British Columbia, won a journalism medal at Carleton University and three national newspaper awards in three different categories--foreign corresponding, factual writing and editorial writing.
Given this distinguished record in the field of journalism, had our guest chosen to speak to us today on the topic "Blame The Empire Club of Canada," I am certain we would have turned out in the same numbers to hear him. As it is, he has chosen as his intriguing topic "Blame the Media."
Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to present to you Mr. Peter Worthington, editor-in-chief, The Toronto Sun.
Ladies and gentlemen: Thank you, Mr. Lewis. You've just given the R.C.M.P. added information to go after me.
I'm not sure whether I've been invited here today in my capacity as a journalist or in my role as a potential felon. When Michael Stevenson invited me early last summer, March 8th seemed sufficiently remote that it was safe to agree to anything. I didn't have a topic at the time, but there was an election imminent and I knew there would be a lot of material available. I would be able to recollect how awful the Trudeau decade had been, or how Joe Clark was falling on his face.
In that year a lot has happened. The Shah of Iran has toppled from the Peacock Throne--which was supposed to last an eternity, give or take a few days. We have had the spectacle of two Communist invasions of other Communist countries. We have had Vietnam, the world's second most brutal Communist state, using humanitarian grounds to justify an invasion of the most brutal Communist state. We have had the Chinese Vice-Premier paying a good-will visit to the old paper tiger, the United States. We have had the coronations of two popes. And we have John Sewell, who is our version of the Ayatollah Khomeini, not only being elected mayor but threatening to end the metropolitan system.
But we still have no imminent election, and I still have no topic to talk about. So I thought I would give a journalist's very personal view on what has gone wrong with the western world and what has gone wrong with this country. That sounds somewhat arrogant and impudent, but you must realize that whatever journalists and the media say means absolutely nothing. The media preach for themselves. Evidence of this can be seen at election times, when the press warns the public of the dire consequences that will happen if they vote for the wrong person. The public shows a cheerful disregard for this and votes for whomever it likes. The world stumbles on till the next election, at which time the press has a different set of candidates. The ones they favoured last time are now regarded as catastrophic. And still the world goes on.
Journalists are usually wrong when they predict or analyse. I remember that when I was in the business of corresponding for The Telegram and travelling to various crises, on five separate occasions I had the King of Jordan about to be overthrown. He is now in his twenty-seventh year and the throne of Jordan is, next to Queen Elizabeth's, one of the most stable. Whatever I say today won't have much effect on the world.
I think there is wide agreement that the western democracies are in some disarray. There is indecision, there is confusion, there is lack of priorities and loss of a sense of purpose. In a sense, freedom is in retreat around the world. The totalitarian east has the initiative.
When the United Nations was founded over thirty years ago with some twenty nations, it outlined its high moralistic principles, its charter of human rights. In the interim, it has expanded to around 150 nations, eighty per cent of whom pay no attention to the UN charter. They are either totalitarian or one-party states with a complete disregard for the human rights of their people. The United Nations has become anti-western, anti-democratic. It has racial overtones. It is a forum for ideological persuasion. And paid for, I might add, by the United States, which is as logical as anything else.
Freedom House is a non-political organization in the United States which was formed in the thirties when Hitler was reaching his peak. It is a sort of barometer of the state of freedom around the world, right or left does not matter. Freedom House estimates that thirty-five per cent of the world's people live in something resembling freedom. If you take away India from this percentage, and India is a marginal case at best, you are left with nineteen per cent of the world's people living in freedom. Of 175 nations and territories, nineteen live in maximum political freedom where human rights are respected. It points to the fact that what we have in North America and in Canada is basically an aberration. We have the unusual, not the normal. Malcolm Muggeridge has pointed out what he calls the "liberal death wish" in which western civilization, like lemmings, is heading to ultimate destruction. The great American sociologist, Lewis Feuer, who spent ten years at the University of Toronto, has drawn uneasy parallels between today's society and the last days of the Roman empire and Athens. And Solzhenitsyn has deplored the loss of spiritual values in the west and pointed to the lack of will and stamina in liberal western democracies to stand up to unprincipled tyranny.
These criticisms are all true. The problem in Canada and in the western world today is that we have a crisis in common sense and a crisis in courage. We don't need leaders with great charisma or great visions or great intellectual pretensions or five-year plans. What we really need are leaders with common sense and the courage to follow it. We do not have those leaders.
When I was in the army, we had a drill sergeant who liked to say that common sense was so rare that it was often mistaken for genius. It was true then, and I think that common sense is even more rare today.
The four main villains in this loss of common sense in our society, the four horsemen of the modern apocalypse, are the politicians, the academics and intellectuals, the church and the media, not necessarily in that order. The masses, the people who work for a living, have common sense.
The media are the most important, because the others all come together in the media and use the media as a channel of communication. But I think these elements are responsible for the collective confusion that we have. They have lost any common sense they might have had, and this confuses the people. This lack of common sense is responsible for the sort of thinking we have in the CBC when the president announces that there is something wrong with the Canadian people because they don't like CBC programming and prefer to watch American. Common sense indicates that they should change the programming. But the CBC wants to change the people! It wants laws passed to make it more difficult for people to have freedom of choice in what they see.
The lack of common sense can be seen in the great Canadian pastime of searching for our identity. There are a lot of people in the media and among the academics who make very good livings on Canada Council grants searching for this elusive identity as if it were some sort of Holy Grail. But the people of the country have no doubts about their identity. They work in garages or on farms. Whenever required, they go into the army and fight for their country. They may not be able to articulate what the Canadian identity is, but they know they are Canadians and they have no doubts to the contrary.
A lack of common sense follows the myth that you can unify or build a nation on two equal languages. There has to be one language which is the language of communication. The Soviets know this. They have a mass of languages. They can speak anything they like, but the language of communication among them all is Russian. India, the world's largest democracy (struggling though it may be, it is one of the phenomena of our time that it became a democracy), would not have become a nation if there had not been a single language in parliament, English, in which the various representatives could talk to one another. Kenya, which has thirty or forty dialects, has one common language, Swahili, plus the language of law and parliament which is English.
Why have these four elements lost touch with the people? I think it is at least partly because they live in a cocoon. They have never really worked for a living. They haven't worked with their hands, got their fingernails dirty, or had to meet payrolls.
The politicians seem to think that their basic duty is to get elected, and that their second duty is to get re-elected. They have more common sense than the other three, but they lack the courage to follow it. They listen to the intellectuals and appoint them to commissions. They listen to the media. In this town, they all read and believe The Globe and Mail editorials, although they can't understand them. When it comes to elections, they like to have The Sun supporting them because they think The Sun is in touch with the people who vote, but they don't like our editorials much! There is a cry in this country for politicians with common sense and the courage to do what they know is right.
The academics believe that they have a monopoly on truth. They tend to see the world as they would like it to be, or as they think it should be, rather than as it is. This would be harmless if the government and the media did not pay attention to them. But they are put on commissions, hired as consultants, and every element of the media has its tame academic who they can consult on any occasion. If a Soviet satellite crashes in the north, we consult an academic. We have academics feeding crude oil to polar bears to see what will happen to them. Any fool can tell you what will happen. Then some other academic will tell you what it all means, whether the subject is Iran, or racism or pollution. Sometimes it's the same academic who will produce an opinion on all these things.
Academics and intellectuals live in a cocoon world, and they are, historically, usually wrong. They traipsed off to Moscow in the thirties to worship at the altar of Stalin, expecting this butcher to produce some formula for Utopia. It defied all common sense that one would find in the Soviet Union, busy purging its own people by the million, some recipe for paradise in the west. The same sort were pledged to disarmament, prewar. The Oxford Group told us that disarming would lead to peace. It led directly to Hitler and World War II. We have the same thing today. In the face of the Soviet Union, the world's most aggressive imperialistic force, a massive military machine, the greatest nuclear force in the world, we have an element who wants us to prove our good will by disarming.
Mao Tse-tung (who is not so highly regarded by his successors) was the object of pilgrimages from westerners seeking salvation. Our own Prime Minister, in the days when he was an intellectual, wrote in glowing terms of Mao and talked about "his tired eyes which had seen too much of the misery of mankind," overlooking entirely the fact that the man behind those tired eyes had caused more misery than any other individual in history: thirty million people dead. A totalitarian regime may be very necessary for a country like China. I don't argue against that at all. But it is no excuse for us to overlook all the negative characteristics. As Daniel Moynihan once pointed out, intellectuals go to China and they note the absence of flies but they don't note the absence of freedom. They go to India and see the presence of flies, but they don't see the presence of freedom. There is a lack of basic logic.
In our country in the sixties the universities were the arenas of revolutionary idealism. The people who should have been defending academic freedom, the academics, were often cowed or convinced not only to tolerate the nonsense on the campuses, but to actually participate in it and in cases to lead it. The university should not be an arena for revolution, although all the revolutionaries have come from the academic world--Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Castro, Allende. I think you could state a law that common sense tends to deteriorate in direct proportion to the amount of exposure a person has to the academic environment.
Now the church. (And I'm not even going to get into the homosexual bit.*) I think the church has basically abandoned its spiritual role for the secular world. The churches are into social activism, ideological change, political indoctrination. The Pope tried to point this out recently in Mexico, and tried to ease the priests in Latin America back, away from the revolutionary movements, into their proper role. It is interesting that the bishops there have already corrupted and distorted his message to justify what they are doing. Without being unnecessarily mean, I think the church has caused more misery and bloodshed than any other single group I have mentioned.
Ten years ago we had the situation in Biafra, where the funds collected by the church for humanitarian aid were used for guns. They supported a black demagogue whom they insisted on seeing as a messiah. The result of the church's involvement in Biafra was that a civil war that would have ended within months, with a few thousands dead, was prolonged for two years and resulted in about two million dead. The church is doing the same thing in southern Africa right now, especially the World Council of Churches. They are involved in Rhodesia in the Patriotic Front, which does not want black majority rule. It wants black minority rule, like every other black state in Africa. The tragic irony of Rhodesia is that the Smith regime, which nobody liked very much, has surrendered. It has capitulated. All it is trying to do now is to salvage some way to cooperate and live in Rhodesia under black rule. We have two men of God among the black moderates--Reverend Sithole and Bishop Muzorewa--who are abandoned by the western church when they should be supported. They are not puppets. They have been revolutionaries themselves; they have been imprisoned. But the church insists on supporting the butchers, for that is what they are.
The Vatican pursues its dialogue with Marxism in which it has been engaged in for years, to the point where people like Cardinal Mindszenty have felt betrayed. All denominations have lost common sense. The United Church claims that there is more religious freedom in the Soviet Union now. They base this on information from the priests and Baptist ministers who operate in Moscow. But again, this defies common sense, because these people have made compromises with the K.G.B. The Soviet constitution is the best constitution in the world, and the most meaningless. (It should be a lesson to us when we bring ours home.) It guarantees every citizen the right to pray, and it also guarantees every atheist the right to carry on anti-religious propaganda--which is like having a hockey game when one team can't shoot at the other team's goal. Under those circumstances, I imagine even the Leafs could get a draw with the Canadiens. The Soviet criminal law carries a five-year sentence if you conduct a religious service in the wrong place. If you have a religious service in your apartment or in the woods, if you teach Sunday school, it's five years in prison. Yet the church ignores this.
As for the media, the one thing the media should have is common sense. They are the great conduit of knowledge to the people. They have to reduce the complex to the simple, and dispense it. But the members of the media in this country have no training whatsoever. Journalism has become trendy, it has become fashionable. All it takes to become a journalist is the nerve and the opportunity. That's how I got into it! But we have no particular skills. Most of us type with two fingers; we can't take shorthand. The greenest stenographer entering the job market has more mechanical skills than the most exalted journalist at the end of his career.
We have a fairly active and energetic board of directors at The Sun, who think they know more about journalism than they do, and they all seem to have relatives, nieces and nephews who are unemployed, and this suits them ideally, in their minds, to work on newspapers as reporters. It's insulting, in a way, when one is in the business. They don't last that long, but just the fact that they arrive is rather upsetting. Last year, when my fourteen-year-old son suddenly discovered that you need money in this society and was looking for a way to get it, I went to one of the board of directors and asked him if my son could article in his law firm. And do you know, Eddy Goodman was offended!
It used to be that if something appeared in the paper, it was assumed to be true. Not long ago the Harris poll did a credibility test in the media and they found that the credibility ratio was down to twenty-six per cent. That's only a percentage point or two higher than that of lawyers. And the lawyers were only slightly more credible than the politicians. This should give all three cause for alarm.
One characteristic of the press is cripple-kicking, and another is the herd instinct. Everybody piles on the same story. If you check the entertainment pages, you'll find everybody pushing the same entertainer. The stories that are missed by the media reflect upon their lack of common sense and lack of judgment.
Take for example, Taiwan. You don't read anything about it. Taiwan, with American aid, has become the second most prosperous and economically sound country in Asia. It has gone from receiving aid to the point where it now gives aid. It doesn't invade anybody. And yet our Prime Minister unilaterally expels it from the Olympics. Taiwan has become the pariah of the world. And the media, which should be immune to this trendy following, should at least be pointing out the other side.
When we talk about Rhodesia, we never see in the press that seventy-five per cent of the Rhodesian forces are black volunteers, with black officers commanding whites. That's an interesting point, and should cause some questioning of conventional opinion. The "boat people" of Indochina, whom we "discovered" last fall, have been in existence for four years, since 1975. Most of them drown when they push off from the peninsula. We never raised the question in the press or tried to find out about them.
All through the Vietnam war, we never asked why refugees always headed south. In the last days of the collapse, no refugees headed north towards the liberators. They all headed south, jumped off the end and swam out to sea. Our press rationale was that they were all brainwashed by Voice of America. That doesn't stand the test of logic.
We pay attention to people like Andrew Brewin, who is our version of Jane Fonda, assuring us that Hanoi could be trusted and would live up to cease-fire agreements. It didn't. Where are those people now? Silent.
There is an organization called Amnesty International, the most respected of the groups looking into human rights and political repression. It won a Nobel Prize. In the last year of the Vietnam war, Amnesty International's report had one-third of a page on political repression in North Vietnam and three pages on South Vietnam. Last year, Amnesty International had a half-page on political repression in Canada, dealing with an Indian who was extradited to the United States for the murder of two FBI agents, a political crime. It had the same amount of space on Equitorial Guinea, which is the most barbaric state in Africa, where approximately one-third of the population has been killed, one-third has fled to neighbouring countries, and one-third exists in actual slavery. In the first year of peace in Vietnam, Amnesty International's report had one page on Cambodia, with the rider that it was hearsay evidence. They had four pages about repression in South Africa.
The proportions are wrong. We now know that in Cambodia, in the first year of peace, one million people were killed by the "liberators." That is twice the number killed in five years of warfare.
There is a publication in the United States, Accuracy in the Media, which watch-dogs the media. It is an interesting publication to read, to see the other side. It monitored The New York Times and The Washington Post for one year on human-rights stories. In the Times there were 291 human-rights stories on South Africa and four on Cambodia. It had sixty-one stories on human rights in South Korea and none on North Korea. It had sixty-one stories on Chile and three on Cuba. The Post had similar ratios.
The priorities are wrong and common sense is lacking. The world's free media have let their citizens down. In Canada, we have the worst political reporting in the free world. The Press Gallery, supposedly the cream of our journalists, are the most docile, lacklustre, subservient and regurgitative in the western world.
In all these remarks, I don't exclude myself or The Sun, which I sometimes think is The New York Times of Canada. In 1968, when Trudeau was first running, we couldn't even find out his age! Was he forty-nine or forty-seven? He wouldn't tell us and we couldn't find out. Some people thought he lost those years in the war! We were so mesmerized by this man that we never looked at him. If you quoted Trudeau's earlier writings, it was branded as hate literature. At The Telegram at the time I was mildly interested in him and tried to write some things, but in a Tory paper like The Telegram it couldn't get published. It wasn't fashionable. You can say those things now that it's too late.
We used to like to say that Watergate couldn't happen in Canada because of our system. That's right, but for the wrong reasons. The press would never have dug out a Watergate in this country. It couldn't happen here because we have a government which has misused the parliamentary system to establish a dictatorial control over the country and it never investigates itself. We have situations here that are infinitely worse than Watergate. Take a simple thing like the Prime Minister's swimming pool, donated by twenty anonymous businessmen who get tax relief and God knows what other favours. Do you think that could happen in the United States? What is interesting is that five years later, not one of these businessmen is sufficiently disillusioned to come forward and say, "I was had." The idea is beginning to seep through that there may not have been twenty businessmen, but that this was public money funnelled through. That's perfectly all right. Many people would agree that public money should be used to build a swimming pool for the Prime Minister, but openly, not secretly.
We sold nuclear reactors to South Korea and that bastion of democracy, Argentina. What we were doing selling them reactors is another question. But the fact is that we did, and then the Auditor General found twenty million dollars unaccounted for. When he questioned it, it was discovered that it had gone for agents' fees. When the Public Accounts Committee investigated, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission had a lapse of memory. Nothing was done until a year later when somebody asked the South Koreans about this agents' fee and they said that they didn't want to use an agent. They said that they saw the reactor at Pickering and went to the Canadian government and were told that they had to go to an agent. The whole thing reeks of kickbacks, fixes, payoffs. But nobody can get at the truth.
We enter into an uranium cartel with France, Australia, the Rothschilds in Britain and hated South Africa, to quadruple the price of uranium. The government then passes an order-in-council law making it illegal for any Canadian to mention or write about the uranium agreement, punishable by one year in jail. We won't let our athletes play sports with South Africa but we enter into secret deals with them. The press let that one slide by. It was a one-day wonder and now it's gone.
The case of Peter Treu has had a lot of publicity lately. That started four or five years ago, but there was no fuss at the time. They managed to have a secret trial by the simple expedient of scheduling the court appearance half an hour early. The press didn't arrive till too late. The secret trial itself should be offensive. Then he is sentenced to two years "as a deterrent," but we are not allowed to know what we are being deterred from doing. There's a certain common sense missing there. And when he is cleared, and found not guilty,* the government which lays Official Secrets Act charges cannot compensate him--after they have destroyed this man's career, destroyed his business, broken his family, depleted his savings and ruined his reputation--because they don't want to set a precedent. But a year or two earlier, when a cabinet minister outside the confines of Parliament libels and defames a civil servant to whom he is trying to pass the buck, the government pays the damages, the legal costs and the costs for an appeal.
This double standard is unacceptable and the press should be more upset. I'm in a certain dispute with the government over official secrets, and I had to promise our high-priced lawyers, who are driving us into penury, not to speak about it for some reason.' But all of this indicates that we have lost the feeling of common sense in this country and in the west. I think that all we need is to return to having the courage to practise what our common sense tells us, and the crisis will be solved. It is almost as simple as that.
I'd just like to add one point. If the government is successful in its prosecution against me and The Sun and the publisher, who is even less happy than I am about it, I hope that you will invite me back in fourteen years to talk about prison reform.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Lieut. Col. Michael A. Stevenson, C.D., a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.
*Editor's Note: Mr. Worthington's reference is to the recent decision taken by the Anglican Church of Canada to accept homosexuals into the ministry.
*Editor's Note: The charges against Mr. Treu were subsequently dismissed.
*Editor's Note: Mr. Worthington and publisher Douglas Creighton were charged under the Official Secrets Act for an article on Soviet espionage which appeared in The Toronto Sun on March 7, 1978. The charges against them were dismissed on April 23, 1979.