Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The new Guys?

The big news of the last 24 hours from Newfoundland isn't what I thought it would be. I really thought it was going to be the big Hibernia South announcement. Now, when I hear this kinds of announcements I normally wait for the analysis, because as previous history has shown, the initial spin isn't normally quite as grand as the government has announced.

But the real news is that Premier Danny Williams apparently lost his shit with Randy Simms on VOCM's Open Line show this morning. I mean, way off the deep end. As in "Holy fuck, did the premier forget to take his meds yesterday morning?" kind of deep end. VOCM gets it's fair share of crazies calling; it's one of the reasons why I could never listen to their open line shows. But if someone called sounding like the premier did who wasn't actually the premier, they would have cut him off. Or passed his phone number along to the Waterford and suggested a drop by.

But this isn't even about whether or not the premier is a genius, a madman or dangerously close to both (for the record, I don't disagree with the premier's point that if pulp and paper is dying and the fishery has remained on life support for nearly 20 years, you better milk what's working for you for all it's worth. Just try not to sound like a lunatic while doing it). This is my observation. A few hours after he lost it on air, Geoff Meeker had a transcript of the call up on his blog so everyone could read, along with an analysis. Ed Hollett took a bit longer, but he had two pieces.

So my question is, are Meeker and Hollett the two most important writers in Newfoundland right now? They provide superb, well-researched analysis. They're not afraid to speak truth to power. Meeker the past couple of days has been very good, what with his piece on Williams and just his complete evisceration of Joan Burke earlier the week.

Voices like this are desperately needed in times when elected opposition is weak. And the thing that sets Meeker and Hollett apart from two other important critics - Russell Wangersky and Craig Westcott - is that they can react almost immediately. Wangersky and Westcott wait until the next edition of their papers; Hollett and Meeker can react within moments. And it's not just reaction time. I appreciate sober second thought in writing. However, neither of them irrationally fly off the handle when they write. I also think Ed's writing is under appreciated and mocked too quickly because of his obvious political affiliations. Doesn't mean he's not a good writer. Doesn't mean his research isn't spot on. Doesn't mean he's wrong.

I'm not saying Hollett and Meeker are the gold standard for this kind of thing. That was still Ray Guy in his prime back in the 60s and 70s. But they're the best we have right now. Agree or disagree?

Last Five
1. With a little help from my friends - The Beatles
2. Closing time - Tom Waits*
3. I'm looking through you - The Beatles
4. Vintage clothes - Paul McCartney
5. Don't worry baby - The Novaks


Anonymous said...

I agree that their articles are well written and researched to support their arguement. Hollett especially forces you to think of things from a different angle. However, their over the top bias against Williams unfortunately affects their credability and in the past has muddled the message. I challenge you to find a post in the recent past from either Hollett or Meeker that is positive on Williams. I think opposition is good and we are sorely lacking that in the house but I think that analysis by media should provide balance and leave bias at the door, Wangersky provides that balance. I know people are going to say that Hollett is not media, he is a blogger and for that matter I guess so is Meeker to a degree. And maybe that is their out from being held to a higher standard for balance and unbiased reporting. So I guess we can look forward to Hollett changing the name of his blog to the "Danny Williams Papers" and Meeker changing his to "Meeker on Williams Govt". And if we are looking for balance, crediability and unbiased reporting you are left with Wangersky.

Edward G. Hollett said...


Any praise for writing coming from you is high praise indeed. There are far more ink-stained wretches who toil every day for a crust of bread who deserve any praise but I thank you for your kind words.

Your first comment, from one of the usual anony-suspects, is fairly typical of the anony-slagging that goes on.

If you go back and read what I've written, it has built on a fairly consistent theme about the state of the province, what we know to be the challenges etc and what we need to do instead of engaging in entirely unproductive ego-stroking exercises.

Oil and gas, demographics, public debt. You name it. I've detailed it and driven people back to look at things that happened a decade and more ago.

And after looking at the situation, I put forward ideas as to what we need to do. They aren't mine necessarily. Other, smarter people already put them forward.

If you want to see an example of this, take a look at my post yesterday on the Hibernia South royalty.

Then notice that what the Premier said to Randy is pretty much what I've been driving as the counterpoint to the equity/Equalization wars that have gone on for the past five years:

We need cash to put into bridges, schools, roads, programs and the easiest way to get that is to tweak the royalty regime.

Most people who read my stuff hopefully pick up things like that without being told.

Now people like your anonymous friend there will look at everything, say that's all well and good but...

"How come you don't say more stuff about how wonderful Danny is? You don't have any credibility cause I can't find anything where you said Danny is good."

Hint: it isn't about Danny.

And as for credibility, when the Premier uses an argument I've been pushing for four years, I take that as a pretty powerful endorsement.


Winston Smith said...

As I said to Geoff Meeker, my vote for the best blog is a toss-up between Labradore and Bond Papers. If Geoff keeps this pace up, it will be a three-way tie. I think Labradore has the sharpest wit.

The repeated complaints about bias and the need for balance are getting tiresome. No one is objective or leaves her/his bias at the door when writing about politics, though some hide their views better than others.

By making their political views explicit, Bond Papers, Labradore, and others are being honest with their readers -- a point which seems to be lost on those who simply don't like hearing negative things said about the Premier.

As I have argued in my own blog, trying to find "balance" in the imbalanced world of the Williams regime often means providing an excuse for bombast and bullying. I'm sure there are different explanations for Williams' outburst on VOCM (I'm sure he has his side of the story), but that doesn't make it right or excusable.

Yesterday, in an email from a journalist, I was accused of "naysaying" -- to which I plead guilty. I say nay to the Williams government.

The last time I checked, I have the right to oppose the Williams government if I so choose. No one is under an obligation (legal, moral, or otherwise) to say positive things about the Williams government.

If we're going to invoke Ray Guy as the standard for political columnists (which we should, in my view), then we should remember that Guy's success was due not only to his sense of humour and his writing, but also his passionate commitment to skepticism and his refusal to excuse bullying in the name of balance.

WJM said...

The last time I checked, I have the right to oppose the Williams government if I so choose.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This was taken away in one of the bills that Joan Burke rammed through, with unanimous consent of all parties, in the dying hours of the spring session.

towniebastard said...

First, my apologies for ommitting Wally and Winston from the vanguard of Newfoundland political writers. I do think they are important voices. But for whatever reasons, I tend to give the edge to Ed and Geoff. I'd be hard pressed to tell you why, other than personal preference.

Next, I have no problem if people have 'agendas' or political preferences. We all do. I hate most of the commentary opposing President Obama not because I love him and hate Republicans, it's because most of the criticism is poorly thought out, deceptive, skewing facts and treats the reader like an idiot.

Finally, as for objective journalism and being fair and balanced, I give you the late Hunter S. Thompson. This is from his last truly great piece of writing - his obituary of Richard Nixon. It's a view I've always believed makes sense. I'm not saying Premier Williams is the same as President Nixon. Far from it. But I still think there's wisdom in these words.

"Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism -- which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful."

Simon said...

Interesting topic.

I believe that if Ray Guy was starting out today, he'd have a blog. And I'm pretty sure that in another time/place, PET would have founded

The bias issue is a red herring of the worse kind and is sly code for "I favour the other side". Same goes for "pessimism" and "negativism". I just can't figure out if it's a deliberate cynical ploy to close down discussion or if they really believe that an invitation to discuss another (not necessarily opposing) point of view is truly an attack against fundamental principles.

Either way, the semi-hysterical response is an insight into more of their psyches than I care to become familiar with.

The real irony, to my mind, is that this government cannot tolerate even the slightest shadow of the volume and intensity of criticism, contempt, misinformation and outright character assassination that the leading members of this government heaped upon the members and policies of the previous government; I have no sympathy.

Craig Westcott said...

Craig, I agree, the blogs are beating the stuffing out of us hoary old print guys, both in timing and quality. I'd have to give Labradore's Wallace MacLean kudos for being the best satirist, Bond Papers' Ed Hollet for best analysis, Geoff Meeker for consistently expressing the most balanced and authoritative view and Winston Smith for being the best stylist.

The blogs have become the conscience of this place.

The truly horrible and frightening aspect of Dan the Tan's tirade against Randy Simms, which was appalling in itself, was that so many people piled on and supported his attack, both online and on the radio shows.

Newfoundland looks more and more like Germany after 1933, and I think for much the same reason: A people who view themselves as a unique folk who have been downtrodden and robbed are being led by a demagogic piper who plays a tune that appeals to their grievances and desire for greatness.

The gleichshaltung started sometime ago in the public service (witness Nalco and the switching of real power from the backbenchers and cabinet ministers to the PR people who run them and who in turn report to the Eight Floor).

Judging by the reaction to Williams' dressing down of Simms, things are likely to get a lot uglier before they start to get better.

We're on a bad path.

Craig Westcott.

Craig Westcott said...

I forgot to mention Russell Wangersky. He's still the most elegant writer of them all, a virtual Cassius Clay (I mean the boxer, not the abolitionist). Russell's prose can float like a butterfly but still sting like a bee. By comparison I am a roughhewn George Chuvalo or Rocky Marciano at best.
Craig Westcott

Anonymous said...

"are Meeker and Hollett the two most important writers in Newfoundland right now?"

No. Also, Craig Wescott needs anit-angry man therapy.