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The Secret Mulroney Tapes: A Quick Job for a Quick Buck

John C. Crosbie


John Crosbie

The Final Say

The Secret Mulroney Tapes

A quick job for a quick buck

It now seems obvious that Peter C. Newman, in publishing his new book The Secret Mulroney Tapes, was betraying the former PM for his own gain. The 1983 letter of agreement between the two, whereby Newman was to write a biography while Brian Mulroney would co-operate, provided the journalist not publish the book until after Mulroney had left office. But it also stated Mulroney could check any manuscript for factual corrections and that the book would not be published unless jointly agreed.

Newman writes that after Mulroney left office, he decided not to give Newman access to all his files and documents as had been agreed, so Newman abandoned the original project. The "secret tapes" book took shape two years ago when he decided to prepare the book without Mulroney's knowledge or consent -- a truncated and sensationalist substitute. The various parts of interviews used are not even related to one another; merely enclosed between an introduction and a conclusion which journalist Lysiane Gagnon accurately described as "a quick job for a quick buck."

This production had the co-operation of The Globe and Mail, which published the first excerpts of the book on its front page Sept. 12, without any warning to Mulroney just as he was recovering from a near-fatal disease which had hospitalized him for months. Newman and his co-conspirators knew that Mulroney is working on his own serious autobiography for publication next year. The Globe outdid the worst of the English scandal sheets by publishing all of the most sensational quotations it could find in the Newman collection.

As most readers will know, I was an elected member of Mulroney's government, and a cabinet minister from 1984 until he resigned in June 1993. In my own autobiography, published in 1997, I gave my assessment of Mulroney, whom I found to be a wonderful human being and an excellent leader: "He devoted 100% of his time to the job of governing the country and leading his party. Brian and Mila were a warm, personable, thoroughly admirable couple. They were friendly and decent people with children well brought up and well mannered."

What Newman did is not a surprise since, in his autobiography, he wrote "Those of us who have gained some measure of credibility practicing this mad craft thrive on a pretend intimacy that spawns betrayal." By printing selected, sensational excerpts secretly and without warning to Mulroney, the Globe exhibited lower ethical standards and integrity than Newman -- if this is possible.

The most accurate commentary about this sordid exploitative episode that I've seen was written by Beryl Wajsman of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal. "It takes passion and ego to be a political leader," he said. "They are not necessarily bad things. Sadly, the virus of political correctness that has infected Canada's national mindset over the past decade, has made us forget this."

Wajsman argues "the fault in this episode lies not with Mulroney but with Newman," whose work he describes as "night crawler reportage."

He quotes Teddy Roosevelt: "It is not the critic who counts but the man who is actually in the arena." I congratulate and support Mulroney, who was actually in the arena, who strove valiantly; who erred and came up short at times, but who spent himself for a worthy cause and can know today the triumph of high achievement. Where he failed, at least he failed daring greatly.

Yes, Brian could make mistakes -- as he did in trusting Peter Newman. Yes, he is a man prone sometimes to puffery and invective, which is no surprise to most. What is more troubling are the questions that now arise about the ethics of the journalistic craft as illustrated not only by Newman but the Globe.

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