Watch your bob­ber, Bob

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - OPINION - Bob Wake­ham Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­

MEMO To: Self

Re: Avoid­ing Defama­tion Suits or Threats of Suits or De­mands for Apolo­gies

Though you’ve never been sued, Bob, in all of your many years bang­ing like a ban­shee on type­writ­ers, and learn­ing — not so well — to del­i­cately touch com­put­ers with your meathook paws, and although a cou­ple of your employers were forced to is­sue re­trac­tions for your work, it is time you re­minded your­self that it is never too late in this game to run afoul of peo­ple with power or money or in­flu­ence (or all three) who might wish to make you aware of their abil­ity to dull that knife of ap­praisal you (and oth­ers) seem to think you wield with im­punity.

So, Bob, here’s a few re­minders of how to watch your Ps and Qs, to keep a cau­tious and care­ful eye on your bob­ber, to put the odd blank in that over­loaded gun of yours, to tighten up that loose cannon on your deck of de­nun­ci­a­tion.

(1) Don’t ever, un­der any cir­cum­stances, dredge up the past. That was then; this is now. Leave that stuff to the his­to­ri­ans and the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists at MUN. Af­ter all, they crave a dose of ex­cite­ment in their aca­demic lives. Be­sides, what do we re­ally have to learn from the past? Stay in the mo­ment. And trust politi­cians (and ex-politi­cians) when they guar­an­tee that ev­ery­thing will work out for the best. Take them at their word, at face value, not at two-face value, as you might saucily put it. That way, you’ll re­duce the chances of some le­gal bea­gle nip­ping at your heels.

(2) Draw­ing at­ten­tion to a politi­cian’s (or ex-politi­cian’s) phys­i­cal stature is an ab­so­lute no-no. For­get us­ing words like “diminu­tive” or “hav­ing a Napoleonic com­plex” (yes, I know, Joey is long gone, but he might be res­ur­rected in an­other form, you never know). Those in­sults are un­called for. Aside from touch­ing off a tem­per tantrum in the odd politi­cian (or ex­politi­cian), they’re also ju­ve­nile. Grow up, Bob.

(3) Also, while we’re ref­er­enc­ing the na­ture of su­per sen­si­tiv­ity, there should be no in­fer­ences that a politi­cian (or ex-politi­cian) over­re­acts with reg­u­lar­ity to even a hint of crit­i­cism. They’re hu­man be­ings, for gawd’s sakes. Cut them some slack. They were — they are — in this for the good of us all. There are no egos. No self-ag­gran­dize­ment. It’s all for lit­tle old us.

(4) Never, ever sug­gest that a politi­cian (or ex-politi­cian) could be, may have been an in­tim­i­dat­ing soul, ca­pa­ble of con­vinc­ing his or her loyal sub­jects that the em­peror is not naked, that his or her word is/was gospel, not to be chal­lenged. Or else.

(5) Do not go off half-cocked with holier-than-thou hom­i­lies when a politi­cian (or ex-politi­cian) of­fers up the no­tion that it is the me­dia’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­mote New­found­land (and New­found­land gov­ern­ments), that jour­nal­ists here have an obli­ga­tion to cheer on the New­found­land causes, to aid where pos­si­ble the never-end­ing New­found­land quest for “have-province” sta­tus. When politi­cians (or ex-politi­cians) sug­gest we’re all in this to­gether, that any de­vi­a­tion from a cheer-lead­ing role is trai­tor­ous, then just ac­cept what they have to say with hu­mil­ity. If guilty, stick that tail be­tween your legs and run off into the cor­ner — not to sulk, but to do your penance. Re­cite a dozen times: God guard thee, New­found­land.

(6) When­ever a politi­cian (or ex-politi­cian) starts to bark about su­ing your arse or de­mand­ing apolo­gies from this one and that one, even if the de­mands ap­pear spe­cious, do not fall back on that old ar­gu­ment that such threats from the pow­er­ful in so­ci­ety set off a chill­ing im­pact on the me­dia’s man­date to de­mand ac­count­abil­ity at al­most all costs. And never, ever talk about the need of the me­dia to “com­fort the af­flicted and af­flict the com­fort­able.” Come on, now: that’s corn­ball stuff, and you know it. It’s the cynic’s mantra. An ex­cuse to get your jol­lies tear­ing strips off politi­cians (and ex-politi­cians). They de­serve bet­ter.

(7) Al­ways stick to “just the facts, ma’am, just the facts” in order to avoid pos­si­ble suits. Any at­tempt to put in some sort of per­spec­tive what the elected lead­ers (or ex-lead­ers, or oth­ers in au­thor­ity) have to say will only awaken the sleep­ing gi­ant, or gi­ants.

(8) Al­most need­less to say, but I’ll say it to you any­way, Bob: don’t go in­sin­u­at­ing that politi­cian (or ex-politi­cians) can be bul­lies. That’s a recipe for a day in court. Or an apol­ogy.

(9) Al­ways re­mem­ber that free­dom of speech, free­dom of the press, doesn’t give you the right to ques­tion the mo­tives of politi­cians (or ex-politi­cians). That’s just tak­ing ad­van­tage of your au­ton­omy, tak­ing it to ex­tremes. Put your­self in their shoes for a change They are un­der­paid, over­worked ser­vants of the peo­ple.

(10) Fi­nally, Bob, put this in your pipe and smoke it (it’ll be le­gal next week): Politi­cians (and ex-politi­cians) de­serve much bet­ter than what they’re get­ting from the arm­chair quar­ter­backs, the Mon­day morn­ing quar­ter­backs. Stick to that phi­los­o­phy, and you won’t have to worry about suits and apolo­gies.

— End of Memo —

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