Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mayor Bullies Journalists, Journalists Fight Back

Politicians, especially municipal ones, are usually smart enough not to take journalists on. Journalists wield the pen, have access to hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, and provide a conduit to those eyeballs for politicians. Politicians use press releases and their political charm to manipulate the local scribes and to keep them onside. But not this past week. Mayor David Miller bullied at least two journalists, who between them command the attention of over half a million readers. What was he thinking? The superiority of legal logic, apparently.

Councillor Jane Pitfield, when she was chair of the works committee, presented a report in February 2005 to Miller on how to secure dumping rights to the Green Lane landfill -- the one Miller just subverted democracy to buy in 24 hours or less this past week -- as a way to get out of the Michigan landfill mess, for less money than Miller has just committed us to...except we don't know how big a bill Miller has foisted upon us, being as he doesn't want us to know until after we've cast our votes. Rights usually cost less than an outright buyout unless you're talking very long-term, and there seems to be some argument over just how much life is left in this agricultural area dump.

Back in 2005, in stark contrast to this past week, Miller dithered, as only any of the good leaders we insist on electing can, and the price shot up.

We know about this February proposal because Miller bullied Royson James of The Toronto Star and Zen Ruryk of the Toronto Sun. Journalists get mighty pissed when bullied, even if it's by a lawyer with his quick tongue and feats of logic, something that usually impresses judges. Miller thought that would impress these two journalists too and bring them into line. He pronounced reports that he knew about the February 2005 Green Lane offer as "categorically false" and then tried to blame a fired employee for leaking this embarrassing information. I suppose it didn't occur to him that journalists know (a) how to talk (b) how to question (c) how to rile up the opposition to spill (d) use a computer and (e) use search engines to find old articles. I can just see those two revving up all their journalistic skills and unearthing every damning thing against him. Pitfield was only too happy to provide extra salvoes by showing the Star the actual report so that James could read it with his own eyes.

It's too bad Miller chose to be a bully. James was ready to swallow the argument his aide put forward that "the offer had been speculative and the city chose another option" and not ask what option.

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