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Press Gallery "corrupt," "bunch of idiots," Mulroney says in new book 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:00 p.m. September 13, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Late every evening during the 1980s, Sam Wakim, a confidante of then prime minister Brian Mulroney, would stop by the loading docks of the Globe and Mail's Toronto office and grab a paper literally hot off the presses.  
   
Wakim would then report to the PM what would be in the headlines the next morning. 

Before the Internet became commonplace, Mulroney was a news junky in need of his nightly fix and to be the first to know what the papers had to say, especially about him. 

In the new book The Secret Mulroney Tapes, author Peter C. Newman paints a picture --  based on his taped interviews with Mulroney -- during those years of a man obsessed with the media and with a Parliamentary Press Gallery he loathed. 

The book is filled with dozens of frank and angry complaints by Mulroney about the national media. 

Mulroney describes reporters in the Press Gallery as "a bunch of idiots" and "corrupt, venal people."

In the book, CBC reporter Wendy Mesley is described by the former PM as "an airhead," Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn a Liberal "propagandist," Globe and Mail columnist Hugh Winsor is described as "useless, absolutely useless" and those are among the milder criticisms. 

Much harsher judgments are made of former Globe reporter Stevie Cameron and columnist Claire Hoy. 

"I had made up my mind that the Ottawa press gallery really didn't have the foggiest idea of what was going on in the country," Mulroney explained to Newman about his strategy before running to replace Joe Clark as Conservative leader in 1983. 

"But even more important, it would probably be an advantage to have them against me, because they are held in such disrepute." 

Mulroney later explains why he believed the media is out of touch with the Canadian public.

"If you watch television, the double standard is pretty visible," he said. "The Toronto media, they just call up the same people all the time. It wouldn't' occur to them that maybe somebody from Saskatchewan would have a valid point of view."

The various taped interviews with Mulroney portray a prime minister who felt tormented by the press. 

"Even Hitler had somebody writing one good adjective in 10 years," he said of negative Montreal Gazette coverage of him. 

"What did I do? I was a Conservative who won."

Even his wife felt tormented. 

Mila Mulroney came "close to breaking down," according to Newman, after reading Stevie Cameron's story on the PM's reported Gucci shoe collection.

"I eventually learned to take their coverage with a grain of salt," Mila told Newman. "But initially, it was almost like being raped and pillaged in full view."

According to Newman, Mila "went well beyond despising individual journalists.

"She placed them in the same category as the Ottoman Turnkish raiders who slaughtered the Serbian army on the bloody battlefield of Kosovo on June 28, 1389," he wrote. 

Mulroney said even British PM Margaret Thatcher was revolted by the Canadian media. 

According to the former PM, she once showed U.S. President Ronald Reagan a copy of the Globe and said, "This is what Brian has to put up with. Look at this disgrace. This is Canadian journalism. Look at this disgraceful, putrid newspaper." 

Mulroney also fumes about never getting a honeymoon from the media. 

After his 1988 election victory -- a victory many journalists on his campaign bus predicted he would lose -- , Mulroney recounts how Press Gallery reporter Les Whittington asked him at a press conference a day after the victory when he was going to resign. 

In the book, Senator Lowell Murray, once a Mulroney strategist, revealed to Newman that Mulroney would launch caustic attacks on the media at almost every Conservative caucus meeting. 

The Mulroney caucus even discussed whether they should stop talking to the press altogether at one point. They abandoned that plan, but Mulroney didn't hold a press conference for three years at one point during his time in office. 

But Mulroney's obsession with the media didn't end when he left politics in 1993. 

In interviews with Newman during the early days of the Chretien years, Mulroney said the media was giving Chretien a free ride and not taking him to task for reversing Liberal policies on free trade and the GST nor for some of his patronage appointments. 

Mulroney also saw a double standard with how the media covered his friends and how they covered friends of Chretien. 

"My friends got blamed for being my friends," he said. "I didn't have any friends. I had 'cronies.' The implication was that everyone was corrupt."

He then refers to Andre Desmarais of Power Corp. and his efforts to advance his business interests regarding a television licence. Desmarais is former prime minister Chretien's son-in-law. 

"This television licence is a billion-dollar deal, not a shitty little telephone call to the PMO," he said. 

"What (Desmarais) is doing is trying to advance his business interests," he said. 

"I find it very crass, and quite frankly if I had done it, there would be thousands of people marching in the streets. Jeffrey Simpson would be doing a column a day. The CBC would be doing specials. Pamela Wallin would be there, breathless.

"Look at your goddamned newspapers today; you have trouble finding the story," says an agitated Mulroney.

However, Mulroney did have respect for some Press Gallery members. 

After the 1988 election debates, Mulroney pointed out the reporters in the gallery he believed were not biased or, as he called them, "the good ones." 

The list was comprised of Financial Post columnist Hy Solomon, CBC reporters Don Newman and Jason Moscovitz and the francophone media. 

"The French guys were always on a higher level, on a different level; don't ask me why, that's the way it was," he said. 

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