22 February 2014

Unconscious Press Humour #nlpoli

Digging through a set of files in the provincial archives once upon a time, your humble e-scribbler came across a particular file in a set bequeathed to the archives decades ago by the fellow who wrote the original legislation that helped create the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War.

The hand-written title on it was “unconscious press humour.”  The file contained a raft of clippings from the local newspapers where the headline made an inadvertent joke when placed in the context of the story.  We are not talking about “Stripper bares all”,  the now legendary Telegram headline from the 1980s that wound up in the National Lampoon’s “True Facts” page thanks to Liberal member of parliament Dave Rooney.  We are talking stuff where some earnest headline writer had put together a groaner entirely by accident.

These days,  you’d title the file on your computer something like “inadvertent media jokes” or if you haven’t grown tired of it yet and wanted to stay true to the original name,  “Bob Wakeham, Volume 15.”

In his latest offering, the former Telegram scribe and CBC producer has used his weekly column to hold forth on the Conservative Party’s leadership contest.  Must be painful, says Wakeham, for the die-hard PCs to go from Danny the Wonder Pony, Lord and Master of all he cast eyes on to the dismal Kathy Dunderdale and now to the empty field of the current contest.

Wakeham brings his readers up to Bob’s speed on all the non-candidates who have confirmed their status.  Bob’s column went to bed before the latest one – Senator Fabian Manning – confirmed he’s not going to bother.  The official reason is “family”, the standard catch-all excuse for politicians.  The more likely reasoning in Manning’s case is a bit more complex:  he doesn’t stand a chance in hell of winning.

And that’s really the thing about many of the non-candidates, even the ones in cabinet:  they are political non-entities.  They lack the gravitas you’d normally need to be where they are let alone go the huge step up to the most demanding job in the province.

Bob’s speed, incidentally, is considerably slower than the events of the past week.  He still lists Steve Kent and Shawn Skinner as potential candidates even though the pair are out in all but the final “I’m out” pronouncement.  Maybe Bob has been too busy suffering through the last of Olympics to see who is hosting the delayed Here and Now  to keep track of local political details.

What Bob’s column is all about, really, is Danny Williams.  Over the past decade, the few of us who read Bob with any regularity understand that his gruff, formerly-hard-drinking newsman image is just that:  an image.  He loved Danny Williams then and he is even more in love with him now. 

Wakeham ignores the fact that the current state of the party is Danny’s fault.  His leadership style did nothing if not promote the mediocrities who are not up to the leadership job.  Bob ignores entirely Frank Coleman, the fellow who Danny wants to stuff into the job in place of the only declared candidate, a guy named Bill Barry.

What Wakeham does do reliably is give us a repeat of Danny Williams’ criticism of Barry issued the day before word leaked  - joke intended - that Williams was pushing Conservative Party moneybags Frank Coleman as the new leader. 

Barry “managed to shove his foot so far down his throat he nearly choked, telling the province that members of the government caucus wouldn’t know a bucket of S-H-I-T (he spelled it out) if it was poured over their heads.”   That’s the detail Wakeham offers to explain Williams’ comment to reporters that Barry had “insulted” the current caucus. 

To be sure, the comment may appear insulting, but that does not mean it isn’t true.  One of the reasons the lot of them have their current jobs is that Williams loved the crowd of them for just that quality back when he was running the show openly. 

Had Wakeham been honest, he’d have pointed out that back in the day, Williams didn’t have to be polite enough to douse their heads as Barry would have it.  Williams could have shoved the shit by the bucket-load down their throats with one hand while holding their nose with the other hand.  Then he’d have waited for them to choke down the last turd, smile, and say “thank you, Sir, may I have some more?” before tipping up the lip of the next pail.

That sort of environment – where the leader openly demands loyalty oaths and ruthlessly crushes dissent  - tends not to produce leadership candidates worthy of the name or the job some think they are worthy of. Perhaps that aspect of Williams’ style was too subtle for Bob to notice.

Wakeham is right on one point:  Bill Barry’s observation on the caucus doesn’t help his chance of winning but that qualifies as nothing more than a penetrating insight into the really obvious.  But the problem with Wakeham’s comment is that it is as ridiculous as Williams’ comments.  Williams routinely did the same politically stupid thing with people he had to work with countless times and countless times  Wakeham cheered wildly for Williams to strike another blow for stupidity. 

Wakeham also does a rather curious turn.  He admits that Williams “took some liberties, exaggerated, in fact, when he accused Barry of having preached in an email the homily of privatization of education and health (along with Nalcor).”

Williams fabricated the claim, a point that became clear once Barry released the message.

And that’s what is curious about Wakeham’s insistence  - despite the publicly available evidence – that “Barry was dropping hints that his agenda would contain a provocative discussion of altering much of what Newfoundland society views as sacrosanct.”

Barry dropped no such hints.  Nor did he state it bluntly. 

Nor did Barry talk about anything that “much of Newfoundland society finds sacrosanct.”

Well, unless Wakeham means coping with the legacy of mismanagement, debt and the hideous Muskrat falls scheme Danny Williams left the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.   The last time anyone checked, Danny Williams might think he is the heart and soul of Newfoundland and Labrador, but he isn’t.  Nor is he “much of Newfoundland society.”

As for what the people of the province think of Williams’ legacy,  well, that’s obvious from the Conservative Party position in the polls.  The fact that Wakeham remains unconscious of that and a great many other things is what makes his column ultimately so funny.

Inadvertently humourous, maybe.

But crap-your-pants funny nonetheless.