Invited in May to join a new Canadian television station, I was supposed to be a contrarian voice on topics such as global warming and David Suzuki. By October, the broadcaster had lost its nerve.
In April, my e-mail inbox was overflowing with congratulatory messages. I’d coordinated a fact-checking exercise involving 40 people from 12 countries in which more than 18,000 references cited by a United Nations climate change report were examined.
Officials say this Nobel-winning report relies solely on research published in scientific journals. But we discovered nearly one-third of its citations are to news clippings, press releases, student theses, World Wildlife Fund literature, and other sources. Which means the report is not the authoritative volume everyone believes it to be.
Our finding was big news in the climate change blogosphere. It got mentioned by a UK newspaper columnist, and was reported by FoxNews in the US. Among the avalanche of e-mail that followed was one from a person of indeterminate gender whose first name was Kory. A third party (also a stranger to me), thought perhaps I could recommend clear-thinking journalists for a project Kory was working on. Was I available for coffee?
My last journalism job had been as an editorial writer and columnist for the National Post. Laid off back in 2001 along with 130 others, I’d called it quits. The Canadian media landscape is small and cliquish. Newsrooms are miserably managed workplaces where people hate their lives. I said sayonara.
Only recently have I begun blogging and working on a book – which represents my response to the non-stop hyping of global warming by journalists. Sensible voices are needed, and current media players are the problem.
Unsure that it was a smart use of my time, I agreed to a meeting. Which was how I found myself, a decade after jumping off the journalistic ship, sitting in a Starbucks on the first Friday in May being offered a job.
A brash young man in a pinstripe suit named Kory Teneycke told me he was in charge of a bold new venture in Canadian television. He spent more than an hour courting me, and I’m afraid I didn’t make it easy for him.
Called SunTV, the new station would launch on January 1st and would be funded by Quebecor (which publishes a chain of right-leaning tabloid dailies in major Canadian cities – including the Toronto Sun). I didn’t hide my skepticism that a company known for wave after wave of newsroom cutbacks had that kind of money. He said Quebecor viewed a national television station as critical to its long-term success.
I told him television isn’t my thing. I’m a cautious, deliberative thinker – not a rapid-fire TV pundit. Kory assured me he had something else in mind. He wanted me to write a weekly column. The column would be published by the Sun newspaper chain on a certain day of the week and, on that day, I’d go into the TV station and make a series of guest appearances on news-oriented talk shows. Some would be live, others would be taped, but the discussion would focus on whatever I had written.
He wanted me to tell viewers about the legions of dissenting scientists who don’t think the recent mild warming of the planet is cause for concern. I was to let people know about the ongoing climate change debate that is followed closely by millions of readers in the blogosphere yet goes unreported by the mainstream media.
Kory responded to my really, I’m not a television person protestations with assurances that it would be OK. At the beginning, few people would be watching anyway, he insisted. He was sure that, with a bit of practice, I’d do fine.
His one firm directive was that I should challenge David Suzuki. I hadn’t thought much about Suzuki before that conversation, but Kory’s instinct was correct. Although Suzuki tells us constantly that he’s a scientist, he’s actually a preacher who espouses environmentalist views with religious fervour. No one in the media asks Suzuki why, since he thinks the world is over-populated, he himself fathered five children. No one holds him accountable for those stark, 20-year-old acid rain predictions that never came true. No one inquires as to how a geneticist whose research involved fruit flies could possibly be a climate change expert.
I told Kory I’m politically independent. Sometimes, I said, I agree with the left. Sometimes, I agree with the right. What I am certain about is that, whenever I open a newspaper, I encounter predictable, superficial, pablum perspectives. He asked me about other Canadian journalists who would be a good fit for a television station whose raison dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÂªtre would be to shake things up – to say things no one else was saying. I agreed to send him a few names.
The conversation touched briefly on our respective backgrounds. He’s a prairie boy from Saskatchewan. I’m the daughter of a Northern Ontario auto mechanic. Neither of us has ever moved in private-school, trust-fund circles. But thanks to our rural roots, we both possess a restricted firearms license.
Kory wanted me to name a dollar amount. What kind of monthly retainer would I need? That’s when I embarrassed him by relating the story of the other time Quebecor had offered me a job.
After the National Post laid me off, I was treated to some fine-sounding flattery about how important it was to keep my voice alive. The person making the offer on behalf of Quebecor said the company could pay $150 for a weekly column.
As a 20-something unknown, my first weekly column (at the Toronto Star) had paid $200. Having since written a book and developed a national profile I’d replied that I couldn’t accept less money a decade later. Advised that Quebecor was unable to afford my counteroffer of $500, I’d smiled and said ‘thanks, but no thanks.’
Looking uncomfortable, Kory assured me that those were the bad old days. Matters were different now.
I told him I’d think about it.
to be continued…