Sunday, August 16, 2015

Robert Fife Brought Duffy Scandal to the Office of the Prime Minister

Robert Fife Brings Duffy Scandal to the Office of the Prime Minister, a column I wrote for the Cranbrook Guardian on May 17, 2013

by Michael J Morris

Updated on August 16,2013 to remind Canadian citizens that it was a journalist who brought the scandal into the open. No spin, just great reporting by Robert Fife. Where I have updated is in italics.  mjm

When I saw the tweet that once again Robert Fife had proven why he is simply the best, it immediately captured my attention.

Kevin Newman, the host of CTV's Question Period was retweeting a comment by Rosa Hwang, senior broadcast producer with CTV National News. "Once again Robert Fife proves why he's simply the best."

Bob is now the host.

"What had Fife done now?", I wondered, and soon learned that the Ottawa Bureau Chief of CTV News had broken the story that Nigel Wright, the chief of staff to Stephen Harper, the prime minister, had written a personal cheque to Mike Duffy, the senator appointed by Harper,  for $90,172 to pay back expenses to which the senator was not entitled. 

The Duffy scandal was now placed squarely in the office of the prime minister by Bob Fife, who was in Grade Nine when I arrived  to teach at Chapleau High School in 1969, and once he learned I had been a daily newspaper reporter, he never stopped asking me questions throughout his high school years. And when he was attending the University of Toronto, he challenged me on every issue when he came home on vacation or to spend the summers.

In the interests of full disclosure, Bob's father, the late Clyde Fife was one of my father's best friends, and my grandmother and his grandmother were also great friends.

Careful readers will note that I have referred to him in the above paragraphs as Robert, when referring to the quote about him, then Fife, then Bob. That's the way it's been for 46 years now. I call him by one and all depending on the situation -- I just did a rough calculation. How time flies, and how proud I am that from the very beginning of his career as a reporter, Robert 'Bob' Fife has been among the best of his generation.

In November 2008, Deborah Howell, the ombudsperson at the Washington Post wrote that "good reporters are the heart of news gathering. If it's news, they have to know it. Without them, the public wouldn't have the news and information essential to running a democracy -- or our lives. Whether the story is local, national or foreign, it has to be gathered on the ground by a reporter." 

That sums Bob up as he simply did his job and revealed another twist in the continuing saga of Duffy, the senator appointed to represent Prince Edward Island but really lives in Ottawa. 

Just recently Bob won the Canadian Association of Journalists Award for his work on uncovering the XL Foods scandal in 2012. In the 1980s when he was still a "young" reporter, Maclean's magazine called him the best investigative reporter in Canada for his coverage of the Ocean Ranger disaster.

He has written two books, A Capital Scandal with John Warren, about the Brian Mulroney years as prime minister and the other Kim Campbell: The Making of a Politician.

Ms Powell added in answering the question about what makes a good reporter, "Endless curiosity and a deep need to know what is happening. Then, the ability to hear a small clue and follow it."

Once Bob broke the Duffy-Wright story, social media has been swamped with tweets, the pundits have been pontificating, talking heads have been talking, and speculating and doing their usual, not really adding much new to the story.

Meanwhile, as I started to work on this column, Bob posted on Twitter and Facebook that Duffy has now resigned from the Conservative caucus, and will sit as an independent senator but he has not resigned from the Senate. So far, Wright and Harper have provided no acceptable explanation. More to come!

The trial of Duffy is now underway.

Bob is one of those reporters who certainly fits the comment by former Washington Post Post executive editor Ben Bradlee who thought that a reporter's most important quality is energy: "They've got to love what they're doing; they've got to be serious about turning over rocks, opening doors. The story drives you. It's part of your soul."

Mr. Bradlee should know. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported to him as they covered the Watergate scandal in the United States.

Ironically perhaps, the last chat I had with Bob was at the 90th anniversary reunion of Chapleau High School in 2012 where we were participants in an ecumenical service. It fell to me to read from the Old Testament, (perhaps because of my age) from the book of Ecclesiates, the part about, "For every thing there is a season".

Being a product of the 1960s, I listened to Turn Turn Turn (to Every thing there is a season) made popular by the folk rock band The Byrds, with music written by Pete Seeger in 1959.

For sure it is a season for something in Canadian politics and Robert 'Bob' Fife, "simply the best" is part of it from Bruce Hutchison's far side of the street. How's that for mixing metaphors in one sentence!

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