Welcome to Spectator
A little over half an hour into Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane takes control of the moribund New York Inquirer and fires the editor. On completing his fourth draft of the front page of his maiden edition, Kane turns to his soulmate and dramatic critic Jedediah Leland and reads to him a prospective declaration of principles for the paper: “I’ll provide the people of this city with a daily paper that will tell all the news honestly. I will also provide them…with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings.”
Those principles force a fifth and final alteration to the front page. Once it goes to press, Leland asks the typesetter for the original copy. “I have a hunch it might turn out to be a pretty important document, a document like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.” He pauses here for just a moment, his tone changing to one of self-deprecation in the face of Kane’s staggering ambition. “And my first report card at school.”
If Spectator aspires to a voice, it’s that of Jedediah Leland: a smirking suggestion of ridicule in the face of towering egos. In this blog, I aspire to cast a gimlet eye on the stories of power—of money and media and influence. These days, conventional journalism is full to brimming with pompous windbaggery and is, as ever, in need of knocking down a peg or two. Here you will gain insight into the New York Times’ latest cave-in to vested interests, the Toronto Star’s latest bleeding heart lament, Chatelaine’s latest firing, Gerry Schwartz’s latest buyout, Heather Reisman’s latest faux pas and David Thomson’s latest… whatever.
The inspiration for this project is all around us, but if I were to offer a point in time when Spectator began, I think of a lunch I had some years ago. I was writing regularly for the Toronto Sunday Star, and the paper was at a point in its history when it was trying to do something better than what it had been doing (and what it’s now resumed doing, which is to say, squat). The editor had come from the National Post with lots of ambition and moxie. And while I admired her for what she was trying to do, there was one aspect of her efforts I found sadly lacking. At the lunch in question, I asked her whether the Star would let slip the dogs of war and allow its writers to attack competing journos and columnists. She replied that the sort of internecine battle that marks the quality press in London and to a lesser degree New York simply wouldn’t wash in Toronto. The unspoken basis for her claim was that Canadians are too polite and respectful to engage with that sort of mudslinging.
It is precisely this sort of thinking that has shackled the country’s journalism and made it, with the odd exception (the National Post 1998–2001, the Globe under Richard Addis, CBC radio in the ’80s), timorous, provincial, staid and generally mediocre. I asked a famous Canadian writer and journalist what he thought of the prospects for a blog whose purpose was to attack with unremitting venom the pretenses of journalism, business, and the business of journalism. “I have one question for you,” he replied. “What’s the hook?” To which I should have responded, had I the wit or the timing, “I rest my case.”
Welcome, friends, to Spectator.