Opinion Editorial

'Wafergate' does not reflect well on media

By Peter Lapinskie, Daily Observer

Some wags are calling it "Wafergate" in a snide reference to the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s that brought down the Nixon administration in the United States.

If you haven't heard about it, permit us to capsulize the scurrilous scandal that has official Ottawa shaking in its Gucci loafers.

Back in early July, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the state funeral of former governor general Roméo LeBlanc in New Brunswick. Apparently, or so the story goes, Harper took communion but pocketed the wafer instead of eating it. We say "apparently" because that is the essence of the so-called scandal, as there is no incontrovertible proof that he ever did any such thing.

Nevertheless, proof is a relative thing in the middle of a long, dreary summer when certain media types will do anything to find a 'story' where none really exists.

The alleged incident was chronicled in the St. John Telegraph-Journal, a reputable newspaper of long standing, creating a national controversy despite there being no real proof that Harper did such a thing.

This week the newspaper ran a front-page apology and announced that its editor-in-chief had been fired and its publisher had been suspended for 30 days.

All of this on the heels of allegations that the 'story' was actually fed to the newspaper officials by someone "close to" the Liberal Party. Again, an unproven allegation but one that makes reporters stand up and pay attention.

To their credit, Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have done their best to defuse the tempest in a political teapot. Harper accepted the newspaper's apology immediately and left it at that, while Ignatieff has not even bothered to dignify the rumours of a partisan plant with any comment.

Harper has always insisted that he ate the wafer. The archbishop who administered communion said the prime minister did nothing wrong by consuming it, even though he is a Protestant.

To us, that sounds like Harper did what he said, and for whatever reason the newspaper decided to print its own version of the truth. Most likely we will never know for sure, but what we do know is that an incident like this, despite the fun some people have been having with it, does nothing for the reputation of the media in general. It also does not speak well for those in the media who jumped all over it without bothering to check the facts first. Our motto has always been "get it first, but get it right" and we still go by that to this day. It appears in the headlong rush to make a headline, one if not two people lost their heads. That's a pretty steep price to pay to sell a few papers.

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