One man’s gift to his family

He offered more mentorship than advice.

I close my eyes and all of it comes back to me. Richard Nixon had just won the U.S. Presidency, for a second term. The family gathered – either later that fall of 1972, or the following summer – from Toronto, from Maryland, New Jersey and Florida. Then, usually after the first meal together, dessert was finished, a few drinks consumed, and it was time to talk. It wouldn’t take long before current events, politics and Nixon became the focus. Within minutes there was a storm brewing.

“How could he possibly get re-elected?” my father would say.

“He’s good for business,” a couple of my American relatives would say. “He’s gonna end the war in Vietnam.”

“He’s a crook!” my father would say, looking for a verbal fight.

“He’s our president,” came the retort.

And, well, it escalated from there.

Who needs civics? You do!

The business report on the radio began with the latest dooming and glooming. The commentator used all the appropriate clichés about this poor outlook, that unexpected downturn, and, of course, the uncertainty prevailing. Then, he surprised me with his ignorance by describing this week’s outcome in the French election.

“European markets are surging,” he said, “because of leftist Marine Le Pen’s showing in the first round of the French elections.”

Leftist?” I repeated out loud. “Does he have any idea what he’s talking about?”

Words R us

In 1966, Walter Cronkite made the cover of Time magazine. But he still couldn’t pronounce “February.” Photo Robert Vickrey.

I know Walter Cronkite did it and that made it OK. Walter Cronkite, the CBS TV news anchor from the early 1960s until 1981, was once considered “the most trusted man in America.” But just because he was most trusted didn’t make him the most correct. He still couldn’t pronounce the name of the second month on the calendar. All those years ago he still closed his show this way:

“And that’s the way it is, this Thursday, Febuary 7, 1963,” he’d say in his sign-off. “This is Walter Cronkite for CBS Evening News. Good night.”

Maybe Chaucer was right

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote "let sleeping dogs lie" in the 17th century with implications for 21st century politicians.

When my younger sister and I were growing up, our Greek-born American grandparents visited our home once a year. They came from the U.S. to stay during warm Canadian summer months. While visiting, my grandfather generally tolerated anything my sister and I did or said, with a few exceptions. We could never swear in front of him. We were never to call wrestling a “fixed” sport. And under no circumstances were we to criticize the U.S. president – in those years Richard Nixon – or the U.S. Vice-President (of Greek origin), Spiro Agnew.

“Let sleeping dogs lie,” my mother would warn us. By that, she meant that unless we really wanted to face my grandfather’s wrath, we should just avoid any discussion of Nixon’s near impeachment and Agnew’s resignation over tax evasion.

Still a noble profession

The keys to ethical journalism
The keys to ethical journalism

Last winter, during one of the daily meetings with my staff at the Toronto Observer (the online newspaper produced by senior journalism students at Centennial College where I teach), one of my student reporters faced a dilemma. We had assigned her to attend the funeral of Sgt. Ryan Russell, the Toronto Police Service officer killed by a stolen pickup truck with a snow plow. It was too late for her to get a press pass to the funeral. So how, she wondered, would she get into the ceremony?

“Do I hide the fact I’m a reporter?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “It’s a public funeral. You should be able to get in. But if they ask you not to take photographs, respect their wishes.”