THE MAFIA, THE MEDIA AND THE PARTY MACHINE
by Bill Freeman & Marsha Hewitt.
James Lorimer & Co.
$19.95 (cloth), $10.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Don
THIS HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST popular books that
James Lorimer has published recently, but it has raised more - than a
few eyebrows in Hamilton, the subject of the book. Bill Freeman and
Marsha Hewitt have come down pretty hard on the city's politicians,
business people and the media, particularly The Spectator. "If
the only paper in town can't come to grips with the issues we raise,"
said Freeman recently, "then God help the public."
Freeman and Hewitt may soon need some heavenly
help themselves because they are now the defendants in a $200,000 libel
suit. In the first edition of Their
Town the authors suggested that Dominic Morganti—a
prominent Hamilton businessman—was connected with organized crime. This
"fact" was prominently featured in a review published by the Toronto Star late
1979 and written by former Spectator
reporter Mike Walton. He referred to Morganti as "a known Mafioso." The
printed an apology the following week after learning that "the
publishers have withdrawn these statements about Morganti from
succeeding editions of the book."
By that time, however, the book's authors were
already infamous. A writ had been filed by Morganti and several others
in the Supreme Court of Ontario seeking an injunction against further
distribution of the book and author promotion. As far as the
media in Hamilton were concerned, an injunction was hardly necessary;
they wouldn't touch the book anyway. Tom Charrington's "Open Line" show
suddenly dropped Freeman and Hewitt from the guest list. The Spectator did
publish a rather lame review, but cancelled an interview with the
authors. When a prominent bookstore in the area launched a promotion
campaign for Their Town
and Dalton Camp's Points
of Departure, The Spectator coverage
book. Evidently the story about the book is
just as interesting as the book
for the present libel suit can be found in the chapter on the
Mafia, "The Hamilton Mob," probably the liveliest section of
the book. It will no doubt appeal to anyone who followed the
series that the CBC
aired several years ago. The authors have evidently done some in-depth
investigating, but a few questions have arisen about their accuracy.
A check of the court transcripts shows that
Morganti intends to grill Freeman and Hewitt about their sources of
information. I found this item on page two of the plaintiffs' charges:
The Plaintiffs state that the defendants knew or ought to have
known that the statements published were untrue and defamatory and further state that the defendants did not take the most elementary steps necessary to check out the alleged "facts."
The outcome of this legal battle will evidently be
a judgement on the authors' credibility as writers, as well as a test of the libel laws.
Spectator plays a major role in the chapter on organized
crime and throughout the text of Their
Town. One fascinating chapter deals with the history of
the paper and its reputation for avoiding "tough" news coverage. The
authors contend that the recent history of the paper can be divided
into two eras, according to who was publishing the paper at the time:
Tom Nichols from 1968 to 1970 and John Muir in 1971 and thereafter.
Investigative reporters from the Nichols era uncovered corruption at
City Hall, opened up the Clinton Duke affair, leading to a judicial
enquiry, and paid close attention to politics, education and local
issues in Hamilton.
According to the authors, the Muir era has been
characterized by "soft" news and a concern for placating prominent Spectator
advertisers. The Hamilton Harbour scandal, for instance, was one major
issue that was virtually ignored.
It's interesting to compare the account of Freeman
and Hewitt with that of Walton, the former Spectator reporter
mentioned earlier. He contends that the section on the paper "is
sprinkled with inaccuracies" (he doesn't name any) and that under
Muir's direction "it's not the complete cream-puff, quietly in league
with Big Business, that it is made out to be." One fact is undeniable.
Under Muir's direction The
Spectator lost some of the best editors and reporters it
ever employed: Warren Barton, Gerald McAuliffe, Tom Coleman, Peter Moon
and Malcolm Gray all went to The
Globe and Mail.
Town is a somewhat uneven book because the presentation is
not up to scratch. There are numerous typographical errors and the
prose in some of the earlier chapters is a bit plodding. The important
thing about the book, however, is simply that it deals with crucial
issues. Freedom of information, political scandals, social
iniquity—these subjects are the grist for reporters and they are issues
worthy of public attention. As journalists, we should be grateful that
at least one Canadian publisher has the guts to tackle some touchy
issues head-on. Let's hope the judge finds that Freeman and Hewitt have
followed in the tradition of good reporters everywhere: they got all
Sedgwick is a freelance writer and a contributing editor for Quill and
Published in Sources Winter 1980/81
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