Stephen Harper back in 2005.
Mike was great company. Amusing, affable, a life-of-the-party charmer. He was also needy and driven by a desire to be somebody.
Ever since the mid-’60s, when he was a teen disc jockey at CFCY-TV in Charlottetown, Mike dreamed of a career in broadcasting. Critics told him he’d never make it. Your voice is too high. Lose some weight. Duffy ignored them. “I was going to get somewhere, despite what everyone thought,” he later told the Globe and Mail.
Determined to make his name as a political reporter, Duffy moved to Ottawa in 1971 to work on Parliament Hill. After two years with CFRA Radio, he jumped to CBC Radio, then, in
1977, to CBC-TV’s national news. The jolly DJ from P.E.I. had confounded his critics and made it to the show.
Once he got to the top, Duffy worked even harder, earning a reputation for edgy reporting. He covered the fall of Saigon, won an ACTRA award for his coverage of a terrorist attack on the Turkish embassy in Ottawa, and provoked Brian Mulroney into suing him and the CBC over a story about how Mulroney’s goons backstabbed Joe Clark.
But by 1988, after 10 years as Peter Mansbridge’s sidekick, Duffy yearned to see his name in lights. When Baton Broadcasting offered him a small fortune to host his own politics show, he seized the opportunity.
Now he had a pulpit to sell the “Duff” brand and transform himself into a million-dollar enterprise — the Don Cherry of Canadian politics. He worked the Ottawa cocktail circuit and boasted about partying at “Joe and Maureen’s,” made after-dinner speeches at the Rideau Club, and bragged that he was doing “charity things with Mila.” Friends took to calling him Senator Duffy.
“Mike developed ‘host’s disease,’” says Linden MacIntyre, a Duffy drinking buddy from the Maritimes, now with CBC’s the fifth estate. “That’s where you start to believe all the flattery, believe you’re bigger than the story. The affliction gets worse, the head swells up and anything that threatens your celebrity becomes a problem.”
So what’s the long term impact?
These days, the ruckus over his residency has the embattled senator scurrying out back doors and hiding in hotel kitchens to avoid inconvenient questions from the media.
I remember a time when the old Mike Duffy, award-winning CBC reporter, would barge through those kitchen doors and demand that Senator Duffy explain himself.
But that was long ago.
Today, with a diminished journalistic workforce on Parliament Hill, handling multiple deadlines and shrinking news space, it’s harder to keep any story in the frame of attention, let alone a dry, complicated fiscal debate. Note the revolving controversies of the past few years. Remember the Afghan-documents issue? Prorogation? We’re also told that the public has no interest now in "process" stories — which pretty much describes most political stories. I’m old enough to remember a time when I covered a story for months at a time — years, in the case of the national-unity struggles of Meech and Charlottetown. Now that prospect seems almost ridiculous.
The panel didn’t think very much of it but think they missed the point. They said that the financial crisis isn’t bad enough in people’s minds to require this kind of arrangement again. In some ways they are correct as Canada has a very strong economy compared to the rest of the western world right now. At the same time they missed the point in that with cuts to Parliament Hill, they aren’t sure what we stories they are missing. Of course I didn’t expect Chantel Hebert or Andrew Coyne to admit that because of cuts in the media and a quicker, more intense news cycle that her and her colleagues are missing important stories but the truth is, they don’t really know what they are missing.