Confidential: “Burke’s becoming an embarrassment” – Internal Markup Draft

photo: kulas korner

photo: kuklas korner

Or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love MLHS titles that are way too long.”

Every so often, an opinion thoroughly disguised as a mainstream news article presents itself – one that is so ridiculous, so utterly without basis, that the most appropriate response is to simply ignore it. In these situations, we are encouraged not to “sink to that level” by dignifying the position with a response. You know, to rise above – behave with a level of superior maturity. This is not one of those times.

Steve Simmons contributed the piece in question earlier this week. Linking it directly from here feels strange, for fear that the few extra site hits may further encourage the Toronto Sun to continue publishing such tripe. But, in the interest of comparison and fair play, and likely irrelevance:

As with Kerry Fraser’s ludicrous ‘blown call’ piece earlier this year, we’ve obtained the Sun’s internal, markup first draft of Simmons’ article, containing text that was rewritten, text that was outright removed, and the remainder of the published story.

Steve-O assures us the entire Toronto media is engaged in open warfare with the Toronto Maple Leafs and their General Manager. Let’s see what he really thinks the battle plan is. Does he legitimately believe what he’s writing? Or is the necessity of playing to a paper’s commercial brand actually clouding a point of view that cannot possibly be this poorly formed?

In all seriousness, Steve’s a successful journalist with an obvious ability to entertain and write convincingly to a particular market.

And would we, the stone-throwing glass-house-living bloggers of the interweb, be guilty of the same obtuse viewpoint if we didn’t mention that this particular media outlet also employs highly regarded writers sporting great professional longevity? (Yes, that weak pun was a poorly veiled “congratulations” to Bob Elliot).

Enough media philosophy. Some men are paid for their opinion, and their only obligation is to provide it. Objectively preparing the content isn’t part of the contract, so long as it avoids certain words – for example, the obvious and inappropriate use of synonyms for fornication and fecal matter. The second of which is an appropriate category, I’m sure, to file the following under.

Rob Ford’sBurke’s becoming an embarrassment
By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

NOTE (re above): Not funny, Steve. – Editor
Come on, how often do we really get to stick it to The Star? – Steve

Brian Burke is still being attacked by small group of journalists who are persistently sensationalizing a minor issue out of control. He doesn’t just want to run the Toronto Maple Leafs. He wants to run the newspapers. He wants to tell editors what columnists and radio voices can and cannot write or say. He wants to control what you read, what you think, what you perceive to be the truth. Not like us. Because the media…actually, no. Affecting how you perceive the truth is pretty much our whole reason for existing. Ha!

He wants to be the face of the Leafs, the only voice, which is why he grants so many interview to various media outlets, always asserting they have the freedom to write whatever they want so long as the coverage is objective and fair. In between, he wants to settle grudges with fist fights — fine message from a middle-aged man with a Harvard degree.

See what I did there? First, I mention he wants to settle grudges with fist fights “in between” everything else, suggesting not only that he’s physically aggressive, but consistently so. Construed defamation 101! Of course, I’m selectively cherry picking from a recent story that emerged where Burke was the one challenged to a fight – years ago, mind you – over an issue for which Burke had a legitimate reason to be quite angry. But you’ll ignore that subtly-adjusted connection, because you’re an ignorant audience and I’m a great writer who’s awesome at loading piles of false meaning into one opportunistically timely and comical reference!

Oh, and the Harvard part. Love this. By pointing out he’s middle-aged and went to Harvard, I’m using stereotypes to put the onus on him to present an image of ultimate dignification. And to say that behaviour like fist-fighting, which (again) I’ve attributed to him solely for the purpose of defamation with no regard for the specifics of the actual story, is unacceptable. What? Of course I’m allowed to judge people harshly with baseless arguments by twisting facts. I’m a writer and a journalist, damnit!

And in this season of hockey revival, where all should be smiles and chuckles, he is finally getting the recognition he deserves for orchestrating three years of prudent player transactions becoming something of a local embarrassment.

The latest Burke fight, which doesn’t include a rented barn or a rival general manager who started it knows nothing about it, centres around his defence of coach Ron Wilson’s most recent bout of misinformation. I’ve said “most recent”, presumably citing some track record of such behaviour – despite not having any examples, not being able to prove whatsoever that they exist, and actually misusing the word “misinformation” – but we’ll come back to that. It is typical Burke candid, accurate speech bullying blather. In his own way, he contradicts himself by defending Wilson’s right to fudge the truth. But I’m not going to explain that yet, especially since I’m painting Wilson’s quotes in two different ways to serve whatever point I’m currently making. Explanation coming. I promise.

In fairness to Wilson, he did what all most coaches do everywhere, but for some reason, it’s a huge deal in Toronto: He lied a little. So what? Everybody does it in sports. It’s part of the foolish game. Wilson announced that Jonas Gustavsson would start in goal against the Bruins on Saturday night. Then he started James Reimer. See, my concession toward Wilson gives the appearance I’m not totally anti-Leaf biased, making you more willing to buy my arguments against Burke. It working? No, I didn’t think so. I’ll keep going.

Wilson admitted he made up his mind three days earlier about Reimer and he didn’t bother to let anyone know. We were all furious for no good reason Fair enough.

Which should have been the end of it brings us back to Burke, who earlier this season said he had no interest in getting involved in the social media phenomenon that is Twitter and then pulled a 180 and became a regular Tweeter because, to paraphrase him, the media was getting the message wrong. Which is, like, the ultimate definition of ‘to paraphrase him,’ because it’s not really at all what he said. He wanted to stand up for accuracy.

Burke, who in another voice will claim he doesn’t give “a rat’s ass about what media thinks” got involved with Twitter to clear up the media’s inaccurate portrayal of Leaf information. So when his coach told a white lie about who was starting in goal, Burke didn’t consider that misinformation. And rightfully so, because since I just suggested Wilson’s statement was disinformation (misinformation is spread “unintentionally”, disinformation “with motive”). Being a man paid for my ability to craft the English language, I know the difference between the two. Which means if Burke truly was defending “Wilson’s right to fudge the truth” (with motive) as I’ve accused, he should have replied exactly as he….aw, crap. I’m about to contradict myself. EDITORS, take this part out.

He defended the coach — inaccurately, too, saying it was Wilson’s prerogative to change his mind.

Burke elaborated further on the exact sequence of events via his Twitter account, quite clearly said that. Never mind that Wilson didn’t change his mind. He made the decision to start Reimer three days earlier. That’s not changing your mind. That’s doing the coach thing and keeping his decision to himself. I’ll give Wilson the benefit of the doubt on that one. That’s coach-speak in the modern world.

But in defence of his coach, Burke told the media exactly what happened behind the scenes misrepresented the facts. And then, was defiant about it.

The atmosphere in Leaf land between Burke, Wilson to a degree, and the rather enormous press corps which covers the team, is more candid and accountable than it’s been in years has grown more and more poisonous over time. And this is nothing new to Burke, although it’s taken more than three years for this to build to crescendo level here. In Vancouver, when he operated the Canucks he had serious run-ins with well-known columnists and radio talk show hosts, and those relationships, frankly, grew toxic over time. Which is something I can subjectively say but not possibly objectively prove, so I won’t try.

Already this year, Burke has tangled with many ego-driven, self-important voices of consequence in this market, feuding or cutting off columnists from the local papers for asking dumb or viciously leading questions disagreeing with opinions, calling editors to complain about specific writers, questioning their methods of reporting or viewpoints he did not share. Burke is a great believer in freedom of speech — so long as he is doing the speaking. All right, that last part is blatantly untrue. I should take it out. But it’s such a damned awesome-sounding line…

But this role of president, general manager, sports editor, journalism school professor, bully, and social media activist, is refreshingly entertaining for a fan base who’s often frustrated with local mainstream media coverage has gotten tiresome. I spend every day telling him how to do his job – it is so not fair that he occasionally (and rightfully so) tells me how to do mine!

This is a year in which he could be taking bows for trading for two of the top four point getters in hockey and a terrific young defenceman in Jake Gardiner and for a team that finally has some kind of an identity. For the most part, he’s done that quietly and with dignity But instead, he chooses to fight back, against those who disagree with him, against those who used journalistic techniques that were, most would admit, questionable broke no journalistic rules, against those who expect to be told the truth by the coach they cover every single day so some of them can twist it into a slightly-more-fictitious, sensationalized version for the evening deadline. Or – in extreme cases – invent a bunch of nonsensical crap about how Burke’s address in July 1st had any bearing on a decision Brad Richards had likely made months earlier.

There is much to like about the way Brian Burke conducts his business. How he goes about his job with aggression and passion. How he loyally defends those in his employ. How he treats his players and supports them. But, somehow, he can’t stop being what he is, the successful general manager and leader he’s shown himself to be in just about every position he’s held what he was in Vancouver, a bullying, control freak (Just nitpicking out of spite, now – but there’s some seriously poor comma usage going on there)— who apparently does give a rat’s ass what others think and say and write, or he wouldn’t react so furiously all the time. Even though me suggesting he should elevate his behaviour in response is sort of the same as:

Writer: “Look at me, stupid! Look at me, stupid! Look at me, stupid!”
Burke (turns): “What?”
Writer: “Hah! You looked! That must mean you’re stupid!”

It’s time for Burke to calm down and take a leadership role in the ongoing spat between local media and the Maple Leafs. His adding to the poisonous atmosphere that we create benefits everyone, it’s damned entertaining! no one.

-Matt Mistele