By Daniel Miranda
A 99- cent bookshelf sits outside of Black Squirrel Books on Bank Street calling to people passing by. One of these books, titled Canadian Newspapers: the inside story, has proven to be more of an inside story than the authors supposed. Walter Stewart edited this 1980 collection of short first-hand accounts of what it was like working for different Canadian newspapers at the time. Some contributors heap mostly praise. Others are more raw. One such contribution was written by one of the most recognizable names in Canadian journalism, Michael Enright.
In his 10-page piece, “A Writer’s Newspaper,” Enright is particularly critical of the former city editor of the Globe and Mail, Patrick Scott. In it, he calls Scott “abrasive” and “mordant” and claims that Scott had trouble handling his employees.
It just so happened that one of the copies of the book found its way into the hands of Scott himself. Scott’s hand-written rebuttal of Enright’s critique is revealing.
Patrick Gregory Scott started as a reporter for the Guelph Mercury. He rose up the ranks to be city editor and began a storied career as an editor, jazz columnist, TV critic and Paris correspondent for several Canadian papers and magazines. One thing that keeps coming up in the archives is that Scott was a polarizing figure. Bob Smith of the Vancouver Star criticized him in 1968 for writing “another well-written but acidic column.” Douglas Fisher, writing for the Windsor Star in 1971, said that Scott was a vitriol dripper and a seemingly nasty chap. And yet, Fisher describes the response of Toronto Star employees to Scott’s appointment as editor as “ecstatic.” According to Fisher, the appointment was going pretty well until Scott started getting migraines, when much to the disappointment of his colleagues, he was forced to leave the city editor’s position.
This dichotomous view of Scott is heard in echoes in Enright’s “A Writer’s Newspaper.” While Enright does call Scott mordant and unaccountable, he acknowledges that Scott was brilliant and “knew good writing and how to encourage it.” But it is clear from reading “A Writer’s Newspaper” that Enright chooses to amplify the dark notes. He recounts a story of Scott posting a note that only two staff members earned their pay that week. Enright’s imagery of the fearful anticipation of receiving written comments by Scott, or getting yelled at, paint Scott as a villainous figure.
A gift sticker on the inside flap of Scott’s tattered copy of Canadian Newspapers: the inside story is addressed to his wife Maggie, perhaps indicating it was a Christmas present. Written in pen are the numbers 99-104 and 101-103, which are some of the pages written by Enright. In these pages, Scott fights back at Enright’s assessment. To the claim of not being able to handle his staff, Scott writes “only the lazy ones Michael.” Scott writes “total lies” and “not true” when Enright discusses working for the Globe during the 1960s. Enright writes that Scott wore sunglasses because of an eye problem, to which Scott replies “migraines, you fool.” Scott also wrote “RIP” for colleagues mentioned by Enright, the last of which says, “RIP 2004.” Scott died in 2005, so these marginal notes were written in his later days.
It’s interesting that Fisher, who didn’t work for the Globe, knew that Scott left because of migraines and yet Enright referred to it as an eye problem. It makes you wonder who had the more accurate account. Fisher presented Scott as a competent and well-liked editor, while Enright presents him as an unaccountable tyrant. Scott may have been justified in his angry response to Enright’s representation. Charles King, a former Ottawa Citizen journalist, also wrote a piece in Inside Story about his response to one of Scott’s articles about Ottawa’s deficiencies as a smaller town. Yet curiously, Scott only underlined this passage and didn’t rebut it as he had so mercilessly done with Enright. Perhaps some personal reasons between Scott and Enright lead to this war of words.
While we may never know the full story, this serendipitous find in a used book store brings fascinating insight into the world of journalism and its warriors.
Daniel Miranda is a resident of Old Ottawa East and a frequenter of used book stores.
By Daniel Miranda