Saturday, August 7, 2010

Getting Closer to the Truth in the Mulroney-Schreiber Affair

Harvey Cashore has a new book on the stands about the Airbus Affair. It's called : The Truth Shows Up: A Reporter's Fifteen-Year Odyssey Tracking Down the Truth About Mulroney, Schreiber and the Airbus Scandal.

I have reviewed it in the July/August issue of the Literary Review of Canada. Here is a portion of that review:

Cashore’s book is an engaging and instructive roadmap for any aspiring reporter. And he succeeds in revealing more of the truth behind the story than anyone else has to date. He takes the reader on a fascinating, behind-the-scenes journey of a complex journalistic investigation. The stakes are always high, because at the heart of the story is the suggestion that former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney may have benefited from commissions paid by Airbus to secure a sale of jets to Air Canada.

The secrets held by prime ministers and presidents are rarely, if ever, fully revealed. Last year, at a speech to the annual conference of the Investigative Reporters and Editors, legendary Watergate journalist Bob Woodward described a dinner he recently had with former vice-president Al Gore. How much does the public know about what really went on in the Clinton White House, Woodward asked his dinner guest. Gore thought for a moment before replying: “About one percent.” Add to the equation potential illegal behaviour on the part of a prime minister, and the odds for revelation of the truth become far smaller.

When Air Canada decided to buy 34 jets from Airbus in 1988, Karlheinz Schreiber received about $500,000 in secret commissions per plane. Reporters with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine began chasing the story in 1994, and soon they were in partnership with CBC’s the fifth estate. Cashore was assigned to research the story for the program, and over the years his research produced a number of important documentaries and books about the affair.

Cashore brought with him a specific journalistic methodology he had learned from his mentor, former newspaper reporter and author John Sawatsky. In his groundbreaking investigation of the RCMP security service in the 1970s and 1980s, Sawatsky learned the importance of taping and transcribing all conversations. By studying his own questions and the answers they produced, and analyzing the questions posed by his colleagues and students, Sawatsky deduced that the quality of information was often directly related to the precise language employed in the questioning. He came up with a unique methodology of interviewing, and he stressed the value of maintaining a chronology of events in every story he worked on. Sawatsky also believed in maintaining a militant neutrality in his approach, always keeping an open mind and allowing for disconfirmatory evidence to be heard.

As a researcher for Sawatsky’s biography of Mulroney, The Politics of Ambition, Cashore learned the methodology well and adopted it for his own inquiries. Much of the book’s rich detail comes in the transcripts of Cashore’s taped interviews.

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