Drunk Macdonald or reporter?

John A. Macdonald depicted in Grip newspaper cartoon, August 16, 1873. McCord Museum 994x.5.273.73

Booze 1829 — 1920

Newspapers still provided the only published reports of debates in the House of Commons when the Toronto Globe opposed a proposed Hansard, in which the words of members of Parliament would be published after officially recorded in shorthand by Parliamentary reporters. The Globe argued that politicians would be too inclined to sanitize and alter their speeches in such official reports, citing an example that questions the sobriety of either the speaker or the reporter. Grattan O’Leary, long-time Ottawa Journal editor, writing in his autobiography, later identified the reporter in this article as P.D. Ross, also of the Journal, and the speaker, John A. Macdonald, known for an affinity to what the Scots called “the breath of life.” Macdonald at this time was a former prime minister who would soon be prime minister again. From the Toronto Globe, May 20, 1874.

No man is less fit to judge of the report of a speech than the man who made it.

This sounds like a paradox, but it is an axiom of reporting experience. “I never said this. I never could have said it,” is the cry frequently of an orator reading a verbatim account of what he said, done by a reporter with an ear and hand of infallible reliability. When an orator reads his own speeches in the coldness of common sense, and without the divine afflatus he felt when on his legs, it is like an appeal from Phillip drunk to Phillip sober.

There is a story told of a leading member of the great Tory part of Canada making a speech, which seemed to the reporter to be anything but surcharged with wisdom. The reporter waited on the great man the next day, and said he wished to read the speech to him.

“Good,” cried the important politician, “that is the very thing I should like you to do. I’m glad you have not sent it off.”

The reporter had not proceeded many sentences when he was stopped by the orator, who cried, “I never said that.” “I assure you you did,” replied the reporter. “Well, go on,” cried the ruler of men. When the reporter had proceeded to the length of a few more sentences he was again stopped, with the exclamation, “I never said that.”

At last they decided to throw over the report, and to have the reporter take down a speech, dictated there and then. This was done, and when the reporter was leaving with a satisfactory speech delivered to the bare walls of the room, he was called back, and the orator, with a good deal of wit, said to him, “Look here, young man, when you come down to report a cabinet minister’s speech, don’t get drunk.”

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 021

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