Wednesday, December 27, 2006
They played Gary Mason like a violin
Dave Basi and Bob Virk blurted out their innermost feelings last week.
After waiting in virtual silence for 3 years, there it was in the venerable Globe and Mail newspaper, a real tear-jerker, lacking only Tiny Tim and Scrooge to be our own Christmas Carol. Why did they spill all this stuff to an Ontario-based newspaper two days before Christmas 2006? Well, trust your instincts, I always say. I figure Basi called Mason and set him up.
I have always felt a certain empathy with Basi, Virk, and the younger Aneal Basi. I saw them as ambitious young men, working hard to make their way up in the world. But Gary Mason's article took that away from me. It was so clearly an attempt to manipulate public opinion that even a first reading made me uneasy. Somebody asked me "What do you think of it?" and I heard myself say, "It's a paid political announcement." Odd, that.
I've often said that I wondered how Basi and Virk were doing. And yet this big, sprawling, teary-eyed story came across as creating suspicion, because it didn't seem that they or Gary Mason were being straight with the public. I don't know, but could public opinion then influence the trial verdict? I've never seen the inner thoughts of any other accused person put on public display before, almost like an endorsement of their innocence, just ahead of their trial. Have you? Is this legal?
A few nasty comments heaping opprobrium on the 37,000-member RCMP were left on this web-site on Christmas Day making it obvious that some people had swallowed the story and were ready to get onto that bandwagon themselves. I happen to see the profession of journalism as a high calling, the essential foundation of a free, democratic society. So I'd like to talk a bit about this story. And to encourage others to give it close personal examination.
The title(s) of Gary Mason's stories clearly provide the theme:
The print edition headline is: 'THERE IS NOTHING TO THESE CHARGES."
The On-Line edition's headline is even more biased: 'DAVE, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?' 'I DON'T KNOW, BOB. I HONESTLY DON'T' This is tabloid sensationalism, tailored to influence the public with an unofficial verdict. This is not the sober, erudite professionalism usually found in The Globe and Mail. How come? What's going on here?
Well ... the public loves a story about the underdog. Especially at Christmas. And this story was definitely all of that.
Gary Mason's story begins (in the on-line version) in bed with Dave and his wife Inderjit Basi. Got that? The reader is dropped right into the accused's marital bed. And I don't want to be there. Yuck to "grab-'em-by-the-balls" attention-getting. It's unworthy of an old Conservative newspaper. More about that point later.
The reader is told about the sound of cars "roaring" down Basi's street and pulling into his driveway. Car doors started slamming. The Basis' dog started barking. Who could be coming to the house at 8:45 on a Sunday morning? The doorbell rang. Oh, the humanity! Oh, those bad, bad cops!
Next jolt: Basi comes to the door, after Inderjit has told him "It's the police and they have a search warrant." If you've ever had a policeman show up at your doorstep, I defy you to explain Basi's first question, or his second. Instead of saying "What's the problem, officer? Has there been an accident?" no, Basi says: "Am I under arrest?" And then "Am I being taken in for questioning?" Plus "Do we have to stay here?" Something amiss here. Why would one of B.C.'s most powerful government aides immediately wonder if he's under arrest?
The on-line version (different from the newspaper story) includes one of the key pieces to this story: the telephone call to Basi from Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff, who telephoned even before Virk had been visited by police. This brief conversation, as told to Gary Mason by Dave Basi for this Christmas Carol, is especially worthy of analysis. Mason is acting as stenographer here. There's no other way he could replicate this conversation, as he writes:
"Dave," Mr. Brown said. "This is obviously a very serious situation."
"Yeah," Mr. Basi said. "I know."
"Unfortunately," Mr. Brown continued. "We're going to have to rescind your OIC [order in council] immediately." [Why? And who is "we"?]
Dave Basi was being fired on the spot. Anyone being fired as from a shotgun would normally ask why. But Basi didn't. Mr. Brown told him there was little he could say about what was going on.
Stranger still, Mason seems to speak for himself while denouncing his own profession, the media, as if he has fully absorbed Dave Basi's point of view and thinks it's his own. He complains that Basi had "his name and face splattered all over the news in the most unflattering context." Splattered, as in mud. I've never seen news that was splattered. Have you?
Mason also says "A headline blared: Basi owns home busted for grow-op" which, although confused, isn't incorrect. Basi owned a house, the house was a grow-op, Basi got busted, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict.
The point is: news can't "blare" ... neither can it "splatter" ... so what's Mason doing? Being played like a Stradivarius, that's what.
It's a long article, mostly personal opinion, riddled with intimate personal gratuitous information. Basi is "stunned, "in shock", "his mind whirled" and "feeling numb", things which Mason has no way of knowing himself; but which he accepts in the role of stenographer. It's mawkish emotionalism, money-talk, baby-talk, daddy-talk, thwarted ambition, every maudlin angle to create sympathy except for one glaring omission. What about the public? What did Basi and Virk think about the public interest?
For 3 years, our journalists have mostly been afraid to write about the Legislature raids ... and now, as the trial-date approaches, we get a tear-jerker yarn about how difficult all this is for the accused. Certainly it must be hard for Basi, Virk, Basi, and their families. I too wish it had never happened and I'm sorry about the whole unfortunate affair.
But it's no good trying to pretend it never happened. Or that it never should have happened. Something sent the RCMP and Victoria police on a carefully prepared execution of search warrants, duly authorized. This was no mischievous whim on the part of bad cops. This was OKed by a special flight to the Speaker of the House. It was known in advance to the premier and the attorney-general. And the police were all at sergeant-level out of respect for the seriousness of a raid which had never happened before in Canada. It happened. And it shocked the bejapers out of all British Columbians, too.
So dammit, what about us? I wish Gary Mason or Basi or Virk had given even one little thought to how British Columbians feel ... we saw that raid unfold too ... we've worried about what might have happened to our railroad ... but we've been hung out to dry, left wondering what the heck is going on within our legislative precincts.
Yet these guys had not a word for the people of B.C. The public interest seems not to exist for them. And so my feelings for them hardened when I read about them ragging down the police forces of the countrty in an effort to save themselves. Or blaming the media. Or blaming racism or Bornmann or Kierans. I'd like to have seen a "Gosh, maybe I did slip up somewhere ... and I'm sorry," from either Basi or Virk, but no. It was everybody's fault but theirs. They are the victims in this Christmas Carol. And the public interest just doesn't figure in their minds. Not Basi's, not Virk's, not Mason's, according to this story.
There's understandably a heap of resentment in the hearts and minds of Basi and Virk toward their former friends who allegedly gave their detailed stories to the Crown Prosecutor in return for some sort of deal. That's probably the engine driving this story.
It's also possible that Gary Mason, a passionate Liberal, would like to see the B.C. Liberal story (the aides, the BCRail sale, and possibly the electioneering style of B.C. Liberals) sanitized before the next federal election. Dave Basi must be itching to get into that federal campaign already under way, and perhaps achieve his goal of serving in the Prime Minister's Office. Chief of Staff, I think he wanted. Not small potatoes.
It's surely eating at them that Erik Bornmann, their old pal, who is now their declared enemy, told police he paid Basi money for confidential information related to the sale of B.C. Rail. And OMNI-trax, for whom Bornmann was lobbyist, was a bidder for BC Rail. It's alleged the money was laundered through Aneal Basi.
It's also alleged that in exchange for information from Basi and Virk, Bornmann agreed to recommend the pair for jobs with the federal government. A colleague of Bornmann's at Pilothouse Public Affairs Group, Brian Kieran, has told police he supplied Basi and Virk with benefits in connection with the B.C. Rail deal.
Neither Bornmann nor Kieran face any charges and both have repeatedly refused to comment on the case.
The treatment Bornmann and Kieran have received compared with their own, irks both Basi and Virk.
Bornmann, for instance, was able to finish UBC law school and then article for one of the largest law firms in the country. He has travelled the world, attended state lunches. He has not been charged with any offences despite telling police he bribed government officials.
Mr. Kieran, meantime, has quietly slipped into semi-retirement without facing charges, despite admitting to paying Basi and Virk $3,000 for expenses the two incurred while attending an NFL football game in Denver with their wives and the head of OmniTRAX.
Bornmann has probably found his way back into federal politics in Ottawa, which is exactly where Basi and Virk had hoped to go. That must sting.
So it looks to me as if Basi and possibly Virk have played Gary Mason like a violin, to get themselves a nice big sob story in a national newspaper, just in time for a federal election and the Supreme Court trial.
It only leaves us asking: why didn't the hometown CanWest newspapers like Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, or Victoria Times Colonist want the story? My guess is that Basi & Virk were bidding for a place in the Eastern political sunshine -- in those rich vineyards where their old cronies now labour -- and where they always wanted to be. Their ambitions are national in scope.
There are many glaring clues, subtleties, contradictions and points of interest in this story, well worth anyone's study. It's an article which will end up in university-level journalism and political science classes for all the wrong reasons.
There was a line in Gary Mason's story which did ring unequivocably true: "The prospect of a spring  trial has many inside and outside the public service nervous. The names of some of British Columbia's most powerful political movers and shakers could surface during the proceedings."
But Gary Mason should go back to writing badly about hockey.
And remember Wally Oppal. I dislike the man for reasons entirely apart from his racial origins. But if we're talking about racism having this much power in B.C., I think we need to remember Wally Oppal.
The cry about racism is a cop-out. It always stops a conversation in its tracks, for the very reason that most of us hate racism so much.
I think it's another trait: opportunism. Those ambitious young guys knew the angles and worked them vigorously to make their way up the ladder. You'd need to check this, but I think Bornmann made his statement to the RCMP on the very day of the raid. It was a lengthy statement. And my guess is that he understood very well that it was his only escape route. Pretty doggone tempting, eh?
And Basi and Virk were his pals ... there was no "racism" there, that I can see. You?
That Martyn Brown cut the umbilical cord to Dave Basi so unceremoniously that December day in 2003 because he was acting on directions from 'his' boss: The one man who, on his own instruction and under his own supervision, runs every single ministry in the government, the Capo di tutti capi. That's the elephant smashing through the bushes in Dave Basi's back yard while Gary Mason dutifully scribbles sympathetic word portraits of someone who ‘did nothing more than rent a property to someone who used it for a grow op’.
Give me strength. There's been little enough decent coverage of this outrage in the media; and now we have to put up with Mason's groveling.
Thank heaven for your exegesis Mary, God knows I hope the people of this province, who are now having the wool pulled over their eyes again by the same Mark Marissen and company who brought you the BC Liberals, are paying attention.
This time it's being spun, like gold from straw, on the national stage.
If you're determined to believe that racism caused the charges against the brown guys, look also at the fact that Basi held one of the highest, most powerful non-elected positions in provincial government ... Virk, too ... while Bornmann was a mere Lobbyist scrambling in the corridors of power.
Then the charge of racism drops away and it begins to look more like normal everyday rat-race jealousies.
And jealousies are partly what I think drove this mawkish display of emotion in Gary Mason's article. It must make B&V nuts to know that the Mark Marissen team, probably including Bornmann but NOT including Basi & Virk, is gearing up for a federal election and a new Liberal prime minister. Their hopes. Their dreams.
If the real question you're asking is: how does it feel to be a brown guy in a high position of trust and responsibility in the B.C. Ministry of Finance -- the answer is that the appointment was a tremendously positive declaration of racial harmony. Systemic racism would've kept all 3 of those brown guys out.
What the heck more do you want from the system?
I'm musing about the possibility that they are being offered up as sacrificial lambs to divert attention from others whose culpability has never been fully questioned.
My suspicion revolves around a (perhaps wrong) assumption that BC -- especially BC Liberal supporters -- will be more willing to accept that this was just the actions of a few ambitious Indo boys, than they will accept that thought their Premier and senior bureaucrats are touched by corruption.
None of this is meant to excuse the actions - criminal or not - of BVB. I'd just like to be confident that all culpable parties in this scandal will be equitably treated.
And from Day One, I have talked about Basi and Virk telling us everything they know -- either now, or under oath.
What the heck are you talking about, getting apologies or something? Who? What? Why?
Look, pal, I'm tired after 3 days of this muddle-headed talk and find this stuff utterly depressing. Stop it.
Read things more carefully, try to work things out in your own mind, and stop throwing blame and guilt around. It's Christmas, for chrissake.
I hope you're looking forward to a Happy New Year, and have just had a good Christmas.
I think the key to Mason's puff piece is this sentence which you quote at the end of your message:
"The prospect of a spring  trial has many inside and outside the public service nervous. The names of some of British Columbia's most powerful political movers and shakers could surface during the proceedings."
Yes, many BC Liberals would like this case to go away. So too would many Federal Liberals, not the least the Marissen crowd now running Stephane Dion and the next national Liberal election campaign. If Basi and Virk can be made out as innocents, that will at least reduce the anti-Liberal fallout, and with a bit of luck, even turn it around into a bit of a sympathy vote.
The Liberals have come full circle with the RCMP. From the days of the Glen Clark and Brian Mulroney investigations, when Liberals lustfully cheered the force on, to today, where they have gleefully helped hurry the resignation of Commissioner Zacardelli, whom they blame for their election loss last year. The use of the term "perjur yourself" by an arrogant Ontario Liberal MP and lawyer, Mark Holland, when Zacardelli was appearing in front of the parliamentary committee was especially revealing.
One thing that hasn't changed is Gary Mason's intense pro-Liberal sentiments. For a glaring example of his partisan biases, see his articles on David Emerson during and just after last year's election. During the campaign he did a puff piece for Emerson that was not as long as the Basi-Virk effort but pretty much as sappy. It purported to be about the individual, the human factor, and in this piece the great human being David Emerson just happened to be a Liberal. After the election and the Emerson switch, few columnists were as openly furious with Emerson as Mason. Clearly, Emerson had betrayed Mason's very own Liberal Party and he was extremely angry about it.
I haven't read all the other comments in any detail, but please don't let Liberals intimidate you with charges of racism that they know themselves are nothing more than intentional falsehoods.
As I said in my post, Glen never apologized for being the victim of a witch hunt and neither should basi and virk. Tell me what should they say sorry for if they keep stating over and over they are not guilty of anything? I want an apology from campbell!!
There are big issues at stake here, crying out for understanding. You can do it.
But this web-site isn't about Glen Clark. Or Bill Tieleman, racism, or conspiracy theories.
You must be joking. Did you see his interview with Keith Baldrey?
This is not the kind of guy who says he's sorry.
I want an apology from campbell for selling bc rail to a company that donated $25000 to his election campaign. Sorry Mary I am not "nit-picking".
Yes, you are nit-picking. Just suppose we could cast a magic spell over Gordon Campbell and have him apologize to you for selling BC Rail. Then what?
Think it through, girl. Then what?
Glenn Clark stepped down for the good of his party just as Mike Harcourt had done. Both were proven to be innocent. Glenn works for Jimmy Patterson and Mike Harcourt for the Treaty Commission.
But the story is about the Legislature raids not previous ministers, or premiers. One more thing. The BC Liberals are Conservative and socred mixed together Campbell is on record saying there is no connection to the Federal liberals although he does have voting privileges with the party. I didn't see his name at the Federal Liberal leadership convention. Let's not cast too wide a net here folks. After the raid, three guys got changed. One cop got involved for suggesting the folks should lie. He was convicted , and the head cops are deciding if he should be put back to work even with a criminal record.
Don't be calling me a Gordon Campbell Liberal (them's fightin words!) for looking beyond the current charges. I just find it hard to believe that in an organization as top-down as this administration, three highly placed guys could be freelancing to this extent without the knowledge and/or participation of those around them and their higher-ups. And yes, it strikes me as very suspicious that the three guys who were eventually plucked from this big, top-down operation happened to be brown.
The worst possible outcome -- worse than having no convictions (assuming there was criminal activity in this debacle, and I wouldn't pre-judge that) -- is having a few select individuals convicted if the rot runs deeper. In other words, if the Premier's office was involved, I want Gordon Campbell in the docket.
The only one who has played us like Violins is Campbell. Stop shooting the peons and start looking at the puppet master Mary. Right now the puppet master is having a very good laugh!! The irony of ironies is you are giving him this opportunity.
Seems as if you've got a plan together.
I guess, deep-down, I've hoped British Columbia could get its railway, ferry system, hydro system back into public ownership for public benefit. Good luck.
But first, we gotta get the facts of the BCRail negotiations laid out under oath, eh?
Good luck to you, too, if you're going to start up (what you call) a sane blog free of irrational and ill-thought-out theories.
I can't wait to see it. Let us know what it's called, so we can visit often. It should be a hoot.
You figure I have "attacked two peons"? No, I did not. Never have done. Never will. Why do you guys always have to "attack" somebody, anyway? If you see things differently, this is not an "attack" for gosh sakes.
I really do hope that Basi, Virk, and Basi will tell all the facts as best they can, when they have their day in court.
I absolutely agree with you, that the worst possible outcome (next to having the whole case dismissed which some people seem to be trying to achieve) would be to have 2 or 3 people convicted if the rot runs deeper. This has been my view all along. This is why I've written many times, about the benefits to this province if Basi and Virk tell everything they know.
As for calling them "peons", holy smoke, are you kidding? As Ministerial Aides, Basi and Virk stood at the right hand of their Cabinet Ministers, knew every detail of the business of Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transportation. They were the guys who briefed the M.L.A.s about what was going on. Some peons. And what stories they could tell ... !
I've just learned that there is a strong possibility that someone who appears to be Erik Bornmann (or others seemingly acting on his behalf) has been trying to edit information about himself and his connections to the BC Rail case on Wikipedia.
It also appears that he (and or others acting on his behalf) may be making efforts to counteract the rules and procedures in effect at Wikipedia and to move in retribution against a long-standing and highly respected contributor to Wikipedia. Someone who has been doing his best to prevent Bornmann's record from being sanitized.
This is very worrisome.
However, I would also like to suggest that it might also be possible that there were elements of the 'Evils of Access' in the piece as well.
You'll hear for yourself then the reason the accused 'chose' Mason for their first statement to the press - against their counsel's 'original' advice; you'll hear of the profound ‘embarrassment’ Dave Basi felt when the infamous 'grow-op' house appeared in a picture on the front of The Province; you'll hear again the allegations about Officer Cowan and a house sale gone wrong.
You won't hear a thing about attempts to get Sooke land out of the ALR, a single word about that message from Martyn Brown, not even a whisper about the intrigues surrounding the sale of BC Rail, or the sudden resignation of cabinet ministers...but you'll hear lots that’s bad (and from some very well-rehearsed listeners) about the way the justice system ‘works’ in BC and, more than anything - plenty about what's wrong with the RCMP.
And if you had any doubt about where Gary Mason stands regarding journalistic objectivity...well, you'll have to re-assess that too - for yourselves.
This was a whitewash, plain and simple. The only thing I'd add to Mary's analysis is that Gary Mason is a very easy-to-play violin. Gary made the tune an extremely simple study.
That's serious stuff. I hope the Wikipedia administration has the knowledge of B.C. to be able to keep that under control. Can you give us the link(s) for the struggle?
Mr Tieleman had Mr Mason on CKNW's "Nightline" talking about his puff piece. It only got worse. The "Evils of Access" can be overwhelming, apparently ... and fascinating for the general public in search of simple answers.
The new Anonymous comment describing the interview much better, came in as I was writing this ... but I'll let mine stand, too, OK?
The only callers seemed intent on bashing the RCMP who, of course, can't speak out in their own defence.
And something was said, at the end, about a hope for dismissal.
The interview is available on-line in CKNW's archives. I hope others will report in, after hearing Bill Tieleman's show. That's right: it was Bill Tieleman's show.
Because when you press the button therein, it brings you to the story at right: "They played Gary Mason like a violin" and I'd like to know what the heck they're talkin' about, these high-falutin' strategists. TDH Strategies, I mean.
I wonder if they work on Christmas Day.
Politics is such a dirty, power-tripping game. The Indo-Canadian community represents a huge resource pool of voters that the Liberals (at both levels of government) were willing to manipulate and use to their political advantage.
From the view point of an outsider looking on it was easy to recognize the manipulation going on during the time period being discussed here for what it was...a political power grab. Racism is a smoke-screen. This had/has absolutely nothing to do with racism...never did! That the racism card is being whipped out and used only speaks to further manipulative measures being taken in an effort to cover ass and detract from the real issues.
It is evident they are on the run when having to resort to such desperate "hearts and flowers" measures as the writer did when "reporting" (and I use that term rather loosely) the Mr. & Mrs. Basi Bedroom Scene story, answering the door to the RCMP, the feigned innocence, are you tearing me from the heart of my family, etc., blah.
They are also using the advantage of time in an effort to garner sympathy from the public...as in, oh my the cops are at my door having disturbed my wife and I in bed listening to the joy of our children waking up...sob, how would you feel? Cry me a river!
That they feel use of sympatico can in any way cover for the theft of public assets...in whatever guise it took...only emphasizes the lack of moral conscience.