Okay. Now that Norman Spector and Andrew Cohen have decided to write about the rumours, maybe it's time to have a frank chat about this whole issue. (Update: The Globe has pulled Spector's blog post, but it is reprinted here if you want to know what I'm nattering on about.)
First, it's maybe worth drawing attention to a blog I wrote in September, about some things we can do without here on Parliament Hill. See point #9.
Reporting a rumour is not journalism. It's called gossip, and in this case, a malicious strain of it. It's what people used to bring home from the beauty salon, circa the 1950s, when messages got mangled in the din of the hairdryers.
Journalism involves investigating tips or questions, determining their accuracy, and telling the public the facts. The difference between Misters Spector and Cohen is that they seem to have taken a little shortcut there, or worse, done it backwards. They've reported the rumour and asked other people to investigate. I would hope that Mr. Cohen is not teaching young would-be journalists to do the same. Apart from being supremely unfair, it's also just plain lazy.
I'm going to put down in writing here what we say to everyone who's been offering us advice for the last THREE YEARS about this rumour.
* Every media organization has looked into this story. Every one of our bosses wants us to be first with this story if it's true. Some organizations have gone to some lengths with their reporting resources. Problem: not a shred of evidence. Not one.
* Media folks don't conspire together. We compete. We certainly don't conspire to help the PMO and most of us aren't particularly afraid of the PMO either. The idea that we'd all meet, negotiate to keep something secret is beyond ridiculous.
* This story seems to be more in circulation in Toronto than it is in Ottawa. During some weeks over the last THREE YEARS (have I mentioned that?), usually after the Harpers have been seen together in public, we got dozens of "tips" from people who heard from someone else who heard it from someone else who absolutely knows it's true because it came from the RCMP. (Yes, it usually ends with the RCMP or a policeman.) I estimate, collectively, that the Star has been notified about this rumour at least several hundred times in the past, yes, three years. I know other media outlets in Ottawa who would make the same estimate. It is not our practice to throw tips like this in the garbage, though after the first couple of hundred, I think we're tempted.
* At one point in 2009, I'm told that the entire Liberal caucus was informed that the announcement of a separation was coming that very day, and MPs were ordered to say nothing. Of course, it was just another bit of gossip gone wild. We, uh, didn't report that either. Because *it wasn't true.* We're old-fashioned that way. If we reported every rumour that wasn't true or couldn't be proved, we wouldn't have enough room for real news. Which apparently folks out there want.
* Interestingly, there are elements of this rumour that have morphed into rehashed versions of the Trudeau marriage breakup. Some of the details are the same, which is probably evidence that people are pretty much prepared to turn this story into whatever they want it to be. The virulence of this rumour is also similar to the ones about the Mulroney marriage (also not true) and allegations that Mulroney had started drinking again in the early 1990s (also not true.) We get this stuff all the time here in Ottawa.
* I'm intrigued by how many people want to believe this story. Go to Google and tap in the name of the Prime Minister's wife. Look at the suggested searches, and how many people have done them. Staggering. You'd think that with that much interest, someone over the last few years would have been able to prove something. Nada. Nothing. One has to ask oneself why people are so hungry to believe it. I don't know the answer to that. But I do find it interesting.
We in the media should be always up for criticism and suggestions. But this particular tip has run its course. I'll say it again, as I said in September -- unless you have evidence or made the effort to find it, you should probably keep your gossip to yourself or under an old-fashioned hairdryer, where it belongs.