September 10, 2019 – George Garrett, “Intrepid Reporter”

George Garrett
Retired News Reporter

A kind of Zelig of B.C. news reporters, Garrett was on the ground level for pretty much all the big stories from the mid-1950s until the end of the 1990s.

“It was a lot of luck, but I guess also I might have had an intuition on some things. Others were just pure serendipity that I happened to be there at the right time,” said Garrett recently about his habit of being there when the big stories broke.

During a recent conversation, Garrett talked about some of those right place, right time moments.

One instance had Garrett flying in on a helicopter to cover a Native blockade near Lillooet. Reporters from other news outlets had already been there for a few days watching nothing happen. Garrett said no sooner had he landed than rows of RCMP officers marched in to enforce a court order.

“The other reporters were pretty upset. ‘Bloody Garrett, he’s so lucky’ ” said Garrett, adding a laugh, but not too big of a laugh. That would be smug and that isn’t George Garrett. “I just seem to have a sense when things are going to happen, but of course I missed a lot, too.”

Now 20 years after his official retirement from CKNW Radio (he also worked for BCTV, now Global TV), Garrett has released his memoir. George Garrett: Intrepid Reporter takes readers into some of B.C’s most memorable news stories, as well as delivering a picture of the man behind the microphone and the wheel of the news cruiser.

Source: The Vancouver Sun, March 9, 2019

Q & A

Question 1: Thank you very much for an entertaining presentation. You referred to the freedom that you had to record your own opinions. Yesterday’s Vancouver Sun had quite a large apology for an article that was published in the Saturday’s newspaper. I wonder whether or not you agree with the article?

Answer 1: No, it was a terrible article. It was written by a man, Hecht, who works for the University of Alberta. He’s not a professor, he’s an instructor there and the editorial should have been vetted by somebody at the Vancouver Sun. Harold Munro happens to be a friend of mine and he’s the guy, the buck stops there. He is the editor. And to his credit, he put this apology in the paper yesterday. I’ve never seen that before. I was talking to one of my colleagues here and we discussed, you’ll always see in the paper ‘Setting and Straight’ on Page 2 correcting the mistakes they made, but this was an outright apology and I know from talking to friends of the newspaper business that they got tremendous backlash from the public on Twitter, by phone, and reporters themselves were very upset. Kim Bolan, is one of those upset. Ian Mulgrew, whom I saw on Saturday, was very upset about it. And there’s a reporter I haven’t met, her last name IP. She’s, I believe, of Chinese descent. She literally cried and cried when she saw that in the paper. The gist of it was that we’re better off as a country if we’re not all embracing. We’ll do better, if in effect we’re the same people.

Question 1 (cont’): May I make my point? The apology stated that the article did not conform with the views of the editor of the press which would suggest to me that unless you submit something that agrees with their opinion, you will not get it published.

Answer 1 (cont’): No, I think this is about the basic premise of Canada being an inclusive country.

Question 1 (cont’): That was the article, but apology said that unless somebody agrees with the views and opinions of the editorial that they won’t be published.

Answer 1 (cont’): Well, I think they have a responsibility to not publish things that are so negative like that. You’ll probably disagree with that. I read the article only after it was brought to my attention.

Question 1 (cont’): I didn’t read the article until after I read the apology. It’s censorship really.

Answer 1: Well yes you could say that.

Question 2: I was in the business. It’s always been that newspapers went out of their way to express conflicting opinions to represent all thoughts, but this article was what I would call hate journalism. It was a hate message, full of untruths and warped things, that was quite different from just being another opinion.

Answer 2: Yes, I think that everything that is right about the country, something had to be said about that.

Question 3: The media is reported to do well and do better when it’s publishing negative things. Now, what is your view on how to create a balance between that and things that encourage people in their daily lives.

Answer 3: People do read them and listen to stories that are negative, it’s an unfortunate truth, and I’ve often heard the comment, “Why don’t you do good stories?” Well, if you did, you know, nice, sweet good stories all the time, you’d probably lose your audience, whether it’s newspaper or whatever. We seem to thrive on controversy and unfortunately, I’ve covered some terrible things like the Olsen murders. Those things have to be told, those stories have to be told. You try to do good stories, every once in a while, you do get that. 60 Minutes, one of my favorite programs, had a tribute to this past week to Steve Kroft who is retiring after 30 years, an outstanding reporter. They did all the highlights of stories that he had done and said that they wanted to leave enough time to run the story that he wanted. It was about life on an island in Scotland and it was called Eigg Island. It was a fantastic story about this very remote island that was inhabited by just a few people who eventually kicked the Laird off the property and were able to buy it themselves. It’s a unique and very good-feeling kind of story. I’m all for things like that, but they only come along once in a while. This morning, I saw something on TV from New York. Two little boys had met at some club, did you see them? One happened to be a black boy, and the other was white. They’d seen each other last week, but on the sidewalk, they saw each other coming from opposite directions and they held up their arms like this *gestures* to embrace each other, and I thought that’s what really is important as our society develops. You know, the lack of any consideration for race or colour, whatever, and just a very small vignette but to me a good story.

Question 4: It’s not a question but I’ll remind you of the BC Electric logo which is still used today and which was known as Bennett’s Double-cross. (G.G. – Yes) And the other one was Phil Gaglardi who was known as Flying Phil.

Answer 4: Now he was he was quite a character. I did encounter, Mr. Gaglardi after he retired from politics and he’d been named the president of a mining company. It was a stock scam for sure *laughter*. I went to see it and to interview him, and I described it in my book as a little man behind a very big desk. He knew nothing about the mining industry, it was just being used as a front, you know, one of BC’s characters.

Question 5: We understand that you’ve been a reporter for the radio. You made a point that you were in the heyday of the CKNW. What do you think the future brings? We see the print medias declining, the internet’s come up, we got smart phones all of us, and the people are buying less papers. What’s happening in the radio for example and what do you think the future holds?

Answer 5: Well I think like the newspapers, the radio has lost a lot of revenue to the online people. It’s been a disaster for the newspapers. I check back to 1955 and before that and the Mulligan Affair was taking place in Vancouver, the police chief who was taking bribes, and the Vancouver Sun and the Province each had 100 reporters. I was astounded because CKNW, in its heyday, my time there, we had maybe 25 in our newsroom, which is really remarkable. Now, there are seven. It’s a product of competition and there’s so many more stations now. It’s very hard to get any prominent market share. We had it because we had Frosty Forst in the morning to start with. We had strong characters like Webster and we had great competition from the likes of Pat Burns. I’ll say that it was a very vibrant time not only in radio but in the whole market. And one of the things I don’t like about the newspapers now is that I have to discard a big ad covering the front page before you get to the news. I understand why they do it, it’s one way of getting revenue, but the newspapers are under a lot of pressure and I think the saving grace in the United States right now is the big newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post. They break stories. Now the electronic media follow them up, but they don’t break the stories, and they have enough people who are really professional and do their job well, and I think that’s the only bastion against the dialogue of the President Trump, which is just a disaster, you know, but he gets to the people via Twitter every day, every day, several times a day, and he has the support or did have the support of the Fox network. And what’s the other media doing? Of course, they publicize his tweet. He’s smart but an idiot *laughter*.

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