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Jennifer Pagliaro

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Toronto’s Rita Skeeter is after TTC CEO Andy Byford

Why are certain journalists given leeway to sensationalize issues that are in fact non-issues? They twist words to create “a trap for fools” hoping to slingshot their career to international heights. Sensationalists get forgotten over time, while journalists dedicated to the truth, who don’t deal in opinion but report fact, always seem to survive the test of time. They don’t give in to the lure of fame by twisting words and creating controversy.

The latest witch hunt has been led by Jennifer Pagliaro at the Star – she’s determined to find scandal to build her name and slingshot into international fame, and now that the Toronto Transit Commission’s CEO Andy Byford is heading to New York, she has found the perfect opportunity to get recognition south of the border.

Pagliaro has taken a line that Byford quickly sent in a text message and twisted it out of context to such a degree it would make even the trashiest tabloid journalist squirm.

The text she is trying to make into a scandal was written in haste by Byford as he was preparing for his usual grilling at city council. Note the word preparing and think about how challenging it would be to face 40 councillors all with extensive questions (some whose lips move when they read, and others who grandstand on anything that could turn into an issue). Remember that Byford has to give council a full accounting of every decision he makes. His staff prepare briefing notes to help him prepare for committee and council meetings. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be consumed with “preparing” prior to such a grilling!

The text that Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to build into a scandal was sent by Byford to Matlow over a year ago as he was preparing for a council meeting. It reads “We have prepared a BN (briefing note) at the Chairs request and for the Mayors office.” This was an obvious mistake, and most at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the mayor. In fact, it likely was meant to say “We have sent a BN at the Chairs request to the Mayors office.” If one were in the middle of preparing for a large council debate, it is easy to see how the word “prepared” might slip into a text sent in haste. But, it is also common knowledge that TTC staff prepare briefing notes for their CEO. Anyone who’s spent time at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the Mayor!

I find it impossible to believe that Matlow would not have realized Byford’s text message had errors in it. It’s no secret that Councillor Matlow has yearned to be on the board of the TTC. I’m sure the man salivates over the sensitive information he’d have access to if he had a board position, and dreams of ways he could twist and sensationalize it. Instead of questioning Byford on the obvious mistake in his text message – which most councillors would have done, Matlow hid the text message, putting it into his arsenal to be used at a later date. (Who would save a text message for over a year if they didn’t want to use it for something devious?)

But, let me take this back to journalistic integrity – because the real issue is apparent on any given day at city hall. Those of us in the media cringe when we see Councillor Matlow and reporter Jennifer Pagliaro whispering and snickering together in council chambers. Don’t get me wrong, councillors and reporters talk all the time, but to see the two of them together constantly sends off warning bells. And to read an article today by Pagliaro that so obviously props up Matlow by sensationalizing this ridiculous text message has me shaking my head.

Many of us in the media have watched Matlow try to stir up controversy over the Scarborough subway, he’s suggested scandal and corruption since he first realized it would get him on the news. I wouldn’t doubt he’s behind those who pushed for an Auditor General investigation – but that issue backfired on him! The auditors report clearly states that there was no evidence that the TTC CEO Andy Byford or his staff deliberately misled council, or were influenced in any way by the Mayors office. It found that in fact there was no political interference at all.

Instead of chalking Byford’s text up to a typo, Pagliaro has become enthralled by Matlow’s grandstanding … like a hen attracted to a peacock. Determined to create scandal out of an error in a text message, she has never questioned why Councillor Matlow did not clarify the text message with Byford, or why he held on to it for so long, or the fact that this typo led to a witch hunt that proved completely vacuous. I’ve seen her at city hall whispering to Matlow too many times to count, so I know that she’s had plenty of time to question him. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the real scandal at city hall may lie between this councillor and reporter!

But what bothers me most is that one of the best CEO’s of the TTC that Toronto has had is leaving our city with very little recognition of the fantastic job he has done in improving our transit system. From timing to signalling, efficiency to improving overall customer service, Andy Byford moved the TTC ahead decades.

He was accessible and responsive to a fault, and I think he trusted that any typo he might make in a text message sent in haste would not be secreted away and used to create a scandal. That Jennifer Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to use Byford’s good reputation to slingshot their own careers is beyond pathetic.

International Women’s Day – true leadership and journalist integrity

When I think about strong women, I think of women who have stayed true to their profession, who lead with integrity. As publisher of Women’s Post, it would be easy to simply trash men, to talk about women’s rights and the need for women to have more power. But it would be wrong.

Ethics are tools that help people stay true to the balance our society relies on to move forward. When that balance is shifted so that women or men gain too much power, our society as a whole suffers. I am proud that Women’s Post not only promotes the successes of women, but defends men from the attacks of women using their power unjustly.

In journalism, there are far too many writers who give way to sensationalism, who twist their words for political gain and twitter followers. This was obvious today, as I read Jennifer Pagliaro’s fiction in the Toronto Star where she writes “Tory proclaimed his transit priorities were SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway. He said SmartTrack would provide relief on the Yonge line while knocking Olivia Chow’s support of the relief line subway.”  This is so blatantly false that the writer in me screams foul.

I’m hoping that Pagliaro just hasn’t done her homework, because I hate to think that she might be attempting to use her platform as a journalist to twist the truth.

When John Tory was running for Mayor of Toronto, he came out in strong support of what he coined the “Yonge Relief” subway line.  I remember thinking how clever it was that he had changed the name from the downtown relief line to the Yonge relief line. By calling it a relief line for Yonge Street he was explaining to the public the actual function of the line – to offer riders from Scarborough and Etobicoke an alternative way of getting across the city.

That’s why I cringe today as I read Pagliaro’s words in the Toronto Star because it assumes that just because Tory suggested Smart Track that he was against the relief line, which is simply not true at all. If she were to do her homework she could have discovered that he has promoted the relief line for years. Pagliaro even suggests that Olivia Chow’s support of the relief line was authentic. As a transit advocate, I remember well that we could not get Chow to come out in support of the downtown relief subway line, because her loyalty was to Transit City and LRTs. Tory was constantly knocking her support of the relief line. When Chow came out claiming her love for the relief line all I could do was laugh and wonder if the journalists would notice/remember, or if naive young woman might fall for it —  indeed Pagliaro did.

When I ran for Mayor in 2010, I was very fortunate to have Mayor Tory’s two sons – George Tory and John Tory running my campaign. I’m not sure how big a role their father actually played, but I always had the feeling that he was quietly advising them. We decided to make the relief subway line a pivotal part of our campaign, because most transit experts insisted it was the highest priority line in the city. I remember going into a debate with John Jr. instructing me to answer every question with “the relief line or a subway.”  I balked when he told me he didn’t care if the question was about social housing, or land use planning — that I should answer “relief subway line” to every question or he would quit the campaign. And before I went up on stage he grabbed all my notes and told me I wouldn’t need them.

The next day all the papers were calling me “Subway Sarah” and I jumped to third place in the polls.  I was in absolute awe of the Tory boys and their father.

Back then reporters said our idea for the relief line was wishful thinking.  But over the years, as CEO of the Transit Alliance, my team and I worked to build awareness and support for the relief line, hosting many events in which John Tory would take part. He always spoke in support of the relief line, emphasizing it’s importance. Tory never gave up on the relief line, and that is why I wonder what Pagliaro is trying to do in her column?

International Woman’s Day is about the strength of women to lead within our society. We do this by staying true to ourselves, our profession, and each other. But yet again, I find myself defending a man against the political attacks of a woman who irresponsibly uses her stage to distort the truth.

Becoming a good journalist takes hard work. It isn’t easy to get beyond your personal assumptions and report the facts without bias, and in the world of twitter it is hard to avoid the temptation when given a global stage to write from. But a true journalist doesn’t take advantage of the stage they stand on. She does her homework, uncovers the truth, and writes the facts.

Today, critics are piling on Mayor Tory simply because he is willing to admit that a campaign strategy – Smart Track — may not be feasible. They forget that when he announced Smart Track during the campaign he insisted it was an idea, a vision, and that studies would be needed to see if it could work. They want to ignore the fact that Mayor Tory coined the term the “Yonge Street Relief line” and that he was one of the first to advocate for it.  I want to remind the Mayor of a great quote from Jean Sibelius: “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.”