Mansbridge owes reign to luck, not skill
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/09/2016 (2202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale ought to check out the career of Peter Mansbridge, the CBC’s national news reader, as it draws to a close.
His is the story of an entirely unremarkable guy who, through both accident and design, was transformed into an elite Canadian journalist, one of the highest-paid by Canadian standards and one of the most recognizable. Many moments in this story invite amazement.
It’s well known that Mansbridge was discovered when, as a high school dropout, he was working as a baggage handler for Transair, a small airline in Churchill.
One of his occasional duties was calling flights. A traveller in the radio business liked that deep baritone voice and offered him a job. Mansbridge, who’s on record as never having considered journalism, accepted, and started off on his new path as lifelong lottery winner. That was 1968.
Almost 50 years later, Mansbridge has been king of the castle, host of the CBC’s flagship nightly news show The National for almost 30 years. On its Labour Day edition, he announced his coming resignation, delivering it with a gravitas worthy of a royal abdication or a pope preparing to leave the Vatican, letting his followers know that, sadly, he would leave them almost a year later, on their 150th birthday.
In his younger years, Mansbridge never claimed to be a crack reporter or an astute interviewer. He admits he just followed the money, going from radio reporter to television host, competent in both, excelling in neither. For example, during a live telecast of a royal visit by HRH Princess Anne to Winnipeg, he could not tell the difference between the princess and a stewardess. He recalls that story with good humour.
His usefulness had little to do with talent, but he had a testosterone-induced authority and an emotional remoteness that the times and the media required. It was enough to get noticed by an American network, which offered him his own show. Again, he followed the money and accepted the job — until his aging mentor Knowlton Nash suddenly stepped aside to allow him the top job in Canada.
As is customary for anchors, Mansbridge enjoyed credit for the work of an ever-evolving team of journalists who found the stories and wrote the words he read and who were paid a pittance of his salary. On the strength of their work, CBC image-makers crafted Mansbridge into both patriarch and patriot, the eyes and ears and the face of a nation.
The success of this campaign was cemented in July 2008, when he was made an officer of the Order of Canada. On the list of Canadians who had taken huge personal risks, made sacrifices, confronted debilitating controversies and shown indisputable commitment to the well-being of their fellow citizens, Mansbridge was honored for his prominence and longevity.
Mansbridge’s parting self-reverence has provoked a wave of discontent and a clear lack of gratitude for his services, especially from journalists who understand the difference between kitchen workers and the maitre d’hotel. This should not surprise him: the irascible Frank magazine had always referred to him as Mansbingo — the nation’s chief bingo caller. Now other voices have chimed in: “smug,” they’re saying, “pompous.” Critics at Ipolitics dubbed him “a decaffeinated Ted Baxter” and “shopworn meat puppet.” That’s got to sting a little, but it’s nothing money can’t soothe.
In an ironic twist, Mansbridge now finds himself on the sharp end of serious journalism, exposed as making an obscene amount of money for merely putting his voice to the labours of researchers, writers, editors, producers and technicians. The website Canadaland reports (and Mansbridge has not denied ) his most recent salary is just over $1 million a year, plus perks, earning him three times the salary of the prime minister. As the news business is driven to its knees, his negotiated pension will be $500,000 a year, enough to hire 10 journalists with student loans to pay off.
It’s a happy ending for the king of the news, but this fairy tale will not be repeated. News media as a castle, a vendor of faces and voices, a fortress of the establishment sheltering artificial royalty is history. The villagers are armed with more information than ever. Goodbye, Peter Mansbridge.
Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg writer and a former current affairs host at CBC Radio.