You can look it up

Tara Perkins, the financial services beat reporter for the Globe’s Report on Business, seems like an insightful writer. As someone who has written about the topic for thirty years, I can recognize a good journalist over a mediocre one. It’s just that Ms. Perkins doesn’t read books. Or studiously avoids citing books in her field.

Take today’s fine piece on Donald Guloien and his conservative stance at Manulife. She quotes the new Manulife CEO on the topic of last fall’s market meltdown as saying, “Those were very uncomfortable times.” I guess they were. Fine old firms crashed: American International Group, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. The entire global financial system almost blew apart. She also quotes Guloien as saying Manulife’s response in raising capital by taking out bank debt and issuing shares was “very humbling.”

Ms. Perkins went to all the trouble of making an Access to Information request and got some documents about efforts by former Manulife CEO Dominic D’Alessandro to get Ottawa’s help. I wasn’t surprised that the best stuff was blacked out; there are people in Ottawa who do nothing but blackouts.

But there was plenty of public information on this very question that was much closer at hand: my book about Manulife, published in May. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up.” On pages 231-235, I give chapter and verse on D’Alessandro’s lobbying efforts with Superintendent of Insurance Julie Dickson as well as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Rob Wright, his deputy minister.

Ms. Perkins notes that D’Alessandro met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on November 6 to discuss “financial institutions.” She goes on to say that it’s not known what was discussed. Well, I can tell you what was not discussed: relief for Manulife. I know that because I put the question to D’Alessandro during my research and he said, “I did not go to the prime minister. I spoke to the finance minister, the deputy finance minister. I spoke to some other people. I explained the issue. They were very sympathetic but to interfere and give direction to the superintendent at a time like this was not something they wanted to do.”

There are other details in the book that could have been usefully added by Ms. Perkins to today’s piece but weren’t. I don’t know why she didn’t get in touch with me or quote my book. On major stories like this, reporters usually want to ferret out and provide readers with information from all knowledgeable sources.

I think I’ll try the oldest technique in journalism, I’ll phone her this morning and ask why her research was so narrow. I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Ms. Perkins seemed surprised to learn she could quote from my book. “I didn’t know you’d be open to that,” she said. Open to that? The book, after all, is in the public domain. Authors appreciate such mentions, with appropriate citations, of course. “It just didn’t occur to me,” she said. An answer so naive it must be true.

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