It is entirely likely that James Moore decided not to run for reelection this Fall in order to, as he told us, “pursue new opportunities and be closer to my young family.” It is also entirely likely he did so because an Ottawa journalist revealed that he had been exchanging “sext” messages with a Conservative political aide — messages that indicated the two were involved in a physical relationship as well.
These things are not mutually exclusive. Men cheat. Sometimes they cheat on wives they love, or at least feel loyalty to, or at least hope they won’t have to pay alimony to. And if a married politician is caught cheating, the smartest thing he can do is get out of Dodge and back to the homestead, there to later be photographed with forgiving wife by his side . . . if he’s lucky.
It is, of course, the sort of story Twitter thrives on. It ceases to be just grist for the rumour mills, however, once it can be confirmed; at that point it becomes news. Which is what happened with the Moore story last week.
Until then, we’d had just a Frank magazine story to go on, plus a steady trickle of suggestive but inconclusive posts on @dmatthewmillar‘s twitter feed. Matthew Millar is a freelancer who bills himself on Linked in as “an investigative journalist and national correspondent.” He used to be an Ottawa correspondent for the Vancouver Observer, where he broke a story that led to former MP Chuck Strahl’s resignation as Chair of the federal government’s Security Intelligence Review Committee.
In April, according to the Frank story, Millar found a left-behind BlackBerry at Metropolitain, an Ottawa restaurant. Rifling through it, he discovered it belonged to one Vanessa Schneider, then a senior aide to Conservative Minister of Infrastructure Denis Lebel and a former Fraser Institute staffer. He also discovered about 50 increasingly perfervid texts exchanged with someone going by the handle “Wilfrid.” Millar took screen shots of the messages, plus contact info that indicated Wilfrid was Moore . . .
— D. Matthew Millar (@dmatthewmillar) May 5, 2015
. . . though not so conclusively that a journalist couldn’t suppose, perhaps over-charitably, that it might be another James Moore, or some wish-fulfillment on the part of the phone owner, or whatever. And besides, who cared? Politicians’ private lives are private until they affect matters of state — even if they are politicians who once got sort of hysterical over a sex exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology museum.
But then Moore announced he would not run for re-election, and the Harperites were out yet another cabinet minister. That he was one of their ablest, and one they needed to help shore up their BC fortunes, made it more than just another case of an incumbent bailing. Good souls accepted Moore’s explanation that it was all about his family, and his special needs child. Less credulous observers didn’t — especially when the PM, who had given Peter MacKay such a warm send-off, had nothing to say about the matter.
The press remained studiously silent as well. And then, last Monday, Millar posted a screen shot of a text from “Wilfrid” that included a photo of Moore’s young son. At that point, it became conclusively clear that Wilfrid and he were one and the same. And . . . the press remained studiously silent.
I’m not going to include that image here; I think posting it is an invasion of the child’s privacy. And I think what Millar did in rummaging through the phone was pretty sleazy. A journalist pursuing a particular story might go looking for information in hidden places, but trolling for a story the way Millar did? Strictly yellow press. (Justin Ling, a reporter for Vice Magazine, tweeted that the phone was “stolen,” which would kick the malfeasance up a notch. I asked him by e-mail how he knew it was stolen; he hasn’t replied. Millar told me by e-mail the phone wasn’t stolen — whatever stolen means.)
But as soon as it became clear that Millar’s story was true, no matter how it was obtained, it became a story for other journalists too. Because to suppose that Moore’s texting and other habits, and their revelation, had nothing to do with his decision to leave politics would not only be charitable, it would be idiotic. His private life had plainly spilled over into the nation’s business, and not in an insignificant way. To report on it became, at that moment, entirely legitimate. What’s more, it became required.
Which made watching these five on The National’s “At Issue” panel a few nights ago such a darkly amusing experience. The talk turned to Moore’s “completely unplanned” announcement. The elephant in the room must have been just off-camera, because it’s unlikely any of these Ottawa insiders don’t know the circumstances behind Moore’s exit — all of them. But would they go there? Their lips were as tightly sealed as the Prime Minister’s. (I invited both Moore’s office and Vanessa Schneider to comment for this article; neither replied to my e-mails.)
Maybe the “At Issue” panelists aren’t avid followers of Mr. Millar’s twitter feed (though Frank Magazine, and pretty much everyone else following the story, seems to think his allegations were substantiated weeks ago). But to sit there po-faced as Rob Russo deadpanned that “there are still some unanswered questions there” was high comedy of the most glacial order. “Yes,” their expressions told us, “there certainly are unanswered questions. And we don’t intend to answer any of them.”
This is of a piece with reports a few years ago of trouble in the Harper marriage. In that case, the rumours were never confirmed — though we continue to follow with interest efforts to have documents related to their RCMP security detail unsealed. But as here, and as we reported at the time, the only person willing to pursue the matter was an outlier. The Globe and Mail in particular made every effort to look the other way.
This is because, we are often told, the Canadian media is better than those scumbags in the U.S. and Britain, who will hound politicians out of office for their sexual indiscretions. And Canadians seem to like this priggish image of their journalists, and themselves. It’s a pretty strange definition of “better,” though, when it starts to mean looking the other way even when the politician’s private behaviour has impacted the public sphere. If they weren’t sure before that Millar’s allegations were true, well, they have no reason to wonder now. And James Moore is still a sitting cabinet minister. Do your jobs, ladies and gentlemen, or announce your exit from them, as Mr. Moore has at least had the good grace to do.