Scrum Wars: The Prime Ministers and the Media


389 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55002-207-5
DDC 070.4'08'93513





Reviewed by J.L. Granatstein

J.L. Granatstein is a history professor at York University and co-author
of the Dictionary of Canadian Military History and Shadows of War, Faces
of Peace: Canada’s Peacekeepers.


The relationship between the press and politicians is one of mutual need
and, most often, mutual mistrust. The need is obvious: politicians want
their stories told (and their sins unrevealed), while the press needs to
fill all that white space every day. The mistrust arises out of the
history of Canada’s partisan, party-lining newspapers, which blasted
the political enemy on every account while simultaneously praising the
grand old party, which stood foursquare for all that was right and true.
No one was ever more unfaithful to principle, the old saw goes, than
someone who has supported the Tories or Grits consistently; that applies
to newspapers too. Levine’s book is a textbook account of this uneasy
relationship, one that traces the changes in press ownership and
journalistic ethics and puts them firmly into the political context.
Here is old Sir John A. stroking the press gallery reporters, Laurier
charming them, and Arthur Meighen bitterly fighting them and their
owners. Here is Mackenzie King ignoring them all—except when it suited
his purposes. More recently, here is Trudeau treating the press, by the
1970s largely independent, as illiterate hacks, or Brian Mulroney
working hard to charm the media but failing spectacularly. There is
substantial research here, splendid examples of political and
journalistic foolishness, and regrettably insufficient analysis to tie
the story together. Levine’s book reads well and is certainly useful,
but it is not the last word.


Levine, Allan., “Scrum Wars: The Prime Ministers and the Media,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,