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Friday, October 09, 2009

Linda Frum Sokolowski, a new Senator, already drives liberals crazy

When the latest batch of new Conservative senators were announced recently, I thought to myself about one, “I knew this lady.”

A writer for the Hill Times, Parliament Hill’s newspaper, figures that he knows Linda Frum Sokolowski and his column sought to ridicule the new Senator into insignificance. He doesn’t know her, and I hope to show why. It’s another example, I suggest, of conservatives not being afforded a basic level of respect by the media.

She was targeted by liberals even before taking office. And, I say, good for her.

Linda Frum Sokolowski is probably best known to Canadians for her books and the years she spent conducting interviews for the National Post and Maclean’s. What brought her to Stephen Harper’s attention was probably the many years she has spent working, off and on, to help small-c conservative causes, as well as her work to raise funds for Toronto charities. (She and her current husband are well known and respected for this in Toronto’s Jewish community.)

Readers might think that the Senate appointment was a thank you merely for her work to raise funds for the Conservative party. Not so. And of all of The Shotgun bloggers, I am uniquely qualified to report that Linda Frum—as she was when I knew her—has been a  bête noire in the eyes of the Canadian left since before Canadians had an idea who Stephen Harper was.

She made her debut in the public eye while a student at McGill in the 1980s. Frustrated by the leftism of the McGill Daily student newspaper, she started a monthly conservative student newspaper—eventually renamed The McGill Magazine. As it was one of the first such papers in Canada, it garnered her a little media attention. A sneering notice in This Magazine.  And the animosity of some in the student press.

Linda Frum’s newspaper didn’t last long past her graduation. But I, as a would-be student journalist on the other side of the country, noticed that my elders and betters in Canada’s left-leaning student news service Canadian University Press (CUP) did not like Frum’s efforts and wanted you to feel the same way. Her conservatism threw them for a loop. So, in CUP’s internal “house organ” newsletter, I read all the negative notices about Frum that CUP staff could find, as well as the coverage in the McGill Daily’s two editions. To let you know how seriously they took her, CUP staff in their periodical gossip column printed a little notice that there was a rumor that staff at The Varsity—the main student newspaper at The University of Toronto—had typeset Frum’s newspaper for her. In the next house organ newsletter was an indignant letter from a Varsity editor, irate that CUP staff was reprinting an obviously false rumour to cause animosity between the McGill Daily and his newspaper.

Frum graduated, and a little later took a contract from Key Porter Books to write a book guide to Canadian universities. She was the cover subject of an issue of Influence, Peter Worthington’s short-lived magazine, in which she discussed the problems that she faced from McGill’s administration in publishing her newspaper.

Which is where I step into this tale, briefly. Frum visited the office of The Ubyssey, UBC’s student newspaper. She asked me questions for her book. I did a little story on her visit to UBC for the newspaper. We struck up a long-distance friendship that lasted during my university years. (And I would like to note that her kindness and encouragement helped me to persevere in my goal of becoming a reporter, for which I owe her thanks. I do think, however, that I would have noticed the things that I point out in this post without having known her. I hope that you agree.)

Her university guide was published. I realized that there was no way that she could see student press coverage of her book, or of the visits she made to several campuses to promote it, so, as a courtesy to my new friend, I passed along copies of what I saw about her in student newspapers. It was a bit mindboggling in tone, even for the student press, so much so that I compiled a file for myself for reference. (And I was as amazed as you are to realize that I had kept this file amongst my university papers. I am not working from memory.)

When reading coverage of her and her guide, you would expect an inability to see one’s own school as an outsider might. You’d expect her critiques of schools to be interpreted as personal. But the reaction to Frum’s work and opinions was nasty, and often visceral. Her family ties were constantly cited. There were barbs about her conservative politics as student journalists took their lead from their CUP mentors.

Sure, you’d expect “I hated the book”. But hatred of the author herself, as displayed in cartoons likening her to Godzilla? Yes, you might expect a story on her visit to a campus, but with accompanying photos shot up her nose and making fun of her teeth? You might expect a story on the book in another newspaper, but not with a “Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbour!” style headline, quoting the president of the university as saying to Frum “Who the hell do you think you are, young lady?!” Another cartoonist, following the 1987 stock market crash, had an explanation for it: “God is pouring out Revelation’s seven cups o’ wrath upon a civilization that has failed to wipe Linda Frum off th’ face of this earth.” (Such overblown rhetoric is not amusing when the same cartoonist—following a feature article by Frum in Saturday Night magazine the following year, which touched on several conservative ideas about academia—printed a cartoon on the front page of his newspaper labeled “Death to L. Frum”.)

Certainly you expect sophomores to be, well, sophomoric. But we see two things here that would never have happened to a liberal writing about Canada’s universities—a lack of basic courtesy and respect  and an inability to treat what she says seriously enough to examine it properly.

Mrs. Frum Sokolowski certainly has outgrown this silliness directed at her. But it may be worth remembering in order to point out that she has probably been taking heat for being public about her views, and trying to advance them positively, since even before Stephen Harper was in the public eye. Certainly she wasn’t given her Senate post just for hosting a few Tory fundraisers. There is a long small-c conservative history here.

(“But she’s a big-c Conservative!” Not always. Mrs. Frum Sokolowski would probably be reluctant to mention to her colleagues who come from the “Progressive Conservative” wing of the party that she co-chaired  a Toronto fundraiser for Stephen Harper’s party--in June 2003, when he was leader of the Canadian Alliance party which, at the time, was trying to supplant the Tories.)

The grown-up media, as the years went by, seemed to have a mental twitch when it came to Frum. She went on to write a biography of her mother, the late CBC broadcaster Barbara Frum. To promote the book, she wrote a feature for Elm Street magazine in which she cited evidence that her mom might have been more conservative than her liberal friends and co-workers in the media believed...which led to indignant remarks in the press.

In the late 1990s, she was appointed to serve on the board of the Ontario Arts Council. (One of the reasons for this, aside from the fact that she was starting to write on the arts, was possibly because she had direct experience here, sharing an award for co-producing the documentary Ms. Conceptions.) Her appointment, however, was greeted by a prominent Globe and Mail story targeting this “partisan” appointment.

Time passed, and she pursued a career working for the National Post and Maclean’s, devoted herself to charity work and remarried. The latest time that she made the news was when she was recently named a Senator.

One column marking her appointment, however, might have led Mrs. Frum Sokolowski to wonder whether she was back in the days of the student press trying to dump a rhetorical bucket of rotting fish on her head. Her critics might be older but are they more mature?

I’m referring to “This just in…another journalist comes to the Upper House in Ottawa”, a column by Tom Korski in the Sept. 7 Hill Times. (I apologize to my readers as I wanted to--and would have--posted on this faster, but I wanted my readers to be able to read the full column for themselves too. Now, thanks to this Google cache which I found, I can point you to the whole thing.

Mr. Korski’s piece tries to use contempt and ridicule—think of the “all honorable men” rhetorical device from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar—to state by implication that the Tories are not interested in Senate reform and that Mrs. Frum Sokolowski’s career was a sham and that she is incompetent to hold her office.

To begin, I am sure that a perusal of the Hill Times archives will show that it has made fun of Incompetent Liberal appointees to the Senate, or those it thought not qualified. Right?  Also, said archives would reflect an ongoing drumbeat for Senate reform in the pages of the newspaper with relevant features and cover stories, throughout the years that the Liberals held power, correct? The Hill Times, I am sure, loves to make fun of Liberals, and can demonstrate this abundantly. Of that I am sure. Yes, of that I am sure.

Would I dispense with ridicule and contempt in the press? No. But I can imagine Hill Times readers here in the West and out in the Maritimes asking as they read the column, “Who is this lady?” You can make fun of a Harper or a Layton because you read reporting on them, straight news. Your readers need to know both the good and bad about a person in at least some detail before you pillory them. Is it fair to make fun of someone that your readers are clueless about?. (And Korski knows that his readers must be mystified, as he’s introducing Frum Sokolowski as he clobbers her.)

Proponents of Senate reform can get in line behind me as I want a Triple-E Senate five minutes ago. However, I do recognize that the best chance for same may well be with a majority of Tory-friendly Senators to help bring this about. In the current Canadian political culture, Senators may also be selected for the “community service” that they offer. So, in a Senate where you could see a former bandleader or a former hockey player, you understand why Frum Sokolowski , with her work in the media and her extensive charity work, was appointed.  She has the sort of community background that would lead party officials to ask  “Have you ever thought about being on school board? Being an alderman? Being an MLA? Can we help you run?”

(Of course, if Korski intended to suggest that a mere journalist shouldn’t be appointed to office, I wonder if he wrote an annoyed column when Adrienne Clarkson was made Governor-General. Perhaps he could re-run it in his newspaper.)

Senator Bert Brown tried to argue in another newspaper that more Tories were needed to reform the Senate, but Korski wasn’t buying “He [Brown] is Mr. Senate Reform,” Korski writes. “Why just this week he’ll draw a salary whether or not he shows up for work. Do you think that is easy?”

I am sure that Mr. Korski had made sure, before writing the column, to go to the accountants at his newspaper to make sure that he would never be given sick pay or vacation pay ever again.

He then turns to Linda Frum Sokolowski—“journalist, Senator, reformer”. He’s being ironic here. But is such irony justified until she votes against Senate reform legislation?

He addresses her background.

“Her father’s a developer. Her husband’s a developer. She lives in a big house on the Toronto district of Forest Hill, a hotbed of political reformers. Er, I mean developers.”

Perhaps Mr. Korski could have saved time and written that Mrs. Frum Sokolowski is not only a daughter of a kulak, she is also married to a kulak, comrades, er, I mean readers.

I think that my own readers would like to give Mrs. Frum Sokolowski a chance to be judged on her own merits. “Class analysis” I prefer to leave to Marxists, myself.

He turns to her career. Admittedly, she has specialized in interviews, but Mr. Korski  tries to quote her opinions to make her look ditzy and superficial in her work. He cites ledes of hers that refer to her love of fashion—about a raccoon coat at Holt Renfrew or an expensive purse.

Well, I am sure that Korski is never informal in his writing.

Perhaps he might have a more valid beef with her assignment editors at the National Post, who might have asked her to write on such subjects. (Unless it is then fair to judge Mr. Korski’s entire career by his cub reporter days, when he was perhaps asked to interview the local beauty queen by his editor, to cite a hypothetical example.)

What would Linda Frum Sokolowski have put forward to show herself at her best? I am sure that Mr. Korski knows of her former website, as certainly I don’t have to do his work for him.

It cites her interviews of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bob Rae, Peter MacKay, and Elizabeth May, as well as pieces touching on such subjects as environmental science. All of which had handy date references to allow finding, citing and quoting. If Korski had wanted to do so.  Why didn’t he? Because they would have shown that she was like any other interview-based columnist, with the desire to dig into issues as well as entertain. Which would drive a truck through Mr. Korski’s thesis.

One of the reasons that I cited Frum’s youthful background  was due to what Korski cites next.

“At 24, she published Linda Frum’s Guide to Canadian Universities...” writes Korski, who then goes on to cite a negative review and a factual error in the first edition of the book.

It’s a surprise that a book that she wrote 22 years ago would play a part in wondering whether she should be a Senator now. But, if you want to go that far back...well, I tried to provide “the rest of the story” with reasons why conservatives might want to like her. Liberals are still upset with the book!?!

(Left unmentioned was a book that Frum edited, The Newsmakers. As long as you are citing older books, you could mention this book. The royalties from it went to a TV news cameraman that was severely injured on the job. However, this might lead Korski’s readers to think that she may be a nice person to have done that, so there’s no need to mention that either.)

Mr. Korski goes on to disclose that—can you believe it—this small-c conservative has some big-C Conservative friends and acquaintances. I’ll pause and quote this “….When she married in 2001, the wedding guests included…” And recall that earlier in the column he wrote “…Her husband’s a developer…”

What might be of interest is that Howard Sokolowski is Frum’s second husband. Did Korski know this? If he didn’t, that would be a kind of glaring mistake. The sort of mistake that he would have made fun of her for making. The sort of mistake that he would have used to imply that she was an incompetent journalist for making. To be exactly correct, references to a wedding should be “second wedding” and those to her husband should perhaps be “current” or “second” husband when painting an autobiographical picture.

Would I condemn her for being married twice? Not in the slightest. But it sort of ruins Korski’s developer...developer mantra to throw “filmmaker” in between.

She was briefly married to Toronto filmmaker Tim O’Brien, if my memory serves. She mentions her marriage to “Tim” in her biography of her mother. (Page 253 of the paperback edition of Barbara Frum, next to last paragraph) You’d think that Korski would have at least flipped through the book looking for autobiographical details about the daughter, right?

Why quibble, though? Well, because in that period of her life, she naturally became interested in the arts and filmmaking, which led to sharing an award and serving on a board. This is the sort of well-roundedness that is liked in an appointed Senator and is missing in Mr. Korski’s column’s description of her. Completely ignoring her first husband allows Mr. Korski to paint a one-dimensional picture of Mrs, Frum Sokolowski. If his readers are misled, so much the better for his argument, perhaps.

He then ends his column by referring  to her coverage of Stephen Harper. It may well be that Mrs. Frum Sokolowski may be an acquaintance or friend of the Prime Minister, which would naturally lead to the sort of positive adjectives that Korski thinks are inappropriate.

Her editors at the National Post and Maclean’s may have thought about this and told Frum something like “As you know Harper, you can write the sort of personal, behind the scenes look at him and his family that might be of interest to our readers. We have other reporters to handle the critical coverage, but we think you can catch him in an informal setting, around his family, with his tie loosened, that sort of thing...”

Korski may then condemn the resulting Frum coverage of Harper as being perhaps gentle and soft, but if that is what her editors asked for, is it fair for him to condemn her for providing it? They were particular pieces designed to be written and read in certain ways

If we are to never cover politicians in an informal, behind-the scenes way, then the Hill Times should really do a column or editorial attacking the press for its recent coverage of Harper’s piano playing. If the Hill Times itself did a little story or ran a photo of Harper’s singing, then, to be fair, Korski should make fun of this too for playing into Harper’s hands. (And who knows, in her defense, Frum might have uncovered a “Stockwell Day rides a Jet ski” kind of moment for Korski and his fellows.)

I am sure that the new Senator will shrug Korski’s column off as well. But why, we can ask, would Korski target her, when he could have cited Jacques Demers—a former hockey coach who is only in recent years learning how to read? (Not that I would myself, but if you are looking for a “This person is a Senator?” target…)

Here’s a guess. What follows, if Korski’s critique might be ideologically driven?

The work of the Senate often involves committee work and investigations of various problems facing Canada. Frum Sokolowski is articulate. She knows how to probe incisively with a line of questioning as a former journalist. Also, she has been a small-c conservative in her way of thinking for a long time.

If you are of the left, how better to help the left, in the Senate, than to browbeat a new Senator from the right? Intimidate her into sitting quietly and not trying to do the best job that she can. If Frum Sokolowski were to be the most articulate and ideological of the new Senators, for argument’s sake, would you editorially assail other Senators who might need more time to grow into their work? No, you’d try to take out the earliest threat.

How will my former friend do as a Senator? I honestly don’t know. But, I do hope that small-c conservatives give her more of a chance to do well than Tom Korski has.

I do know that she is already proving adept at inducing liberal conniptions. Long may she continue to do so.

Posted by Rick Hiebert on October 9, 2009 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


Linda Frum is an often left-leaning neocon. But I repeat myself.

So who better for yet another hyper-partisan appointment to the Senate from apostate PM Stephen Harper?

What puzzles is not that Harpo would make such an appointment, but that we should see a War And Peace-length hagiography posted on The Shotgun ;-)

Posted by: John Collison | 2009-10-09 8:48:10 PM

Oh please, John c.c

With regards to the current state of CUP, I would like to direct the humble reader to the latest offering by right-wing Opinions Editor of CUP member The Peak (SFU): http://www.the-peak.ca/article/20055

(BTW, you may recall a certain J.J. McCullough, who was the previous Opinions Editor, and the mentor of the current one. Brick by brick conservatism is advancing!)

Posted by: NauticalMongoose | 2009-10-09 11:34:37 PM

There is no such thing as conservatism. Because there are no longer any conservatives.

Posted by: John Collison | 2009-10-10 12:16:26 AM


That's very good to see. Yet I myself made it onto CUP's regional staff as their B.C. stringer and in some ways it seemed as if I was like King Canute commanding the ocean to behave itself. :)

But I like that others are lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness in the student press.

Posted by: Rick Hiebert | 2009-10-10 6:33:18 AM

Raelly John, then who the hell are you?

Posted by: po'ed in AB | 2009-10-10 12:33:40 PM

The reason some may harbour long-standing concerns about Linda Frum Sokolowski is because when she was a student journalist, she wrote with a viciously right wing agenda. There was nothing subtle about how she expressed her extreme views, and the anti-apartheid campus movement was one of her primary "liberal" targets. She was also well-funded, and her McGill publication somehow made its way to the University of Toronto, in bulk, where its professional production values made it conspicuous at a time when most student organs were still typewritten and photocopied. It's not surprising that the publication died after she graduated, as it seemed to be a personal organ rather than one that had emerged from a student group.

Upon her appointment to the Senate, I commented to a friend, because she was referred to simply as Linda Frum, that I would be shocked if it came out that she wasn't married to a wealthy man. It was always obvious that this is a smart woman. Unfortunately, I have never seen any evidence that she is a wise one.

Posted by: Chris McDonell | 2009-10-23 7:27:14 PM

I've kept all the issues of Frum's newspaper that she edited and they do not really comment on South Africa at all, which would not be the case if this was a "primary" subject of hers. Good luck with a cite on this. I doubt that you'll find one.

People suspect that she was anti-sanctions as she wangled a donation from the Bank of Montreal, which the left hated as it wouldn't cut off its ties with South Africa. She acknowleged this in interviews at the time and repaid them by running an ad in the newspaper.

I don't read anything "vicious" or "extreme" in the newspapers. Unless you can cite or quote, as I can, we may discount this. (And you are probably also thinking of the "University of Toronto Magazine", which was I understand was a separate newspaper.)

The issues of Frum's newspaper read "student paper" all over them. The McGill Daily was more professionally typeset and laid out. As a student journalist at the time who saw student newspapers from across the country--I could tell that students put together these publications, but none were typewitten or photocopied.

Her paper reads like a well written conservative student blog would have about 25 years ago. And given that a contemporary editor of the Daily at the time was quoted as saying that to call the IRA and PLO terrorists was "simply a slur", perhaps we shouldn't invite comparisons.

As for mentioning her current husband...guess you missed her National Post columns that talked about him owning the Toronto Argonauts. Or the community awards that cited him too. If Mr. Korski was able to obsess about his background in his column, he's hardly top secret.

Posted by: Rick Hiebert | 2009-10-24 6:59:20 AM

I do not like Harper and I do not like all Linda Frum's politics, but I know her and I always liked her . I am gay, immigrant , who never embraced my father's jewish background . I am loud and I carry big stick and she acepted me just the way I am . Why, not only beacuse I offered my swimmers lungs to blow baloons for her Young conservatives parties, but because I was true to myself . I am proud to have Senator like Linda Frum Sokolowski even is she drives me nuts with her conservatisam, but at least with her I know where I stand. You go girl!
Chapter about my life in Canada will always have a title "Frum Canada with love"

Posted by: pasha | 2009-12-30 2:50:56 PM

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