I was saddened to read in today’s newspapers that Tom Clark is leaving CTV. I met Tom a few times years ago when I worked for CTV and he was with our Toronto affiliate, CFTO. I met him again while planning for provincial election coverage and debates in Ontario elections and for leadership contests while I was at CBC. What I remember most vividly was that Tom was not the guy that I expected. For some reason I had preconceived notions about what Tom would be like based solely on the fact that he seemed to be the on air political mouthpiece for John Bassett, the then owner and president of CFTO television.
At that time, in the late 70’s and early 80’s John Bassett demanded that all political coverage on CFTO be as pro-Tory as he was. Tom Clark was the chief political correspondent at CFTO and thus had to take the Bassett party line in his reports and interviews. His reputation therefore, became that of a right wing mouthpiece. We all knew that Tom was smart and exceedingly knowledgeable politically, but could he do his job at the national level where he would have to be much less partisan? I am embarrassed to say that with his blond hair, boyish good looks and right wing persona he earned the nickname, never to his face mind you, ‘the little Nazi.’ Nobody has ever said that newsrooms were kind places.
Having met Tom I soon realized I, or should I say we, were completely wrong. Tom is a class act. We were right about how smart he was and his depth of political knowledge. We were wrong about his ability to perform at the national level. When Tom went to CTV I like to believe that we saw the real Tom Clark for the first time. Without John Bassett controlling him he blossomed into one of the best political reporters in Canada. He could be depended on to deliver excellent stories from Ottawa and Washington. He was always well informed and never once did he seem out of his depth. I never again felt that I could see his personal politics entering his reports. In fact I can now say I do not know what his personal politics are.
On top of all that excellent work, I always found Tom to be kind, helpful and respectful of the people he worked with both at CTV and at the competition. He seemed to get along well with everyone he met and used his personable qualities to great effect in getting stories and networking. This led to many scoops and inside stories during his fine career at CTV.
I understand that Tom was upset that he didn’t get Lloyd Robertson’s job. After more than three decades of hard work, it had to have come as a severe blow to see someone else get the job he had coveted and felt he had worked so hard for.
I don’t know why Lisa Laflamme got the job. I do know that CTV’s original plans were for Lisa and Tom to co-host the news. Where that went awry I don’t know. I have heard some people speculate that with Katy Couric and Diane Sawyer taking over U.S. newscasts, CTV decided to make a splash by hiring a woman. I have also heard speculation that some considered Lisa’s age (she’s much younger than Tom) the deciding factor. I think Lisa was a great choice. I believe it is unfair to bring gender into the discussion. Lisa did everything the network asked and more. She is a fine journalist and a credit to CTV News. Would Tom have done just as well? We’ll never know. I do know that Tom would have worked just as hard and been a credit to the job. Would audiences have responded to Tom as they seem to be responding to Lisa? I’d like to think so.
I hope Tom Clark lands on his feet somewhere. He’s too good a journalist and a broadcaster to disappear. If I had my druthers he would take over from the obviously over-matched Evan Solomon at CBC NN. Tom would have the guts to ask the tough questions and he would have the contacts and personality to attract more politicians and fewer reporters as guests on what has become the most vanilla political program on Canadian TV.