Author Peter C. Newman will join me on my show on Sunday, November 27th!!

CBC-TV documentary lets viewers listen to Mulroney audio tapes
TORONTO (CP) – It’s one thing to read them.
But it’s quite another to actually hear the words of Brian Mulroney in those audio tapes compiled by author Peter C. Newman and which formed the basis of Newman’s provocative summertime book The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister.
On Monday night, CBC-TV airs a feature-length documentary version, and for the first time Canadians will actually hear the former PM in all his profanity-laced glory, usually in phone calls to Newman in which he appears to be trying to dictate his own place in history while summarily denouncing his political rivals.
“I was a fly on the wall for the conversations,” says producer-director Mike Sheerin about listening to the tapes early this past summer. “It creates a mood. It’s theatre of the mind, even though it’s television.”
The listener is struck first by the breadth of the obscenities, not always provoked by passion but clearly a staple of the rhetoric of a private personality far different from the public one.
But Sheerin doesn’t think Mulroney swears all that much, or that it’s a big deal.
“He uses it to punctuate certain sentences here and there. I do that. … It’s just sort of normal talk.”
The former prime minister displays a loathing for members of the parliamentary press gallery, who trigger the strongest obscenities during the 90-minute film.
Beyond that, the tapes prove equally remarkable for revealing Mulroney’s apparent disdain for his opponents, from Pierre Trudeau to Jean Chretien, and even for his own party colleagues, from Joe Clark to Lucien Bouchard, who he insists did not quit the Tory cabinet in 1990 as history has recorded.
“I fired him,” Mulroney says bluntly, although the revelation was not included in Newman’s book. Sheerin doesn’t know why except that Newman may simply have forgotten with the mountain of material he had to work with.
The sound clips, chosen from hundreds of hours of phone calls and in-person interviews taped over two decades, are married to relevant newsreel clips of the day, interspersed with on-camera comments by Newman himself. There is no narration.
Sheerin says he befriended Newman two years ago when he was producing a CBC Life & Times biography on him. He was one of only a handful of people who were aware at the time that Newman was working on his book, and that led to Sheerin assembling this companion documentary in secrecy under the rather melodramatic code name Project X.
“I don’t feel I betrayed Brian Mulroney,” Newman declares in the film, conceding, however, that he was seen as the prime minister’s “pet journalist.”
But when the book was published in September, news reports said Mulroney felt devastated and betrayed, and that he had been unaware he was being taped in most of his conversations with Newman. The phone calls were supposed to be off the record, said Mulroney’s spokesman Luc Lavoie.
Mulroney was not planning any legal action over the book, Lavoie said at the time. And last weekend he said Mulroney would be unlikely to comment on the tapes.
Sheerin says the friendship between the two men soured in 1995 when Newman wrote a book that was harsh on Mulroney’s legacy.
At 76 and his reputation established, Newman himself may not care that he comes across in the documentary as a fawning yes man to the leader of the country, there to apply salve to his political wounds during late-night phone calls that Newman insists were not off the record.
Still, in terms of the traditional media-politician arm’s-length relationship, there’s something unseemly about the Newman-Mulroney relationship as it evolves on tape.
“Mr. Newman? The prime minister is on the line …” the voice of the PMO operator says, and from there it’s Brian and Peter and evidence of an intellectual cosiness that went back for decades.
Sheerin says it’s an oral history as told by Mulroney and there’s no attempt to portray a black hat or a white hat.
“This isn’t a political film. This is a character film. We don’t judge at the end of the day. The viewer will have those biases and judgments already.
“I don’t think it’s going to change your opinion, at least it’s not designed to change your opinion of Brian but just to get a better sense of who he was as a character, as a human being.”
On Tuesday Newman was served with a statement of claim from Conrad Black alleging that the writer libelled him in his 2004 book Here Be Dragons.
Sheerin says no attempt was made to contact Mulroney for the documentary due to the secret nature of the project, but he does not expect any legal challenges against himself or Newman for broadcasting the tapes.