How the media got where it is 

Izzy chronicles how the media changed a country


Anyone who points an accusatory finger at media ownership looks no further than Canwest Global. Its owner, Israel Harold Asper, remains a scapegoat for all that's wrong with the national media - even after he's died.

His story is told in Peter C. Newman's Izzy: The Passionate Life and Turbulent Times of Izzy Asper, Canada's Media Mogul . It's a tale of both the life of a media mogul and the growth of the city he grew up in and Newman effectively entwines the two in a detailed, though not consistently compelling tome that's a radical departure from his other work.

To be "Newmanized" is both a compliment and a criticism. For Peter C. Newman to write about you means you're significant enough to warrant the attention of one of Canada's greatest authors. It also means you're up for a thrashing at the hands of one of the country's most biting journalists.

Conrad Black has felt his sting - in addition to chronicling his rise, Newman has told of how he once tipped a friend's housemaid and then called to get his money back. So has Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker - Newman's book about Dief's rise to high office, Renegade in Power , is credited with bringing him down.

And who can forget the drubbing he meted out on Brian Mulroney? His book, The Secret Mulroney Tapes , put on record all the off-record conversations the two shared throughout the bribe-prone PM's career.

Now he turns his gaze on Izzy Asper, one of the most polarizing figures in Canadian history.

He was a mogul who battled with journalists who criticized the State of Israel and demanded an editorial in all of his newspapers. He was a fiery jazz fanatic who'd get into fights at clubs with people who talked during performances. And despite all that, he was one of the greatest philanthropists that Winnipeg has ever known.

Asper had a varied career. Born in Minnedosa, Manitoba, he started his career as a lawyer, writing about tax reform in Canada. He later went on to provincial politics, serving three years as leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party.

From there he went on to build an empire that started with a Winnipeg television station and gradually conquered the Global Television Network. His ownership of Global jettisoned him into the ranks of Canada's meritocratic elite, helping him acquire Conrad Black's various newspaper holdings and thus establishing a fiefdom over most of Canada's media - newspaper, television and otherwise.

Those looking for the patented Newmanisms that make mincemeat of elite reputations need not look here. He takes a relatively ambivalent view of Canada's media mogul but doesn't mete out a punishing profile as he did for so many other members of the country's elite class.

It's certainly not the book to make you love Asper but it forces you to look at him beyond his reputation as the unapologetic defender of Israel and the media tyrant that today's journalists make him out to be. Those two things he may have been, but Newman wants you to see more.

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