Premier Alden McLaughlin apologised Tuesday for what he described as the “unfortunate exchange” between Health Minister Dwayne Seymour and Cayman News Service journalist Wendy Ledger, saying it had set off an “absolute firestorm”.
Speaking at the daily COVID-19 press briefing, McLaughlin addressed the exchange that arose when Ledger on Monday asked the minister if he wanted to comment about a Cayman Marl Road post.
The post alleged that a personal trainer did a session with Seymour’s wife Tiffany at the couple’s home last week.
The story stated that Tiffany Seymour had posted Instagram photos of the exercise session. Marl Road featured the incident under a headline ‘Jackass of the Week’.
When Ledger asked the minister for comment on the story on Monday, he replied that it would take a “brave” person to ask him such a question. “I don’t know who would be that stupid,” he told Ledger, before talking about Mary and Joseph, and about Jesus riding a donkey, a “jackass”, rather than getting a horse.
Premier challenges questioning
The premier said he had spoken to the minister about the allegations and he was assured that they were “exactly that”.
“I wish, and he [Seymour] wishes, that he had responded differently and for that I apologise, and I am sure that he will do so as well,” McLaughlin said, adding that he did not want to start a war with Ledger or anyone else.
“I am simply calling it as I see it. The national interest must come before anything else,” he said, adding that the press briefings are held to inform the public on the COVID-19 national emergency, and he does not want them to descend into a “circus” nor “gotcha” journalism.
He hastened to add, that “not for one moment am I suggesting that members of my government ought not to be accountable nor am I suggesting that appropriate questions about the conduct of the members of the government are out of order, that’s absolutely well within the parameters. But, pray tell me, anyone, even assuming that what has been alleged of the minister’s wife is in fact true, what was the minister guilty of, what was the minister being accused of?” he said.
The premier said the allegation about the minister’s wife was “denied”.
Seymour briefly referred to the incident at the press briefing, and apologised to the country, making no reference to Ledger.
Earlier this month, Seymour took issue with a comment critical of him posted on a Cayman News Service story, and appeared to break down in tears at one of the press briefings when he talked about it.
McLaughlin, addressing Monday’s exchange, said he took issue with the question asked by Ledger, saying “It is just not on to do what Wendy did yesterday. The clear inference and the clear imputation was that the minister was guilty of some breach of curfew or having participated in or been party to or counselled or procured or any of those kinds of words … any breach. It’s just wrong.”
He added, “When you consider that the allegation came from a Marl Road piece that named the minister’s wife as ‘jackass of the week’, you might perhaps start to understand why the minister responded in the way that he did.”
What was the minister supposed to do if there had been a curfew breach, he asked.
He questioned if Seymour should have “come and say he punished his wife for breach of curfew? He had put her in a corner for an hour or sent her to her room?”
McLaughlin said whatever was done or not done is not under Seymour’s control as he likened it to his own family.
“I cannot be held responsible for what my wife or my children do. I cannot even instruct them. I may suggest, but the only creature in my house that I can give instructions on a fairly regular basis is my lovely German Shepherd Remi,” McLaughlin said, adding that at times even the dog does not comply.
“It is wrong to suggest by the question alone that somehow because of an allegation made against the minister’s wife that he is somehow guilty of anything,” he added.
The Cayman Compass has reached out to Ledger for comment.
She directed us to her comments on CNS which stated that she “obviously has no position on the issue but was simply doing her job of holding those in public office to account.”
“It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last that the premier or any other leader has tried to shoot the messenger,” she said. “McLaughlin is by no means the worst and it really is irrelevant what politicians think about the questions we ask.”
She explained, “The point is that we ask the questions on behalf of the public and then they make their decisions about their leaders. Contrary to what McLaughlin thinks, I have no agenda or bias and am not standing on any political platform. I’m there to ask questions. It is the voters, not me, who will decide whether or not the minister responded appropriately, whether or not the premier handled it well, and whether in the end either of them are doing an ‘incredible job’.”
The Compass also contacted the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service to determine if any action was being taken on the alleged curfew breach and is awaiting a response.
- Letter to the Editor: Minister should take responsibility